Seventy years after psychologist and Wonder Woman-creator William Marston described the “great educational potential” of comics, graphic novels are increasingly recognized as methods of learning. Humans are largely visual creatures, yet the “kid stuff” stigma of comic books so often prevents their acceptance as a vessel for knowledge. That stigma is gradually breaking down, and the Olympians series from :01 Books is perhaps the best example of when a comic book should be a textbook mandated in the classroom.
Writer/Artist George O’Connor has elevated his retelling of Greek myths from simple stories to a collection worthy of a course in Mythology. Author’s Notes at the end detail his exhaustive research, including long visits to libraries, studies online, and journeys to Greece. Yet, Olympians is not simply a scholastic collection. The dozens and dozens of short stories from Greek myths are woven together into an epic worthy of the classical culture.
Each of the planned twelve books focuses around a different Olympian, the twelve gods who reign from atop Mount Olympus. Book one details the life of Zeus, king of the gods, and it begins at the beginning: the creation of Gaea (the Earth) from chaos, the everything-and-nothing. Zeus does not appear until ten pages in, already when the cosmos was old and after the war between the Titans and Uranus the sky (O’Connor spells it as Ouranos, a transliteration of the Greek). Spurred on by Gaea because of the banishment of her monstrous children, the Cyclopes and the Hekatonchieres, Kronos conquers Uranus but refuses to free the captives. Gaea prophesizes that Kronos, too, shall be overthrown.
To avoid his fate, Kronos does what any sensible mythic figure would: eat his own children. Five times he eats Zeus’s older siblings until his wife slips him a stone wrapped with swaddling clothes. Baby Zeus is hidden on Crete, where he grows strong and, under the tutelage of the Titan goddess of cunning Metis, clever. It is obvious Zeus cannot overthrow his father single-handedly, meaning his first great action must be to free his siblings, who are still alive, immortal inside Kronos’s stomach. Then the war against the elemental Titans, as huge as mountains themselves, and the swift, shape-shifting gods shall begin.
O’Connor shows the war with eye-popping, jaw-dropping epic images. The sheer power of the divine figures seems to come to life on the page. While many of these stories are familiar in their nature to those who have studying Greek and Roman Mythology, the wit and might of the gods has never played out in such a dramatic fashion.
Along with the exceptional storytelling that makes Zeus a fantastic read for anyone, O’Connor includes a family tree, bibliography, and suggested reading. G(r)eek Notes includes panel-by-panel commentary while profiles of key characters give further information. There are also discussion questions suitable for younger readers to spur interest and connection between ancient myth and modern thought. With a combination of an amazing story and an in depth study of mythology, Zeus is a must-read for all.
Five out of Five StarsPowered by Sidelines