Age of Bronze, Volume One: A Thousand Ships by Eric Shanower
Post number sixty is for Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze, Volume 1: A Thousand Ships, which is the first volume of his graphic novel interpretation of the Trojan War. It was a title I decided to use on my Greek Mythology Reader’s Advisory, because I wanted to try to incorporate titles for both girls and boys, and this one fit the bill for something that would be suitable for both. I still intend to read Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey, so this was a nice introduction to Homer’s works.
Because the story of the Trojan War is basically history that everyone learns about at some point, I’m not going to worry about a spoiler space. If you don’t want to know some specifics about this particular adaptation, however, feel free to avoid the rest of this post.
The pictures are done in black and white, but are exceptionally well done. This version also told me something new about a story I thought I already knew, so that was fun, too. Volume 1 ends prior to the start of the war; Agamemnon and Menelaus are talking about the fact that, in order to succeed in this ten-year campaign against Troy, there will have to be a great quarrel among the Greeks (or Achaeans, as they’re called throughout), and Agamemnon is not sure he wants to deal with that. The story starts with Paris herding cows on the hillside of Mount Ida (apparently it was actually sheep in the original version by Homer). I hadn’t actually realized that Paris wasn’t always a Trojan prince (or rather, he IS, but he wasn’t raised as a prince, and doesn’t realize his parentage/lineage), because the film versions I’ve always seen start with Paris either already in Menelaus’ palace or in Troy. In this version you get a very good look at Paris, and he isn’t at all attractive, at least personality-wise. He’s arrogant, rash, and uncaring about the consequences of his actions. He is not at all sympathetic; I mean, I know that his taking Helen was the cause of the war, but I for some reason was always able to find some sympathy in that because they were in love (thanks to Aphrodite) and were unable to ignore their feelings. But this Paris is a hothead who wants what he wants when he wants it, and doesn’t care that anyone tells him he ought not do what he wants to do (poor Aeneas gets dragged into the whole affair, as he was sent to accompany Paris – who was SUPPOSED to steal Hesione, Priam’s sister, away from her abductor – and as a result gets Priam thinking quite unfairly about him). Helen, likewise, isn’t very sympathetic, either, although I felt more sorry for her than I did for Paris.
I did enjoy the look into Trojan society; since Paris is on his journey to bring Helen back to Troy for most of this volume, you get a look into the inner workings of Priam’s house, including his multiple children. His daughter, Cassandra, tries to tell him repeatedly that Paris will be the downfall of Troy (which is why he was sent to Mount Ida; he was supposed to die on the mountain but didn’t — divine intervention, of course), but they ignore her, thinking her visions are nothing but nonsensical ramblings (she was cursed by Apollo, if I remember correctly, so that no one would believe her when she tried to give them prophecies, although I can’t remember off the top of my head what exactly she did). Shanower also based the Trojans off of the Hittites, so their dress, hair and looks are significantly different from the Greeks, which helped spice up the black and white illustrations.
I also felt a great deal more sympathy for Menelaus (he’s pretty torn up about Helen’s “abduction”) and Agamemnon, who doesn’t exactly want to go to war, although he DOES want his name to be the one in the history books to have destroyed Troy. It also explained why Agamemnon was able to call all those Greeks – one thousand ships – together to basically fight simply because Helen was taken. (The amusing thing about all of this is that NONE of them ever even have the thought that Helen perhaps WANTED to go to Troy, not that it likely would have mattered either way.) You also get to see the story of Achilles, who, despite his mother’s attempts, simply cannot wait behind and let his name fall into obscurity. He’s not exactly sympathetic in this volume, either.
One thing I will mention is that there’s a lot of sex in this one volume, which is not surprising given the Greeks’ propensity for lovers of both sexes. The sex is decidedly heterosexual at this point – Paris and Oenone, Paris and Helen, Achilles and Deidamia – but apparently later volumes deal with Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship in rather great detail. I aso liked the glimpse of Penelope and Odysseus. Now Odysseus I liked quite a bit, because he was incredibly clever and witty, even if he DID try to fake his way out of fighting for the war by pretending to be mad (he simply didn’t want to leave his wife and new son, and who can blame him? He also knew the prophecy that he would sail to Troy and end up returning several years later where no one would recognize him, missing his son’s entire childhood).
Anyway, this was engaging enough that I will most likely read the second installment. There are apparently going to be seven volumes, but only three are released as of right now. Of course, the library system that I normally use doesn’t have a copy of the second volume, but I was able to request one through the small library near where I work; the problem with that is that requests take absolutely FOREVER to move through this system, so it very well might be summer before I get to actually get my hands on the book.