More Eric Shanower so soon after Adventures in Oz, but this work is a little under 10 years after the Oz books, and it definitely shows. Shanower, already an accomplished artist in Oz, has become a top storyteller by the time he starts Age of Bronze, his telling of the events surrounding the Trojan War. Where the panels in Adventures were often irregularly sized or laid out in somewhat odd ways, Age of Bronze establishes itself with pages that are mostly three tiers of panels.
This regular grid makes it much more effective when Shanower breaks the pattern, smattering borderless flashback or dream images that seem to exist outside of the hard, defined borders of his here-and-now traditional panels. Techniques like dropping away the borders (or seemingly burning them away as a priest suffers from a vision, the man inside the dissolving borders resolving into higher and higher contrast as though under a bright light) and using full page compositions to explain a character’s backstory (as when two sons of Herakles meet, their reminiscences defined by a white void shaped like their father rising through the middle of the pages) are perfectly executed.
A couple other techniques don’t work as well for me. When Priam, king of Troy, is telling the story of how Herakles kidnapped his sister, the art shifts to a style that is reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon, and I’m not quite sure why. When Agamemnon is struggling with whether or not to sacrifice his daughter, he is shown as a man being literally pulled apart, as though he’s made of paper. It’s a neat effect and, like the cartoon Herakles, shows how great an illustrator Shanower is. However, the formal message is unclear. (I also think it would just be cooler if Agamemnon looked as as though he were inscribed on a tablet that was breaking, especially considering a message he tried to send to his wife regarding his daughter was earlier broken in two.)
I think these are my only gripes, though. These are dense, dense books, and Shanower works hard to establish the huge cast as actual humans with rich histories. The amount of research he’s done is obvious, as he remains visually faithful to the Bronze Age and morally faithful to the harsh and sometimes alien views of the Achaeans and Trojans.
I always think of being taught the Iliad as undergrad, where my professor lectured that the cultures in the book were not concerned with personal, internal guilt at all. Instead, he called them “shame” cultures; what mattered was what people saw and reported and gossiped about. Shanower plays this well. Rarely (if ever) are a character’s feelings internal. There are no thought bubbles or narrative captions in the book. All the characters act out their feelings with others, stalking and spitting and screaming or seizing and lusting and kissing, and it’s all layered with what the characters want at the moment along with what they want others to think.
So, yeah, dense books. They took me much longer to read than anything else so far. I could probably go on and on about the well-rounded females in the book, the neat ways of incorporating mythology while staying realistic, and the fact that Shanower is actually telling the history of most of classical Greece, with appearances by or references to Oedipus, Medea, Jason, Herakles, and so many more while still constantly moving the plot of the impending war forward. Dense books. I hope Shanower finishes the entire thing.