by Matthew Horowitz
Ancient Greece, the birthplace of Western civilization…
No no no…
Let me zoom in a bit.
Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, but Hades is a comic, and it’s a good one. The fourth part of a series of graphic novels on the Olympians by George O’Connor, Hades explores the mythology of The Lord of The Dead with a comfortable balance of storytelling and exposition.
The story opens with the simple statement, “This is what happens when you die.” The reader is led down a wandering path through the coldly illustrated Underworld, as O’Connor weaves the elemental mechanics of the afterlife (Charon’s toll, the oblivion granting sip of the river Lethe) in with the exceptional fates of those characters that perished in stories past. This develops a sense of context and presence in what would otherwise be an unrelatable setting.
Hades has always been one of my favorite deities. Brother of Zeus and Poseidon, Hades missed out on the swanky dominions of Land and Sea and drew the short straw that landed him ruler of the Underworld. Just like unfortunate Pluto no longer gets counted among the planets, as managing director of all things death, Hades misses out on the non stop partying and palace intrigue found atop mount Olympus. No turning in to a swan to impregnate mortal chicks for our boy, no arbitrary taking of sides in the wars and woes of man. Homie gotta stay in the ground where the dead folk go.
But there’s the rub. There’s where Hades becomes the God of the long con. Because good or bad, there’s no escaping the journey of the mortal soul to the underworld. So go ahead chumps and chumpettes, sacrifice that bull to Zeus, burn your sacred incense so Poseidon will bless your boat trip; cause when lightning strikes and ships sink, it’s Hades you’re gonna be looking up to for eternity.
And O’Connor completely gets it! All of the nuances and aspects of Hades are there, in vivid contrast to the watered down manifestations in Disney or Wonder Woman that couldn’t help but portray Hades as a scheming devilish antagonist.
Where the graphic novel really shines, and shame on me for not getting to her sooner, is Persephone. Starting as Kore, defiant daughter of Demeter, then kidnapped to become the reluctant bride of Hades, Persephone finally chooses her place as Dread Queen of the Underworld. That choice, that crucial moment of self-determination in her character arc is the sole variation from the original myth, as O’Connor admits in the author’s note.
But it is a justified variation, one that adds depth to the character rather than simplifying the message. Persephone’s struggle against the wills and whims of elder gods is a relatable story that isn’t told very often.
It does the myths good to have new life breathed in to them, and this graphic novel is just the minty fresh gust. The tone of the writing conveys dignity and power appropriate for divine dialogue without resorting to archaic word choice or stuffy sentence structure. The art is stark but dynamic, character design landing safely between marble statue and super hero. All delivered in a well paced package from the artist of Ball Peen Hammer.
Good on you O’Connor, and on you First Second. Hades deserved the tribute.
TL;DR If you’ve ever been a fan of Greek myth, or even if you haven’t, this is a very well-researched and well-put exploration of the fabled God of the Underworld.
Hades is the fourth book in the Olympians series, which also includes Zeus, Hera, and Athena. The series is written and illustrated by George O’Connor and published by First Second Books. Teachers can check out his website for more info on usage in the classroom and activities to accompany the books. You can ask for it at your local comic book shop or book store or, support Spandexless by buying through our Amazon web store.
A review copy of Hades was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.
Matthew is a lover of Comedy and Tragedy in all of their forms; particularly the forms of Comic Books, Theater, and Hip-hop. When not passing himself off as an actor or writer, he works with the mentally afflicted in New Haven, CT.
Fighting style: Swag-Fu
Weapon of choice: Necktie (100% silk)
Secondary weapon: Pocket Comb