November 15, 2009

, ,   |  

Age of Bronze Volume 3A: Betrayal Part 1

Written by Eric Shanower
Illustrated by Eric Shanower
Image

I have to wonder if the "3A" designation is an acknowledgment that it's going to take more than 7 trades to handle the Trojan War. Either way, it's kinda funny to talk about comics in an A/B sort of way.

Once more we begin with the Trojans, as Priam's high council dithers over what to do at the impending approach of the Achaeans. Not stopping for just about anything at this point, the army of the High King Agamemnon runs right over a troublesome island, only to see impending tragedy strike in multiple cases.

Both resigned to the inevitable and showing a defiant face, Priam continues to live life and see to the marriages of his children. But the domestic life of the Trojan royal house is filled with undercurrents of strife, as not everyone feels comfortable going to war for a woman's beauty.

In a move that fools no one, Odysseus, Menelaus, and a few other Achaeans go to Troy to make peace, but it's about as useful as the peace overtures in Duck Soup. It's time for war, and the only questions left are who will strike the first blow.

These issues don't quite have the dynamic movement of those in the first two trades. There's a lot of static talking and skulduggery, which doesn't make for as interesting comics as life and death drama or mistaken battles. There are some great set pieces (Ajax and Ajax bantering about their names is simply fun to read), but some of this material seems to just establish further the mindsets of the primary characters and reinforce the duplications in the legend.

The snakebite of Philoktetes just echoes the Telephus incident described in the second trade and while useful for a bit of comic relief and face-mugging for Agamemnon, it feels like a bit of filler that could probably have been skipped. (It does, however, reinforce Odysseus's increasing tendency to be a bastard, though.) Priam's long speech about the relation of the gods to men is similar territory as well. I also have to admit that I am not a big fan of the Troilus and Cressida subplot, which gets some airplay here as well.

Shanower's powers do show, however, in the reaction of Helen to the approach of Menelaus and in the final embassy scene in general. In these pages his ability to capture the human element of the conflict shines through the somewhat sluggish material that comes before it, as Menelaus shows how much he really loves Helen and she shows how much she doesn't care while Paris gloats. The meeting of Hector and Odysseus, too is a high point, with Odysseus advising Hector to resign himself to his fate.

If there is a focal character this time, I think it's Helen herself. She lurks at the back of all the decisions being made, even if there are larger stakes than an adultress's bad life decisions. Priam must continually defend his decision to shield her, Paris must continue to be arrogant about the war he's brought to both sides, and Helen's new family must reconcile their need to heed Priam and their dislike of Helen herself, who admits she wouldn't scar herself to save her husband.

Menelaus, too, learns that Helen may not be worth the price he's chosen to pay, as she spurns him and turns his own child against him. This realization gets played more for comedy than drama, but the hurt is an understandible one, and continues to keep the characters grounded in a very human mold that echoes even today.

Despite chronicling some rather pedestrian parts of the Trojan War, "Betrayal Part One" does its best to keep the reader interested by punching up the material with some cute interplay between characters. Odysseus usally gets the best lines, as is fitting, but some of the minor Trojans get in their licks, too, and even Achilles has a few choice words. All of this is accompanied by very expressive artwork that carries the scenes, even if those scenes are a bit boring at times.

Key scenes are well done, such as Paris's cowardly attack on Menelaus or Achilles realizing he is damned and no longer caring. They're just a bit fewer and further between here as Shanower stretches to make the material as interesting as possible. It's like trying to care about the listing of ships in the Iliad, though--it's just about impossible.

Overall, Age of Bronze continues to be a very solid read. I did not like this trade as much as the first two, but that's not Shanower's fault, as he's trying to tell the entire story, not just the interesting parts. I'm going to have to wait a bit before reading more, but as the parties prepare for the long war ahead, I am prepared for a lot of good storytelling from Shanower.

You can check out the Age of Bronze website here, which includes a link to read the first chapter online for free. Check out the link that might launch a thousand pages of ships!