Sunday, April 16, 2006

Crisis on Ancient Earth

It is the greatest story ever told, the perfect unity of myth, legend, and history. It is the inexahustible wellspring into which all ancient Greek myth flows or emanates. It is "Crisis on Ancient Earth". It is, in essence, the comic book that created Western Civilization. It is the Trojan War.

As a trained Classicist, I am not inclined to praise modern interpretations and retellings of Ancient lit. That's because so many are dreck; all is dross that is not Helena, after all. Yet I have nothing but the highest praise for Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze, an on-going monthly series that is retelling the story of the Trojan War.

Unlike many adaptations, Shanower's strives for accuracy, in characterization, plot, dress, design, and decor. Even the decorations seen on palace walls in the comic book are extrapolations from the actual remains of murals unearthed at Troy. He's made all the difficult decisions in interpretation, such as how to reconcile textual inconsistencies or in what way to understand the role of the gods in the conflict, with great care, intelligence, and style. The result is most readable version of the war since, well, Homer.

Shanower also takes full advantage of the comic book medium in adapting the tale. For example, when King Priam tells the story of how when he was a boy Herakles sacked his city, the flashback is drawn in a "Popeyesque" style that captures the mythic tone of Herakles in a way a thousand words could not. As, and befits a gifted interpreter, he augments the original stories with logical expansions, such as the inclusion of the dog Argos in the story of the Madness of Odysseus and of Troilus & Cressida in the doings at the Trojan court.

I don't care what else Image has done; they publish "Age of Bronze" and for that they shall always have my respect and gratitude.

Apparently I'm not the only person to praise the series. Age of Bronze has already won two Eisners and is nominated for a third this year. Unfortunately, it's too close to being one of those books everyone praises but no one reads (you know; like Manhunter). While sales of its collected trades remain healthy, too many trade-waiters are dampening sales of the monthly issues. If those fail, there aren't going to be any trades. That would be a crime, so I'd like your help to keep that from happening. Besides, I want to find out how the war ends.

I intend to do my part by posting occasionally on the various characters, stories, and situations in Age of Bronze and how they should appeal to the average comic book reader. For example, how anyone can call himself a Batman fan without knowing the stories of Odysseus, the Batman of Ancient literature, is beyond me.

All I'm asking is that you check out the Age of Bronze website, read some more about it on-line, and consider subscribing to this wonderful series. Age of Bronze belongs in the short boxes of every educated Westerner, right alongside Action Philosophers.

15 comments:

Iron Lungfish said...

Calling Achilles "noble" is kind of a stretch.

Scipio said...

Perhaps it isn't, in this telling.

Perhaps you should read it, and then judge, rather than base your opinion in some previous interpetation of Achilles that you've read elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Actually,I'm impressed...I think I'll go check this series out soon...Any more info on this in the near future?

kalinara said...

Wow those images are lovely. You really get a sense of the characters' personalities (at least as they'll probably be portrayed in the story) from just those little faces. I'm definitely going to check this out.

Devon said...

Shanower also drew the post-Crisis re-telling of The Justice League's origins. It was written by Peter David and positioned Black Canary as a founding member of The JLoA.

Anonymous said...

Damn it, I didn't know sales were that bad! It just reads great in the trade! Oh well, I just ran out of Keif Llamas, I'll add this to my pull list.

His is the best interpretation of Achilles I've ever read or seen on screen. Paris is still the biggest dick of the ancient world, although in this version he reminds me of dicks I personally know. Which makes him seem worse.

Iron Lungfish said...

Perhaps you should read it, and then judge, rather than base your opinion in some previous interpetation of Achilles that you've read elsewhere.

I was pretty much basing that statement on the portrayal of Achilles in the Illiad. There's a lot of things you can call Homer's Achilles - determined, angry, mournful, vicious - but by the time he's dragging Hector's corpse around the walls of Troy, "noble" is, at best, ill-fitting. I haven't read Shanower's adaptation, and it's entirely possible that his Achilles is totally different, but given that Homer's is the most well-known, I didn't figure it would be out of place to note the apparent disparity.

Gary said...

How far along is this series now? I saw the first collection, but that left off just at the launch of the expedition.

By the way, have you read ACHILLES IN VIETNAM or ODYSSEUS IN AMERICA by Jonathan Shay? They tackle the Iliad and Odyssesy from a combat experience standpoint and illuminate each brilliantly.

Marionette said...

the Batman of Ancient literature??

This I have to see.

Scipio said...

Homer wasn't very fond of Achilles and made him the scapegoat for the Ancient Heroic Ideal.

Like most substantive characters in Ancient myth, he can be painted as a jackass who deserves what he gets or a yet another victim of circumstance and the gods' whimsy.

Read, say, "Philoctetes", and you'll have a very different impression of Achilles.

Anonymous said...

As a professional archaeologist and habitual traveller of the Agean Sea, I can confirm the brilliance of Shanower's work: 'Age of Bronze' is the best retelling of the Trojan War in ANY medium that I have ever read. Buy it.

Bill Meisel said...

"Besides, I want to find out how the war ends."

I don't want to give anything away, but Odysseus' trip home is longer than you might expect.

Derek B. Haas said...

I really enjoy Age of Bronze in trade, but I have no interest at all in having a bunch of single issues sitting around the house, and even less interest in buying the material twice.

I will recommend it to a couple of friends who might enjoy the single issues, however! I really want this to survive.

Anonymous said...

I prefer trades in general. I remember reading somewhere (can't remember where now) that Image wants to put out the trades eventually, regardless of how the sales on the monthly issues go.

But I have to say - not only has Shanower really done his homework on this (he's worked hard to reconcile conflicting myths and he's apparently attending academic conferences on archaeology), but the faces alone are worth the price of admission.

Not many artists can take dozens (hundreds?) of Trojan princes and Greek heroes, and keep each and every one visually distinct and perfectly in character. Absolutely brilliant.

Anonymous said...

he does a 'remix' and discards half of the cast? Namely the Gods?

How could anyone in their right mind recommend this?

You might as well buy that flick with Pitt.

And I'm fucking tired of all the sucking up to ancient greece and their paradise that never was. Get some perspective you mutts.