From writer Sam Roads (Silicon Heart) comes Cryowulf, an epic labour of love in every sense. Four years in the making, this gender flipped version of Beowulf is set on an abandoned space station orbiting a collapsing sun, but don’t worry, you don’t need a degree in ancient english poetry or quantum physics to enjoy this one. Although it might help!
Publisher: Sam Roads Comics
Writer: Sam Roads
Artist: Ben Matsuya
Cryowulf mixes olde English myth and legend with far future science fiction to create a truly breath taking and mind blowing read. The opening pages read like an Olde English poem, and give a hint of the back story of the world in which we live. But these words are juxtaposed with sumptuous shots of galaxies and spaceships, summing up the dual nature of this world we are about to enter.
This opening story is being told by Apprentice Keeper Crow, the kind of cheeky young scamp you only get in books like this, as she and her sister Raven are orphans and learning their way at the feet of Keeper Prime Tawney who is a keeper of a mysterious all powerful eye. While their surrounding are the industrial sci-fi chic of an intergalactic spaceship, the language and world they discuss feel like something much more olde worlde.
As the story develops we encounter the despicable All-Worlder who is attempting to get rid of the keepers, and ultimately we meet the even more despicable and terrifying grendel – a kind of slobbering demonic monster who is plaguing the residents of the space station and who encounters Crow, but lets her live. As a sort of punishment Crow, Raven and their buddy Puffin are sent on a mission to find a hero to defeat the terrifying Grendel and bring safety to their little world once again.
Cryowulf vs Grendel
If you’re unfamiliar with the Beowulf myth, then don’t worry a detailed knowledge is not essential for enjoying this book. However you do have to have your wits about you when delving into this world. Cryowulf is an incredibly densely crafted story in an incredibly complex and involved world, which at times may be off putting to some. The language of the story is complex in places (with it’s mix of Scandi style myths and cults) and completely incomprehensible in others (but that is because they switch to Gwaelic for a couple of pages!) and makes reading Cryowulf a challenge at times. Roads has clearly mapped out his world in intricate detail (from the religions, to the back story to language) and the way the characters discuss it, you don’t always get a handle on exactly what is going on. However, this is one of the books where the quality of what you see on the page urges you onwards and you continue to read on, even if the nature of the story is not the easiest to digest at times.
A large reason to continue through this book is the absolutely jaw dropping artwork from newcomer Ben Matsuya. The line work has this expressive quality to it, which means every character is beautifully realised and packed full of and life and energy. It reminded us a lot of Eric Zawadzki’s work on Eternal, but also with the depth and range of Chris Wildgoose in Porcelain (albeit with a slightly chunkier feel to it). It feels a little bit Manga in places, and also quite European in others. But at the same time, achingly current, making it a really wonderfully created package. Add to this some incredibly conceived spaceships and set designs, some amazing character creations (especially the terrifying grendel). And some of the most sumptuous colours we will see all year and you have a really special book.
The colours are so good in fact, that they deserve special mention. From the rich warm oranges of the keeper’s room, to the terrifying blood soaked red of grendel’s gruesome debut scene to the warm yellows of the All Worlder meeting in the final chapter. This is next level stuff from Matsuya and takes what could be a overly dense and complex story and makes the whole thing into this epically beautiful and stunning piece of sci-fi adventure.
With the second issue of this 9 issue arc seeing our heroes set off on a quest to find, what we presume to be the Beowulf of this world, everything is in place for this to evolve and develop into something truly out of this world. While the concept of the story hangs on the idea of it being a gender-flipped version of Beowulf, as a casual reader you don’t really find yourself worrying about this too much. Instead it’s a story with a strong female cast, believable and emotionally engaging characters and some of the best artwork we’ve seen on the indie scene in ages. Well worth heading out on a quest to discover.