“Ares & Aphrodite” is a graphic novel that reminds me of old, classic films — but with a present day twist. Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens have a simple but easygoing story to follow as a divorce lawyer and a wedding planner join forces to get a marriage to happen but, of course, love is in the air for more than just their clients. Can’t you just see the trailer in your head right now?
The basic thrust of “Ares & Aphrodite” is timeless; it’s the sort of story you’d see a bit more in older films, in part because — in this day and age — there seems to be an automatic reaction to try and make everything too complicated. That’s an urge that Rich thankfully avoids; if you tell a story cleanly but enjoyably, there’s no need for ridiculous triple-twists and snarls to end snarls. So, while there are hurdles and surprises throughout “Ares & Aphrodite,” it stays pretty true to its central concept: Will Ares (the divorce lawyer) and Gigi Averelle (the wedding planner) try to do everything in their power to make the marriage between Evans (the movie producer) and Carrie (the hot young star) a reality.
Will and Gigi are both fairly likable, which is good; even though the pair of them spar, you have to ultimately root for the two of them to not only succeed but hopefully get together with one another. Rich finds a way to make the duo clash with each another while neither one of them comes across as the proverbial bad guy. Then again, for the most part, that’s true for all of the characters in “Ares & Aphrodite.” Even characters that could be snarling villains, like Evans’ ex-wife Alison Queen, are ultimately interesting and fun to read. If anything, Alison is a character that almost steals the show. She’s witty and cutting but never nasty; watching her effortlessly rule Hollywood would be a fun little project in its own right. The only part of the story that doesn’t quite click into place perfectly is the subplot of Will’s stalker/harasser; it comes a little out of left field at the end and it never quite connects with the rest of the book, which ultimately much more interesting.
I wasn’t familiar with Levens’ art before but it’s a good match for Rich’s script. Everyone has realistic, pleasant faces, but the only ones who are movie-star beautiful are the actual movie stars. Watching the characters move around the page feels effortless; Levens can take a scene as simple as people walking up to a door while talking and make it visually interesting. She knows when to focus on a character’s expression and when to pull back and show the bigger picture. Levens also dresses her characters nicely, too. Books set in the real world need that — there aren’t any flashy costumes to focus on — but I like how little touches like Gigi’s matching purse and outfit are carefully put into place. Add in some larger-than-life costumes for the film that Alison and Carrie are starring in, and a careful focus on there always being a background in the panels, and it’s a good looking book.
“Ares & Aphrodite” is a pleasant graphic novel, one that could easily spawn sequels. With Rich now a senior editor at Vertigo, I’m not sure if that will happen any time soon but, even if it stands on its own, it’s a worthy effort. Rich and Levens have made the romantic drama that we should be getting in the movie theatres these days and placed it firmly in your hands instead. All in all, a good effort.