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Graphic Novel Review: Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians by Ryan Foley, Illustrated by Jayakrishnaned

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Parents of superhero drenched comic book fans interested in introducing their children to something a little more culturally substantial may want to take a look at the latest volume from Campfire Graphic’s Mythology series, Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians. Much like the Classic Comics of old, Campfire’s publications — novels, biographies, myths — hopefully build upon youngsters’ interest in comic books to get them excited about more important literature. Graphic versions of “the best that has been known and thought in the world” certainly can be one way to motivate interest in the original, and if they don’t, well, getting the story of Eros and Psyche or The Merchant of Venice from a graphic book, is clearly better than not getting it at all.

Taking the form of a teacher in ancient Greece telling her class the story of Zeus, Ryan Foley’s version begins with the legend of the conquest of Ouranos by his son Chronus and the curse that Chronus will in turn be overthrown by his own child. It describes how Zeus escapes the fate of his five siblings through the guile of Rhea and Gaea, and his eventual fulfilling the curse and imprisoning Chronus in Tartarus. It is a story filled with fighting, treachery and monsters — much the kind of thing that should easily attract the imagination of any youngster enamored with the likes of Spiderman or the Green Goblin. In fact, some parents may find it a bit too violent for their taste, so it would make sense to preview the material. Violence is, of course, endemic to Greek mythology; still, this is not a book for young children.

Jayakrishnan’s illustrations are in the best traditions of the superhero genre. Comic readers will find themselves quite at home with his work. His vision of the monsters in Pandemonium and Chaos at the very beginning is nightmarish, and his depictions of Brontes the Cyclops, the Hecatonchires (Hundred-handers), and Kampe (a she-dragon) are equally horrifying. Truly, it would be necessary to be a god like figure, if not a god yourself, to defeat creatures of this sort. The art work, often dark and grainy in some of the other Campfire editions, avoids the garish quality of some comics in favor of a grittier vision, a grit eminently suitable to the subject matter.

Like others in the Campfire series, Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians begins with a page introducing each of the major characters and ends with a page or two of general information on some topic that should be of interest to the young reader and perhaps spark further study. In this case, there is some discussion of the Olympic Games, a bit about Greek architecture with examples from around the world, and some information about words derived from the Greek gods.

Other books in the Campfire Mythology series that could be of interest are Stolen Hearts: The Love of Eros and Psyche. The Legend of Heracles, and Jason and the Argonauts. While there are some adaptations of mythological materials from other cultures in their catalogue I haven’t yet seen them, but if they are as well done as the Greek myths, I would imagine they would warrant some attention.

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About Jack Goodstein