Review: ODY-C #1
“ODY-C #1 requires a commitment from the reader to pay attention to detail and artistic styling, and possibly to read the issue more than once to take everything in that Fraction and Ward offer. However, that commitment feels less like work and more like revisiting a tale thousands of years old with fresh eyes looking toward the future.”
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Christian Ward
Release Date: Wed, November 26, 2014
Reading Ody-C is a labor, but it’s a labor of love.
The majority of the comic books I read are easily digestible, consumed in the span of 10 minutes or so. That’s not to say that I can’t appreciate the layers the creators pack into the tale upon a rereading of the story, but the effort to soak in the story upon that first initial flip through the pages is minimal. Writer Matt Fraction, however, has never been one to allow comic book fans to rest on their laurels and passively absorb a comic book tale. Even in his writing for mainstream titles such as Hawkeye and The Invincible Iron Man, Fraction challenged readers with new ideas and unique spins on old storytelling tropes, pushing the boundaries of what a comic book story could accomplish. In his most recent work, the co-creator of Sex Criminals has taken that storytelling sensibility to the next level in ODY-C #1 from Image Comics.
Whether or not you took a humanities course in college, most readers will immediately connect the title of the book and the tale within to one of the most famous stories in all of literature, Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. For those not in the know, however, the story tracks a war-weary Odysseus as he makes his way back home to his wife and son, his crew encountering all manner of obstacles along the way, primarily thrown their way by the Greek gods. Fraction and illustrator Christian Ward adapt this tale, a yarn that has been told and retold many times, adding their own unique twists. (Side note: See O Brother, Where Art Thou? for one of the most satisfying takes on Homer’s epic.) The teams flings the story into an indeterminate future and flip the genders of many of the many characters, most notably Odysseus and Zeus.
Fleeing the war-ravaged Troiia and its catastrophic fall, Odyssia and her crew of fierce warriors attempt to make their way back to their home planet of Ithicaa and put their years of battle behind them. However, as with Homer’s original tale, the gods have other plans, and ODY-C #1 features those deities manipulating our heroes for their own ends, seemingly to curb their boredom.
While Fraction and Ward manage to offer an inspired retelling of a familiar story, the real highlight of the first issue is how the duo manipulate the comic book medium. Ward’s art literally breaks through the panels at times, showing that the depth and breadth of the epic can’t be contained within the boundaries a comic book typically sets. This approach to the art reminded me of artist Bill Watterson’s experimentation with the comic strip in the later years of Calvin & Hobbes, especially the Sunday installments, in which Watterson’s beautiful watercolors exploded out of the panels. Ward densely packs each page with action and detail, adding another level of weight to the Odyssey’s story.
Of course, Fraction’s writing is not for the faint of heart. From the behemoth of a gatefold insert at the beginning of the issue detailing history the reader should know to the scattering of narrative and dialogue over each page, Fraction constructs a take on The Odyssey that is part comic book story, part epic narrative, part storybook format.
As I said, ODY-C #1 requires a commitment from the reader to pay attention to detail and artistic styling, and possibly to read the issue more than once to take everything in that Fraction and Ward offer. However, that commitment feels less like work and more like revisiting a tale thousands of years old with fresh eyes looking toward the future.