Age of Bronze #20-22 (Image Comics)

Age of Bronze is like a Classics Illustrated comic turned up to 11.


(Image Comics; 24 pgs B&W bimonthly; $3.50)
(W/A: Eric Shanower)

In the late ’80s there was a great comic book series called Classics Illustrated. Classics did exactly what its name implied: illustrated the great classics of literature by turning the heavy and long-winded novel into a gorgeously illustrated comic. Think of it as Cliffs Notes for comic book geeks. Long story short, the book had a fairly decent run and then ended like all things do. All of which brings us to Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze.

Age of Bronze is like a Classics Illustrated comic turned up to 11.

Age of Bronze is not just a retelling of The Iliad, but rather, it is based on a variety of historical and literary sources and proves the axiom the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts. Age of Bronze not only tells the greatest story ever told, about the greatest war the world had ever seen at the time and the great beauty whose face launched a thousand ships, but it tells every single facet of that story, from the minor kings whose lands surrounded Troy to the women left behind while their husbands chased glory. When all is said and done, Shanower plans to have a seven-volume saga detailing the exploits of Paris, Helen, Achilles, Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Co. in their entirety.

Issues 20–23 are the first three parts of the third volume in the series, “Betrayal.” At the end of the second volume, Age of Bronze: Sacrifice, Agamemnon’s army, led by the legend in making Achilles, has finally set sail for Troy after many complications and setbacks. Issue 20 opens with a messenger riding swiftly toward the great gates of Troy. At the midnight hour, he brings the news of the fleet’s imminent approach. King Priam scrambles to finalize his army and secure his city for the battle that will come.

The Achaean army decides to attack the island Tenedos, which lies just outside of Troy. Achilles proves himself an excellent leader when he leads Agamemnon’s army to victory on Tenedos. Now Agamemnon has a solid base from which he can attack Troy. Unfortunately, Achilles, who was warned that he would be killed by the sun god in retaliation for killing the sun god’s son, also seals his fate when he excitedly hurries into battle and strikes down the son of the sun god. There is no denying that war is upon the city of Troy.

What makes Shanower great and sets this book head and shoulders above the majority of books on the market is his incredible talent as both a writer and illustrator. In just a few panels, with only a couple of sentences, Shanower conveys more personality and insight into his characters’ motivation than most books—let alone comic books—can muster in a whole chapter.

Take, for instance, the arrogant prince of Troy, Paris. In issue 22, he boasts, “Who killed the King of Sidon and outwitted the King of Egypt?” Upon leaving, Helen’s maid dismisses his braggart ways by saying, “He’s young. And he shot the King of Sidon in the back. During a feast.” The look of utter disgust on her face says it all. Helen simply closes her eyes and says, “I know…I know,” as if she finally realizes how much trouble she has brought to the city of Troy with her love affair. Cut to a few scenes later and we see Paris hiding in the bushes, leading an assassination attempt on Menelaus, Helen’s former husband. Afraid to fight him one on one, Paris attempts to shoot Menelaus with an arrow while he is eating. When the Achaean guards spot Paris, he is the first to turn tail and run back to the ship, fleeing to Troy.

Paris is shown for what he truly is, a coward. He is invited as a guest in Menelaus’ home, yet how does he repay the kindness? He takes the host’s wife and child in the middle of the night and runs away. He talks a big game in the background, but when faced with a challenge, runs to his father in Troy for protection; later, he will run to his brother Hektor in much the same way.

Here we are, 23 issues into the story of the Trojan War, and the only fighting between the Trojans and the Achaeans was Paris’ half-hearted assassination attempt. Granted, there have been some minor skirmishes, but the whole ride leading up to the war has been extremely captivating. We have seen King Priam, the King of Troy, attempt to bribe his neighbors into supporting Troy by sending them ships full of riches and wine. Agamemnon, hell-bent on attacking Troy, was tormented by a request from the gods to sacrifice his own daughter in order to begin the mission. Achilles has been torn by both his love for Patroklus, his best friend, and the love for his wife. Paris is shown as both an arrogant prince and also a naïve shepherd who unknowingly discovers that he is the son of the great King Priam. Odysseus was forced to join Agamemnon in his crusade against the Trojans, when all he wanted was to stay home with his wife and tend to his land. Menelaus pines for his wife, Helen, and their child, who were taken from him in the middle of the night in a dastardly fashion by the young prince Paris.

Yeah, I read The Iliad and The Odyssey in high school and I enjoyed them very much. But those books are the Cliff Notes to the Trojan War. You read The Iliad and you get that there was a great war and Achilles was awesome and Odysseus was smart and Agamemnon a tyrant, but that’s nowhere near the full story.

Age of Bronze is the real story.

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