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Sunday Slugfest: Olympus #1

Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2009
By: Thom Young

Nathan Edmondson
Christian Ward
Image Comics
[Editor's Note: Olympus #1 arrives in stores on May 20. These are early reviews.]

In ancient Greece, Zeus granted eternal life to two brothers, and bound them to his service. Three thousand years later, they are hunting an exiled god. Unfortunately, their hunt results in the release of one of the most dangerous denizens of Hades.

Charles Webb:
Dave Wallace:
Stephen Joyce:
Thom Young:

Charles Webb:

Granted eternal life and eternal servitude, how long do you think it would take to get bored out of your skull? Keep that question in mind; I'll come back to it later.

The first issue of Nathan Edmonson and Christian Ward's Olympus follows the exploits of immortal (and virtually interchangeable) brothers Castor and Pollux of Greek myth. Granted eternal life, they must serve Zeus--presumably as Olympian enforcers (based on what's presented here).

The issue begins with the brothers counting down to the New Year in a novel way, and from there the story jumps back 11 months. It's not clear why the jump in time is used. I assume that will be made clear in subsequent issues.

Most of the remainder of this first issue is spent running around. They race and chase a shape-shifting, magic-flinging, thief through the streets of London. There's a lot of banter between the brothers and the "man" they're pursuing and a bit of exposition as to who Castor and Pollux are and what they can do.

It's all incredibly stylish. Unfortunately, it's also fairly empty. There are some visual call outs to the figures of myth (the item in the thief's hand is a clue to his identity) but the why of "why should I care about this?" isn't answered or even approached. There are virtually no stakes beyond the chase (for its own sake) and very little mood (beyond blasť cool).

Worse still, there's no definition given to the personalities of the two leads. It's almost assumed that their clothing and action veneer should be shorthand for actual qualitative detail about who they are. Lacking story (beyond the chase) and lacking personalities, this issue feels like an outline of a story that has yet to be written. Something happens in the last pages that promises an actual story in the next issue. However it's too little too late.

Ward's art is pretty but frustratingly busy. Given that the book relies so heavily on capital "A" Action to sell the plot, that Action should be clear and easy to follow. However, the line work is often so heavily-rendered that it gets in the way of identifying where characters are in relation to the environment and to each other. This confusion is aided and abetted by the washed-out coloring that often presents characters as single, lightly-shaded colors set against the background (and beside each other).

As to the question of the boredom of immortality that I mentioned earlier . . . I wonder if (in spite of the rest of the story) Edmonson intended to create a bit of characterization in the first scene's actions involving the two leads. It's very direct, but more of the same would have been welcome detail into the inner workings of these two characters and the seeming nihilism with which they approach their divinely-extended longevity. Alas, nothing more comes of it.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author's work at Monster In Your Veins

Dave Wallace:

The new series Olympus from Image Comics sees writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Christian Ward collaborate to re-imagine the Gods and Legends of Greek mythology in a modern context. Their debut issue focuses on the adventures of the brothers Castor and Pollux--Cassie and Pol--as they attempt to apprehend a thief who has stolen Zeus's Caduceus.

One thing that I won't criticise this issue for is its assumption of a certain familiarity with the Greek pantheon of Gods on the part of the reader. If the names Castor and Pollux make you think of Face/Off before they make you think of Greek myths and legends then you'll still be able to understand Edmondson's story, but it would probably be advisable to do a little outside reading in order to fully comprehend many elements.

I don't have a particularly deep knowledge of Greek mythology, and I found myself having to refresh my memory of the brothers' story after reading this issue. My subsequent research certainly aided my understanding of parts of this story.

It's commendable that the creators don't feel the need to spoon feed their readers with details about their characters--only discussing their Godly heritage when it's directly relevant to the story.

In adopting this loose approach to these established mythological characters, Edmondson allows himself a certain flexibility in his interpretation of Castor and Pollux. By never tying them too closely to a rigid backstory, the writer retains a certain air of mystery about the characters, and also makes the story accessible enough that even those readers who have never even heard of the Greek gods will be able to enjoy it on some level.

The majority of the issue sees the two brothers engaged in a chase sequence, pursuing their enemy on foot and on a motorcycle in order to apprehend him. This action gives the story a high level of energy and a constant sense of purpose--even if the object of their quest isn't established as clearly as it could have been.

There's an easy familiarity between the two brothers, with a gentle rivalry and banter that gives their relationship a Dukes of Hazzard vibe (you can almost hear Waylon Jennings singing "Good Ol' Boys" over Cassie and Pol's early scenes). Admittedly, much of the issue is comprised of the kind of action scenes that will feel very familiar to regular readers of superhero comics, but they still retain a certain sense of originality thanks to the writer's choice of characters.

Speaking of originality, one of the most distinctive and unique elements of the issue is Christian Ward's artwork. I may find myself in the minority here, but I'm not a huge fan of his style. It's dynamic enough, creating a strong sense of energy with its vivid explosions of psychedelic colour and exaggerated, angular figures. However, it's slightly too loose and untethered to reality for its own good as it struggles to create a truly tangible environment in which the book's action can take place.

Panels frequently have no backgrounds, there are changes in the colouring from panel to panel (sometimes making it difficult to keep track of continuous actions from one panel to the next), and there are many places in which intentionally jarring layouts are utilised--further inhibiting any potential sense of fluidity or elegance to the visual storytelling.

Ward certainly manages to make the characters appear otherworldly and magical, and he definitely succeeds in creating a unique visual identity for the book. I'm just not sure that it's one that serves the story particularly well.

One other aspect of the story that disappointed me slightly was the narrow focus on the mythical characters. My favourite parts of Greek myths tend to be the stories in which the Gods interact with mortals--exerting their influence over the lives of their subjects--but we see very little interaction between the Gods and the human inhabitants of the world here.

Without a more mundane and realistic backdrop against which to contrast his main players, Edmondson's characters don't appear quite as special as they might otherwise have felt. Perhaps this will change in future issues and we'll see more interplay between the world of Gods and the real world.

Despite the problems with the issue, Edmondson succeeds in establishing the personalities of his two central characters reasonably well (even if he doesn't reveal much about their motivation yet). Additionally, an interesting new problem at the end of the issue promises to drive the plot of the series.

I look forward to learning more about the character that shows up in the final few pages, and seeing how the brothers react to his appearance.

Stephen Joyce:

Olympus is the story of two brothers who are the agents of Zeus in the mortal world. This first issue has plenty of Greek mythology references, which is right up my alley. I love Greek mythology, and the appearance of these classic characters in the modern world is something I always look forward to.

The basic premise for the first issue is that someone has stolen something from Zeus and the brothers have to get it back. The characters feel good as they interact with one another. The brothers feel like real brothers. The banter between the two is serious when needed, but can also be joking and friendly like you would expect between brothers.

One thing I really liked about this issue is how it seems grounded in the real world at first--but, as the issue went along, more layers were peeled back as the mythological aspects were revealed.

The artwork took a few moments to get use to. It has a watercolor look to it. I think this helps give it that mythical feel. The line art is very well defined and works well for both the realistic and otherworldly aspects.

I went into this series expecting one thing and got something entirely different-which turned out to be a good thing in this case. I think this series has a lot to offer any reader. There's a sense of mystery, action, and mythology. The characters are great. The story is great. I would recommend to any comic book fan to at least give this first issue a try.

Thom Young:

Because Olympus #1 is due this coming Wednesday (May 20, 2009), and because these are early reviews, we were informally instructed not to include spoilers in our reviews. However, I always include a one- to three-sentence synopsis of the plot of the issue for these Sunday Slugfests. More often than not, I use the one- to three-sentence synopsis that the publisher of the issue has on the company's Web site--altering the copy only by editing it for mechanics, grammar, and clarity (when needed).

I mention this process because it is how I put together the three-sentence synopsis that appears at the top of this Sunday Slugfest. In other words, anything that is in that synopsis has already been "spoiled" by Image Comics on their Web site. The sad thing is that the three-sentence synopsis pretty much covers everything we get in this first issue.

I don't think it's spoiling the story to identify the "two brothers" mentioned in the synopsis as Castor and Pollux. It might be a spoiler to give the name of the "exiled god" that Castor and Pollux are pursuing, but I allowed Charles and Dave to mention that the "exiled god" is a thief. If you know who the patron god of thieves is in Greek mythology, then you might figure out who this exiled god is.

Additionally, Dave mentioned that the "thief . . . has stolen Zeus's Caduceus." However, as far as I know, the Caduceus actually belongs to the "exiled god," so I'm not clear how he could have stolen it from Zeus. I suppose that when Zeus exiled that god he also confiscated the Caduceus that is (or was) the symbol of that god's status in Olympus. After all, before this exiled god possessed the Caduceus it was wielded by Iris--who was the messenger of the gods in Homer's Illiad. However, in The Odyssey, Iris is no longer the gods' messenger--this exiled god is.

Anyway, I hope that doesn't spoil the identity of the exiled god--but even if it does, I don't know that it really matters much. It's not a startling revelation within the story.

The only event depicted in this issue that might be considered a "spoiler" is the revelation of another antagonist at the end--which the Image Comics Web site reveals as "one of the most dangerous denizens of Hades."

Actually, I revised that statement from "one of Hades' most dangerous prisoners" because I'm not certain that the denizens of Hades are actually "prisoners," and because the possessive form of a singular noun ending in "s" should carry an apostrophe and another "s" (according to the style guide of the Modern Language Association, which is the guide I adhere to as an editor for Comics Bulletin).

Anyway, yes, a denizen of Hades is released at the end of this issue. Come back next issue to see who it is and what it means for our brotherly protagonists. However, I won't be coming back.

I could not stand the dialog in this issue. It is hackneyed drivel.

Dave mentions in his review that the banter is reminiscent of the brotherly banter that was presented in The Dukes of Hazzard, a television series that debuted in 1979. I suppose that might be an accurate analogy to all of the dialog in this series, and to most of the action.

All of the chase sequences reminded me of the type of action I see in the trailers for the Fast and Furious films. I haven't watched the films, but I don't get the sense from the trailers that there is much more to those films than non-stop, high-speed action from beginning to end.

I also thought of the high-speed action in Matt Damon's Jason Bourne films, which I have watched (and have greatly enjoyed). The thing about the high-speed action on the Bourne films is that it's interspersed with scenes of dramatic intrigue and character development--scenes that make the stakes in the action sequences all the more interesting for the viewer.

Unfortunately, we really don't get any scenes of dramatic intrigue and character development in Olympus #1. There is the hackneyed barroom banter between the brothers in the opening pages, but that hardly constitutes as "character development" in any sort of meaningful way.

There's also the "intrigue" of the antagonist who emerges at the end of the issue, but that's just one page--and, it comes closer to being puerile melodrama more than it does intriguing drama. More to the point, though, is that none of the non-chase sequences does anything to make the readers interested in the outcome of the conflict between the immortal brothers and the exiled god.

Even when we move from the inane banter of the barroom scene to the action-packed confrontation between the protagonists and the exiled god, we still just get melodramatic drivel--which basically sums up my thoughts, too, of The Dukes of Hazzard (puerile melodramatic drivel).

For instance, the exiled god gets a lot of melodramatic dialog to spout: "I won't be dragged into the Underworld by a couple of mortals and their toys . . . and you won't be taking my staff anywhere."

There's also: "Does the fact escape you, Pol--that I am a god?"

Similarly, when the "dangerous denizen of Hades" surveys the world into which he has emerged he says, "I promise you that whatever this world of decay and bitter heat knows in its dark corners . . . I am far worse."

Those closing lines are undoubtedly intended to send a chill up the spines of the issue's readers. However, it had me rolling my eyes due to its over-the-top melodrama in which we are being told what a bad ass this mysterious new antagonist is supposed to be. It might have been better to have used that last page to show us what a bad ass he is.

I'm not certain who the mysterious antagonist at the conclusion is, so I couldn't spoil it even if I wanted to. Perhaps there are indications as to who he is, but I missed them if that's the case--and there really wasn't much to miss in this issue which is short on dialog and narrative but long on wordless action sequences.

Anyway, he might be Satan for all I know. Satan certainly is a bad ass who would be trouble if he rose from the Underworld.

What's that? Satan isn't part of Greek mythology?

Well, the "Grigori" aren't a part of Greek mythology either, but that's what Castor and Pollux call the "exiled god" who is running around with the Caduceus that Zeus wants back. I suppose the use of the title "Grigori" for the exiled god might indicate that this series will be conflating Greek mythology with Christian mythology. If that's the case, then I guess the "dangerous denizen" might well be Satan.

The word grigori is derived from the Greek word egrḗgoroi (ἐγρήγοροι), and it might be that Nathan Edmondson is only intending to give us the Anglican version of that Greek word without bringing in the Christian concept of "the Grigori." However, I'm not familiar with any use of ἐγρήγοροι in Greek mythology, and so it seems likely that Edmondson is trying to equate this exiled god to the Grigori as presented in Christian apocrypha.

The best thing I can say about Olympus #1 is that Christian Ward is a very talented illustrator and painter. Unfortunately, his work isn't effective here for all the reasons that Charles and Dave mentioned in their own reviews--so I won't repeat the problems here.

I can also say that I think there is a very good concept behind this Olympus series--and Edmondson is to be commended for that concept. The story is just melodramatic and hackneyed in the way the concept is executed.

One final note, the preview images below that were supplied for me to post with this Sunday Slugfest did not allow the word balloons and caption boxes to be carried over as I converted them from PDF pages to JPEGs. In other words, while there are a great deal of wordless action sequences in this issue, there actually should be some words on these pages--they were just lost in translation.

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