Thursday, March 01, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #60: Beowulf by Santiago Garcia and David Rubin

This is the most over-the-top version of Beowulf since the silly 2008 movie, but that might just be what inevitably happens when you let comics people get their hands of a story about a guy who kills monsters and dragons.

Do I need to back up? Do I need to explain Beowulf? (I hope not: my younger son recently read Beowulf for school -- the Heaney translation, I think and hope -- so if even Captain Oblivious knows who the greatest Geat is, the rest of you should as well.) If not: famous long Old English poem (actually Old English, vastly different from the modern stuff, unlike Chaucer) about a guy who goes to Denmark to kill a monster, kill the monster's mother, and talk about how great he is. Much later, he's old and the king of his people back at home when a dragon rampages, and he manages to kill it but dies in the process. (Spoiler alert for a book a thousand years older than you are. Also: Hector dies, Odysseus gets home, and Aeneas founds Rome.)

That often-told story was turned into comics a few years back -- I'm being vague because the book doesn't say when -- by Spanish cartoonists Santiago Garcia and David Rubin. This Beowulf was translated by Sam Stone and Joe Keatinge and published as an album-sized hardcover by Image at the end of 2016.

It's a very visual representation of the story, which is all to the good: Beowulf, as a poem, is all about language, so turning the comics version into an image-driven work, intensely constructed and full of complicated panel layouts, makes this Beowulf it's own distinct thing, using the powers of its current medium to tell the story it's own way. Rubin is good at darkness, ominousness, and sudden violent action, all of which are very important here -- to my eye, he's from a similar school to Geoff Darrow, with pages full of detail and huge action panels overlaid with a spray of smaller panels to show individual moments.

Otherwise, well, this is Beowulf. It's a pretty straight adaptation, all muscular men striving and celebrating and lamenting and declaiming. Adapting Beowulf into a visual medium inevitably makes it an action story full of violence, which is exactly what happens here. But it's a classy, literary action story full of violence, so that makes it much more impressive. (Right?)

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