Hermes: Tales of the Trickster is the latest addition to George O’Connor’s Olympians series from First Second Books. This is the tenth collection of Greek myth, yet Hermes is a fresh take with its own method of storytelling. While Apollo has its tales told by the Muses with elegant prose and poetry, Hermes has its own portrayal by a weary traveler spinning tales while sipping drink with the hundred-eyed watchman Argos. It is a solid frame for the story that allows the reader to jump into the many facets of the life of Hermes while still following a single plot with a surprising turn.
Like Hermes himself, Hermes the book is packed with jokes bordering on crass. It is a new voice for the Olympians series, which typically tackles stories as epics or songs. There are a few jokes in the others, of course, and many of them by Hermes himself appearing as a supporting character. Now the jokester is in the forefront, and it is clear from the beginning with gags like the traveler calling Argos “an eyeful.” They continue one after the other through the whole book, whether on a large scale of myth to explain the world around us, such as why dogs sniff each other’s rears, or on a small one like Hermes glancing at his wrist muttering, “Someone has got to invent a timepiece.”
The hilarity of the book carries its own merit, but Hermes is also rich in scholarly research to give a palatable and exact telling of Greek mythology. Readers follow the quick pace of Hermes as he is born as yet another illicit child of Zeus (but one Hera just cannot stay mad at) and immediately sets off to make mischief by stealing his half-brother Apollo’s cows. Apollo gets them back after much grief, which is all forgiven when baby Hermes shows his merits to the other Olympians by inventing the lute for Apollo. Hermes soon finds himself with plenty of work as messenger and guide to the dead, chores said to be given to him to keep him out of too much trouble.
Much of Hermes’s adventures come so fast they fit in a single panel, such as listing his many children and patronages. Others are given more time to develop, like the birth of Hermes’s most famous son, Pan. More serious is the tale of Typhon, another of Earth’s powerful offspring meant to dethrone Zeus. He is a monster with one hundred heads, and along with his snaky wife Echidna, spawned more monsters like the Sphinx, three-headed Cerberus, the Chimera, and more. Other gods are forced to flee despite their power, but Zeus is able to stand against Typhon thanks to Hermes’s speed and Pan’s distractions.
Among the fast-paced Hermes, O’Connor weaves in more of Greeks’ perspective of the outside world. We see references to dog-headed Cynocephali and one-legged Skiapods, races of men Greeks believed lived in far-off Asia. O’Connor also shows the Greek understanding of foreign gods being takes on their own, with the gods of Egypt being animal-headed forms of the Olympians as they hide from Typhon’s wrath. With its wealth of information and eagerness for fun, Hermes: Tales of the Trickster is perhaps the best-told of the series so far.