“The Odyssey” is part of the “Marvel Illustrated” imprint, which is basically their version of “Classics Illustrated” with a page count that’s about four times bigger and with a lot less text-heavy captions. It’s decompressed storytelling for the contemporary comics fan who also likes classic literature. Or maybe for the comics fan who’s never read the classic literature. Or maybe for middle school students.
I don’t know Marvel’s marketing plan for this imprint, and it really doesn’t matter when I’m reviewing the comic, but I can’t help but wonder who would enjoy reading a relatively tepid comic book adaptation of a famous novel (or, in this case, an epic poem). From the “Marvel Illustrated” single issues I’ve sampled in the past, they seem to be Roy Thomas’s attempt to present honorable and faithful adaptations, without much in the way of style or perspective.
I mean, if you take away the narrative voice by adapting prose (or verse) into comic book images, then what are you left with besides a series of plot events? And are these classic works of literature most famous for their plots, or is it the way the stories are told that makes all the difference? The latter, I think, and yet that doesn’t stop comic book companies and movie makers from constantly foisting adaptations on the masses, with the implication that a famous work of literature should make a good ___________ (insert “comic,” “movie,” “television mini-series,” or “interpretive dance” as needed).
Marvel seems to be heading toward a better direction with the recently released “Wonderful Wizard of Oz” adaptation, which at least has the distinctive visual style of the also-wonderful Skottie Young to make up for the loss of narrative voice. But “The Odyssey” has Greg Tocchini, and while he’s a fine draftsman, and his character designs and layouts are solid, he doesn’t bring anything unique to Homer’s ancient epic. Sure, it looks better than Armand Assante running around with his shirt off from the god-awful made-for-TV movie version, but it’s still just a bland version of Odysseus’s journey. And that’s the problem. It’s not bad. It’s a faithful, honorable interpretation of “The Odyssey” done in comic book form. But it’s bland, bland, bland.
Since Thomas has distilled it to a series of nearly emotionless plot events, it’s like reading a summary of a longer, better story, but in comic book form. At least he doesn’t over-rely on long speeches or narrative captions, but he also doesn’t give the scenes any room to breathe. It’s a flaw of the format, surely, as a decompressed (to match current storytelling trends) retelling of “The Odyssey” can’t possibly fit in a mere eight issues, so each episode has to get to the good parts pretty quickly. Yet “The Odyssey,” with its inherently episodic structure would seem better suited for a “Marvel Illustrated” take than plenty of other classics that have appeared under that umbrella. Still, it’s not enough to quickly show Odysseus making a pit stop in the Underworld, and then zooming back to give Circe a farewell before the all-too-brief Siren episode, and whisking past Scylla and Charybdis.
Odysseus loses six men to Scylla’s gnashing teeth, and its barely addressed and not even shown in full. At least Armand Assante seemed a little worried about how things might turn out when the beast started picking off his men one by one.
In Roy Thomas’s version, nothing means anything. It’s just another step along the inevitable path of blandness.