Luke Miller: So we’re all pretty sure that this is just a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, only set in space with all the genders flipped, right? Maybe that was obvious to everyone else coming into this, and I had a notion from the title that it would probably share some similar themes, but I didn’t realize it was going to be the exact same story. Clever Odyssia (Odysseus), queen of Ithicaa (king of Ithaca), has just won the war against Troiia (Troy), and is now trying to get home to her wife, Penelope (Penelope), and son, Telem (Telemachus) – only the gods decide to cast her adrift among the stars (the sea) for ten years. The similarities don’t stop there: Odyssia fought alongside Gamem and Ene (Agamemnon and Menelaus) on the side of the Achaeans (Achaeans), and the whole war kicked off because Ene’s husband, He (Helen), ran away with Paris (Paris). There are mentions of Keles’ (Achilles) last stand and Hekta’s (Hector’s) defeat. Plus the numbering that begins various parts of the text indicate to me that the whole thing is probably intended to be read as if it’s written in Homeric verse. I will be shocked if the next few issues don’t feature a male version of Circe turning everyone into pigs in space, a female Cyclops, and male space sirens.
It’s been a long time since I read the Odyssey, but am I missing something with this? Is there any reason I should keep reading this when it’s the exact same story?
Mark Stack: Maybe it’s because I happen to prefer The Iliad to The Odyssey but I found myself similarly underwhelmed by this book. It reminded me of seeing a Shakespeare play with different set-dressing (A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented as a modern day rave, Julius Caesar taking place in the Atlantic City of the 1920’s, etc.) Don’t get me wrong, I thought the book presented itself quite nicely with Christian Ward’s art leaving a strong impression. I just found it to be lacking. It may be that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the art and the story through the decision not to use word balloons, opting instead to portray all dialogue through captions.
When I looked at a page, even though I thought it was beautiful, I found it to be so stylized as to be opaque. I couldn’t see how this style or the decisions being made were furthering this re-telling save for one page. On this page, my favorite of the book, Odyssia is shown fighting her way through a gang of space barbarians with her violent actions being presented through insert panels that really carry the eye from moment to moment with efficiency. And, at the climax of the fight, Odyssia kicks her adversary through a panel, completely shattering the border. It’s a moment designed to underscore her ferociousness that sells it even better than the later narration.
Like Luke, I still find myself wondering about the why of retelling this story. I mean, The Simpsons already did it ages ago.
Michael Bettendorf: Woah, woah – wait a minute guys. The best is still coming. It’s an epic. That is why you should keep reading it. Sure, the story follows Homer’s The Odyssey nearly to a T (so far) as both of you have pointed out, but it also tastes of the Matt Fraction zest that he’s known for in his writing. The narration showcases wonderful exposition that provides just enough not to be bloated. The colored boxes that indicate dialogue are different than many mainstream comics right now, but with Christian Ward’s art being so…out-there…they are a stylistic choice that reminds us that the story is being told to us. It feels distant, like it was written ages ago, which given the source material makes a load of sense.
Weren’t you shocked at the ending? At least just a little bit? Was I the only one? (Caution – SPOILERS)
Earlier in the story Telem is refered to as “she” by Ero in a statement pondering what type of soul she had. This four panel sequence shows remorse or sadness, maybe even disappointment in Odyssia’s facial expressions. In her heart. This is key because at the end of the issue Telem is revealed as a bare-chested man. She had a son. This throws a wrench into the whole epic. It begs us to ask a ton of questions. Does Odyssia know she has a son? Contextual clues mentioned above might say yes, but maybe her reaction was less of disappointment and more of longing to see her family. There’s a point in the story in which Odyssia talks about Telem being “almost bleeding-age now” which would point to menstruation, similarly to Telemachus becoming king when he was able to grow a beard.
She may or may not know that she has a son. This is very important. These people live in a world run by women and now there’s a son invovled. What if Odysseus had a baby girl? How would have that played out? What are the implications? I think these are the sorts of questions Fraction and Ward want to bring up. For all of us writing – all men – her having a son doesn’t seem to be a huge issue. It’s like, oh, cool. He’s a dude. But this means something huge in this story. What does it mean? That is why you should keep reading.
Not to mention Ward’s art. As you have both mentioned, it’s pretty. Almost to the point of distraction, but hey wasn’t that the point of the Gods? To distract Odyssia? I found myself reading and rereading the pages not only because of the psychedelic color palette, but because it was just so easy to get lost into the pages. To gaze through the journey with Odyssia. To see her react in carnal instincts often only associated with male warriors, yet there’s this maternal side to her and the longing of her child and wife. The colors are soft and the lines are few – almost borderless. It creates an expanse to explore not only in space, but in personality. Ward utilizes some fantastic page layouts with an array of expression and moods. It may be a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey and ODY-C might not be for everyone, but for me, it’s an epic I plan to ride out.
Mark: You’re right, Michael. The inclusion of what appears to be a trans character is the real x-factor in the book. By switching all of the genders and changing the setting, not a lot actually changes. Those are just dressing for the story. But the inclusion of an actual trans character into this story has the potential to change things dramatically just as it would if Telemachus had been portrayed as such in Homer’s epic. Now, the story of how one chooses to represent themselves as male in a society that appears to run as a matriarchy is an interesting one but, given the source material it’s adapting, I’m not sure if it’s the story that this book will actually be telling.
Michael: This is true. The galactic backdrop is just spice. I think it’s important not only to note how Telem will represent himself in this book, but also how others will react to that representation. Odyssia’s reaction is probably going to set the tone for the rest of the story.
Luke: Mark, you reminded me: I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the one random character getting kicked through a panel. I’m a sucker for that stuff when it’s done really well, and that one was done really, really well. Otherwise, the art didn’t do much for me. It was pretty, but not all that functional. Several times I found myself just kind of glancing over it to read the text because it didn’t seem to be adding much to the narrative, and at times, just confused me as to what was happening.
As far as Telem is concerned, I’m not sure if the character is actually transgendered. I assumed Penelope was pregnant, Odyssia left for war, and never met her child. She was expecting a girl but ended up with a boy. Then again, I may have misunderstood the lead-up to the final page a bit. But regardless, if Fraction is following Homer as closely as he seems to be, Odyssia won’t get home to meet/see Telem until at least halfway through this series. If the crux of this series is going to be Odyssia’s reaction to her unexpected/unwanted son, are we going to have to wade through dozens of issues of “The Odyssey in Space” before we get to the new twist on it?
Chris Wunderlich: You know guys, I never considered Telem’s gender a noteworthy feature until you mentioned it. If Fraction was going for a big twist ending, his curveball missed the mark. I only knew the basics of The Odyssey going into this, but it was clear from page 1 that there would be little deviating from the original story. I, like the rest you, tired of that premise quickly. The galactic backdrop might be spice, but it’s the only thing that interested me. Making comparisons to Homer’s Odyssey got very boring very quickly and I quickly found myself concentrating on the design work instead. I feel like someone sat Fraction and Ward down and said “You remember what Brandon Graham did with Prophet? Can you guys do that to The Odyssey?” Which sounds awesome, but the end product is flawed so far.
I think Fraction’s biggest mistake was thinking he could tell the story in a traditional manner and throw in sci-fi technobabble for style. This story looks like its completely off the rails, but you know exactly where the narrative is headed and so far there isn’t much proving otherwise. I like the dialogue, tone, texture, pacing and word choices, but I’m not excited to see where the story goes. The whole “Telem’s gender” monkey wrench fails to entice me, sorry.
Christian Ward’s art is a trickier subject. Like I said, I stopped making comparisons to The Odyssey and starting reading this as a Prophet-esque book. In that regard, Ward’s designs are incredible. The strange technology, the costumes, the layouts–everything in this book looks like it sprang from a terrific imagination. It also looks rushed, unfinished, under-detailed and often downright ugly. Had Ward been in charge of layouts and partnered with a more accomplished “finisher” this book could have been a feast for the eyes. In it’s current state, it makes me wonder if I need glasses. I mean, we’re arguing about Telem’s gender, but all I can think about is what an ugly baby he was.
Michael: Yeah, if the story’s spine is going to be held up by Odyssia’s reaction to Telem, we might be sitting down for a bit, depending on how closely they decide to follow The Odyssey. I’m not worried about that though. I think the source material has proven itself to be an epic journey worthy of continual reading, which gives me hope that Fraction and Ward use it to it’s full potential. Sirens and Cyclops and Medusa in space? Hell yeah, I’m on board for that. If I have to wait to see how the Telem dynamic fits in, then I guess I’ll have to wait. Using it as a crux, though, sure Fraction will have to do something different to keep us interested until that happens, but he puts enough of his own quirk into his writing that I don’t see that being an issue.
I have to disagree about Ward’s art though. The line work is elusive and the colors play a huge role in the appearance of the book, but the kinda smudgey and often lighthanded lines work for me. The characters are real, but they don’t appear too real. They’re distant. They’re not from around here. It’s a good take on the mind-trip epic that these two concocted. Telem was an ugly baby. I’ll give you that.
Did you grab the book in floppy form? If not, I’d suggest it or at least taking a look at your comic shop because the introductory spread is downright amazing. The fallen soldiers, skulls, horses and the ominous vulture that lie in the wake of the fallen Troiia covers 8 pages. Eight. Digital format does not do it justice at all. It’s a hell of a way to start an epic.
Luke: Perhaps I’m just too much of a Cretin – I don’t even like Homer’s Odyssey all that much. I suppose if you’re a big fan of Fraction, the Odyssey, trippy art, or gender identity/reversal stories, you should check this out. I don’t particularly like any of those things, so I’ll be passing on it from here on out. (And I’m giving it a . Sorry, Michael.)