Friday, December 2, 2016

REVIEW | Zeus, Athena, and Hera - The Olympians Comic Series by George O'Connor

The Olympians Series: Zeus, Athena and Hera (Vols 1,2 and 3) by George O'Connor
Publication Year: 2010, 2011
Genre: Middle-Grade, Graphic Novel, Mythology
Series: The Olympians
Awards: None
Format: Hardcover (from Library)
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  I'm a Greek mythology nerd, hard core yo.  

SYNOPSIS: Each volume is a pretty straight-up presentation of the main myths surrounding each of the featured deities.  For example with Zeus, it's mostly about how he became King of the Gods (overthrew his dad and the rest of the Titans), with Hera it's mostly about Heracles (Hercules if you're Roman). 

These are the first three volumes in this series of graphic novels featuring Greek Mythology.  The intended audience, by the writing and the content emphasized, is middle grade but that didn't stop me from enjoying them.  

One of my very favorite books when I was a kid was D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Mythology and these comics reminded me of that beloved volume very much.  The format is of course different though D'Aulaires also included a lot of art and was very visual.  A lot of the mythology presented is very similar and it is kept mostly PG - considering the way the Greek Gods carried on that is quite a feat.

To be honest, I mildly enjoyed the first volume Zeus but wasn't wowed or too impressed.  The visuals are great and O'Connors imagining of how the Gods and Goddesses look is a lot of fun to discover.  The myth telling is relatively bland and not terribly unique, at least that's how it appeared at first in Zeus.  

It wasn't until the volume on Hera when I really developed some special appreciation for O'Connor's vision and where this series sets itself apart from classics like D'Aulaires.  First of all, O'Connor forthrightly takes on the inherent sexism in the myths.  As he points out in his really awesome notes sections that he includes at the end of each volume, most of what was written and passed down is the men's story told by the men.  Case in point is the depiction of Hera which is problematic at best.  Hera has always been portrayed as a petty, insanely jealous and generally unpleasant harpy of wife. A harridan. She does do some really cruel and petty things BUT the fact of the matter is that Zeus is a TERRIBLE husband.  He is constantly cheating on her and in fact ate his first queen (Metis - mother of Athena).  O'Connor deliberately interprets many of the myths surrounding Hera in a different and fairer way, using some scraps of evidence and stories that suggest that the Queen of the Gods was not historically seen in such a purely negative light.  His take on things is very cool and depicts Hera, the Goddess of Marriage and Childbirth, as she is meant to be, I think.  He also fixes some other more modern biases like drawing Andromeda, an Ethiopian princess, as African.  

Along with his explanatory notes and informal footnotes at the end of the volumes, which are a very cool addition, he also does some fun things to connect the volumes. For example in Athena he has a panel or two that shows a conversation between Zeus and Metis in the foreground and Demeter and Hera walking by in the background seeming to whisper to each other.  In Hera, we see this same scene but with the focus reversed - we hear what Hera and Demeter were whispering about.  Cool!

FINAL VERDICT:  I think this would make a nice introduction to Greek Mythology for a kid, especially a kid who loved the Percy Jackson series and is curious about the base myths that those books play with.  It was also fun for me as an adult Greek Mythology nerd and I especially appreciated the more feminist slant of the tales while maintaining the myth's integrity. Overall for these first three volumes: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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