An Open Access Review Journal Encouraging Critical Engagement with the Continuing Process of Inventing the Middle Ages

June 19, 2023

Historial Jeanne d'Arc in Rouen

Historial Jeanne d’Arc in Rouen


Historial Jeanne d’Arc

7 Rue Saint-Romain, 76000 Rouen


Reviewed by Scott Manning, Independent Scholar






Among the many historical sites related to Joan of Arc in Rouen, the former English capital of Normandy, visitors can see the tower where Joan was threatened with torture and the old market square where she was executed. Newly enhanced among these sites is the palace of the archbishop of Rouen where portions of both Joan’s condemnation trial and the nullification proceedings occurred (1431 and 1450-1456, respectively). Here, visitors can experience Historial Jeanne d’Arc, a 360-cinematic experience projected on stonewalls throughout multiple floors that is well worth the €11 entrance fee.

       The main attraction is a 60-minute immersive documentary with maps and historical reenactments, relying heavily on post medieval images, especially Joan of Arc films. This story is played out in segments between six different rooms, including a medieval crypt, chapel, and kitchen, in which visitors are surrounded by videos projected on all four walls. The main audio is in French, but each visitor is equipped with headphones that sync up audio in their chosen language.

       The first room begins with the basics of Joan’s world, including the Hundred Years War and the Valois family tree. Starting with John the Good (1319-64), the documentary slowly reveals members of the tree, demonstrating the complicated relationships between kings and dukes, especially those of Burgundy. The goal, which the documentary accomplishes admirably, is to establish the geopolitical situation to which Joan was born c. 1412.

       In the next room, the documentary introduces visitors to Joan and her upbringing in Domremy. Here, actors appear, quoting from statements made during the nullification proceedings by people such as Durand Laxart, Catherine Le Royer, and Jean de Metz. Each figure is introduced with a few bullet points about their credentials, and when and where they made their statements. For example, Jean de Metz was “A soldier of Robert de Baudricourt, about 57 years old, the first companion of Joan of Arc, questioned at Vaucouleurs, Saturday 31 January 1456.” While actors provide their testimony, the documentary presents a montage of images of Joan from illuminated manuscripts such as Les Vigiles de Charles VII (c. 1483), along with short, silent clips from twentieth-century films such as Victor Fleming’s Joan of Arc (1948). None of the films is credited, so visitors will need to be quick to recognize the appearance of Hollywood stars such as Ingrid Bergman to identify the origins of the film clips shown.

       A similar pattern is followed in the next room, which conveys Joan’s mission to meet with Charles VII and her interrogation at Poitiers. Throughout the documentary, visitors are introduced to the surviving (and lost) documentation from Joan’s time. For example, the documentary explains that we know the conclusions of the Poitiers examination (1429) because of the testimony from Seguin de Seguin during the nullification proceedings, although the minutes from the examination did not survive. Here, we learn of Joan’s conviction and her way with words that won over so many to her cause.

       In the following room, a fourteenth-century pantry, the documentary dives into the Orléans campaign with 3D maps and more testimony, this time from those who witnessed the events such as Jean d’Aulon, Louis de Coutes, and Jean de Dunois. Portions of Joan’s letter to the English (22 March 1429) are read, telling the English to abandon the siege and leave France. However, when one of the actors points out that there is more to the letter that threatens violence on the English, another actor interjects that there are multiple versions of the letter, indicating that she may not have been the author of such threats. This interaction glosses over a little-discussed aspect of Joan’s letter in that, although it was widely copied and distributed, when Mathieu Thomassin included the letter’s contents in his Registre delphinal (1456), he presented it as four separate letters, addressed separately to Henry VI, the Duke of Bedford, the leaders of the English at Orléans, and the soldiers at Orléans.[1] There is one theory, not purported by any current scholars that I know of, that Joan may have authored some of these letters, but they were later compiled as a single letter. Thus, is it not possible others enhanced the compiled letter we know so well today? However, when the single letter was presented to Joan at her condemnation trial (22 February 1431), she did not clarify any such details nor did she dispute the more violent aspects of the letter.[2] The documentary does not dive into these details (presumably because of time), and the result leaves viewers with the impression that Joan was firm in her demands, but not violent.

       The documentary glosses over the Loire Campaign but highlights the coronation of Charles VII at Reims using a scene from the television miniseries Joan of Arc (1999) with Neil Patrick Harris playing the king. The documentary highlights Joan’s failure to capture Paris and her wounding there, followed by her capture at Compèigne (1430).

       The final room focuses on Joan’s condemnation trial (1431). Here, the documentary foregoes the surviving record from the trial where Joan’s responses were recorded, but instead relies on actors playing assessors testifying during the nullification proceedings. For those unfamiliar with the proceedings, they were conducted with a set of questions presented to each person individually, and their answers were recorded in Latin. These questions were predetermined and presented in the same order to each person. While some of the testimony is lively and reveals interesting perspectives on Joan from those who knew her, most of the recorded responses are mundane. Many of the responses are simply along the lines of “I don’t know about that.” However, the documentary enlivens the nullification proceedings by transforming what was a boring procedure into a room full of men discussing and arguing with each other about what they witnessed at Joan’s condemnation trial. Two of the men get so heated with each other, a moderator has to intervene.

As the documentary climaxes to Joan’s abjuration, the “faces of Joan” are presented, which includes different actors who played Joan in twentieth-century films. These actors include Geraldine Farrar in Joan the Woman (1916), Simone Genevois in La merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d’Arc (1929), Ingrid Bergman in Joan the Woman (1948), Sandrine Bonnaire in Jeanne la pucelle (1994), and Leelee Sobieski in Joan of Arc (1999). The documentary also uses Renée Jeanne Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) and Florence Delay in Procès de Jeanne d’Arc (1962), borrowing the most from these films to depict scenes from the trial and the moments leading up to Joan’s execution. The documentary ends with a scene of fire and a woman screaming “Jesus.”

       From here, visitors are finished with the guided experience of Historial Jeanne d’Arc, but there are several more rooms to explore. For example, one room features several hundred post-medieval depictions of Joan in every medium imaginable including paintings, sculpture, film, comic books, ceramics, tobacco, advertising, postage stamps, and medals. There is a full-sized poster for each film used in the documentary along with Gustav Ucicky’s Das Mädchen Johanna (1935). This little-known film was produced in Germany during the Third Reich and twists the story of Joan to promote a National Socialist agenda.[3] Notably absent is any mention of Luc Besson’s The Messenger (1999), the most recent big-budget Joan of Arc film. Besson’s film is arguably one of the most controversial in Johannic cinema, as it strips Joan of all spirituality, even suggesting her visions were pure delusions. Furthermore, “Joan is portrayed as impetuous, impractical, and a nuisance in the heat of battle,” as one historian observed.[4]

       For those ready to spend more time on the historiography of Joan of Arc, the library room provides a wonderfully illuminating experience. There is a short documentary that covers the ebb and flow of interest and scholarship on Joan after her death up to 2015, when the museum opened. Here, viewers are exposed to various takes on Joan from Shakespeare, Voltaire, Michelet, Quicherat, and Twain. The film also covers the difficult topic of nationalism from the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) to the National Front’s use of Joan in their xenophobic crusade against immigration.

       Finally, the library offers a unique hologram experience where four different historians are projected onto glass panels in front of a bookshelf. Each historian sits and waits to be asked a question. The visitor can pull up a chair, press a button, and hear a medieval historian like Anne Curry or Philippe Contamine respond to a question such as “What was the real role of Joan of Arc in Charles VII’s army?” The visitor can scan their headphones to hear the answer in their chosen language. 

               A hologram of Anne Curry awaits your questions about Joan and her world in the library of the Historial Jeanne d’Arc


The sample of questions is vast, covering topics such as how knowledge of Joan has changed over the years, how the English viewed Joan, and how did Joan’s actions contribute to the Hundred Years War. There are sixteen questions in total, with answers ranging from three to five minutes each. While I didn’t see any visitor listening to all of the answers, I did see visitors picking and choosing questions, which is an ideal use of the experience, as each visitor will bring their own preconceived ideas and questions of interest. Providing a choose-your-own-question type of experience to further inquiry is a brilliant approach, especially when visitors have already been inundated with two documentaries.

The Historial Jeanne d’Arc relies on 3D maps, twentieth-century films, and recreated scenes from the nullification proceedings to tell the story of Joan of Arc

       Historial Jeanne d’Arc is predominately a lively, immersive documentary that will keep the attention of any visitor. The latter rooms do a superb job of exposing visitors to the complex post-medieval world of Joan of Arc. These rooms are overwhelming with the quantity of items, which may have been the point. The past six centuries have produced such a complex tapestry of Joan across time and cultures that it would be impossible to cover every perspective adequately.

       If you have not visited Historial Jeanne d’Arc, I highly recommend carving out at least 90 minutes on your next trip to Rouen. You won’t regret it.



Scott Manning is the author of Joan of Arc: A Reference Guide to Her Life and Works, Rowman & Littlefield, 2023.

[1] Philippe Contamine, Olivier Bouzy, and Xavier Hélary, Jeanne d'Arc: Histoire et dictionnaire (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2012), 1013-1015.

[2] Full text in Craig Taylor, Joan of Arc: La Pucelle (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 74-76.

[3] For more on this film, see Kevin J. Harty, “The Nazis, Joan of Arc, and Medievalism Gone Awry: Gustav Ucicky’s 1935 Film Das Mädchen Johanna,” in Rationality and the Liberal Spirit, A Festchrift Honoring Ira Lee Morgan (Shreveport: A Centenary Publication, 1997), 122-133.

[4] Pamela Grace, The Religious Film: Christianity and the Hagiopic (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 122.

June 4, 2023

Mrs. Davis and the Search for the Holy Grail

Mrs. Davis and the Search for the Holy Grail; or, Спасибо meiner Herr vamános toute de suite fel y gwynt.  An eight-part miniseries airing on the Peacock Network. 20 April-18 May 2023.


Reviewed by

Kevin J. Harty, La Salle University


Spoiler alert: loads of key plot details in the review below


If, for some reason, you had nothing better to do and wanted to combine Monty Python and the Holy Grail with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Julian of Norwich’s Showings, you’d end up with the Peacock Network’s madly brilliant Mrs. Davis.

The series jumps from time period to time period, and from location to location, as it introduces a dizzying array of truly bizarre characters.  First, there is Mrs. Davis, a globe-spanning AI platform that uses human proxies wearing earbuds to communciate with everyone everywhere.  The word proxy has, therefore, become an oft-used verb. In the UK, Mrs. Davis is known as “Mum”; in Italy, as “Madonna.” Pronoun issues are never resolved. Should Mrs. Davis be referred to as a “she” or an “it”?  Elizabeth “Lizzie” Abbott, now Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin), has literally become a Bride of Christ, known in the series simply as “Jay” (Andy McQueen). Jay runs a falafel counter in some other dimension where the faithful drop in every once in a while for a meal and a chat (two kinds of communion?), and where “the Boss”—who is never quite identified, but who could be God—lurks behind a formidable closed metal door. We later learn that the lunch counter is Limbo, and that Jay is stuck there because Mary, his mother, selfishly kept a part of him when he was buried—that part has become the Grail. There is a more than slightly demented scientist and Grailologist named Dr. Arthur Shrodinger (Ben Chaplin), who, naturally, owns a cat.  And, of course, his first name is Arthur—he is, after all, connected to the Grail quest! (The real Dr. Shrodinger’s first name was Erwin.) There is a group of well-meaning, often baffled, nuns under the spiritual guidance of their gracious and sympathetic mother superior (the always marvellous Margo Martindale), who live off the grid outside Reno in a deserted desert motel turned convent. There is Wiley (Jake McDorman), Lizzie’s on-again-off-again boyfriend (when she’s not a Bride of Christ), a billionaire intent on destroying Mrs. Davis with the help of a ragtag, hyper-masculine guerilla group, who invent a device known as “the constipator” to help Simone overcome a challenge on her quest. The device is right out of a scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia are about to be crushed to death in a trash compactor. (One of the two creators of Mrs. Davis was turned down for a job when he applied to work on a Star Wars sequel.) There’s a pope (Roberto Mateos), and, for good measure, a look alike anti-pope. There are conmen and tricksters—such as Lizzie’s mother, Celeste (Elizabeth Marvel), and her father, Montgomery (David Arquette). There are very special running shoes, a 1307 massacre of Knights Templar in Paris, a fastfood chain named Buffalo Chicken Wings, an “Excalibattle,” a Lazarus Shroud (which protects the wearer during otherwise deadly adventures), and an exploding head previously on the shoulders of  someone who unworthily drank from the Holy Grail. (Viewers might remember what happens to Nazi-agent Donovan when he drinks from what he thinks is the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; in a further nod to the Harrison Ford film, German agents impede the search for the Grail in Mrs. Davis as they do in Last Crusade.) There are also the butchered lyrics to Eddy Grant’s 1982 hit single “Electric Avenue,” and, of course, there is the Holy Grail, here a glowing, seemingly indestrucible bowl (definitely not a cup), long in the care of the Sisters of the Coin (who refer to it as “the asset”), but eventually swallowed by a giant killer sperm whale, because, in Mrs. Davis, that’s what giant killer sperm whales do.

Grails always come with questions and with searches, and Mrs. Davis is replete with both. As we bounce around in time from 1307 onwards, the present seems to be in some indefinite period in the future, where the entire world, thanks to earbuds, is tuned into Mrs. Davis, the omniscient and omnipresent AI program which seems to have eliminated war, hunger, and poverty. But Wiley thinks Mrs. Davis is the embodiment of pure evil;  Sister Simone thinks Mrs. Davis is the anti-Christ. Nevertheless, Simone strikes a bargain with Mrs. Davis: if Simone finds and destroys the Holy Grail, then Mrs. Davis will switch herself off, leaving humanity once again to its own devices.

Just like part of the title of this review, each of the eight episodes of Mrs. Davis is given a title that is little more than gibberish, and the show’s creators admitted that AI was used to generate the title for each episode—for example, “”Zwei Sie Piel mit Seitung Sie Wirtschaftung” and “Great Gatsby 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Such gibberish is the point. Searching for the Grail requires deciphering verbal and other clues, some of which lead to dead ends. So too is the lingustitc word play at work with the names that characters are given throughout the series: Abbott, Wiley, Celeste, Simone, Lazarus, Clara, Schrodinger, Lazarus, Jay, Joy, and so on. Episode one opens in Paris in 1308 as the last surviving Knights Templar are by royal decree being burned at the stake.  The Knights have, however, a women’s auxiliary, a group of fighting nuns who tend to the Grail.  But, soon all the nuns, save one, are also massacred, and the sole survivor flees with the Grail seemingly by walking on water across the Atlantic to the New World.

Lizzie, whose childhood was spent working as a shill for a card trick that her parents devised and performed, has grown up hating anything that even hints at magic or trickery. She sees Mrs. Davis as just another con whom she vows to expose and destroy. When the younger Lizzie is shot in her liver by a crossbow (don’t ask!), she ends up in the hospital next to the younger Wiley. As adults, they reunite in the quest to find the Grail and to destroy Mrs. Davis, whose followers earn wings for successfully performing tasks at Mrs. Davis’s direction.  People can also earn wings by volunteering to die at a future date, in a move toward population control.  Mrs. Davis obviously understands the transactional nature of religion, especially medieval religion—pace Chaucer’s Pardoner. The subsequent explanation of the orgin of these wings is, I think, hysterically funny.

         Their shared goal leads to Lizzie and Wiley’s on-again-off-again romantic relationship. Wiley is, at one point, jealous of Jay, whom he curses. For such blasphemy. Wiley is struck by lightning and rushed to a hospital, from which he is kidnapped by Hans Ziegler (Tom Wlaschih), a deranged German priest. Ziegler kidnaps Wiley because he is wearing unusual running shoes, which may be key to finding the Grail, or to uncovering a scheme that has the real pope kidnapped and replaced with a look alike. All these plot details make total sense—or no sense at all—viewers just need to go with the flow when watching Mrs. Davis.

The plot of Mrs. Davis is big on characters teaming up, so, in additon to Lizzie/Sister Simone and Wiley going off on their quest, we also get Shrodinger and his long-lost daughter Clara (Mathile Olliver) on their own Grail quest. Clara’s mother is Mathilde LaFleur (Katja Herbers), the public face of the Sisters of the Coin, a secular religious order of women bankers whose rules dictate that no one should ever drink from the Grail and that the Grail must once a year be shown to at least 1% of the world’s population.  Clara learns the hard way what happens when someone violates the first rule; the second rule, the Sisters hope, can be observed by producing a television commercial for a new brand of sneakers (matching the footwear Wiley wears that catches the eye of Father Ziegler), which will air during the Super Bowl. The commercial will show one of the Sisters running at lighting speed while wearing the sneakers and holding the Grail. In Mrs. Davis, the Grail is, after all, a bowl that is special, if not super! (Stay with me here.) The problem is that the Grail under the care of the Sisters of the Coin is a fake.  The real Grail has been swallowed (Jonah like?) by the previously-mentioned killer sperm whale. (Patience, gentle reader, all will eventually be revealed.)

         Simone eventually retrieves the real Grail from the killer sperm whale’s belly by heeding the advice of Jesus’s mother, Mary: “an act of selfishness [hers] created the Grail; only an act of selflessness can destroy it.” Simone also learns about the origin of Mrs. Davis.  A computer programmer named Joy (Ashley Romans) created Mrs. Davis as part of a pitch for a job with a fastfood chain named Buffalo Chicken Wings—as in the wings with which Mrs. Davis rewards good deeds! But the company rejected Joy’s pitch and her possibly all-knowing AI program, so Joy unleashed it for free upon the world.  The program was not, however, without some internal glitches, which is where the mangled lyrics from “Electric Avenue”—as well as the mix-up over wings—fit in. Simone drinks from the Grail knowing that doing so will mean saying goodbye to Jay and free him to leave his lunch counter Limbo. She will do that selfless act that will indeed destroy the Grail. Mrs. Davis lives up to her part of the bargain with Simone, and shuts herself off, and the world descends into chaos. Wiley meets up with Simone, and the two ride off on a white horse into the sunset, Lizzie having learned that physical and spirtual love are not mutually exclusive.

         The dots do always end up getting connected in Mrs. Davis. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a small step. The longest journey is from the head to the heart.  Clichés abound.  The two creators of the series have the kind of track records that make it perfectly logical for them to have come up with the idea for Mrs. Davis. Tara Hernandez was a writer and producer on the always zany Big Bang Theory and its spinoff Young Sheldon.  Damon Lindelof, who didn’t get hired to work on a sequel to Star Wars, nonetheless gave us Lost and Watchmen.  Both trusted their script enough to allow Wiley’s second-in-command, JQ (Chris Diamantopoulos), to comment that the quest for the Grail is “the most over used MacGuffin ever.” Tongues are constantly in cheeks throughout the eight part-comedy, part-scifi episodes of Mrs. Davis.  Medievalism is also readily on display from the Grail quest itself, to an appearance by a frankly distraught Mother of God, to a temporarily-on-hold Harrowing of Hell—with a nod to other mystery play stagings of the story of Jonah and the whale and that of the raising Lazarus—to the Excalibattle, to a nun, who like Julian of Norwich, believes she is literally a bride of Christ, and who belongs to a religious order of women who have cut themselves off from the outside world, just like the first medieval monastic communities did.

Sister Simone is, however, more than a bit disconcerted to find out that Jay is a serial bigamist—so many brides, and only one Christ!  Mrs. Davis is filled with Chaucerian “solaas” and more than a bit of “sentence,” in its debunking of our often unbridled enthusiasm for what AI can do for us—or allow us not to do for ourselves. Indeed, Robert E. Barron, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Winona-Rochester (Minn.), has given Mrs. Davis a full thumbs up on his Word on Fire YouTube video for its expression of what he calls a spiritual message of extreme importance: “we are not using the internet; it is using us.” The bishop calls Mrs. Davis “his favorite TV show.” There is a further Chaucerian echo in this Peacock limited series as well: the cast of characters in Mrs. Davis are not out of any Dantesque divine comedy; rather, they seem straight out of the medieval English poet’s wonderfully and madly human Canterbury comedy whose pligrims also set out on a journey that leads them—just like the characters in, and the viewers of, Mrs. Davis— to where they least expect to go.

Mrs. Davis, an eight-part limited series created by Tara Hernandez and Damon Lindelof;  directed by Owen Harris, Alethea Jones, and Frederick E. O. Toye; original release 20 April-18 May 2023, on the Peacock Network.

April 2, 2023

Nokes, Beowulf in Comics and Graphic Novels

Richard Scott Nokes, Beowulf in Comic Books and Graphic Novels. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2023. Pp. xi, 197. ISBN: 978-1-4766-8778-0. $50. 


Reviewed by Carl B. Sell

University of Pittsburgh


Richard Scott Nokes’s Beowulf in Comic Books and Graphic Novels offers a thorough examination of themes, textual differences, and key similarities in adaptations of the Old English epic poem Beowulf in the contemporary medium of comics and graphic novels. Based in part upon Jason Tondro’s five categories for adaptations of King Arthur from the article “Camelot in Comics” and, later, the monograph Superheroes of the Round Table, Nokes categorizes Beowulf adaptations into “the artist as manuscript illustrator, the further adventures of Beowulf, Beowulf as storyteller, Beowulf transformed, and Beowulf for younger readers” (10). The categories also provide the names and focal points for each of Nokes’s five chapters, which is the structure of the book aside from the introduction, a conclusion, and additional textual apparatus. In these chapters, Nokes explores exemplary texts for each of the five categories, looking at both the art and the narratives of each to further explore the rationale behind each successive adaptation of Beowulf’s character, purpose, and story in relation to the time period and place of their publication—and, in some instances, the reception of the works by readers. It is useful for the reader to remind themselves that Nokes has added a “Timeline of Beowulf Comic Books and Graphic Novels” (x) before the introduction, as it becomes essential to contextualize the discussions of time, place, and purpose for these adaptations. It should also be noted that this timeline contains works briefly mentioned in the text as well as some that are not, so the timeline is also useful for those looking to collect these works as well as those who study them.


Nokes begins the introduction by stating that the key difference between Beowulf’s comic books and graphic novels and the adaptations of King Arthur and Robin Hood is that Beowulf lacks a “cultural moment” where the character and the text became prominent in cultural consciousness (5-6). While Nokes does expand further upon this statement by showcasing the single source text and lesser popularity to the other two mythic figures, it does remain a rather broad swathe to paint King Arthur and Robin Hood adaptations, as both, as well as Beowulf’s own, come in waves rather than a single cultural inception point. The remainder of the introduction posits the framework of Nokes’s argument about these adaptations, and writes that “this book will demonstrate the broader truth of [Siân Echard’s] claims” about the symbiotic nature of Beowulf adaptations as responding to each other, either consciously or unconsciously (6). While this strong focal point will be the backbone of Nokes’s own work in examining comics, there remains a lack of critical examination of the theory of adaptation, which would do a great deal to strengthen this claim and would assist in providing a touchstone for the extension of Echard’s ideas into the classification system that Nokes creates. The introduction comes to a close by briefly introducing the author’s five categories for Beowulf comic books and graphic novels, and the launches into the first chapter.


Chapter 1 is designated for Nokes’s first category, “the artist as manuscript illustrator,” and examines comic artists’ representations of Beowulf in conversation with illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period. Nokes argues that it is “the liminal nature” of the poem itself that allows for artists to create new visual representations of Beowulf regardless of “their distance in time, space, or culture” (16) which opens the door to more possibilities from even more adapters. The author notes that there are “three degrees of authenticity” for comics art: “Beowulfian,” which is categorized by its desired connection to the medieval source; “medievalist,” categorized by general allusion to medieval illustrations that are not necessarily connected to the source; and “fanciful medieval,” which abandons actual medieval styles and references and leans into the popular conceptions of what the medieval was like (18). Gareth Hinds’s version (2017) is explored as a representative of the Beowulfian category, Santiago Garcia and David Rubin’s (2016) is examined with the “mood” of the medievalist in mind, Rodriquez’s adaptation is fanciful medieval in its desire to be entertaining rather than adhere strongly to sources.


Chapter 2 centers on “the further adventures of Beowulf,” opens with a quote about intertextuality from T. S. Eliot that provides the basis for Nokes’s own ideas about recontextualizing the extension of Beowulf to new stories, settings, and reimaginings that deviate from the character’s and story’s original contexts (74). Beowulf: Gods and Monsters (2006) is used as an example of this, and the author writes that, while there are no direct flashbacks to the story of the poem, Beowulf himself mentions the events as seemingly passing references to his past, which Nokes coins as Gods and Monsters being “haunted” by its source. This is connected to a kind of calling-into-question motif often found in this category of adaptations, as is found in Metal Hurlant’s “A Different Shade of Grey,” (Francis Lombard, 2003) which defines the poem as “mostly true” (83-84), but also questions which parts are, in fact, the truth.


Chapter 3 explores “Beowulf as storyteller,” which Nokes defines as presenting “[the character] Beowulf as unreliable narrator” (96). The author writes that, in this category, the story “follows the plotline of the original poem very closely . . . But while illustrating the manuscript, these particular artists ask, ‘Is it true?’” (96). By allying this category with the artist as manuscript illustrator, the avenue of study that is also opened up with books such as the Beowulf of Deadpool: Killustrated (2013) and Beowulf in Civil War II (2016), both comics from Marvel, is one of examining of the way that the story and characters in the poem are destabilized by their representations in comics. Deadpool: Killustrated’s Beowulf, as Nokes sees him, is the archetype of the monster hunter and functions as little more than such; the Beowulf Marvel gives the reader in Civil War II, however, is one that is “denying fate” and serves as a gritty, less-idealized version of the character from the source. Indeed, Marvel’s various Beowulfs serve as representatives of the most popular aspect of the Beowulf as storyteller category: “[Beowulf] as part of an intertextual literary universe,” just as we see in DC’s own usage of the character (98). This allows the events of the original poem to either be referenced or mirrored in such a way as to call into question the veracity of the source, a hallmark of Nokes’s third category.


Chapter 4 features “Beowulf transformed,” which the author allows is a category of representations that is difficult to identify given that its features variances and differences that Nokes calls the “radical translation” of this tale to certain comics and graphic novels (107). The author allows that there is a need for changes beyond the normal scope of textual adaptation in this category, and calls attention to what he terms the “unheimlich Beowulf,” a character who is recognizable as Beowulf but who is also clearly not the Beowulf of the poem (108). Adapted from the idea of the uncanny in literature, Nokes uses David Hutchison’s Beowulf (2006), Wally Wood’s story “The Ghost-Beast!” from Tower of Shadows (1970), and Erik A. Evensen’s The Beast of Wolfe’s Bay (2013) are explored as exemplars of this category, narratives and art styles that mostly capture the tone of the original, but the plot and characters are very far away from any source material. Everything is fluid, and all of it is questionable when closely examined to the original text—some things remain recognizable, but most portrayals are tenuously connected to the Geatish hero of old. 


The final category, “Beowulf for younger readers” is relegated to Chapter 5, which asks a crucial question: which comics and graphic novels are intended for younger readers? The lack of a consensus from scholars, readers, and critics on this question perhaps makes scholars’ work all the more difficult, and while Alexis E. Fajardo’s long-running Kid Beowulf series (2008-2017) is clearly intended for a younger reader in its intent to educate, albeit while straying from the source, Michael Uslan’s Beowulf: Dragon Slayer (1976) for DC Comics is less certain, and has fewer narrative or artistic tells. It is worth noting, though, that Nokes argues that the audience is often made clearer by the artwork, too, and the decreased or non-existent erotic representations of women and the lessened male gaze often means that the book has a younger audience in mind; however, the author also rightly allows that it is often the subversive nature of more adult-oriented art and narratives that all but ensure younger readers will want to read such books, too. It ultimately, for Nokes, comes down to whether or not it is clear that the artists are trying to push younger readers to learn about or to engage with the source material or even the wider world of reading that makes the all-important distinction.


It is Nokes’s conclusion that serves as a kind of call-to-action for scholars, arguing that comics and graphic novels do “bear the weight of critical scrutiny,” (173) and, as such, we are meant to engage with the large corpus of these and similar adaptations. The author states that scholarly study of Beowulf adaptations like these is “in its infancy,” (173) which perhaps does not encompass the various connections to be made between critical frameworks for other heroic figures in comics—such as King Arthur and Robin Hood, which the author mentions earlier in the book. This is tempered by the fact that Nokes does makes mention of various options for further study for Beowulf comic books and graphic novels, which include reader-response theory and other reception studies, which can perhaps be extended to the connections between the Beowulfian tradition and other such figures.


Perhaps the only real point of contention remains the author’s lack of a critical touchstone for adaptation. This becomes particularly noticeable given the continued use of the word “adaptation” and, to a smaller extent, “appropriation,” as both are critical terminology of Julie Sanders and Linda Hutcheon. The exclusion of such does not take away from the analysis Nokes presents, particularly because of the author’s approachable style and general accessibility of the presented argument; rather, this is pointed out as a possible inclusion for a follow-up or for continued research into adaptations in comics. The author should also be praised for the acknowledgment of the male gaze of comics, and the desire to explore the differences between art styles therein (64-65), which is sometimes a difficult subject for writers to expand upon in the methodical way Nokes does. In a similar manner, Nokes mentions that the “presuppositions that scholars bring to the books and their content” (130) add difficulty to any amount of analysis on adaptations in comics, specifically those that are well-known or frequently studied. Those of us who look to new media for scholarly analysis of adaptations are keenly aware of the regard in which others hold certain mediums, texts, and critical lenses, and Nokes adroitly navigates this often-difficult matter in his own exploration of texts. The notes provided are both extensive and well-written, and offer crucial context and information, and the index of terminology, texts, and images is also of note. Perhaps of worth in a future edition or update would be a separate index for the 25 black and white images Nokes provides in the book, but largely the textual apparatus remains a crucial component to such a study. What cannot be denied is the extensive work that Nokes has put into this monograph, and medievalists and comics scholars alike will find a great deal of value in these pages. 


Carl B. Sell

University of Pittsburgh