Writer Santiago Garcia and artist David Rubin mine an age-old tale for new gold in this gritty adaptation and reimagination of the story of Beowulf, Grendel, and the aftermath of their clash — and they mostly find it.
Largely following the same story beats as the epic poem it uses as source material, Garcia’s writing embellishes on the tale in unique, unexpected, but sometimes uneven ways as Beowulf tackles the initial threat of Grendel, then its mother, and even still the dragon plaguing his homelands. There’s a humanizing aspect here, a welcome and unique take: Beowulf, for all his might, speaks candidly and approachably, as do those around him, which is great for readers who are daunted by the herculean task of reading the epic that the original poem is, this adaptation carries none of that superfluous weight. However, that also means that some of the more awe-inspiring and grandiose moments of that same source material are lost in the translation — left instead to a too often clunky dialogue that gets in the way of some key scenes while words are repeated in the same sentence and grammatical issues detract focus.
Initially, this translation to dialogue seems like an inconsequential, entirely understandable decision, but by the time the story has run its course, you do feel like you’ve missed out on some of the more impressive, nuanced bits that other adaptations revel in in favor of a more narrowly, well-paced, but also spartan effort. It’s a tough balancing act, one that I never felt Garcia was in complete control of, but also one that you’ll appreciate and understand the impetus behind. The slight missteps seem especially forgivable in the face of the cooler, heavier lines that Beowulf, Hrothgar, and the like get to lay down anyways as they convey the right message, move the plot forward, and get us to the next incredible set piece.
Dissimilarly, Rubin’s effort is often a nuanced, righteous, revelation. Awash in specks of snow, blood, viscera and ash, the artistic talent on display here is jaw-dropping (probably the most metal effort of the year, outside of Stegman’s Venom). A real highlight are the creatures: demons of flesh, blood, sinew and bone, they seem to share a similar ecology that makes the world at large feel hostile to the humans living on its surface, as if we’re the outsiders — it’s a smart, evocative choice among many similar choices that convey an untouchable unique visual language taking hold in the unspoken parts of the story. Occasionally, the layouts are confused, leaving squares of disparate imagery over the tops of other scenes that make the story harder to follow but it’s a minor issue that often falls back into place, connecting two scenes or pieces after some guesswork on the reader’s side or after allowing Rubin’s grisly depictions to get there a page or two later.
All in all, this isn’t a perfect adaptation, but it isn’t trying to be either. This is a beast all its own. For that, I found it endearing, poignant, and powerful if not downright metal which I can appreciate all the same. Most readers, especially those off put by the bullet-stopping bulk of the source book, probably can too.