Ares, Bringer of War written and illustrated by George O’Connor

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ares coverAres, Bringer of War written and illustrated by George O’Connor
First Second, 2015

Unlike other more biographical entries in The Olympians series, this graphic novel version of Homer’s Iliad brings to life what I recall, from O’Level Classical Studies, being a rather dry read about the Trojan War. This shows the gods watching the war from Mount Olympus like a video game, with some rooting for the Greeks and some for the Trojans, depending on a complex and incestuous web of connections (luckily Mr O’Connor gives us the doozy of a family tree on the inside front cover).

The introductory section explains the differences between the two gods of war: Athena is about strategy and is “the voice that speaks reason in the heat of battle” whereas Ares lives in “the chaos, the confusion, and the horror” that can overtake soldiers “when the best laid plans have gone awry.” As the gods help their favorites and seek vengeance for slights, the Greeks and Trojans are just pawns in a game that eventually the gods lose interest in after Achilles defiles the body of Hector. The book finishes, a little lamely, with a whirlwind page on the rest of the Trojan War, much as the Iliad does.

The color panels in Troy move between cool blues for Athena’s strategy and rusty/earthy reds and browns for the blood-soaked visceral rampaging of Ares. The minimalist, neutral and serene Olympus reflects the ennui and omniscience of the gods. It is encouraging to note that both mortals and immortals have a diverse range of skin tones. However, and maybe I’m reading too much into this, I’m a little uneasy that Ares, the raging, and bloodthirsty god, is the only dark-skinned male as it feels like it plays to the Scary Black Man trope.

The end notes are fun, as Mr O’Connor gives some entertaining information about how he used details from the Iliad to inform his story and illustrations, including the tidbit that gods weigh more than mortals.

This is a hugely popular series with upper elementary/middle school kids (and older) and there’s no reason why this should not continue the trend.

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