Sunday, October 17, 2010

Odysseus in Comics

It's not often that a comic book provokes an emotional response out of me. Not only that, but I can't remember a time when it ever happened while simply flipping through it at the comic book store. However, that very thing happened last Wednesday when I chanced upon The Odyssey, an adaptation of Homer's epic by Gareth Hinds. I picked it up because I love the story, and I also really enjoyed Marvel's recent adaptation.

What got to me was when I flipped to see how he handled the scene with the old dog, Argos. For those who don't know, I recently had to put my dog down, and he was named for Odysseus' pet. This story was on my mind anyway, as I was reading The Odyssey with my freshmen class. This was the first time I've taught it since my Argos passed away, so it was a pretty emotional moment when we got to this particular tragic dog story. Before we got to it, I told my class about my dog. In one class, there were quite a few weepy-eyed freshmen - and this was before we got to Homer's version!

Basically what Hinds did is create a moment that could only exist in comic books. The scene plays out beautifully, and once the old dog passes away, you see the goddess Athena pick him up and carry him off. For me to describe this does not do justice to the beauty of how Hinds uses the art form to give this scene the emotional weight it deserves. Sure, that's not how it happened in the original epic. However, I've been on record as stating that I think it's a bad idea to be too slavish to the source material when adapting something - be it a movie or a comic book. Different art forms have different needs, and what works well in one works well in another. (Which is why I had no problem with the whole change to Grendel's mom in the Beowulf movie. The original story works fine as an epic poem, but it would have made for bad storytelling in a movie.)

Of course, after getting a bit misty-eyed after seeing this in the comic book store, I had no choice but to buy the darned thing. And considering that it's a hefty book for only $15, it was a pretty darned good deal. As for the rest of the adaptation, I have nothing but praise. Sure, I kind of missed the goatherd Melanthius getting his just desserts at the end, but it probably would have been far too crude for a visual medium (his ears, nose, hands, and feet are chopped off, and his genitals are given to the dogs to eat - all this because he was more loyal to the suitors than his king, and what's worse, he kicked an old beggar - who was really Odysseus in disguise, but still, you treat old beggars with kindness).

There are also several other beautiful moments, like when Penelope weeps for her husband and when Calypso has to let Odysseus go. Everything else is played out very clearly, and I'd recommend it to anybody who loves the original. Also, if you're trying to decide between this adaptation and the one that Marvel Comics recently did, definitely go with this one. Not to knock Marvel's, as they really put some nice effort into it, and adapting such an epic tale is no minor feat unto itself. However, this one is far more emotionally pleasing, and the storytelling skills of Mr. Hinds is far more direct and effective.

And is it just me, or does the suitor Antinuous remind anybody else of Glenn Beck?

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