Recently announced as part of DC Comics' Third Wave of New 52 titles, the fantasy anthology "Sword Of Sorcery" will be hitting shelves in September, featuring a rebooted Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld story by TV writer Christy Marx and artist Aaron Lopresti, and a Beowulf backup feature by "Blue Beetle" writer Tony Bedard and "Resurrection Man" artist Jesus Saiz.
"'Sword Of Sorcery' Editor Rachel Gluckman called me up and said, 'Hey, Tony, how would you like to do a post-apocalyptic take on Beowulf?' And my inner Viking reached for his favorite axe," Bedard told CBR News about being hired to write his new backup story. "When I found out that the brilliant Jesus Saiz would be drawing the story, my inner Viking knew this would be an epic journey indeed."
While part of DC's New 52, this is not the first time DC has published a comic called "Sword Of Sorcery." The name originally hails from a 1973 anthology of "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" stories written by Denny O'Neil with art by Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin. Confessing he did not follow the original anthology, Bedard still happily cited his love of sword and sorcery tales as a huge influence on his own work and one of the reasons he got into comics.
"I was a voracious reader of sword and sorcery tales including Robert E. Howard's 'Conan' stories, Michael Moorcock's 'Elric' (and the rest of the 'Eternal Champion' stuff), Philippe Jose Farmer's 'World of Tiers,' etc. In fact, it was an Ernie Chan issue of 'Savage Sword' that hooked me on comics," Bedard told CBR.
All of this sword and sorcery love culminates in Bedard's Beowulf tale. One of the oldest stories in human history, the original Beowulf is an epic Anglo-Saxon poem whose origin dates somewhere between the 8th and 11th Century. Composed by an anonymous poet, the alliterative epic told the story of the warrior Beowulf, summoned to fight the monster Grendel, then Grendel's mother, culminating in a battle against a dragon ravaging his kingdom.
"The poem is definitely my starting point. I mean, Beowulf was the original English-language superhero," Bedard explained. "But my Beowulf departs from the classic one most obviously in that it's set in a future where the great cities of the 21st Century are gone, replaced by feudal kingdoms that sprang up in a permanent nuclear winter. Old military installations have been converted into castles and fortresses."
Bedard also compared his take to other post-apocalyptic shows and stories some comic book readers will be familiar with. "Readers will recognize certain locations, weapons and 'monsters' as artifacts of our age, but like in 'Samurai Jack' or 'Thundarr the Barbarian' the characters in 'Beowulf' see everything strictly in medieval terms. Old plane hangars and missile silos are now mead halls and dungeons; old war-bots known as 'Iron Trolls' still patrol ancient battlefields, and the descendants of super-soldier/bioweapon programs are the demigods and monsters of the day. Beowulf is one of these, but whether he is god or monster remains to be seen."
Bedard also explained that his story, though technically a science fiction tale set in a post-apocalyptic world, was tonally closer to those aforementioned traditional sword and sorcery adventures.
"I think we're leaning more toward Conan territory, especially since 'Conan' is a personal favorite of both myself and artist Jesus Saiz. Our guys ride horses, swing swords, and think in archaic terms. It's just an interesting subtext that the beasts they face were born of super-science," Bedard said.
The writer then praised Saiz, who was getting a chance to unleash his own inner Viking on the art side.
"It actually came as a very pleasant surprise that Jesus is so into the Conan thing, considering I'd never seen him do a book like that. But his initial designs are off-the-chart fantastic. He totally gets the genre and this particular scenario," Bedard said.
Returning to the story and characters, Bedard told CBR his Beowulf is less epic hero and more explosive threat.
"In the original, he was the ultimate warrior -- like Hercules or Perseus. In 'Sword Of Sorcery' Beowulf is a bio-enhanced super-soldier, less Captain America than 'Nuke' from 'Daredevil: Born Again.' He's huge, intimidating, and wired for violence with a hair-trigger temper -- a ticking time bomb in any gathering," Bedard said.
"He's tactically brilliant but sees almost everything in military terms. The fun of the story is that you never know which way he'll go. You only know that anyone who gets within ten feet of him is risking his life -- and his poor travelling companion Wiglaf is a fourteen year-old kid trying like hell to keep this walking weapon aimed at the right targets. He's bringing Beowulf home to save his people from Grendel, but he knows Beowulf is just as likely to wipe out his people as any monster," the writer added.
Bedard also promised the most famous monster from the original epic poem will pop up in his run: Grendel's mother.
"We'll be meeting the bioweapon Grendel and his 'mother,' a scientist/sorceress who runs the laboratory where Grendel was cooked up," Bedard said.
Though announced in conjunction with four other New 52 titles, Bedard explained Beowulf's world and the post-apocalyptic setting would have a more tenuous connection to the DC Universe.
"We'll drop a few Easter eggs in there to tie it into the New 52, but I don't want to lock in a dystopian future for our stories. Perhaps it's one possible future, or an alternate reality or something. But despite the different setting and genre, this is still part of the New 52 big picture," Bedard said.
Along the same lines, the backup will remain independent from Marx and Lopresti's Amethyst tale.
"The new 'Beowulf' is a separate story from the 'Amethyst' lead, but I'm hopeful they'll add up to one fun fantasy read. I haven't gotten to see any of Christy's stuff yet, and the reader in me wants to wait and see it fully formed in print, but I'm going to reach out to her anyway since I'm so excited that she's bringing back Amethyst (and a lot of other folks out there are excited about it, too)," Bedard added.
The Beowulf backup, the first installment of which will appear in "Sword Of Sorcery" #0, may also alternate with another, unnamed backup story.
"We'll be doing several installments of 'Beowulf', and it's my understanding that another 'Sword Of Sorcery' backup will be waiting in the wings to alternate with it, but it remains to be seen how exactly that will work. For the time being, I'm expecting six continuous installments of 'Beowulf,' and if it catches on perhaps more," the writer explained.
Obviously enthusiastic about his run on the fantasy title, Bedard concluded that he hopes readers will have as much fun reading 'Beowulf' as he had crafting and adapting his tale.
"Be prepared for a tale that's a real dream project for both writer and artist. It's a joy working on 'Beowulf' and I think you'll have just as much fun reading it!"
"Sword Of Sorcery" #0 hits stores September 19.