We tend to think of Beowulf exclusively as a character or story (well, both) from old world literature. Indeed, that’s more or less what it is. In fact, Beowulf is believed to be the oldest epic poem in the English (or Old English) language and is such a mysterious relic that its original author is unknown.
But in a more modern context, Beowulf is essentially a superhero, something like a cross between graphic novel versions of King Leonidas of Sparta and Marvel’s interpretation of Thor. There have actually been numerous comics and graphic novels dealing with the character, as well as other adaptations taking various forms. And it’s probably about time we just go ahead and treat this mythical warrior-king as a figure of popular fiction rather than the subject of an ancient tome.
As noted on Atomic Avenue, the most recent adaptation of Beowulf in graphic novel form was a 2007 graphic novel by Stefan Petrucha (and illustrated by Kody Chamberlain). It followed a fairly traditional narrative about the character, which is that he’s a sort of rogue warrior who arrives to King Hrothgar’s viking kingdom to defeat the horrifying monster Grendel. Beowulf comes triumphantly to conquer the beast when no other warrior can, but then, remaining in Hrothgar’s land, has to contend with additional monsters (such as Grendel’s mother, who’s the worst of them all). The story didn’t add too much to the established narrative, but it was illustrated in a lively and colorful fashion that made Beowulf more accessible than ever.
The more noteworthy 2007 Beowulf adaptation was, however, a major film. Employing a bizarre style of semi-animated live action, Beowulf sought to capture the otherworldly action of the story without losing its human element. It was a strange effort and one that was fairly polarizing among both fans and critics, but it did a few things well. Ray Winstone had an effective take on the titular character, and the casting of Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother was bold in a way that could be appreciated. It was a somewhat-forgettable project, sure, but it’s also a fairly enjoyable one upon a re-watch.
And finally, there have also been some video games involving the character of late. Ubisoft produced a title for consoles in connection with the 2007 film, but there’s a more modern take as well. It exists online on Gala Bingo’s platform, and it’s a Beowulf slot machine that’s actually a pretty enjoyable representation of the character. It’s brimming with Norse scenery and icons representing characters and weaponry, and it’s also equipped with jackpot bonus games in which you have to survive Grendel’s mother and slay a dragon. Not bad for an online casino title.
But with the exception of that last game, most Beowulf adaptations stopped in 2007 after the film’s release. There are other graphic novels available, and in all likelihood one comic publisher or another will make another attempt. In fact, DC has even had connections to the character. But in the meantime, now seems like a great time for a reboot in the form of a fresh graphic novel or even a new feature film.
Granted there’s some level of reboot fatigue these days, but it’s arguable that the Beowulf film came about a decade early. Released in 2007, it preceded the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in addition to DC’s own, ever-expanding universe. Filmmakers have figured out a lot more about how to bring mega-heroes to life on the big screen, and while it’s all gotten a little bit repetitive, Beowulf could benefit from that progress.
A fresh and dark take on this character would fit right in with modern entertainment, particularly if it had an accompanying comic or graphic novel. And as a bonus, we now have Tom Hardy around to star in the main role! Let’s hope somebody makes this happen.