All-Action Classics No. 3: The Odyssey

adapted by Tim Mucci; layouts by Ben Caldwell, Rick Lacy; color by Emanuel Tenderini.

Adaptations of classics are rarely high quality.  Often they read as vanity projects for the artist, showcasing vivid rendering skills and painterly sensibilities but lacking narrative drive.  They rarely take advantage of the kinetic momentum possible in panel-to-panel art.  The story takes a back seat to the static prettiness of the art itself.

Elsewhere  they may read as overly earnest if dumbed down distillations of  a larger more complex or nuanced work.    Here they tend to lack depth, like set dressing for a puppet show.  They read clearly as though  some publisher, distraught that kids aren’t really reading nowadays, thought it a good idea that we publish a book with more pictures and the like.   You know:   kids have no real attention span for anything else.   ‘We’ve got to get into this comics deal.  Kids are actually reading those.  Get me an artist who can do comic books’.

Adaptations that work are generally books with a plot that translates well to the medium.   Sequential art works great with action sequences, driving plot, witty dialogue, fantastic terrain and settings.  Like any other good comic.  ‘Who gives a rip if this is is a hoary old classic, the point is it’s a cracking good story!  I want to draw that! ‘

This attitude animates comic veterans Tim Mucci and Ben Caldwell’s excellent adaptation of the Greek classic Odyssey.

Caldwell has an elastic and loopy line, reminiscent of Kyle Baker, or Bruce Timm’s hyper-stylized almost iconographic Batman the Animated series, though the pencil work here is deliberately more sketchy.  Caldwell  conveys humor as easily as velocity or impact.  While his scratchy lines add detail to the layouts, the  panels remain uncontained in boxes, the edges bleed into the white space of the gutters.    Characters under strain of great emotion escape the panels edges, shouting into infinity, challenging the Gods.

Emmanuel Tenderini’s colors suffuse the pages with ethereal light.  The Greek pantheon glows, Hades lurks in a moody gloom, the buildings of Olympus fade into open air.

Meanwhile Tim Mucci’s crisp witty dialogue and loping pace allow this classic to be appreciated by kids interested in the old heroes and deities of the classics.  And just in time too.  The success of  Rick Riordan’s series ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’  has raised interest for the fierce old Gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon.  The Old Gawds were the first superheroes: outsized in power and responsibilities, but deeply flawed with similarly outsized character defects.  Even now ofter 3,000 years, they can catch the interest and imagination of kids of all ages.

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