Archive for ‘graphic novels’

July 24, 2014

Eric Shanower: “Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part Two”

Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part Two

Graphic Novel
Pages: 175
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Winner of five Eisner Awards, including Best Writer/Artist in both 2001 and 2003, and the Gran Guinigi for Best Serial Comic 2006, Eric Shanower presents part two of Betrayal, the third of seven volumes telling the complete story of the Trojan War.

Ships hit the beach. Battle cries ring out. Warriors leap ashore to meet the chariots of the mighty Trojan army. Achilles and his cousin Ajax clash with the Trojan prince Hektor and his ally, King Sarpedon of Lykia. Dust rises as men fall dead, all for the sake of one woman, Helen, who watches the Trojan War from high on the walls of Troy, safe for the present.

Within the walls, conniving Pandarus hopes to avoid paying for his brother’s betrayal of the Trojans. But how? Perhaps Pandarus can gain royal protection by persuading his niece Cressida to accept the love of the Trojan prince Troilus. But she’s reluctant.

The war waits for no one. Its bloody claws close tight around both Troilus and Cressida, forcing each of them to face choices neither would have imagined before the Trojan War began. Troilus’s understanding of existence cracks open, while Cressida must choose whose bed she’ll share.

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

Note: I am reviewing this book because the artist sent me a free copy.

Review: I really enjoyed Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One, two of the previous volumes in the Age of Bronze series, so I was looking forward to reading Betrayal, Part Two. Unfortunately, I don’t think it lives up to the level of its predecessors.

The most prominent storyline in this volume is that of Troilus and Cressida. A lot of space is devoted to it and it progresses much farther than I would have expected. I feel a little odd criticizing this without having any idea how the story is going to unfold in later volumes, but I would have preferred to spend less time with them. This is the book where the Trojan War really starts, but so little time is spent on the war that it loses a lot of its impact. I might not have minded this so much except that the time that might have been spent on the war is instead spent on two characters I don’t really care about. Troilus has very little personality besides his constant pining and Cressida, although the more interesting of the two, has a literal change of heart that completely changes her motivations within the space of a few pages. This made it difficult for me to empathize with either of them. I will admit, though, that I was really glad that Cressida’s motivations were made clear and I was glad that she has an actual reaction to the Greek kings when she arrives in the camp; Shakespeare leaves both of those areas pretty vague, and with appropriate embarrassment I must admit that, apart from Age of Bronze, Shakespeare’s is the only version of the Troilus and Cressida story that I’ve read so far.

I have one more criticism of the Troilus and Cressida storyline that might not be valid, but that bothered me enough that I have to mention it. The back flap of this book tells us that Age of Bronze is Shanower’s attempt to tell the story of the Trojan War “in authentic historical detail.” Yet there’s a scene that’s a recreation of the part in Shakespeare where Troilus, Cressida and Pandarus talk about how future generations will remember their names. Of course, telling the story of the Trojan War as it authentically, historically happened is basically impossible, and perhaps the “authentic historical detail” is only meant to refer to the visuals. But it seems odd to me to make a claim like that and then lift a scene from a relatively recent playwright who is not exactly known for his historical accuracy. I would be ready to just shrug this off except that the scene ends with Pandarus’s line: “All those who selflessly exhaust themselves by going between should be called Pandars.” As far as I can tell, this is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of line that only works if your audience is made up of speakers of modern English, and so perhaps not something that a historical Pandarus might have actually said. This is absolutely a nitpick but, to be fair, I did predict that as I continued to review Age of Bronze I would start nitpicking …

Now for what I liked!

I really have to praise the character designs in Age of Bronze. There’s a ton of characters but somehow they manage to be pretty distinct. I read this volume a couple months after I read the previous volume, but even so, the number of characters I recognized right away far outnumbered those I didn’t. I also continue to be impressed with the transitions between scenes; my favourite in this volume smoothly takes us from nighttime in Troy to morning in the Greek camp. It’s followed by several pages where the panels on the left are scenes on the battlefield and the panels on the right are other scenes. I really love how this alternating pattern not only shows the passing of time but also moves the various storylines forward really efficiently.

Unrelated to the story, this cover is my favourite of the volumes so far, and I also really like how two pages at the back of the book are dedicated to encouraging readers to help preserve the archaeological sites.

Even though I didn’t love Betrayal, Part Two, I didn’t dislike it, and I have no reason to doubt that future volumes will return to the high standard set by Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One. If you’re interested in reading a graphic novel retelling of the Trojan War (and don’t mind a bit of a wait till future issues), I definitely recommend Age of Bronze.

Official Web Site: Age of Bronze
Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

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April 28, 2014

Eric Shanower: “Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part One”

Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part One

Graphic Novel
Pages: 175
First Published: 2008

Synopsis: Winner of two Eisner Awards (Best Writer/Artist 2001 and 2003) and the Gran Guinigi (Best Serial Comic 2006), Eric Shanower presents part one of Betrayal, the third of seven volumes telling the complete story of the Trojan War.

High King Agamemnon is bent on conquering Troy and recovering his brother’s beautiful wife, Helen. But first, Agamemnon’s army must pass the island of Tenedos. Spears fly and men die. When the dust settles, the young warrior Achilles finds himself another step closer to his tragic fate.

During the feast of victory, a snake bites Philoktetes on the foot. His cries of pain are so loud and long that the army can’t stand having him around. Leave it to Odysseus to find a solution to the problem, a solution that satisfies the army but doesn’t sit quite so well with Philoktetes.

Meanwhile, the Trojans muster their strength. Happy events such as Hektor’s marriage to Andromache merely mask the fear growing behind Troy’s walls. Can a peace embassy from Agamemnon’s army hold out any hope? Even Helen dreads to face what lies ahead.

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

Note: I am reviewing this book, Volume 3A in the series, because the artist sent me a free copy of Volume 3B. You may or may not be interested to know that, while my local library decided to shelve the previous volume in the children’s section, this one they shelved in the teen section. I think that’s a much better fit for the series as a whole but I have no idea why the difference. Because this volume has swearing in it … ???

Review: Age of Bronze in its entirety is projected to be seven volumes long, which makes me worry that I am going to run out of things to say about it. I have a terrible vision of my review of Volume 7 being nothing but critiques of how a character’s eyebrows are drawn. My general comments about this volume are basically the same as my comments about Sacrifice – I am still impressed by the research and intrigued by the depictions of the characters, and although neither the writing nor the art are that appealing to me on their own, combined they somehow created a book that I couldn’t put down.

· American comic books don’t have the best reputation when it comes to their portrayals of female characters and I admit that I was nervous about that when I began reading this series. I am happy to say that I have been pleasantly surprised. A decent number of female characters – including Thetis, Cressida, Andromache, and Hecuba – look like they’ll be getting larger roles than usual, and characters like Helen and Cassandra who usually get a decent amount of screen time look like they’ll be keeping it. (I’m curious to see how Thetis being in the Greek camp the whole time plays out.) This volume also passes the Bechdel Test pretty cleanly, and features at least as much male nudity as female nudity, sorry if that’s an odd thing to point out!

· Some of the more comic moments are awesome – for instance, I cracked up when Agamemnon got irritated at Palamedes for closing the door properly – but some feel out of place. Possible spoiler!! There’s a moment where Achilles steals a rock from a woman he’s chasing and it reads a bit like slapstick, but on the very next page the woman falls down a hole and dies, which is decidedly not slapstick. The different tones in this scene don’t fit well together and just felt awkward to me. Happily, I’ve only noticed this sort of thing a couple times.

· Polyxena and Troilus have a scene together and the two Ajaxes have a scene together. I mention these only because it’s neat to see characters who are usually pretty minor getting scenes to themselves.

· There are two things in this volume that I suspect might make more sense to me if I had read Volume 1. The first is the scene in which Agamemnon just plain forgets to invite Achilles to the feast that all the other Greeks are attending. He forgot Achilles? How do you forget the best warrior in your army? The second is that I can see Shanower trying to give Helen some angst about the war, but it doesn’t feel very organic to the character. Maybe there’s some information in earlier scenes that would fix these issues for me.

· Possible spoiler!!? So Akamas finds himself in a strange room in the depths of enemy territory with a woman who won’t answer his questions. He responds to this situation by having sex with her and then falling asleep. Dude, I do not think this is the best strategy if you want to make it to the end of this war.

· If I sound less than enthusiastic today, it’s only because I am a terrible reviewer who is writing this entry several weeks after actually reading the book. But in all honesty, I enjoyed this volume even more than the previous one. I read it in one sitting and loved its super creepy cliffhanger! Now that the war is fully about to begin, I’m really excited to read the next volume.

Official Web Site: Age of Bronze
Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

March 4, 2014

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 …

Review: 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
Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca