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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

AGE OF BRONZE by Eric Shanower

by Eric Shanower

Back in 1998, when Eric Shanower started his series chronicling the history of the Trojan War, I took a look but decided not to follow the book. I liked Shanower's work in general, and the look of this book in particular, but I thought it read a bit slow and would read better as a collection. Also, at the time, there were a number of ambitious comic book projects that I started reading and which seemed to fall victim to market conditions within a few issues, and expected AGE OF BRONZE to follow that example.

I'm glad to say I was right about how it reads in collections and wrong about how long it would last. Shanower has managed to get two full books of material finished and released (collecting the first 19 issues), and while there are five more books to go, realistically at least 15 years, I wouldn't bet against him at this point. I read the two books over the past week, and was really impressed.

As mentioned above, this is Shanower's detailed retelling of the events of the Trojan War in Greek myth. He's decided to take the angle of ignoring the traditional role of the gods in the story (with the exception of having some of the prophecies that informed certain actions still existing, although sometimes represented as self-serving frauds, and the key judgment of Paris sequence being a dream). It can be a bit of an odd read at times, as my knowledge of the traditional Greek myths is a bit of a hodge-podge, coming from some children's books I read long ago (where they generally took out any of the violent and sexual stuff, which doesn't leave much) and comics by Jack Kirby, Eddie Campbell and George Perez, where the emphasis was of course always on the gods and with a super-hero filter. This seems to be a much more satisfying version than any of those, with human motivations, plotting and foibles more than making up for the lack of gods.

Of course Shanower's art was great, I expected that from some of his previous work, but this was a leap beyond anything he did before, beautifully rendered and researched figures and costumes and backgrounds. You can tell there's a lot of passion behind what he's doing, creating a fully consistent and realistic world for the characters to act in, and you can also tell he's inspired by some fine comic illustrators of the past in doing so.

It was good to see the writing up to the same level. While I thought the first few issues were a little slow, Shanower quickly got up to speed. He's taking the long way around in telling this story, and there are a lot of characters, each who have to have their motivations and inter-relationships explained, so this is far more complex than the usual "Paris kidnapped Helen, so the Greeks built a big horse" version of the Trojan war. The first issue only gets up to the initial gathering of the "thousand ships", and the second not much further by the usual quick re-tellings, to the first real launching against Troy, but that's several years, and he really makes you feel those years, and within that he tells a lot of small stories, fleshes out a lot of characters and makes the story come alive. It's a very dense read, and it rewards paying close attention (fortunately each volume has a map at the front and a glossary of names and family trees for the two main groups for easy reference. I found myself going to those a lot).

Well worth picking up the two current volumes of this, and I look forward to reading the full seven volumes when it's completed however many years from now.

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