9th Grade. I was playing a great deal of Final Fantasy 3 (it’s three on the box, screw you nerds and your VI), and I was coasting through English class–I read a lot of the classics when my mom taught me to read at a young age, and tricked me into thinking Little Women was about teeny amazons.
Then came Beowulf: a story about a warrior ripping the arm off a monster bare handed, and then killing the monster’s mother because SHE WAS THERE. If you listen to a recording of someone performing it (like right here for instance) it’s spellbinding.
Still, reading Beowulf means you have to picture what a Geat looks like, or what Grendel can do, and while the poem is amazing, it’s not exactly like reading today’s fantasy books where every ridge on every belt buckle is described in exact detail. Thus, a visual interpretation is a welcome addition. Forgetting everything about the recent Beowulf animated movie (except maybe Angelina), enter Beowulf: The Graphic Novel from Image.
Beowulf: The Graphic Novel (Image Comics)
Jesus Christ, look at this artwork.
Now, fair warning. This book is goddamn ancient, so I’m not pulling any spoiler punches. If you don’t know this tale by now, crawl back under your rock, after you leave comments on how awesome I am.
Plotwise, you know what’s coming. Beowulf meets Grendel, rips arm, kills Mom, goes home, becomes King, lives a long life, dies killing a dragon. We know it, it’s great.
The true benefit here is twofold: one, the artwork is goddamn divine. It’s red and bloody and gritty and messy, and you can feel how cold these people must be, or how once Grendel shatters a piece of them, they are either dead or crippled forever, because there’s no ER in Hrothgar (sorry).
Second – they manage to find some new ground to tread. Side characters and faithful retainers gain much more prominence, while legendary stories are told to people instead of just releated to the reader.
If you’re a classics nerd and you love this tale, it’s a fantastic adaptation. It feels raw and bloody and brutal–just like I’ve always imagined it.
If you’ve never read Beowulf, because the thought of an ancient poem in Old English wasn’t calling your name, this might be the reason to try again. The source material is perfect, and this treats it with the reverence it deserves.