Age of Bronze #20-25

By Eric Shanower
24 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

People who say that history is boring merely aren’t experiencing it very well. Be it a better teacher, or book, or movie, or some other form that it’s being told, historical stories can in fact be quite enthralling. Some events are more interesting than others, of course, and you’ve got to pick and choose carefully. When you’ve got an extremely talented creator like Eric Shanower recounting the story of the Trojan War? Now that is truly the fabled gift from the gods.

Paris, Prince of Troy, has stolen the most beautiful woman in the world from her husband and taken her back to be his bride. The problem is, that woman is Helen, Queen of Sparta. King Menelaus as well as King Agamemnon, King of the Achaeans, have gathered a massive army to bring Helen back home. Now, years after the initial abduction, the Greek armies are just outside of Troy and ready to lay siege to the city if Helen is not returned. Most are more than willing to try and settle the matter through diplomacy. But how that Helen has given birth to a child for Paris, can war really be far behind?

One of the things I love about Age of Bronze is that unlike most tellings of the story, Shanower has left out any actual godly appearances in the book. Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, and the rest of the Greek pantheon are certainly worshiped and mentioned regularly by the characters in the story, but there’s no actual scene where Aphrodite makes Helen fall in love with Paris, for example. It’s a smart decision by Shanower on two different parts. First, it roots the story in the real world. There’s no chance of Zeus actually showing up and raining lightning bolts down upon the battleground, no deus ex machina waiting to occur. At the same time, the priests and believers still perform their sacrifices, and Kassandra recites her prophecies that sound like so much gibberish. It gives you an idea of what it must have been like to live in that time period, with so much left up to deities that were forever unseen. Secondly, though, it makes Age of Bronze a much more interesting story without the actual hands of gods steering the events. Helen falling in love with Paris because the goddess of love made it happen is uncontrollable on the part of Helen, and makes her little more than a victim. By keeping Helen’s free will intact, it shifts the story away from kidnapping and into something where the villain of the story suddenly has less of the blame attached to him. Women bewitched by divine powers is something a little hard to empathize with as a reader, but falling in love with someone new and leaving their husband? Now that’s something that we can relate to and have seen in today’s world.

The latest storyline, “Betrayal,” is the third major act in Age of Bronze. Concluding the journey to Troy, it’s interesting because there’s so much material here that readers are probably not that familiar with. From the abandoning of warriors to an embassy of peace dispatched to Troy, it’s a much more complex situation than the Greek army merely appearing and laying siege to the powerful city-state. It’s here that characters like Hektor and Odysseus really shine, Shanower getting to show off their characters and let us see their full selves. Even minor characters get their time in the spotlight; Menelaus’s pleading with Helen to return to him is an extremely powerful scene, with Helen’s reactions just as gripping as Menelaus’s discovery of just what Helen and Paris have been up to in the five years since they fled to Troy. Each new chapter of Age of Bronze is an event in its own right as the story unfolds that much more.

Shanower’s classically defined art in Age of Bronze is another great part of the appeal of the book. His art is beautifully detailed, no two faces quite the same even as he takes into account things like family resemblance. When people talk about comic artists and realistic art, Shanower should always be at the top of the list; if you didn’t know better you’d think that he was drawing from the real life people of Troy. And as for the realism, so much of that has to do with how well he’s able to convey emotion. The look of horror on Menelaus’s face when he sees his own son being raised as belonging to Paris is chilling, as is Helen’s crushed and guilty face when her latest pregnancy is revealed to her former husband. Once again, Shanower is focusing on the very human aspect of Age of Bronze and the art is a strong part of that. At the same time, Age of Bronze is also the story of a war and he’s got no problem handling that aspect of the book. It’s a very unflinching, gritty series of scenes that strips any and all glorification or mystical aspect from the event. It’s brutal even as it’s exquisitely drawn, and it’s much to Shanower’s credit that he can handle this sort of scene just as well.

Age of Bronze is one of my absolute favorite comics, with each new issue being a reason to celebrate. With beautiful, iconic covers as well as a glossary and letter column in the back of each issue, it’s the sort of title that you shouldn’t be waiting for the inevitable collections (especially since the quarterly publishing schedule means that said collections are several years apart). If you’ve never experienced Shanower’s masterpiece before, the first nineteen issues are available in two books. After you’re done, though, these six issues of the current storyline should be your next purchase. Trust me, you don’t want to wait any longer. Highly recommended.

Purchase Links (Vol. 1): Amazon.com
Purchase Links (Vol. 2): Amazon.com

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