Tag Archives: epic retellings

Epic Retellings: Age of Bronze

Re-post from 2008


I have felt for a long time that a clever filmmaker would realise that s/he could have a large film franchise simply by telling the stories in the ancient Greek Trojan cycle without butchering them beyond all hope.  I mean, a 10-year war has a lot of stories going for it, plus a lot that precede then a lot that follow it.

Alas, there has been no such filmmaker.

Instead, we got Troy. *vomo*

Or we could just turn away from hopeless Hollywood and seek out a new medium for epic retellings.  And if we do so, we shall find Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze.  This is by far the best epic retelling I have yet encountered.  It is a graphic novel and a reminder that “comic books” aren’t just for kids and those with low IQ’s or awkward social skills.  The series is due to run for seven volumes; I’ve read the first two and a half — volume 3 is two books long, and I only have book A.

Shanower demonstrates excellent story-telling abilities, both through the artwork and the dialogue (this is a must for comic books, but there you have it).  Characters actually have defining facial features, and these faces can be quite expressive.  The action moves along and the dialogue is believable.  “If Odysseus were real, he’d say that.”

And, of course, he gets the story right.  Shockinly enough.  This guy has done his homework; each volume has an extensive bibliography at the back.  He takes the disparate parts of this far-flung narrative, that has is bits scattered across the whole of Western literature, from Homer to ABBA, and sews them together into a cohesive whole, into a real story, a drama with countless personae engaging in multiple actions.

Everyone is there.  The Greeks: Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, the Ajaxes, Diomedes, Kalchas, and so forth.  The Trojans:  Priam, Hector, Paris, Aeneas, Troilus, Cassandra, and so forth.  Characteristics are developed from the beginning so we’ll be able to see how their most famous actions from the Iliad and Odyssey are in tune with who they are (we aren’t at the action of the Iliad yet).

The only characters missing are the Gods.  Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Ares, Poseidon, et al. will not be making an appearance in Age of Bronze (this is an editorial choice Alessandro Baricco also made in An Iliad).  Nonetheless, the bits of the action wherein they are really needed, such as the Judgement of Paris, the prophecies, and such, are easily fashioned into dreams.  And why not?  Considering the amount of action Shanower has to fit in, I think this is a wise move.

Another reason I think he removed the gods is the realism of this telling.  He doesn’t change the plot to make it “real” like the filmmakers do (not just Troy but also Beowulf and Grendel amidst others is guilty of this charge).  He gives the characters pysches that fit their mythological personae, which helps.  But he also recreates before us, in vivid artistic strokes, the Bronze Age.

The Trojans, by dress, architecture, and religious practice, are Hittite.  The Greeks are Mycenaean.  Mycenae has the Lion’s Gate — things that could be reproduced accurately he has striven to reproduce accurately.  There are no fluted, classical columns rising up before us, no Corinthian capitals.  These are not fifth- and fourth-century BC Greeks.  These are the Greeks and the Trojans of 1200 BC.  And they look it.

I highly recommend Age of Bronze and look forward to reading the rest!


Epic Retellings: Warlord’s “Achilles’ Revenge”

I have a habit of keeping my eyes out for epic retellings, if you recall my post about Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze. My friend Tom recently posted a video on Facebook of Warlord playing “Achilles’ Revenge”.

There is something appropriate about a heavy metal song singing of Achilles and Troy, a song inspired by the Iliad.This genre of music is, as you can guess from its name, heavy. The song has some pretty good electric guitar work going on, including a guitar solo. It is fast, and it is powerful:

The Iliad, if you read it, is primarily composed of line after line of dactylic hexameters about people dying/killing in various ways between the Achaean ships and the walls of Troy. The action itself may slow down everyone once in a while, but usually through an extended simile or speeches by warriors. The actual fighting, the violence, the aristeiai of the warrior-heroes rarely stops, except maybe to sleep (and even then we have the night raid of Odysseus and Diomedes in Bk 10).

I’m no heavy metal expert, but my friend Sebastien once gave me a CD of Power Metal. Power Metal is the epic, mythical sub-genre, to be held in distinction from Death Metal and other sub-genres. Power Metal is so epic that the singers often cast themselves as heroes and warriors riding forth together to engage in some sort of great quest. They sing songs about dragons and wizards and other such things. I understand that it is a largely Scandinavian phenomenon. (If I’m wrong, please correct me.)

As much as I like, say, Les Troyens by Berlioz or The Return of Ulysses by Monteverdi, I think Achilles and his mates would have been more attracted to heavy metal than opera. Opera is beautiful and complex, but heavy metal is also complex and has its own, different beauty.

Heavy metal also has the force and power of an epic warrior driving it along. Opera takes too long to say anything. Achilles will have converse with you, briefly, then plunge his sword through your throat, casting your shade to Hades as you fall face forward and bite the dust.

The Iliad is the poem of force, as Simone Weil demonstrates. Heavy metal is the music of force. This union of the two just makes sense.