[As with previous post, FYI rape mentioned]
Distressingly late to the party, I’ve finally got around to reading Ody-C Volume 2. My initial delay was a determination to buy it, rather than borrow, but insufficient funds to do so… then it just kept on stretching on and on, until I finally gave in and borrowed it from flatmate, mostly because it was bugging me that he’d read it and I hadn’t. I regret immensely that I left it this long, and I’m probably going to reread it immediately, when I dig out my copy of volume 1 and reread that too… but I think it’s fairer to give my opinion of it with all the distance since I read the last one, rather than what will inevitably be my hyperactive, binge-related opinion when I read them both together. This way will at least be more coherent.
For a start, I’m much less hyperactive than when I read the first one. Obviously in part, the initial hyperactivity was due to just the sheer excitement that such a thing as this existed at all. And while that hasn’t gone away – I still love that this is a thing – it has at least faded to calmer appreciation in the months and months since I read the first one. But it’s also because volume 2 cleaves much less closely to the original story of the Odyssey than volume 1 – with its retelling of the actual bit with the Cyclops and everything – did. That’s not a bad thing, and I’ll get onto the abundant praise in a minute, but it does make for slightly less excitement on my part, because I’m predictable like that. But it’s a good lack of excitement. Because the more I think about it, the more I conclude that just doing a straight retelling of the Odyssey, even a genderswapped or gender-I-don’t-even-know-whatted one, however well-executed, isn’t fundamentally that novel of a thing. So maybe throwing source-adherence to the wind and just playing with the underlying inspiration was the right way to go… so long as you do it with the right amount of understanding of that source, and thought about what you’re going to do with it (spoilers, yes to both).
So, while I am less excited than at volume 1, I am, if anything, more appreciative for what work has gone into creating volume 2.
I feel like I need to go back and read the Odyssey… or frankly, Classics at Cambridge… again to fully appreciate everything they’ve done. There are several layers of intertwined storytelling, referencing various myths (and not even just Greek ones, since Inanna makes an appearance, and there’s a strong Thousand and One Nights parallel going on), and they spiral off in odd directions, while still all retaining a link back to the original source. What this means is you (well, I at least) spend a minute or so every other page going “oh my god, is he referencing [obscure myth variant]??” or wondering why they chose to play with those particular themes of this particular myth. It’s not, as I say, quite as exciting as volume 1, but it means I was a lot more thoughtful as I read this one. There’s just so much in there, I needed the thinking time to pick it all apart.
This may also extend just to the plot. I am genuinely not sure what exactly happened at the end of the volume… there’s a character where it’s ambiguous as to whether she’s dead or not, based on contradictory statements by another character. It’s also not entirely clear how this all exactly relates back to the main plot of what was happening with Odyssia in the first volume.
I suppose where the first volume is sticking closely to the actual Odyssey, volume 2 is exploring more of the ephemera associated with the Iliad and Odyssey myths, as opposed to the texts themselves. For instance, one part of the story felt to me very reminiscent of the alternate myth where Helen spends the Trojan War in Egypt, rather than at Troy, and Menelaus is reunited with her after he leaves to go home. There’s a parting scene between Ene and He, their genderswapped counterparts in Ody-C, that felt to me like a deliberate inversion of this myth… though that might be me projecting meaning where none lives. Even if this is just original work on the part of the authors, the fact that I’m finding this sort of meaning in it suggests it’s well within the tone of the mythos.
What else it does which I find pleasingly appropriate is nest its storytelling throughout the volume – the plot, while still remaining the plot, also forms part of a story told by one of the other characters. The way the lines blur between which is which is a wonderful extension of this trope, and I can only imagine how this would have been amplified by reading as the individual comics, rather than as the trade paperback.
What volume 2 does less than volume 1, and which I think is, to some extent, a loss, is play around with metre and epithets. In volume 1, you were pretty much saturated with Homericness all the way through the text, whereas there’s barely an epithet in sight here. There’s other stuff going on, and they do have a very clear tone running through the whole thing, but I think dropping this massive Homeric feature kind of detracts from the whole style of the thing. Likewise, I really loved the obviously hexameter form of the first one. I haven’t actually gone through and scanned this one, but if it is all in hexameter, it’s much less immediately recognisable as such, and I think that’s a shame. While I love how they’re veering off in cool directions and including all sorts of shiny things that make me want to redo my entire degree and then some, I think having that core bit of Homericness really tied together what they were doing before and grounded the more original or out there bits of the book in the source material. I don’t want them to be constrained to just redoing the Odyssey. That’s no fun, and not what I love this all for doing. But what makes it so beautiful is that really obvious debt to Homer while at the same time doing some really cool but really well researched and inspired – going really out there with the text, the story, the art, the plot… everything – stuff that is somehow still absolutely Homer appropriate and inspired. Even when they go really really far away from the Odyssey, they still somehow are completely within the tone. It’s still right. And I think the lack of obvious Homeric-ness to the text itself slightly undermines that. But only slightly. I mean, it’s still pretty glorious.
In a weird parallel to my last book, one of the themes that runs through this book, totally appropriately for the source, of course, is rape. It comes into several of the narrative threads, from different perspectives and different contexts, but running together all to come to a crescendo with the story He tells to the kings of Q’Af. Where The Philosopher Kings is all about thoroughly exploring the issue from several sides and perspectives, carefully and quietly and thoughtfully, Ody-C is more about driving home one message and reinforcing it by doing it again and again in different narratives. They even have the same phrase repeated throughout those narratives, linking together the different stories to form the coherent whole of the book. In a very classically appropriate way, the rape stories are about power and revenge, and, spoilers, link very well to the way they choose to interpret the story about the death of Hercules. The art there, as Hercules dons his robes and begins to burn (woo, keeping that bit of the original tale in) is bizarrely beautiful.
The art of this one… it’s less memorable than the first. There are several pages of volume 1 that stick in my mind as just fantastic pieces of art. There’s nothing really like that in this one… with maybe one exception… but the art is still stunningly beautiful and put together. The big spreads often demand that you stop and really really look at what they’re doing (and in one case, rotate it). Much like what I’ve said about other aspects, it’s not as exciting as the previous volume, but possibly more praiseworthy, just in a quieter, more thoughtful way.
I still have so much to say, but I think I need to stop talking now. Suffice it to say, I still absolutely adore Ody-C, it remains one of the best reworkings of a classical story that I have ever come across, and if you have any investment in the original narrative, I think you’ll enjoy reading this. It’s beautiful, it’s clever, it’s fun and it’s utterly compelling. They’ve executed it just so fantastically, working so well within the tone of the source material so everything from the art style to the rhythm of the prose is both original and yet in keeping… arrrgh it’s impossible not to love it.