Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians

There are a few certainties when it comes to Greek myths. There will be violence. There will be monsters. There will be a hero who must overcome all odds. There will be a quest for the hero, introducing him and the audience to new places, new creatures, and new challenges. And somewhere the gods are involved.
Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians is one of the latest mythology offerings from Campfire Publishing (they just released Sundarkaand: Triumph of Hanuman this week!), and adds tot heir impressive library of Greek Myth books.
 The story is the origin of the Olympians, the pantheon of gods who rule from Mt. Olympus, and at the heart of their rise to power is the leader of the group, Zeus. Zeus and his fellow godlings are the children of Chronos, leader of the Titans. Chronos is the child of Ouranos, and Ouranos comes from... well, you get the picture.
 Ouranos is not a good ruler. He is a destructive god, neglecting the infant earth and instead spending his days reveling in his destructive power. Gaea, who wants to put life on the earth, knows it will not happen unless Ouranos is removed from power. She advises her son, Chronus, to take the throne from his father, and Chronus does. Yet, while life does begin to spread across the earth, Chronus proves to be as inept at ruling as his father. Chronus is consumed with keeping his power, and he is haunted by a curse put on him by his father that a son of Chronus would rise up one day and take the throne from him. Believing he can outwit his father's prophetic words, Chronus  devises a brilliant plan to swallow his infant children when they are born. Being immortal, this keeps the baby gods in suspended animation. Chronus' wife Rhea cannot bear the actions of Chronus, and together with Gaea, they devise a plan to save her next child by giving Chronus a rock wrapped like a baby, and then hiding the real infant for years. This is Zeus, and he grows and trains for the day he must confront his father and free his brothers and sisters. From here, the story takes readers through the underworld before Hades, and we see Zeus recruit an army of creatures that were cast away by Ouranos and Chronos for the crime of not being pretty enough. Zeus and his creature army must now confront Chronos and his Titans for control of the world.
 Writer Ryan Foley has crafted a story that goes deeper into the Olympian myths than I was previously aware of. The story builds slowly and moves to a faster pace until the climax of the story. I kept waiting for Zeus to do or say something stupid to generate some justified ill-will from his fellow Olympians, but Foley treats Zeus as ever the hero to the end of the book, which I found refreshing and different. There are a lot of characters to go through in the story, so there is not an opportunity to see any character development. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because to take the additional time to see the characters change and grow would have derailed the the core of the story- how Zues and the Olympians rose to power.
 Jayakrishnan KP provides the art for the story, which is rendered in a fantastic comic book style, with dark, earthy coloring to set a mood of prevailing doom and gloom, until the end of the story where the color palette changes considerably. Jayakrishnan seems to have researched his backgrounds and architecture of ancient Greece, but he also gets to run free with terrific fantasy designs creating gleaming armor,  darkened palaces, and monsters worthy of nightmares.
 Zeus and the Rise of the Olympians is a great way to introduce older elementary readers to the Greek myths, filling them with the facts of the stories along with two-fisted action.

If you are looking for more great comics based on the Greek myths, Campfire has several:

Also, First Second (:01) has a series that focuses on each of the major gods by George O'Conner.

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