Random Recommendation: The Olympians By George O’Connor

Usually I talk about Wonder Woman, but you really can’t be a fan of Wonder Woman without being a fan of Greek mythology.  So lucky for all of us I’ve just stumbled upon a fantastic series of graphic novels about the Greek gods.  If you know about them already, then a) awesome, and b) why didn’t you tell me??  But if you don’t, you need to check them out.

Being a big fan of superheroes, most of my comic awareness is centered around Diamond and the direct market.  As such, I’m not terribly aware of all the cool graphic novels being produced by non-Diamond publishers.  So when I found this series at my local library, I was pleasantly surprised.

It’s called The Olympians, and is written and illustrated by George O’Connor.  Each book in the series is about a different Greek god, their origin, and the stories surrounding them.  So for example, the first book is about Zeus and how he overthrew Kronos, while the third book, and my favourite of the ones I’ve read so far, is about Hera, how she became queen of the gods, and her relationship with Heracles (or “Hercules”, if you’re not cool).

On a technical level, these books are impressive.  First off, they’re gorgeous, especially the hardcovers.  The design is solid and the art is fantastic.  Here’s a page from Hera’s book:

O’Connor’s art sort of reminds me of Chris Samnee a bit, which is fun because Samnee is awesome.  O’Connor’s got his own thing going, though, and it’s great.  The use of colour is striking as well, and it always sets the mood of the scene just right.  And, of course, the writing is solid, and manages the rare feat of rolling separate myths into one cohesive story.

The best part of The Olympians is that in combining these myths, O’Connor isn’t afraid to present a slightly different portrait of the gods than we expect.  The Hera book is particularly surprising this way.  Hera isn’t a very well-liked character generally, what with her always killing Zeus’ lovers and kids and generally screwing with people.  She’s pretty much the chief villain in Wonder Woman now, actually.  But O’Connor not only tells her side of the story, he also retells the Heracles myths in a way that Hera is almost the good guy helping him reach his true potential instead of a vindictive woman trying to destroy him.

O’Connor does this by being selective about which myths he includes.  Not to keep harping on about the Hera book (but it’s SO good, you guys!!!), he chooses to leave out  the bit where Heracles kills his family, which then changes the Twelve Labours from a way for him to atone for his crimes to a series of challenges so he can prove his greatness.  It works beautifully within the story (seriously, I LOVED this one), but it’s also an example of what I like best about mythology.

We comic nerds can be ridiculously hardcore about continuity.  Every little piece has to fit together properly and match what came before or we pitch a fit.  Mythology is pretty much the opposite of this.  There’s NO way for all of the stories to fit together.  There’s so many and they usually end up contradicting each other, so you have to pick and choose what you include when you retell them.  Authors have been doing this since the days of Ancient Greece, and I love that O’Connor is bold enough to carry on this tradition and craft his own story and angle on the gods instead of trying to just copy what’s come before.  His tales of the gods are reminiscent of the ancient stories, and at the same time are new and unexpected as well.  It’s the best of both worlds.

Plus, they’re aimed at young adults and are meant to be classroom friendly so there’s cool questions and resources for further reading at the back of each book.  And O’Connor gives you a rundown of the choices he made for each god, and which myths he chose to include and which to ignore.  It’s sort of like Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze, which is also fantastic, but without all the nudity and inclusion of every single detail.

So I heartily recommend them and you should check them out!!  There are four so far:

  • Zeus: King of the Gods
  • Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess
  • Hera: The Goddess and her Glory
  • Hades: Lord of the Dead

And Poseidon is coming in 2013 I think.  The softcovers are only about ten bucks a pop, and they’re well worth it, so go pick up a cool take on the Greek gods that’s simultaneously faithful to the ancient myths and new and modern as well.  Plus, they’re so very pretty!!

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