Mighty Apollo is known by all as the god of the sun, but there’s more to this Olympian than a bright smile and a shining chariot. In the latest volume of Olympians, “New York Times” bestselling author George O’Connor continues to turn his extensive knowledge of the original Greek myths into rip-roaring graphic novel storytelling.
It’s interesting to see how the stories of Greek myth play out when O’Connor depicts them in his modern day graphic novels. In Hera, he managed yet to turn the arch-villain of Greek mythology into a harsh but admirable character; he portrayed the adulterous, vengeful, tyrannical Zeus as a flawed but lovable chess-master; even Aphrodite, the woman ultimately responsible for the Trojan war and the tragedy of Dido, was given new depths. It says a lot that even O’connor wasn’t able to find anything remotely likeable in Apollo, one of the most recognized and exulted Gods of the Greek pantheon. And he didn’t even touch on the Cassandra myth.
O’Connor admits himself in his authors notes that he struggled with making Apollo sympathetic.
What we got was nine stories centering around Apollo and in all of them he was awful; he pursues Daphne so persistently that she turns into a tree to escape him and even then he won’t get the message. He insists on making her his tree. The point of no return comes with the story Marysas. In this story, Apollo skins Marysas alive for daring to challenge him to a music competition. Of course, to the Greeks, Marysas was committing blasphemy and overreaching, so Apollo’s reaction was an inevitable result of Marysas’ arrogance and a demonstration of the God’s strength. Now, since we don’t believe believe in the Greek pantheon and we hold them up to the same moral standards as humans (something that would diminish the righteousness of every religious deity if we did the same to the Gods of modern religions). Marysas was portrayed as a harmless and naive idiot, so watching Apollo exact such a cruel revenge on him was shocking. The scene was really graphic, with the silhouette of Apollo flaying him against a murderous red sunset, cutting to a scene of the reveler’s skin hanging mournfully from a tree. It was a well illustrated and a powerful scene, but at this point the graphic novel left the realms of child friendly.
I wished I was reading about any of the support characters instead of him, because they were all interesting and sympathetic. Dionysus was great, as was Artemis and I’m looking forward to when both of them get their own book. Hell, I would have settled with Python at this point, because even he seemed to possess more reasonable motivations and depth to his character.
One good thing, however, was his portrayal of Hyacinth and Apollo and this was the only story where Apollo was anything resembling human emotion. It was great to see Hyacinth drawn as a POC, and that their relationship wasn’t made ambiguous put portrayed as unambiguously romantic. The only downside was that when Hyacinth and Apollo were about to kiss, it cut to a scene of a female kissing Apollo’s statue. Apollo didn’t have to show them kissing, but hinting at male/male kissing and then haphazardly cutting to a man and a woman kiss felt very much like ‘whoah! Too much gay- quick, here’s a man and woman to wash away the homo’. This (I strongly suspect) probably was to comfort the American publishing company’s discomfort with ‘teh gayz’ in material for children, but it was still kind of annoying. If the young readers managed to cope with a graphic depiction of an innocent person getting skinned alive I think they can cope with some mild same sex affection.
VERDICT: Apollo is a very faithful well told portrayal of the Greek God. However, the downfall is that Apollo was such an unlikable hero that although this story was very educational, I did not enjoy it. I would still recommend this to anyone who’s interested in finding out more about Greek myth. However, I would not recommend giving this to children without reading it yourself first, because the skinning of Marsyas is extremely brutal and will almost certainly haunt their dreams. I know it haunted mine.