More often than not, originality is praised over good writing. If an idea is fresh and new, the story would be more highly praised even if it’s poorly written. Whereas a story that follows the structure and style of previous tales might be seen as “unoriginal.” This kind of branding could hurt a story that could wind up being fantastic.
This is really a foolish kind of idea to keep in mind while reviewing a book. The reason why so many stories follow these beats and tropes is because they are deemed as “classics.” Obviously these stories have something that works for them, that’s why they’ve stuck around for so long. It’s because of this that adaptations have been a thriving genre of writing for so long.
But sometimes simply adapting a story in the manner it was written is boring. No one wants to see another adaptation of “Peter Pan” set in Victorian London. It’s been done before. Some of the most entertaining kinds of stories are the ones that take a classic that everyone knows and brings something new to it. So is the case with “ODY-C #1,” written by Matt Fraction and art by Christian Ward.
The book, based on the timeless tale “The Odyssey” by Homer, follows the basic structure of the epic poem. Odyssia, having just finished fighting in a fierce and years-long war, must now return home to her family. Along the way, her ship is delayed by attacks from not only the Gods, but also forces outside her control. After that, the story takes its own twists and turns.
The obvious point to make about the changes to “The Odyssey” is that Fraction swaps the genders of every single character in the story. Odyssia, along with her entire crew, are now women as opposed to men. While this might seem to be a strange conceit, one that might only be used for shock value and potential scenes of feminine sexualization, Fraction handles the change deftly. Having written the fan-favorite book “Sex Criminals” has proven Fraction to be extremely capable of writing for the opposite gender, and none of the scenes featuring any of the gender-swapped characters in the book come across as silly or poorly written.
One scene in particular stands out from the rest of the book in this regard comes early on in the tale when Odyssia confronts He. The stand in for Helen in the story, He is the reason for the war that Odyssia is fighting. The narration of the story even says that, “thousands of swiftships once launched in his name.” By the end of the war and the beginning of the book, He is now chained up and dragged around like a helpless animal. While most writers might poke fun at the idea of a man being bound and dragged around by women, Fraction depicts the scene straight and without humor. Odyssia wonders aloud “Was that face of yours really so beautiful?” It’s clear Fraction understands the mentalities of these characters and isn’t looking to make something silly out of them. By portraying them as hardened soldiers, Fraction has managed to help define them even more and even proven that the gender of the main character doesn’t need to hinder a damn good story from being told.
The other main point that separates “ODY-C” from its predecessor is the setting. Instead of ancient Greece, the story is set among the beautiful vistas of space. Massive starships help to transport characters from place to place, and the armor each warrior dons is like something out of a “Star Wars” movie. Here, Ward shines brightest and shows that he is perhaps the perfect artist for this kind of book. Shedding the traditional look of a comic book, Ward elects to handle all the art details himself, giving each page a rich and textured feel that blends together in a way that very few books can manage to pull off.
Along with the non-traditional panel layouts for many of the pages, Ward also brings sharp, jagged colors to each page to help give the look a very retro, sci-fi flare. Half the books on stands today are colored in muted tones and feel somber right from the cover images. Yet everything about this book screams adventure and excitement, right down to the psychedelic design of the cover which sees a glowing yellow galaxy stand out against the cool tones of the blues and greens of Ward’s deep space.
Beyond those two key points, the story remains relatively intact. While it may not be the same story you read in your high school English class, it’s close enough that you could get away with reading it as opposed to the hundreds of pages of dull poetry normally presented. Just don’t start talking about Cicones and their swiftships attacking Odyssia, or else you might get some weird glances from classmates.
Even the structure of the writing shows an appreciation and honor to the original text. Most of the dialogue is presented in narration blocks, with very few conversations in the book being held through dialogue bubbles. On top of this, the numbers indicating changes in ideas that are presented in some of the translations of “The Odyssey” are also kept intact. These points give the book an even stronger connection to the original text, making it feel like the classic being presented for the first time.
Yet the structure of the story isn’t the only point of interest that keeps this story interesting and connected to the original. Events that take place within the story help to keep the tale from flying too far off into insanity that some science fiction stories find themselves in from time to time. By following the structure of the tale laid down by Homer thousands of years ago, Fraction and Ward are guaranteed a strong story that they can’t totally derail (even though countless other stories have come close to that very thing).
Perhaps my favorite point of the story that remained from the original version was that the feud between Odyssia and Poseidon was presented here. Because of a sacrifice not being presented to her, Poseidon now seeks vengeance towards Odyssia and does her best to try and derail Odyssia’s journey back to her family. Like in the classic tale, many of Odyssia’s problems in this issue come from her brewing battle against the wrath of Poseidon. It seems like this will also serve as potential story beats for later issues, which makes me happy to see. Knowing that the creative team will be following the structure of “The Odyssey” as closely as they are makes me even more excited for the next issue to arrive.
There are many examples of books trying to adapt a classic story and failing miserably at it. More often than not, these tales fail to capture what makes those kinds of stories fun and classic to begin with. Perhaps “ODY-C” will turn out the same way and collapse in on itself at some point down the road. But for now, the book stands as a strong addition to the stellar lineup of books that Image Comics is putting out.