This is what this entire series has been building up to: The Trojan War, and oh my God, is it completely and utterly glorious.
It begins with a battle; chaos in the battlefield; when strategy fails and it turns into a chaotic bloodshed. That’s when Ares appears. And this is introduced by an epic 300 style battle with an epic narration about war happening as we watch Ares kick the crap out of people. I mean, check out this panel and try and tell me that it’s not made of awesome:
The whole novel is full of excellent fight scenes that really brings excitement back to The Iliad. We have the battle between the King of Sparta Menelaus against Prince Paris, Athena teaming up with Diomedes to wreak havoc on the battlefield, and of course that fateful, heart breaking battle between a grieving Achilles and Prince Hektor. The battles are exciting, not least because its not just a clash of swords, but a clash of characters- each with their own skills and agenda.
Though this novel is called Ares, he is not really the protagonist. This is very much an ensemble piece, and If anything, the story is about Athena, with Zeus playing the role of quiet chessmaster, observing silently from afar as the Gods fight, always in control. But even so, Ares isn’t forgotten and plays a very important symbolic role- being the foil to the manipulations of the seemingly more civilised Olympians.
One of the greatest strengths of O’Connor is that he is really far stronger at bringing a new perspective to the Greek Gods that were despised in the original myths. Athena and Apollo were two of the most beloved deities, and yet are far more cold and less sympathetic in this series, while the reviled shrew Hera, ditzy Aphrodite and the hated God of War Ares (the essential personification of masculine cruelty) are given a brilliantly complex portrayal. He is reviled by his own father Zeus in favour of Athena, and admits that while she is the Goddess of strategy, he is the God of bloodshed and violence is all he can bring. As a result, all he has is strength and he is constantly outwitted by Athena. And yet he has a sort of stoic nobility about him.
Even though he is the personification of violence, he knows what he is and there’s no deception about him. He never starts the battle- but he’s summoned as a result of all the other characters and their epic scheming. That’s pretty complex and is done in such a subtle way.
War of the Gods:
I can’t talk about this graphic novel without its central draw, the war of the Gods. Oh my God, was it amazing. In all the previous books, we’ve been introduced to most of the main players- Athena, Apollo, Poseidon, Hera- and seen their strengths, know their backstory, grown to love O’Connor’s incarnation of them. Now we get to see them fight.
It is everything I wanted, and oh my God, was the confrontation between Hera and Artemis perfection… All this culminating in Hector vs Achilles, in which the tone changes… the war is no longer heroic, but sad and the weight of the bloodshed falls upon them.
The only downside:
The one theme that bugged me is that it often contrasts Ares and Athena by the fact that he has children but she doesn’t, and therefore she’s far colder. It makes sense that Aphrodite criticises her for this (because that’s one Goddess not under her control), but this seems to be Ares’ and the novel’s assessment of her too and I’m not sure I think this is valid. It overlooks the reason why she had to be a virgin. The reason why Athena is a virgin is because the relationship between and husband and wife in ancient Greek society (especially Athenian) was so hierarchical, so unequal and riddled in misogyny that remaining a virgin was the only way she could be her own person, powerful in her own right and not lorded over by her husband.
Making her asexual and divorced from femininity was the only way the Greeks could relate to her, such an important Goddess because of their hatred of women. Afterall, Hera was the Goddess of marriage and the personification of the most typical way of life for women; she was Queen of the Gods and wife of Zeus and yet she was reviled in the Aenead, The Illiad and The Odyssey; Aphrodite was the personification of the feminine allure and was likewise portrayed as silly, weak and a cause of disorder. Divorcing herself from femininity was the only way she could be ‘the exceptional woman’ and a Goddess wielding so much power and agency, and this is something that really should have been acknowledged if we went down.
But still, this such an astonishingly minor quibble and believe me, it amounts to nothing doesn’t do anything to detract from how perfect and amazing this graphic novel is. Also, ‘not now Hermes, I’m gloating’ is one of my favourite lines in anything.
Verdict: This graphic novel is perfect in every way and every man, woman and child needs to read it now! I’d recommend reading its prequel Aphrodite: Goddess of Love first (which covers the judgement of Paris), for maximum impact.
Rating: 5 almighty smackdowns / 5