Most of you reading this story have at least a passing familiarity with the old English epic poem "Beowulf." You probably read it sometime during high school, which was oh so long ago, but you remember the salient details -- the story of a man battles two evil monsters and triumphs, thus saving a kingdom and going on to one day become King himself, only to die trying to save his people from another threat. It is one of the oldest, intact examples of early literature.
This April writer Brian Augustyn and artist Dub of Grafiksismik will explore new legends of the character in "Beowulf: Gods and Monsters," a new ongoing monthly comic coming from Speakeasy Comics. CBR News spoke with Augustyn to learn more.
"All over a world previously remarkable for its lack of the truly remarkable, there's a startling outbreak of super-powers among previously normal human beings," Augustyn told CBR News when describing the series. "This bizarre wave of incredible change evokes terror in many, suspicion and cynical calculation in others. Only one man saw it coming, and he's been waiting for it for fourteen hundred years! In fact, an incredible power beyond humanity selected him to be the one to watch, wait and lead the battle to come.
"Once he was known as Beowulf, now the great and nearly immortal warrior lives in Manhattan and goes by the simpler name of Wulf. He alone knows that a coming world-threat has triggered the sudden power influx, but even Wulf is in the dark as to what horrific shape that threat will take. In any case he makes his plans, bides his eternal time and waits for trouble to start -- and it will.
"Now, Wulf focuses on the unfolding puzzle of the threat to come as the world goes crazy -- and super-powerful -- around him."
If you're thinking you haven't read the original story or simply don't remember it very well and think this might be tough for you to get in to, think again. Augustyn said that with "Beowulf: Gods and Monsters" readers don't necessarily have to be familiar with the original poem. The series will be very reader-friendly and, where it's important, they'll catch readers up on the legend. Initially that won't matter much as the focus will be on getting to know Wulf as a modern character, with plans to unfurl his back story later.
"This story tells what happens to the epic Scandinavian warrior-prince after he's been granted immortality by a cosmic entity -- and given the job to watch for a specific future cataclysmic event," continued Augustyn. "That he gets to keep fighting all the monsters and dragons he wants over the years is gravy. So, I guess the original tale informs the character and what he is and does, but the new story takes him into a whole new place. The present. New York."
As for references to the original text and whether characters such as Grendel might show up, Augustyn simply said many things are possible as this new story unfolds. But the question must be asked, why Beowulf?
"It was important to the scope and aims of our larger story to tie aspects of its origins to preexisting history and legends. Other characters from history and myth will factor in as we go. For the role of the main good guy, I wanted a tough guy and heroic leader. I wanted someone not as overexposed as Hercules, Alexander or King Arthur, but familiar. Gilgamesh or Finn McCool might have worked too, but I've always loved the dragon-slayer hero -- and saw in his old specialty a nice metaphor for the evils and dangers of the modern world. Here there still be dragons, but now they've learned to blend in."
The birth of "Beowulf: Gods and Monsters" came from a conversation Augustyn had with Speakeasy publisher Adam Fortier that spanned a full year. "He was asking good questions and pointing in very cool directions," said Augustyn. "'What would super-heroes be like in the real world?' 'Other than science, what else might give birth to the next step of human development?' Like that. Beowulf grew from that conversation in an attempt to see some character at the center of all that progress; a character who could witness all the change over the passing centuries, face the future and still be rooted in the past. He's a timeless hero and a tragic lonely figure with an unfinished task."
Augustyn's known Fortier for a number of years now, having working together back when Augustyn was still writing for Dreamwave. "[Adam and I] get along very well, mostly because we're sort of on a creative wavelength -- and because we're both fanboys, of course. I only met the Grafiksismik guys recently, through Adam, as we began to develop the book. That said, I very quickly became a fan of Dub's art and the great stuff everybody as Grafiksismik does."
Interest in "Beowulf" is running high right now. Naturally, there's the comic. Then there's a feature film coming later this year, "Beowulf & Grendel." In addition a new translation of the original poem came out a few years back by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. Some critics cried foul when the new translation arrived, upset because it didn't resemble their favorite translation or the fact that the publisher's marketing arm was aggressively sending the message this was the only translation worth reading, but mostly it was received with open arms for its faithfulness to the original story. Augustyn agrees. "I have read a lot of the brilliant Seamus Heaney translation and liked it," said Augustyn. "I'm not sure what the fuss was, but then I only vaguely remember the more traditional version I read in eighth grade -- and the First Comics adaptation from the early 80s only slightly better. The Heaney translation is pretty exciting and very accessible -- and engaging in its earthiness. Maybe the outcry is from folks who think a tale of a barbarian king killing monsters should be rendered in more genteel language?"