Friday, January 30, 2015

Ares: Bringer of War

This seventh entry in the Olympians series, Ares: Bringer of War, differs from its predecessors in one way: instead of conglomerating multiple texts it is an adaptation of a single work The Iliad. Still, there are many stories and characters in here, and we get a great sense of the richness and relationships of ancient history and mythology. And, like the other books in this series, I really enjoyed how these myths are told in a way that captures the best aspects of superhero comics, including the bold colors, the expressive actions, and the bombastic narratives. Artist/writer George O'Connor puts so much detail, care, and love into these books, and the results are impressive. Because this book is the seventh in the series, I will tell you seven things I love about it.

1. The opening, which is perhaps the strongest one in the series. It is dramatic and powerful, and it demonstrates just how excellent O'Connor is as a storyteller. He sets up a scene, showing us glimpses of emotion and action, and then utterly drops the hammer with Ares' explosive entrance into the fray. The art and storytelling throughout this book is so dynamic and attractive, but the first scene is especially excellent. Check out part of it below:

2. Its accessible sense of continuity. I love that this book builds on and refers to the characters and events on past volumes in this series, but it can also be read on its own without any confusion.

3. How the Greek gods are shown to be a bickering family. I think part of what makes this book work so well is how well defined all the various personalities are. It makes the gods relatable and interesting characters, and if you have read the other volumes you can also see the long threads O'Connor has woven with each individual narrative. Everyone has their unique motivations and stakes in this war, and their machinations are fun and fascinating to watch.

4. The complexity of Ares' personality. Rather than being a one-dimensional, large, angry hulk, Ares is shown to be a complicated character who is striving for personal pride and also to follow in his father's footsteps. He is a difficult character to root for, but ultimately he is strangely dignified.

5. The action sequences with Diomedes. A lot of other heroes like Achilles and Odysseus get more attention than him, but here O'Connor spotlights his impressive exploits. He is the only mortal to stab two gods in one day. That's a feat. Plus, I really liked the effect of his glowing eyes while wearing an enchanted war helmet.

6. The dialogue. A lot of adaptations of Greek myths feature stilted, faux Shakespearean language or people in distinguished British accents. Here, the characters speak in everyday vernacular, crack jokes, and speak  rather profanely. I can see how some purists may find this jarring, but I feel this modern take more clearly communicates situations and relationships and also points out just how petty some of those gods were.

7. The end notes. O'Connor provides an annotation list at the end of the book, explaining his artistic choices, teasing at the content of future volumes, and commenting on the narrative and myths. I love reading his cheeky commentary and also gaining insight into his creative processes while he demonstrates just how much of a geek he is.

Other reviews I have read about this book have been similarly full of praise. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and wrote, "the sequential scenes present a typically lively mix of melodramatic action and strong reaction shots—enhanced, often, by not-exactly-Classical language." Lori Henderson had very positive comments about the nuances of the characters and plot and concluded, "Olympians continues to be an exceptional series, one that should be on every library and book shelf." Bill Capossere summed it up as "a wholly impressive work."

Ares: Bringer of War was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more here.

Thank you for the review copy, Gina!

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