Eric Shanower: “Age of Bronze: Sacrifice”

Age of Bronze: Sacrifice

Graphic Novel
Pages: 223
First Published: 2004

Synopsis: Twice winner of the Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist, Eric Shanower presents Sacrifice, the second of seven volumes telling the complete story of the Trojan War.

Helen’s dreams come true when she arrives with Paris in the powerful city of Troy. But her triumphant entry is marred by Kassandra’s wild predictions of Troy’s doom. No one believes such ravings, but nevertheless, doom is on its way. From across the sea a massive army of ships and men approaches, seeking war with Troy.

But the army has its own troubles. A disastrous battle brings death to innocents, while the young warrior Achilles forges a bond that will shape his destiny. Odysseus longs for home in Ithaka, but finds himself drawn ever deeper into High King Agamemnon’s dark plots. And a prophecy of the Trojan priest Kalchas forces Agamemnon to choose between betraying the army or sacrificing his daughter’s life.

Drawn from the myths and legends of centuries, Sacrifice continues the tapestry of drama and action known as the Trojan War. Eric Shanower’s historically accurate illustrations and compelling dialogue propel this greatest of Greek epics into the twenty-first century.

Note: I am reviewing this book, Volume 2 in the series, because the artist sent me a free copy of Volume 3B. I am starting with the second book because my local library mysteriously doesn’t have the first. They also mysteriously seem to have decided that Sacrifice, which includes scenes of pedophilia, rape and incest, should be shelved in the children’s section. “It has pictures, therefore it’s for kids” seems to be the clueless line of reasoning there …

My Thoughts: The last thing I expected when I started this blog was that it would play a role in breaking down various preconceptions that I was not even aware I had. First Helen’s Daughter showed me that self-published books can be amazing; now Age of Bronze seems primed to teach me that I should not be so quick to dismiss American style graphic novels. Because, to be brutally honest, I did not expect to like this book. A quick flip through the pages showed me stilted dialogue and an art style that reminded me of the emotionless comic book versions of famous literature that were in my high school library. But when I finally sat down to read it, it only took about thirty pages for me to realize I was hooked. It’s been a while since a Trojan War book has sucked me in so thoroughly; I was extremely reluctant to put it down even when I realized it was two in the morning. Let’s explore why by devolving into point form and developing an overreliance on the word “impressed” …

· According to the back flap, Shanower has set for himself the goal of “combining the myriad versions of the Greek myth with the archaeological record to dramatically and visually present the complete story in authentic historical detail.” That is an intense goal and I was pretty skeptical about it at first. How can you possibly give enough attention to all of the material? To each storyline? To all of the necessary characters? How can you “combine the myriad versions” when they tend to contradict each other? I think this volume gave me a taste of how Shanower has been dealing with these issues and I am impressed so far with the balance he’s been able to bring to all the different elements of the story. I also noticed him taking the care to set up a few things for future storylines, which I definitely appreciate. The question of how one can claim “authentic historical detail” when dealing with the 3,000-year-old, quasi-mythological world of the Trojan War is not one I can answer, but, for what it’s worth, I was impressed by the sheer length of the bibliographies in the backs of these books. And, while I must admit I don’t know if this is historically accurate or not, I noticed that the Trojans are depicted quite differently in dress, hair and facial features than they usually are in modern visual representations. I very much enjoyed seeing Paris wear his Iliadic leopard skin. Seriously, no one ever lets him wear it!

· On a similar topic, there is one panel that has to be a reference to the famous vase painting of Achilles tending Patroclus’ wounds, and that is seriously awesome.

· The above panel occurs in one of the many scenes in this book that stars Telephus. Talk about characters you never see!!! I think it’s fantastic that he was included and even more fantastic that he was given enough screentime to become a really sympathetic character.

· Maybe this is a strange thing to comment on, but oh my goodness the transitions between scenes (or even different parts of scenes) are fantastic. They’re the sort of effortlessness that probably actually takes a lot of effort to achieve. There’s one scene early on where all the Trojan nobles have gathered to celebrate Helen and Paris’ wedding, and the reader is taken around the room to listen to the conversations of different groups and it all happens so smoothly and naturally that I didn’t even notice it was happening until the end of the scene. Like I said, maybe a strange thing to comment on, but I was really impressed by it.

· Most of my time spent with the Trojan War story is spent reading novels, so it was kind of exciting for me to see this book doing things that maybe only graphic novels can do. For example, the useless wind at Aulis is depicted with a constant “shshshsh” written underneath the panels that take place there – an immediate and constant reminder of the army’s plight. I was also impressed with the page in which all the nightmarish crimes of the House of Atreus are depicted as being tangled in Agamemnon’s hair, a really strong visual representation of his frustration with being unable to escape his family’s past. I am really looking forward to the other scenes like this that I am hoping will pop up in future volumes.

· Although I’m still not in love with the style of the art, it’s impressive how many distinct faces Shanower has been able to come up with, and I actually really like Agamemnon’s character design – the sharp lines of his face work especially well in the darkly lit scenes at Aulis. I also felt that the style of the dialogue improved as the book went on – either that or I simply got used to it. Either way, much to my surprise, I really enjoyed Sacrifice and will be reading the next volume as soon as I finish all the work I neglected because I didn’t want to stop reading this one …

Official Web Site: Age of Bronze
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