REVIEW: ARES, BRINGER OF WAR (OLYMPIANS 7) – by George O’Connor

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:

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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:

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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:

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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

I HATE FAIRYLAND Vol 1-by Skottie Young

The humor around this centres on a bloody, cathartic subversion of the cheerful kiddie shows; a cute little girl entering the candy sweet fantasy world and hating every minute of it, before being slowly driven into an ax crazy murderous rage. With a premise like that, what could go wrong?

Well, quite a few things, but at the start, it’s pure comedy gold. We meet our heroine, Gertrude- our  Alice expy- getting sucked in to the magical fantasy land against her will. And the whole sequence is hilarious. The cheerful fairytal narrative playing which refuses to take into account the pain and misery that Gertrude is suffering in the panels. Gertrude is getting beaten, abused and sent into her own personal hell, while all the citizens of Fairyland smile, insensitive to her obvious pain.

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This is so deliciously cruel that it’s hilarious, and when we get to the breaking point where she blows the narrator to smitherines, it was hilarious. We see her get hurt and abused in this wonderland, the world that is usually fun and sweet actually turning into a groundhog day nightmare where she’s stuck there in child form for 27 years.

The artwork serves the story spectacularly as well. Young has created an incredibly cute, childlike asthetic that looks like every true fairytale land you imagine, so when the maiming does happen the juxtaposition takes maximum effect. We see brains, and blood, and cute little critters flattened in this bright, adorable artstle- it’s like if Nightmare on Elm Street took place in 100 Acre Wood.

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The problem is that after this strong start, things go downhill. The comedy relies purely on Gertrude being a jackass and maiming and everything in sight- which has potential, for a little while. With the right set up. After all, Happy Tree friends was funny, and Conkers Bad Fur Day had a similar concept of a crude, heavy drinking protagonist in a childish setting and was pretty creative, even if not always laugh out loud funny. But the problem is that the jokes didn’t have the right set up to land properly, and as a result the heroine is more annoying than the saccharine creatures she maimed.

At the beginning, we see Gertrude murder the moon (who is the narrator)The reason it worked when she shot the moon in the face was because our heroine had been pushed to breaking point: we’d seen her sucked into Wonderland, get continuously abused while a cheerful narration played, seen her trapped there for 27 years, all while having to listen to that same narration who’s insensitivity and lack of shits given about her pain made him seem sadistic. She was a woman on edge, and not only was this built up and cathartic, it was subversive because she’s not just saying ‘fuck you’ to the annoying creature, but destroying the forth wall and saying ‘fuck you’ to convention in a Deadpool and She-Hulk like way. The death was also extremely overkill and creative and a joy to read about.

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When she attacks the citizens of the town, she doesn’t have the same set up. The reason . In order to get to the payoff where blowing the citizens was justified, it needed to be set up; they needed to be annoying, Gertrude needed to be pushed to her very limit again. Maybe they could have annoyed her by singing cheerful songs at her, or constantly charged her with silly things like stepping on a crack or littering ala Demolition Man, or maybe she could have been lost and . But no: the reason they attack her is because she’s commiting a robbery- for no apparent reason.The creatures aren’t annoying and detestable, but just seem like perfectly nice, likeable creatures just trying to go about their daily lives, when Gertrude just randomly attacks them.

She’s senselessly hostile for no reason.In fact, she’s just such a two dimensional nasty that she’s actually a hundred times more irritating than the saccharine animals- she’s like that gobby 12 year old on X-Box live who has to be nasty and spiteful because they think it makes them look cool. I think Young is relying on our own annoyance with saccharine characters like The Care Bears and Barney The Dinosaur to make us hate the citizens of Fairyland, which doesn’t work. Even if you have analogues to existing characters, you still have to build them up and make them work in their own right.

When the Queen does send someone to deal with Gertrude, it’s because Gertrude is serial killer who’s committed mass murder. The Queen, far from being the antagonist, so far seems to just be doing what she has to in order to protect her kingdom. This could work if Gertrude was set up to bra villain protagonist and the Queen the real hero, but that doesn’t seem to be the case as it feels as if we’re supposed to think Gertrude’s reaction to this world is completely natural- which it isn’t.

VERDICT: Overall, I Hate Fairyland has an uneven start and is very hit and miss. When the jokes are properly set up, it’s funny, but other times it just relies too heavily on the image of a cute little girl maiming cute animals being inherently funny- which is great on a t-shirt, but to carry a whole series? Whether the series will find its feet remains to be seen.

CONTINUE OR DROP: Continue for 3 more issues.

HADES: LORD OF THE DEAD (OLYMPIANS #4)- by George O’Connor

In this edition of O’Connor’s brilliant Olympians series, we’re introduced to Hades, the gloomy God of the Underworld.

Or rather, it tells the mother and daughter conflict between Demeter and Persephone, and later Demeter’s attempt to rescue her daughter. As O’Connor admits, this book is more about Demeter and her attempt to rescue her daughter, but Demeter: Goddess of the Harvest wouldn’t have the same ring as Hades: Lord of the Dead. Hades isn’t Sir not appearing in this comic, but he’s definately more a ball being thrown around in a conflict between mother and daughter. He’s mainly just very serious and stoic, and not particularly strongly characterized, which is an understandable choice. I mean after we’ve been given this….

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No matter how good your Hades is, he will always be in this version’s shadow.

Persephone and Demeter instead were the ones who got to take center stage, with an unusual twist in their story. What is that twist? You see, the original stories of Persephone and Demeter go that Persephone (then Kore) was going to pledge herself a virgin, but Aphrodite didn’t want another Goddess (like Artemis and Athena) to not be under her power. As a result, she got her son Eros to shoot an arrow into the heart of Hades, making the gloomy King become desperately enamoured with the young Goddess.

While she was playing in a field of flowers, he dragged her underground and forced her to become his Queen. Meanwhile, Demeter was besides herself in grief and searched the world for her daughter, turning it into a blistering cold wasteland. She eventually learned that Zeus was behind this plot, and demanded that she be brought back. Zeus ordered Hermes to retrieve Persephone and bring her back. Meanwhile, Persephone was tricked into eating food of he Underworld- just six pomegranate seeds (which some have interpreted rather phallically)- and that meant she could never leave. However, a deal was forged that she would spend six months in the underworld with her husband, and six above ground with her mother, and so when Persephone was with her mother, there would be joy and spring, but when she had to return, Demeter would mourn and winter would come again.

Now, O’Connor in his notes mentioned that every time we see Persephone after this myth, she’s always there as the Queen of hell. So, by that logic, this would mean that all the mythological stories involving her would take place in the Winter months…

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So O’Connor turned that little plot hole into a twist on the story. What if Persephone actually enjoyed being Queen of the Underworld (with all the power that entails?) What if Demeter was kind of an overprotective mum whom Persephone had to break free of?

In this, we see Demeter chase away every boy that went near Kore/ Persephone, and Persephone was having enough of it. Right before the abduction scene we have this little domestic:

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Of course, the boy Demeter was trying to protect Kore/Persephone from was Apollo, an actual rapist who stalked the nymph Daphne to the point that she turned into a tree to escape him, but whatever. Throughout the story, we see Persephone bond with Hades and grow interested in the underworld and like a rebellious teenage girl going through her Goth phase, she took on a darker appearance and revelled in her new freedom.

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of this interpretation. I always loved the story of one mother’s epic journey to save her daughter, and the way she could stand toe to toe with Zeus as a force in her own right… Which she still does of course:

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That scene was pretty amazing and Hera once again is the secret star of this series; she’s the only God in the room who’s not even remotely surprised- this is clearly the Goddess who’s been married to Zeus for centuries.

That was a badass moment but  Demeter’s strength is a bit undermined by being the overprotective mother who in the end, was fighting for what even her own daughter didn’t want. It’s a very good take, but the original interpretation had such high emotional stakes, and a heroic Demeter,  that it’s a shame we couldn’t have seen that followed through.

But still, forgetting the story I hoped to hear, the story I got was still very good and it has another new twist on the mythology. The story doesn’t begin with any of our players, but rather, how the Greeks viewed the afterlife. It was a gloomy world where everyone was just standing around for eternity, stripped of their memories, waiting for the end of time. The only ones spared this fate were the mythical heroes, and obtaining that status was so hard it was virtually undo-able.

However, after Persephone became Queen, a new rite was added to the funeral proceedings: a rite that allowed the pure of heart (by Greek standards) whom had lived a good life to be reborn until they eventually reached the Elysian fields. This is a very clever interpretation of an old myth.

VERDICT: Although I enjoy the traditional telling of the Persephone myth, with the heroic mother, this was still a very interesting and mythologically faithful spin on the old tale. Not only that, but it was an enjoyable read and definitely worth it if you’re interested in Greek mythology.