Review time! with <i>Ares &amp; Aphrodite</i>

"Two young lovers with nothin' better to do than sit around the house, get high, and watch the tube, and here's what happened when they decided to cut loose"

Jamie S. Rich is a sucker for love stories, and he's quite good at them, so I'm a sucker for his love stories. His latest is Ares & Aphrodite, which is NOT about the god of war and the goddess of love, but that's okay.

It's drawn and colored by Megan Levens, lettered by Crank!, and published by Oni. It costs $19.99.

Romances are really hard to get right, because usually the reader knows exactly what's going to happen - either it's a happy romance, and the two people will get together, or it's an unhappy romance, and the two people will find out they're not really right for each other. The trick is to find a good way to tell the story (as Rich did with 12 Reasons Why I Love You) or to make it about more than just the romance, which Rich does here. Yes, we're fairly confident that Will Ares (the divorce lawyer) and Gigi Averelle (the wedding planner who owns "Goddess of Love Nuptials") will get together, and so Rich shows us why each of them might approach the romance differently and why factors around them might hinder or help their journey. So when the end of the book comes, it feels more organic than a lot of romances, where writers try desperately to throw obstacles in the way of their lovers. Rich is smarter than that, so the book feels more honest.

You might expect Will to be the cynical one and Gigi the romantic one, but Rich upends that, as Will believes in romance while Gigi looks at it a bit askance.

During the course of the book, Rich gives us good reasons for that - Will sees himself as helping people get out of a bad choice they might have made so they can find their true love, while Gigi has seen too many excited brides have their hopes crushed to think that true love is possible. But Rich doesn't make her bitter or angry - she's a charming person, as is Will, she just doesn't get all melty when she thinks of romance. The great thing about the book is that Rich gives them both fulfilling careers, even if they're both a bit insecure about those careers. Will, unsurprisingly, often finds his car vandalized or packages in the mail that contain angry messages (plus, he sleeps with a golf club, which I found incredibly hilarious for some reason), so he's never sure if he's going to be a target of a bitter ex. Meanwhile, as the book is set in Hollywood, Gigi is a wedding planner to the stars (not the only one, of course), and she worries about her business if her high-profile weddings don't go off without a hitch. They know each other, but what throws them together in this book is that Will is facilitating the divorce of a big-time producer, Evans Beatty (nice name, there, Jamie) so he can marry, basically, Selena Gomez (her name is Carrie Cartwright, but she's an ex-"Disney" actor who starred in three "Summer Camp Sing-A-Long" movies and is now going to be a princess in YA series ... hmm, maybe she's Demi Lovato instead?), whose wedding Gigi is planning.

Will is a good guy, so he goes the extra mile for his clients, including tagging along when Evans visits another ex-wife, who is now co-starring in the movie with Carrie (as her mother). When Will and Gigi learn that the ex-wife (her name is Alison Queen!) is going to play Carrie's mother, they visit Evans and Carrie and Gigi laments that the wedding will be cancelled. Will counters by wagering that it will still go off, and if he wins, he gets a date with Gigi. So the plot is put in motion!

Rich doesn't focus too much on the date (except to make jokes about it, as Will and Gigi keep ending up in the same place, which Gigi claims are "dates"), instead showing their efforts to make sure Evans and Carrie get married. By doing this, he draws them closer together naturally, rather than forcing them together. When Carrie disappears for a few days, they look for her in Big Sur, where Evans has a standing reservation at a nice hotel, and they end up staying the night because it's too late to drive back. They have a nice "date" (which Will says isn't one) and share some nice moments, but Gigi remains focused on the wedding, so nothing comes of it. Rich does good work with both characters, as Gigi tells Will she doesn't have a devastating break-up story, so that doesn't explain her indifference to romance. She likes him because he doesn't expect her to have a story like that - he accepts her as she is and doesn't try to figure out her cynicism. Will likes her because she does things on her own terms and lives her own life. They get to know each other better, but they're still focused on the wedding, and so Rich is able to build their relationship slowly and realistically.

They do go out on a date - Evans and Carrie get married successfully - but I won't tell you if it goes well. Maybe this is a comic where the romance simply doesn't work!

Levens is a good choice to draw this, as she has a slightly cartoony style that fits the tone of the book but she is also able to draw people and their emotions very well, so while the tone of the book remains pretty light throughout, Levens is good enough for the more serious moments that they translate well. She draws Will with a long, slightly angular face, which helps make him look a bit more open and expressive, while Gigi's face is rounder but pointed at the chin, which makes her look just the slightest bit more severe than Will (not too much, but just enough). Levens does great work with Gigi's cynical eyebrows (everyone's eyebrows, to be honest, but Gigi's in particular) and Will's somewhat goofy smiles. One thing that made me chuckle is when Will tells her that she's natural, not like so many people in Hollywood, but Levens draws everyone "naturally," so not even the older Alison Queen looks like she had work done. It's not a knock on Levens, because she draws everyone very nicely and differently (Alison and Eileen, Evans's latest ex-wife, are older, and Levens makes sure we know that, but they're not ugly), but it is slightly humorous.

Part of a good romance is the way the characters react to each other, either with their faces or their bodies, and Levens does a wonderful job with that - even as Gigi remains somewhat cynical about love, she becomes a bit more playful with Will, mainly because he's so earnest about romance and she wants to deflate that a little. Their interactions, both through Rich's writing and Levens's drawing, are very nice to look at.

This isn't the most traumatizing comic in the world, and it doesn't dig too much into the psyches of its characters, but Rich does make it a more interesting romance than if he had just focused on the two main characters. The May-December romance of the producer and the ingénue helps make his points for him, as instead of Will and Gigi philosophizing all the time, Rich can just introduce themes into the Evans/Carrie wedding plans that mirror Will's and Gigi's ideas about life. It's a clever idea and makes this a bit more subtle than your usual romance. It's a charming story with very nice art, so if you're in the mood to have your cynical, bitter heart melted a little, give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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