May 23, 2011

  |  

Olympians Volume 2: Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess

Written by George O'Connor
Illustrated by George O'Connor
First Second

O'Connor continues his re-imagining of the Greek myths as superheroes with this look at Athena, daughter of Zeus. The Fates spin the web of stories surrounding the virgin Goddess of War, Knowledge, and several other things (like modern women, Athena is nothing if not a multi-tasker) as they reveal the secrets of the Olympians to the reader.

Watch as Zeus makes the same mistakes as his father but with a rather unusual result, as Athena springs from her father's head (in a really cool visual designed by O'Connor) and soon shows she is the equal of many others in the Pantheon. Young and restless, Athena soon sets out on her own, but she's also more than willing to help out her fellow gods with her power and council. Sometimes at the head of the tale, sometimes lurking in the background while mortals do her bidding (or face her father-inspired wrath), Athena's reach is nearly equal to that of her dad. From fighting giants to settling grudges in the most cruel fashion, as O'Connor notes, Athena is not a goddess to be messed with.

The second Olympians book is far less linear than the first one was. While the story of Zeus is effectively an origin tale, O'Connor uses this volume to tell a variety of tales with or about Athena. It makes for a slightly clunkier read, because the Fates have to do some fancy footwork to link the stories together. On the other hand, it's great to see so many of the myths starting to get their due, from Perseus to Arachne. I really like the fact that O'Connor doesn't waste too much time explaining who everyone is. We'll (hopefully) meet them all in time, so a few passing references are all we need at this stage of the game.

I think my favorite part of this volume was the triple origin of the name Pallas, as I only knew one of the legends O'Connor illustrates. It's also one of the best uses of the Fates-as-narrators, because they can explain to a young reader that these stories are wide and varied and often contradict each other, all without lecturing. As with Zeus's tale, O'Connor scores as the best adapter of these myths for young adults simply by not trying to educate as his primary objective. The goal here is to tell a good, compelling story, and he succeeds admirably while also staying close to the source material, which students can then pick up on their own if they're so inclined. My guess is that they will be.

Perhaps the best part of Athena, however, is that this book is a 70 page spotlight of a strong female character who can hold her own against an overbearing father, sibling rivalry, and those who seek to thwart her power as a leader/goddess. She is shown fighting against the odds and standing up for herself and in O'Connor's hands, comes out of every adventure on top. While this is cheating a bit by selecting the right myths to make her look better, I think it's great that not even tragedy prevents Athena from fulfilling her potential as a powerful member of the Greek Pantheon. This is a great book to give to a young woman to show her that there are plenty of female heroes out there--if you know where to look.

As with the first book in the series, O'Connor's art is designed to echo a superhero comic book, complete with dramatic camera angles and heroic-looking characters. They speak in common language, with the Fates providing the Stan Lee narration (without the pomp, thankfully). This would be a pretty work with no ability to relate to children if it were still trapped in the ancient language, translated stiffly. O'Connor's decision to have lines like "Hahahahahaha! No." is a brilliant touch. He also can be quite subtle, such as when he references Zeus's adultery by just having him cast a glance in Hera's direction. O'Connor doesn't flinch from the brutality or crass nature of these myths, either, which is also to his credit. They are always tactfully depicted, but that doesn't mean the more mature themes aren't covered, albeit in a more restrained form.

I'm a huge fan of this series, and I can't wait for Hera, coming out later this year. O'Connor's Olympians series takes the best parts of old-school capes comics and really old-school legends and puts them together into a whole that's shaping up to be a young adult's Ovid. I can't wait to read more, and I hope he's able to cover many more of these stories I grew up with as a child. I can recommend the Olympians series to children of all ages, but especially to those with a love of myth looking for a good way to hook your own young Athena. Just make sure you keep her away from your spears, just in case.