Welcome to What’s Actually Good (In Comics), the column where we review and discuss what’s currently out and what’s to come from the comic industry. This week, a theme! The books we shall be discussing are each based on Homeric poetry and the Greek myths. Check it out!
I get the feeling these days that Homer and the Greek myths no longer hold the same power over our popular culture as they did when I was younger. For somebody who grew up on both the amazing tales of the Greek heroes and gods and the modern myths of superheroes, this is particularity distressing. Thankfully the stories of the gods and heroes still have some influence on superhero comics today, be it in the obvious use of the characters themselves, like Hercules in the Marvel universe, or the more subtle and intricate inspiration that the modern hero has taken from his glorious counterpart of the ancient world.
It’s good to see the works of Homer and the Greek myths pop up occasionally within the comic medium, such as the Ares mini-series or Rucka’s Wonder Woman run. Just recently, however, I discovered three books that draw upon and are inspired by Homer’s poetry and the Greek myths in their own unique way.
They are The Infinite Horizon, published by Image and written by Gerry Duggan with art from Phil Noto; Marvel Illustrated: The Iliad from Marvel, written by Roy Thomas with art from Miguel Angel Sepulveda; and Eric Shanower’s epic Age of Bronze, also published by Image. Each book is clearly inspired by the works of Homer, and each uses the poems and myths in different ways to tell their story.
Marvel’s retelling of The Iliad is the next instalment within the Marvel Illustrated line, alongside The Last of The Mohicans, Treasure Island and The Man in the Iron Mask, each also written by Thomas. The comic is a straight adaptation of the original work, which is fine as long as they get it right. For the most part the book appears to be keeping in with the original poem by starting (after a brief prologue) at the same point The Iliad does, nine years into the war. Thomas seems to know what The Iliad is actually about and is writing with this in mind. In the poem, the Trojan War itself is merely the backdrop to a tragic tale about the horrors and glory of war and the hopelessness of men under the machinations of the gods, and Thomas respects that.
This first issue serves well to set the scene and introduce the characters, just as the book does. The gods literally take form to assist or hamper the mortals. Artistically, although we are yet to really see any serious action, Sepulveda manages to confidently tackle the many different characters.
Obviously, as with all adaptations some things will be left out, but so far it appears to be faithful enough to the original work to serve as a decent introduction to the Homeric myths for those completely new to the story.
The Infinite Horizon, a six-part series by Gerry Duggan isn’t an adaptation as much as it’s a re-imagining of Homer’s Odyssey. In Duggan’s version, Odysseus is known only as The Captain and is a U.S. Marine trying to find his way home after the war in the Middle East finally goes pear-shaped. Just as Odysseus races to get home to his wife, The Captain’s wife is also trying to desperately maintain control over her estate and the water supply, as America itself appears to be under strain from the war.
The art from Phil Noto completely complements the story. His work perfectly represents the harshness and danger of the Middle East, the tension and distrust back home, and the grim determination and desperation of the characters on both sides. The vivid colors are not contained by the pencil outlines or panel layout, and as such they capture your attention and hold it brilliantly.
There’s a political tone imbedded within the setting, but it doesn’t dominate what should otherwise simply be a story about a man determined to get home. We get faint shades of Odysseus’ character within The Captain, and it will be interesting to see which mythical characters Duggan revitalizes as the series wears on. By now the second issue is available on the shelves, but even better, the first issue can be downloaded for free! Check it out. There’s no excuse not to.
That brings us to the third and final comic this week, and it’s a good’un. The word “epic” is perfectly suited to describe Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze. Not only has Shanower chosen to Homer’s poetry within his story about the Trojan War, but he’s also drawn from the myth, literature and archaeological evidence available as well. It is a complete retelling of the Trojan War, starting from the very beginning up until the city finally burns.
What is unique about this series is both the huge amount of time Shanower has dedicated to both writing and drawing the book for a proposed seven volumes and the sheer magnitude of research he undertook to help him accurately represent the Bronze Age. Everything from the weapons to the dress and buildings are based on archaeological evidence and academic writings. While elements of the story are based on Greek myth or tragedy he still retains a realistic look.
So far, we have witnessed the origins of the conflict. It’s obvious for these early stages that Shanower has used many different literary sources, like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, to fuel the drama.
Now into its third volume, the series, which first debuted in 1998, moves slowly. It’s hard not to appreciate the in detail in both the writing and the artwork as it unfolds, and every ship, city, landscape and character is pencilled with a beautiful level of detail. While the pacing is slow, this is highly necessary if we are to incorporate all the characters and drama of the age. Age of Bronze isn’t simply Shanower’s current project, it’s a labor of love that has lasted over a decade.
If indeed Marvel Illustrated: The Iliad is a good introduction to the Homeric myths and The Infinite Horizon a good example of the timelessness and poignancy of the stories today, Age of Bronze the is the highest form of retelling, taking on all sides with the research and passion required to make it work. It is a phenomenal achievement, and it’s not even half way through.
I was originally worried that the Greek myths don’t hold the same power over our culture today, but perhaps I was being too hasty. It seems there is something of a fight to be had before the Greek heroes and gods are finally forgotten. Maybe through these books we can understand that they are important not only to us as entertainment, but also as the foundations for our own civilization and culture.
Comic books helping us understand our own heroic background?
Sounds good to me.
In other news, if you recall what I was saying a few weeks back about good creative teams, you’ll be excited to know Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch lengthened their proposed Fantastic Four run with Marvel from 12 weeks to 16, and Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins will be getting back together for a Flash mini about the rogues. Also, Leph Loeb finally admitted (MP3) that he is a troglodyte and said, “Plot doesn’t interest me as much as character does.” I want you all to know I called it first. Stick around in two weeks when I look at J. Michael Straczynski’s The Twelve and tell you why you should be excited about David Lapham’s new book with Vertigo.
What’s Actually Good (In Comics) appears in this space every other Thursday. Collect each issue. They will be worth more if kept in plastic.