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Age of Bronze Vol. 2: Sacrifice
Review by Sean Maher

Story
Age of Bronze Review: Cover
Age of Bronze Vol. 2: Sacrifice

Story
Eric Shanower
 
art
Eric Shanower

Publisher
Image Comics
 
Format
Softcover Collection
 
Publish Date
June 8, 2005
 
Cover Price
$19.95
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This is a long review: my apologies in advance, dear reader. There’s a hell of a lot of material here and it’s all worthy of discussion. The short version is this: Eric Shanower has packed thousands of years and myriad interpretations and translations of and additions to the tale of the Trojan War (and its many subplots and corollaries) into one staggering, shockingly well-organized volume, and if you have any interest in mythology or historical fiction this should be at the top of your reading list.

I read the first arc, Age of Bronze Vol. 1: A Thousand Ships, last year after reading all the overwhelming praise it had received, and I felt just a little deflated. It was fantastic work, no question — strong characterization, gorgeous inking details, inventive paneling when it fit the story — but it struck me as a little dry.

I came back for the second chunk of the story because the reason for the tone of the first arc was obvious: this story is huge, with literally dozens of major characters, and there’s a lot of setup and careful balancing called for. The payoff starts arriving in this volume, while setting the stage for even more payoff to come.

There are two major events in Age of Bronze Vol. 2: Sacrifice — which collects issues 10-19 — and I’m gonna spoil them both because they’ve been told for thousands of years and I think the secret’s out. First, after finally launching Agamemnon’s huge army, Achilles screws the pooch by attacking not Troy, but nearby Mysia, confused by a thick fog that settles over the entire region. Then, with his army in confused and grumbling disarray, High King Agamemnon is forced to make a choice: the goddess Artemis has demanded he sacrifice his oldest daughter, the loyal and charming Iphegenia, before his forces can successfully set sail again.

It’s the second bit that really drives this chapter in the story and draws out important aspects of every affected character. Agamemnon’s suffering as he resists the divine command to kill his own daughter is richly portrayed and the mounting pressure from his army, his cuckolded brother and his “destiny” are enough to make his final decision believable, while at the same time damning him completely. Achilles’ offer to face the entire Achaean army to protect young Iphegenia is truly heroic, and for the first time we see the bravery and generosity behind his pride and blustering (though we’ve also gotten an intimate look at his romantic relationship with brother solider Patroklus, which is convincingly and lovingly portrayed, though it remains confusing just how taboo or accepted such relationships were within this society).

Oddly enough, Achilles’ defense of Iphegenia earns him a brief stoning from his fellow soldiers, and Shanower makes a point of letting us know he is cut by a stone that hits his face. Whether this is meant to debunk the Achilles’ Heel legend (that his body was literally invincible aside from the one vulnerable spot) or to foreshadow something else is unclear, but it was a moment that made me pause and wonder.

We also get some really powerful characterization for Odysseus, who has become my favorite character of the series. Throughout this part of the story, he keeps asking Agamemnon for permission to go home; he has, after all, received a prophecy that he’ll wander the earth for 20 years, only to return to his hearth and home unrecognized and unloved. You can imagine that might weigh on a man, and his anxiety comes through in tiny moments of pleading, but Agamemnon keeps diverting him with flattery, saying, “But Odysseus, you’re a genius! Really, we couldn’t do this without you.” Odysseus’ reasons for being taken in by this remain unclear until his stunning monologue, which closes the book. He faces the chilling fate of a man who is able to control events around him, to manipulate everyone he knows, but has no power over himself. It’s a theme that was also addressed by the Gabriel Byrne character in the movie Miller’s Crossing, which is among my very favorite movies and may be informing my read. Whatever my influences, I’m finding the tale of Odysseus compellingly tragic, and his characterization surprisingly complex.

Really, Shanower’s character work may be his most important contribution to the story; Philistine that I am, I’ve always found these legendary characters to be stridently drawn, boring one-note moral-bearers existing only to personify Arrogance or Kindness or whatever trait may be under discussion. But even the more despicable characters here are layered and intriguing, and I’m discovering my interest in mythology growing, as I’m able to connect the stories to richer characters.

One last note about the writing: though I never expected the Trojan War to be funny, I have to admit I laughed out loud as Menelaus tears about the army camp screaming, and Agamemnon turns and says, “Odysseus, don’t ever fall in love with your wife.”

Art
Age of Bronze Review: Interior ImageI’d known from volume one that Shanower’s art was gorgeous; but he really unloads here, with stunning character designs for the increasingly mad Kassandra (doomed to foresee the ruin of Troy but go unheeded by her kin) and the wounded, also-mad King Telephus. Shanower also continues his tradition from the first volume of switching up penciling styles for important moments (the ‘sign’ from the gods when a pair of savage birds eat a rabbit) or when telling a story-within-a-story, and using really inventive page layouts for unusual moments and the occasional flashback (such as King Telephus’ tale of near-incest or Agamemnon’s account of his family’s suffering history). In one memorable page Agamemnon’s face literally tears in half from one panel to the next.

The mistaken attack on Mysia is savage and intriguing; Shanower uses a number of wordless pages during the battle scenes, conveying the action through expression and inter-panel closure rather than through sound effects and dialogue. For the most part, this runs very smoothly and adds to the sense of chaos and violence in those scenes. Once or twice, though, through the sheer size of the cast, the absence of the dialogue (which Shanower smartly peppers with character names) makes the consequences of the action hard to decipher.

There’s also an interesting lettering choice Shanower makes towards the end of the story, as the pressure on Agamemnon mounts; a loud wind begins plaguing the army camp and the constant sound of “Shshshsh” acts as a baseline to every panel that occurs there; it’s a powerful tool that functions subtly to bring a rising sense of tension and distraction to the tale.

Bonus Features
This volume includes maps, a glossary of names, genealogical charts for the characters, and an intimidating bibliography. Shanower’s put an awe-inspiring amount of research into this project, attempting (as he describes in the afterword of volume 1) to weave thousands of years’ worth of additions to and interpretations of the story into one cohesive whole. For those who missed out early on, there’s even a “catch up” page bringing readers up to speed on the story thus far.
Final Words

While I appreciated volume one more than I really enjoyed it, Shanower has really blown me away with his work in this volume. This is a staggering achievement of comics art, combining an epic tale with compelling characters and hugely researched and inventive storytelling with visually imaginative layouts. If the genre holds any appeal for you whatsoever, this one belongs in a special place on your bookshelf, and if you’ve been turned off to the genre by dry high-school textbooks or mentally deficient action flicks, this is the place to turn.

Highest Possible Rating


Sean Maher (email) lives in San Francisco, balancing his love for comics with a full-time job and a full-time course load studying journalism at SFSU. He keeps a regular blog at The Zealot's Lore, where he's been nominated for a Squiddy Award, and is a regular presence on MillarWorld, the Brian K. Vaughan Cabal, and the Isotope Virtual Lounge.
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