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George O’Connor, Ares. Bringer of War. New York: First Second (an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, part of Macmillan Publishers Ltd), 2015, 78 pp.
olympiansrule.com (accessed: June 16, 2020)
Action and adventure comics
Comics (Graphic works)
Young adults (Teens; young adults)
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Author of the Entry:
Sonya Nevin, University of Roehampton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Hanna Paulouskaya, University of Warsaw, firstname.lastname@example.org
, b. 1973
George O’Connor (1973) is an author, illustrator, cartoonist, and graphic novelist from the USA, based in Brooklyn, New York. His work is predominantly aimed at young people and frequently contains historical subjects and themes. O’Connor has cited Walt Simonson's mythology-rich editions of Marvel's Mighty Thor as a significant early influence on his own work. His first graphic novel, Journey into Mohawk Country, was based on the journal of a 17th century trader. He contributed to First Series' Fable Comics (2015, ed. Chris Duffy), a collection of myths retold by cartoonists. He is the creator of the Olympians graphic novel series.
In an interview (see here, accessed: April 17, 2015), George O'Connor has said that he wanted the series to be educational. He also said that he spent a long time researching for each title by reading ancient literature to access different versions of myths, and that he consciously tried to avoid reading modern “people’s retellings because everybody puts a spin on it. I purposely put spins on the stories too, but I don’t want to accidentally steal somebody else’s spin”.
Official website (accessed: October 24, 2018).
Former Author blog (blog no longer updated; accessed: October 24, 20018).
Twitter (accessed: October 24, 2018).
Bio prepared by Sonya Nevin, University of Roehampton, email@example.com
Ares: Bringer of War presents the figure of Ares through a retelling of the myths of the Trojan War with Ares as a major focus point. The book closes with an author's note on adapting Homer's Iliad and his preference for a version of the Trojan War which includes the gods. Profile summaries of Ares, Eris, and Achilles follow, along with eight points for discussion, a Bibliography and Further Reading recommendations.
The book opens with the phrase, "To know the great god Ares, you must first know how he differs from Athena." Illustrations appear from the next page, with armaments (and, later, architecture) placing the events in antiquity. A contrast is then established between Athena as deity of organised elements of war, and Ares as the bringer of chaos and violence. Although this was once a popular view, more recent scholarship has shown this to be a false dichotomy (see Deacy, 2000*).
Ares, accompanied by Eris, Deimos, and Phobos, are depicted riding across the battlefield in a fearsome chariot taking a direct part in battle. The reader then learns that the novel is being narrated by Askalaphos, mortal son of Ares, who is talking about his father around the campfires of Troy. The novel then unfolds as a retelling of Homer's Iliad with Ares in focus.
The gods' debate is depicted with them standing around a large table-like surface on which they watch events at Troy unfolding. The gods move back and forth between Olympus and earth with magical ease; they appear giant, magnificent, sometimes human-like, sometimes more ethereal.
When Aphrodite drops Aeneas in shock at being wounded by Diomedes, Apollo saves him, saying, "He is fated to do other things", an indirect reference to the foundation of Rome. Askalaphos is killed in battle moments after Ares has been wounded by Diomedes-Athena in a striking set of images; yellow ichor drips across the halls of Olympus.
Scamander rears up, anthropomorphised, when Achilles fills the waters with bodies. Fighting breaks out between the gods, until Hermes calls their attention to the death of Hector. When Thetis supplicates Zeus, Zeus' eagle says that Achilles' "actions will determine his fate." The reader is encouraged to regard this initially as a reference to whether or not Achilles kills Hector, however they are then led to regard Achilles' mutilation of Hector's corpse as Achilles "making his choice." Instead of ending with Achilles reconciliation with Priam, the gods are depicted as losing interest in the war once "the whole endeavour as soured" by Achilles' actions. Achilles’ death, the gift of the horse, and the fall of Troy summarise the end of the war with a frame each. The novel ends with an intense exchange between Ares and Zeus, struggling with power, violence, and legacy. The decision to present Achilles' and Ares' actions in this way invites the reader to reflect on the conduct of war, while ending on a more pessimistic note than The Iliad.
Antiquity in Ares is an unpredictable, violent, hyper-masculine environment. As the focus is upon battle, the characters are largely judged (by each other and the reader) on the basis of their military performance. Death and injury come in a myriad of forms (as they do in Homer's Iliad), yet, also like The Iliad, the violence is not abstract or purely glamorised, there is a frank inclusion of fear, horror, bereavement, and moral judgement against those who violate social norms. Warfare is glamorised in the sense that it is the subject of the material, it brings glory to the characters, and it looks tremendous in the illustrations, yet only a serious mis-reading of the text would create the impression that war (of this sort at least) is an attractive, consequence-free activity.
The gods are very involved in the lives of the mortals in this work. To some extent this communicates an idea of antiquity as a place of closeness between the two kinds of beings. As in Homer's Iliad, the gods are interested in the developments of the war and in the conduct of its participants; they experience grief when favoured humans die. Yet O'Connor has balanced this with a sense of the gods distance from mortals. At times they are like modern comic-book heroes, each with their own powers, assembled to watch over humans. But less like comic-book heroes, the gods can lose interest in the mortals, as they do in disgust towards the end, and even their interest can have a distanced quality. Hermes, always depicted as a somewhat flippant surfer-type in this series, calls to the others, "Over here, everyone, quick. Grab a front row seat – to witness the wrath of Achilles!" The illustration of this is magnificent, and there is some well-considered use of Homeric phrasing, potentially initiating young readers into a culturally potent expression (the wrath of / the wrath of Achilles); nonetheless the phrasing also expresses the gods' remoteness from mortals – this emotionally-charged killing spree is given the distancing treatment of gods treating the event as humans might treat a drama or other entertainment. In this antiquity, the gods are ever-present, yet distant; ambiguous in their relationship with mortals. Humans are tiny and weak beside them. In this O'Connor creates a complex vision of antiquity in which modern readers can reflect on both their own humanness or mortality and in which they are presented with an ancient-style perspective on the gods' relationship with mortals. In that sense, while the graphic novel is accessibly easy to read and visually engaging, the young reader is given plenty to think about, presented with antiquity as a complex, thought-provoking environment.
O'Connor is creating his own version of the Olympian mythosphere with this series, Olympians, selecting myths from ancient literature and synthesising them into accessible, exciting stories. The sense of a unified mythosphere is also conveyed through the way that the gods have consistent characterisations and bisect each other's stories, conveying the sort of unity found in e.g. the Marvel universe. The Olympian world that O'Connor presents is vibrant, beautiful, and sexy, it also contains moral difficulties and ambiguities and thought-provoking topics that are drawn out implicitly within the choice of stories and the telling of the stories, and explicitly through the For Discussion questions.
* Susan Deacy, "Athena and Ares: war, violence and warlike deities", in Hans van Wees, ed., War and Violence in Ancient Greece, London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2000, pp. 285-298.
Darmon, J-P., "The powers of war: Ares and Athena in Greek mythology", in Yves Bonnefoy, ed., Greek and Egyptian Mysteries, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp.114-5.
Deacy, Susan, "Athena and Ares: war, violence and warlike deities", in Hans van Wees, ed., War and Violence in Ancient Greece, London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2000, pp. 285-298.
Graf, Fritz, "Ares", in Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edn. rev. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p.152.
Kovacs, George, and Marshall, C.W. eds., Classics and Comics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011.
Kovacs, George, and Marshall, C.W. eds., Son of Classics and Comics, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015.
Series blog (accessed: June 16, 2020).
Author blog post featuring 32 depictions of Ares by different graphic novelists (accessed: June 16, 2020).