Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hera The Goddess and Her Glory

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

George O'Connor's story of the Olympians continues in this third book, which features the controversial figure Hera, wife of Zeus and frequent foil for many a Greek Myth.  Read as her story unfolds in ways you might not expect, particularly her link to the demigod Heracles.  It's an experiment in reputation repair as O'Connor brings us another member of the Pantheon here in...Hera!

When I heard that the third book in this excellent series from O'Connor would be Hera, I was really curious.  Here is a figure that's been nothing but a figure of evil, in just about every portrayal I can think of, from the surviving original plays to the Kevin Sorbo television show to her recent appearances in Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente's excellent Hercules comics.  She is always the one trying to thwart the noble male hero, making her just about everyone's stereotypical figure of the nagging wife or man-hater, depending on the situation.  Hera is generally the embodiment of the you-know-what, mostly because she won't let Zeus sleep around.  The nerve!

I simply had no idea how O'Connor was going to make that work in a book aimed at a younger audience.

Here's the thing with myths, though:  There are plenty of them around, and not all myths tell the same stories the same way.  Like accounts of a local legend at the corner bar, the tale changes depending on who's doing the telling.  O'Connor took the time to look around for myths that give Hera a makeover, many of which do so just by changing a few of the details.  The result is a strong, if vengeful, female figure who finds a way to make Zeus' many, many transgressions against her turn into ways to show her own power.

It's a subtle change, but one that allows O'Connor to tell the story of Heracles without making Hera look like a terrible person (and casting all women in a bad light in the process).  Like his second book, covering the myths of Athena, Hera ends up as a strong figure that any girl reading this book can look up to.  It also prevents young men from buying into the "nagging wife" stereotype by seeing Hera's side of the story (and also taking some of the rougher edges off her narrative.)

In some ways, this book is a retcon of Hera, especially given the superhero feel O'Connor gives this series.  This is not the story of Hera we all grew up on, and for some, the change might just be a bit too much.  I think at times he tries a bit too hard to place Hera in a good light, and it does make the narrative a bit more strained here than in the past books.  O'Connor is more careful this time, and I think it makes for a less interesting book than Zeus and Athena.

That does not mean it's a bad book.  I like that he's moving away from the negative portrayal of Hera (even if I think he went a bit too far).  The link to Heracles is clever, and allows him to tell heroic, over-sized adventures in the same manner of the first two books.  The little links between all of the stories we've seen so far (and the ones to come) give the Olympians series a feel of a cohesive universe, rather than as sterile historical texts.  They live and breathe and interact in ways that other myth-based books for teens lack.  I love the way that O'Connor creates this universe, making readers of all ages eagerly await the next installment.  Like Stan and Jack and Steve did many, many years ago, O'Connor weaves us into a place that lives across books--complete with an index guide and notes to help us see all the links!

One of the best parts of the Olympians series for me is the point of the books.  Not only are they meant to stand alone as cool comics, I like that the book is structured in such a way that anyone who finishes the book and wants more can move from visual texts to print ones, which is important from the perspective of an educator.  A savvy librarian or parent can then move the young reader on accordingly, either with suggestions from O'Connor or their own books.  (My only fear here is story whiplash because most other books are not going to be nearly so kind to Hera.)

Hera The Goddess and Her Glory is another great entry in the Olympians series.  Drawn beautifully by O'Connor and filled with more details than you'd expect, it is a great book for any young reader.  I cannot wait for the next entry in the series, Hades, to arrive!

First Second Books was kind enough to provide me with a copy of Hera.  I apologize for the delay in getting this review together for them.  If you are interested in having us review something for you here on Panel Patter, please contact me at trebro@gmail.com.

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