Age of Bronze #s 27 & 28
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Eric Shanower
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US
Age of Bronze is one of those rare titles that deserves to be mentioned in the company of such indy success stories as Bone, Strangers in Paradise and Cerebus, but it isn’t, probably because it’s been published under the Image Comics banner. It’s a remarkably ambitious project for the medium, let alone in the episodic, “floppy” comic-book format. Shanower’s research into the subject matter, history, culture, personalities and warfare is meticulous, and he holds back no detail so as to recreate the events of ancient times for his readers. His artwork is as detail-oriented as his writing. So dense is it, in fact, that it leads one to conduct multiple readings, not just of the entire comic but of individual panels as well. Mind you, many of these strengths also act as hindrances in Shanower’s work. Age of Bronze certainly isn’t an easy comic, and I can’t help but wonder if the sheer volume of information the creator tries to impart isn’t something of an albatross around the book’s neck.
With Troy building up forces and gathering allies to aid in the coming war, the leaders of the Achaean army agree: the time to attack is now, before Troy has anymore time to prepare. The Achaeans set sail for their enemy’s shores, though they’re haunted by a seer’s prediction that the first man to enter the fray will be slaughtered. Meanwhile, some merchants find they’re about to be caught in the middle of the melee, while some of Troy’s allies — including one it hadn’t counted on — have timed their arrival perfectly so as to join the fray.
Upon the reading the above synopsis, one might notice that I refrain from referring to specific characters, opting only to describe the drama in so far as it applies to entire groups of people. That’s because the cast of characters is so expansive, it’s overwhelming. There are those names that stand out thanks to recognition — Achilles is chief among them — but the sheer number of players in this drama overwhelms the senses. Shanower provides some background information on the inside front cover of each issue, but it’s not nearly as comprehensive enough to guide the casual reader or those unfamiliar with the history and culture upon which this series is based.
Shanower’s characters all seem to have a certain softness in their faces, and that seems to fly in the face of the brutal, arduous lives they lead. It works, though, and it not only reinforces the tender age of many of the soldiers but emphasizes their vulnerability and humanity. And then there are the landscapes, the architecture, the clothing, armor and vessels. Shanower has clearly done his homework, and the accuracy of the physical structures and adornment of the period is obviously a source of pride. Honestly, in black and white, the detail is actually overwhelming, more than the eye can take in all at once. Along with an understandably wordy script, it makes for some crowded panels. That makes the pace of the read drag a bit, and given the nature of the plot — the buildup and opening salvos of a war — that slower pace flies in the face of what’s actually happening.
While the creator has rebuilt and revived history in great detail, the characterizations and voices of these figures are a mystery. Shanower does a solid job of turning these historical figures into actual people. Different things motivate the various characters. The soldiers’ relish of a bloody battle and their potential demise is difficult to relate to, but there are smaller moments that allow the reader to connect with them a little bit.
I think what ultimately hinders Age of Bronze is that the emphasis seems to be on information rather than entertainment. The comprehensiveness of the storytelling and history is impressive, but the expansive nature of the cast, the multiple plotlines and the complexity of the politics, relationships and warfare are just too much to follow. It feels as though the creator’s and reader’s attention is spread too thin. A more focused approach to the subject matter, while perhaps not as educational, might prove to be more engaging and entertaining. 6/10