Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships
Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze retells the story of the Trojan War in a beautiful, realistic fashion. Although they speak of being a god’s son or daughter the way we’d speak of our parents’ hometown, the participants are treated as real people with identifiable motivations: lust, anger, greed, arrogance … all the classics. Eric Shanower well deserved the 2001 and 2003 Eisner Awards for Best Writer/Artist.
A Thousand Ships opens with Paris as a cowherd, which grounds the series before launching into more fantastic adventures. Paris, you see, is the long-lost son of the king, previously thought dead. He’s also a classic adolescent; his dreams and wants get in the way of the bigger picture. He doesn’t realize how much cleaning up after him other people have to do, whether it’s causing his dad to do his farm chores or disrupting a kingdom by kidnapping Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.
The adoptive father’s subtle characterization is a true gem. Here’s a man driven by duty but still with glimpses of his pride glimmering in the background. We’re also introduced to Achilles as a boy, and we see more of what it must be like for him to be hidden as a girl among kings’ daughters. Along the way, we learn more about the agreements, treaties, and history between the kingdoms that lead into the coming war as the leaders assemble.
Odysseus’s goodbye to his wife Penelope and their newborn child Telemachus as he heads off to war captures his sadness and underlying fear. As this first volume comes to a close, the assembled warriors deal with impatience and frustration at continuing delays. They’ve been waiting for two and a half years, and they’re running out of food. Then a prophet envisions nine years of battle, with success in the tenth year, which doesn’t help the mood. Finally, after dealing with omens and curses, they launch for Troy.
Beyond the awesome scope of the story — this is the closest thing in comics to a true generational saga, what with previously unknown princes, kidnappings, and the other schemes of the rich and powerful — the appeal of this series is the gorgeous art.
Eric Shanower is a highly-accomplished craftsman, and he brings to the series exactly what’s required, ranging from detailed facial expressions and body language in quiet, mood-driven scenes to large gestures and overwhelming emotion in rowdy, crowded comedy interludes. The layouts are simple and easy to follow, allowing the detail-packed panels to be read clearly. This is a true comic book: both the words and pictures are essential to the story, and they combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts.
The collections provide extras, including maps of the relevant areas, extensive bibliographies, genealogical charts, and pronunciation guides. A Thousand Ships has a lengthy afterword that explains the genesis of the project and gives a lot of historical and interpretative detail. The paper quality is incredible, thick white and non-glossy, causing the detailed art to stand out and read crisply.