Wednesday, June 21, 2006

At long last, the barely anticipated but much referenced (by me, anyway) final installment of

Image Hosted by

Sorry about taking so long between posts; one thing leads to another, and you know how it goes. Anyways, here's the first part, featuring issues 1 and 2, and the second, featuring issues 3 and 4.

I gotta tell you before we get started, that this fifth issue is one seriously loopy comic book, crammed full of all sorts of freewheeling nuttiness. The obvious inspiration for all this was Erich Von Daniken's hugely-popular-at-the-time Chariots of the Gods, which posited that we were descended from, or created by, extraterrestrial science...and it spawned several sequels and documentaries and so on, with many of these ideas becoming a staple of Science Fiction films, books and TV. Anyway, onward.

When last we left our hero, he and his companions had just engaged in mortal conflict with none other than Dracula himself, or Vlad Tepes the Impaler anyway. After Vladdy Daddy's hash got settled, BW continued on in his quest to find the magic Zumak fruit (in combination with the giant serpent's venom, which he drank in #3. Perhaps together they created the noxious substance known as Zima. But I digress.) that would give him enough strength to defeat Grendel and end the misery at Castle Hrothgar.

The story opens with the company trudging across the desert and coming upon some nicely intact standing stones, as in the ones at Stonehenge. BW even helpfully references this fact. As they speculate about the origins of the weird stones, they're suddenly surprised by the appearance of a sliver-garbed high priestess and her Druid henchmen! Typically, Wulfy attacks but is soon dismayed to find that they have sword-melting and force-beam wielding powers. Still, the band battles on as Unferth seeks a place to hide, but only succeeds in finding a huge spaceship ("...the Gods have descended to Earth!") and the presumed male companion to the Priestess. When he realizes that Beowulf is who they want, he quickly strikes a deal with the extraterrestrial, and sneaks up behind BW, who has managed to defeat one of the "Druids" by taking his sword (which was shown to be dissolved only a page or two earlier, oops) and jamming it between his arms, making a connection and causing his foe, who is now exposed as having some sort of wristband circuitry, to short-circuit. That darn Unferth cold-cocks BW from behind- and when he awakes, he and Nan-zee find themselves on the spaceship, unwilling guests of the spacemen.

The priestess gives the pair a tour of the ship, and provides some convenient exposition: She reveals that they were chosen to capture specimens of Earth's heroes for the scientists of their world, and were set up as gods to the Druids, who help them with their hero-gathering. They are shown the "Chamber of the Sleepers", where their subjects remain frozen for transport to another planet. The priestess also arranges for a little demonstration, as she blasts the area of the stones with a destructive beam, which apparently atomizes everyone- Druids (who have "served their purpose"), Wiglaf, Shaper, Sydriit and Unferth, too. But somehow, the Company has managed to escape unharmed. Unfortunately, before they can confront Unferth about what he did, they're set upon once more and overcome by a mysterious band of strangers. And that's all we will get from the Wulfy's posse this issue.

Back on the ship, the quite understandibly pissed off Beowulf tries to attack the Priestess, stating for the record that nothing will stop him in his quest to get the Zumak fruit- to which the evil spacelady replies that they have already harvested it all, and there is none left! This drives BW into a frenzy, and he breaks loose, kicking Druid ass (some apparently made it to the ship) and destroying large hunks of machinery...and waking the sleepers in the process. They quickly thaw as BW battles on, and he leads them to revolt against their extraterrestrial captors, and dispatching the Priestess as well. You know, killing her. After the dust has settled, one of the sleepers approaches BW and reveals himself to be none other than HERCULES! Herk thanks him for releasing them, then informs him that there is indeed some Zumak left, on the island of Crete. Then, they look through the viewscreen and see that they are flying over ATLANTIS! BW hatches a plan (and really, not much of a plan)- they will forcibly land the ship in the "advanced city" of Atlantis, and make their way from there. But, they are interrupted in their plotting by the "real" alien masters, named Ishtar and En-Lil, who don't appreciate BW mucking up their ship. Wulfy disarms one of them (almost literally- he bites his arm!), and fires upon the controls of the spaceship- and as the aliens strive to regain control, the captives leap out of the burning ship as it hurtles through the sky, over a smoldering volcano, and manage to land on the ground intact...just as Atlantis is racked with tremors and begins its legendary trip to the bottom of the ocean! BW, Nan-zee and Hercules manage to secure a raft and set sail just as the volcano erupts and Atlantis crumbles. They then drift for what we're told is several days, until they are interrupted by none other than the Goddess Athena, who whisks Hercules away to resume his destiny, and leaves BW and Nan in the lurch. Which is where this nutball issue ends. But things get even nuttier next issue!

For this, the final issue, artist Ricardo Villamonte was on hand for inks only as DC's all-purpose artist of the 70's, Ric Estrada, did the pencilling honors. Estrada on his own had a loose, cartoony style which on its own wouldn't have fit this book at all, especially given the fine job his predecessor did in the previous five issues...but fortunately, Villamonte was able to provide finishes and this story's art didn't suffer too much for it, except for the occasional flat pose or odd facial expression. Who can say if this would have just been a fill-in, or if Ricardo already knew the book was dead and was starting another project...we'll never know.

So, as #6 begins, BW and Nan are still adrift on the raft, approaching the island of Crete- but Satan sends a storm which destroys their vessel and almost drowns them in a whirlpool...but because of dumb luck, and the need to fill the next 16 or so pages, the couple survive and are carried ashore by the tide, unconscious. Next, we see what has happened to the rest of the company, who was set upon and captured by unnamed warriors of indistinct nationality. Turns out their captors are, as the helpful caption says, the "Yondo sect of the T'ang (settle down, Beavis) tribe in the land of Pikadon". Unfortunately, they are drawn to look exactly the same as the Hebrew Asher tribe, with flowing robes, turbans and pointy chin-whiskers, so I suppose there was a breakdown in communications there. Wiglaf cooks up a plan- he tells one of the Yondos that the Shaper will grant a request of magic for them if they let them go free. The warrior is agreeable, but the Shaper stubbornly refuses to use his abilities to amuse others. He changes his mind after a bit of friendly persuasion (in the form of armlocks and piling on) from the rest of the company, and stating "Ydnic d'nabob egairram yppah", he turns reality upside down inside the cave where they're standing, and with a command of "Kertrats noem rofmoor erehtsi!" turns it right side up again. This understandibly dismays and frightens the Yondos, who eagerly set Wiglaf, Sydriit, and Unferth free...but insist the Shaper stay with them. Reluctantly, they agree after Shapey reassures them that he will be all right, and "will be in Daneland before (them)", which he proves as he fades away as soon as the company is out of sight, much to the chagrin of the Yondos.
Back now to BW and Nan, as they come to on the beach of an unknown island, which is of course Crete. They realize that either his diety Wyrd or enemy Satan have caused this to happen, but they are determined to press on anyway. As they explore inland, they encounter a aged beggar who calls himself the "Peeper" who offers to lead them to the maze which has the Zumak fruit tree in its center.

Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan is hatching some evil schemes with his new right-hand-man, Dracula- whom you'll recall was taken away by the devil at the end of #4. Grendel's mom overhears their conversation, and runs back to her monstrous son, telling him that he must act quickly or he'll never get his rightful due as heir to Hell. Grendy rationalizes that Satan is afraid of him now, and he won't stand for it- he stalks off, snapping off a stalactite as he advances, just in time to hear Satan instructing Dracula to go to Castle Hrothgar in the form of a bat (one of his new powers) and indulge in a little good old-fashioned bloodletting. Grendel advances...and...

We go back to Beowulf and Nan-zee, as they arrive at the maze with the Peeper. Peeps opens a secret entrance in the wall, and as BW and Nan go inside, he slams it shut, locking them in the maze! It is then revealed that the Peeper is no old beggar at all, but is really the Slave Maid of Satan, who we met back in issue #2! They press on, and encounter the maze's sole occupant- the legendary Minotaur of Crete, who's guarding the Zumak tree and is not in a sociable mood. BW engages him in desperate combat, and barely holds his own, and things go from bad to worse as Satan takes a hand and boosts the Minotaur's strength to superhuman levels. Things are looking grim for BW, to the point where Satan sits on his throne and ponders whether to kill him at that moment or wait until he gets back to Daneland...when suddenly, Grendel strikes and effing stabs Satan with the stalactite, KILLING HIM! What the f-?! Anyway, Grendy proclaims himself the new King of the Underworld, and prepares for Dracula's return.

Meanwhile, robbed of Satan's energy boost, Beowulf rallies against his suddenly weakened and reeling foe and presses the attack until he vanquishes him. He is then free to eat the Zumak fruit, which instantly heals his wounds and boosts his strength to higher levels than ever before, which enables him to break down the maze wall and walk off into the sunset with Nan-Zee, swearing vengeance for his murdered comrade Hondscio and the others.

Which we never got to see, along with any of the other dangling plot threads, because this, friends, is where the saga of DC's version of Beowulf ended, with its abrupt cancellation. In the 30 plus years since the last issue was on the stands, it has remained mostly forgotten and overlooked, except for a small group of fans who read it and enjoyed it back in the day. This series wasn't perfect- sometimes the humor and action-adventure didn't mix as well as you'd like, and sometimes the internal logic of the story wasn't as tight as it could have been. But for my money, it hit a lot more than it missed and at its best was a downright enthralling mix of high spirits and high adventure, and I for one wish it could have had half as many issues as the vastly inferior and inexplicably more popular Warlord did.

Thanks for your patience as I finally batted this out, and by all means let me know what you think!

No comments: