Though they originated thousands of years ago, the myths and legends of ancient Greece still serve as the gateway drug for fledgling fans of all kinds of adventure fiction in the modern day. In today's pop culture, updated versions of the gods and goddesses make their presence known in all kinds of stories set across all kinds of genres. Along those lines, Dynamite Entertainment's four-part "Athena" series finds the goddess of wisdom and war plucked out of ancient Greece and into the wiles of modern Manhattan. With a twist, of course.
"Athena wakes up at the base of the Parthenon in modern times," writer Doug Murray told CBR. "Remember that the Parthenon was built in honor of Athena and originally featured a heroic-sized statue of her. She has no memory of being a Goddess or participating in the events of the ancient myths so, when she recovers, she is a sort of tabula rosa-and has to find a place in the modern world. There was some talk of making her a counseler, but I felt that making her an investigator for the D.A. of New York gave more story opportunities, and that's the way we eventually went."
With artwork by Fabiano Neves and Paul Renaud, Murray's storyline for the series will jump in between the classical legends associated with the goddess and a more current adventure both through flashbacks and through metaphorical story points. "I played with Dynamite's concept of kind of doing the entire 'Illiad' in modern day form with the original players still doing their things," Murray said. "The ancient myths-especially the Greek and Roman ones-are the very basis of modern fiction and theater. I've always loved the Greek myths-read them for the first time when I was about five-years-old. The opportunity to re-present them to a modern audience is very enticing-and they certainly resonate in the modern day because in all those stories you're dealing with archetypes and the reasons that people act the way they do. Of course, modern leaders aren't quite as self-centered as Zeus was, but they're certainly close enough in their own way."
While the modern day adventures of Athena (as drawn by Neves) will feature the character's quest to rediscover her full purpose and power, the stories flashbacks (by Ranaud) will delve into everything from her gory origins to the high points of the Trojan War. "I've tried to use the flashbacks to fill in the story of the Greek Gods, from origin forward-and then tie in to the story line in this issue," Murray explained, noting that despite the presence of gods within the tale, the present will focus mostly on modern villains and supporting characters. "Let me just say that this story features real-world antagonists-that are to some extent, touched by the jealousies and fights of the Gods-just as they were in ancient times. The only supporting character that really means anything is Athena's partner-known (at this point) only as 'Ully.'"
For Paul Renaud, riding the balance between the classical Athena and the version Murray grew in his scripts became a tricky visual problem. "My concern was that she might be perceived like a second-rate Wonder Woman by comic fans. So I thought I had to make her look like the true goddess she is, bringing as much nobility as possible to her figure," the artist told CBR. "She has to be the original, not one of the many amazon characters that was based on Athena along the years. I made several designs for that character, and I don't know if the other artists went for the same that I used on the covers. All designs were very inspired by the statues of Athena, of course. But we decided early on that she'd wear a new armor, made up in present time. So I tried to design something that would suggest it was made by gods today. To me it doesn't have to be an iconic super-hero costume. It should evolve from an artist to another. But I tried to incorporate some classical elements that stayed in the various designs we're using, like the gorgon shield, of course the spear, and a variation of her helmet.
"You should recognize Athena from these basic elements...and most of all from her figure and the way she's standing. It's all in the pose that echoes the statues."
Within the pages of "Athena," Renaud hopes his work will echo the past in every aspect of his rendering and drew on sources not often cited in American comics to make the pages work. "I really loved doing those mythological sequences. I was happy to let my Moebius and Manara influences shine," he explained. "I felt it was appropriate to approach this in a more European style. As a Frenchman, I'm sometime torn apart by two very different ways of doing comics, but this allowed me to channel everything I liked into the work. It's almost 'ligne claire' as we call it in France; a light outline with minimal line rendering and gray tonal work for the shading and volumes. I tried to give as much grandeur as possible. I decided to color the mythological pages in redish sepia tones to give it a more antique look."
In terms of plot, Renaud's pages explore moments from the legends familiar to fans of mythology. "Getting to draw a 'Reader's Digest' version of the birth of Zeus and the Olympians was fun. Same goes for the war of Troy," he said. "I can't believe we manage to compress this into so few pages. I mean, it's like 20 pages for the whole thing! That's insane, but it's also very exciting to do because you want to bring emotion to this succession of events. It was a challenging task."
On the flip side, Fabiano Neves' style for the present day sequences will conform to today's comics scene in every way possible. "Hands down for me the best part is drawing Athena interacting with the modern world - fighting against foes with fire weapons and such, and knowing the godsÂ´ point of view about the 'modern' way of fighting, which is very interesting," Neves told CBR. "It was particularly fun to draw the sequence in issue #1 that takes place in a dance club. There are also awesome battles involving Athena, Ares, shootouts, and tons of elements that were really fun to do."
Best known to Dynamite readers for his work on horror-tinged series like "Marvel Zombies Vs. Army of Darkness," Fabiano Neves had to adapt his often dark stylings to fit the story of "Athena" properly. "On 'Marvel Zombies Vs. AoD' I worked with tons of blacks, so it suited better the theme. Although IÂ´m used to work with greytones, inkwashes, watercolors, and so forth, I didnÂ´t think at the time it would be a good choice for a story which the theme was so dark," he explained. "So I really inked everything to convey all this. On 'Athena' IÂ´m being able to continue to work with greytones and inkwashes, which is great for me. This wasnÂ´t planned by me or any of the editors, it was a natural change, and it worked out for everybody. ItÂ´s the opposite from what I did on Marvel Zombies, on Athena everything is much lighter and graceful."
"I think that one of the biggest differences between between my scenes and PaulÂ´s is that he does all the effects using his computer, and despite that, everything looks very natural!" Neves continued. "I confess that I tried to work that and the results were very artificial, so I decided to go the traditional way - pencils, inkwashes and Copic Markers."
The final element that completes the four-issue "Athena" series is a backup story featuring President Obama, although as Murray told it, the cameo was just that and not an expansive look into the President's interaction with the heroine. "It fits into the milieu of Athena's new world-he's doing a fundraiser at a New York landmark-and what happens there fits into the overall storyline in a way that, I don't want to go into," teased the writer. "It's just a sort of mise-en-scene thing where Obama just happens to be in New York when something happens."
By the miniseries' completion, Murray hopes to have established Athena in a milieu that could be taken forward by future stories. "I had a really good time with this story-I like the character and, having grown up in New York, love using the city as a more realistic setting," he said. "That, coupled with the fact that I enjoy dealing with the Greek Myths, make me hope that people like this-I'd like to tell some more Athena stories in future-there're a couple of myths that I haven't had the opportunity to do a take on yet!"
"Athena" #1 goes on sale in September from Dynamite Entertainment.