Age of Bronze: Betrayal
Age of Bronze: Betrayal is the latest installment in Eric Shanower’s glorious retelling of the Trojan War. (The previous were A Thousand Ships and Sacrifice.) A comprehensive Story So Far opens the volume by reminding the reader who’s on whose side and which key events driving the forces together. It’s illustrated with headshots, since this is a graphic novel and visages are important, especially when they boast or glower.
Careful attention to detail is rewarded; for example, the two major sons of Priam, King of Troy, are Hektor and Paris. They closely resemble each other, as brothers should, except that Paris has wavier hair (and often a stupid grin on his face, but that’s his lack of worthwhile character). The volume is bookended by a glossary and pronunciation guide and genealogical charts of the various royal families, as well as a bibliography. The charts come in handy, since many of the characters persist in referring to each other as “son of so-and-so” instead of by name or title. It’s all about heritage and bloodline for these royal leaders, and if they can claim kinship with a god, all the better.
As the story begins, the Acheans are sailing towards Troy. Each side is lining up allies as they prepare for the coming war, although they’re going to take a stab at peace first. Whether or not you’re familiar with the history or its details, this is a gripping story of the inevitability of certain events once human nature gets involved. The politics and factions are fascinating, especially when they involve people who otherwise just want to be happy.
No one may be able to relate to a spurned king seeking back his fabled beauty of a wife, but many are familiar with broken homes where one spouse has moved on to a new partner and family while the spurned rejectee can’t get over being dumped. (Essay question: would no-fault divorce laws have prevented the Trojan War? Probably not, since either way, Paris is still a self-important jerk who thinks with a part of his anatomy lower than his brain and stabs his enemies in the back.)
Shanower’s art is gorgeous in its line and detail, in the fine tradition of many great draftsmen. There were parts when the faces of the war leaders reminded me of the work of John Severin, capturing every worry line, while his women at times of emotion evoked Kurt Shaffenberger’s immortal Lois Lane (although without the 70s hairstyles) in the slick fine lines used. The images bring the historical figures to life, with Priam’s fatigue at trying to protect his country’s reputation while being dragged into an unnecessary war he refuses to back away from clearly visible.
The book’s full of foolhardy youngsters who welcome the glory of battle, starry-eyed elder brothers who think their love can inspire others to agree to peace (not realizing that too many egos have already moved too far beyond that), the too-clever-by-half adviser who plays others for the fun of the game while undercutting his own best interests… human faces put on mythical events.
Shanower’s battle scenes are particularly telling, as it’s chaos and confusion and all too often, accidental death. Someone slips and stabs someone else by mistake, or someone’s killed out of petty emotion, ruining careful strategy hatched with clearer heads. War’s only enjoyed by the young, and only because they’re too stupid to realize that dreams of glory ultimately mean nothing. Petty egos change the history of the world. And we get to see it play out with great artistic skill.
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