Stephen Grant & Scott Bieser – Odysseus the Rebel

OTR-ropeI’ve written about the independent comics publisher Big Head Press once before, indirectly, when I wrote about their excellent story La Muse. Their tagline is “thoughtful stories” and this was certainly true of La Muse, a comic in which a young woman with superpowers set about to change the world to something better.

They have recently concluded the story Odysseus the Rebel, which begins ten years after the fall of Troy. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s a re-imagining of the classic Odyssey with a distinct spin. Writer Steven Grant (an industry veteran, thought as a comics n00b I’m not that familiar with his work – he did a Punisher mini-series and has written for most of the major IP of the biggest comics companies in the last three decades) presents a much more cynical view of the great Greek heroes. Achilles and Ajax are simple-minded bullies, Agamemnon a selfish murderer, and Odysseus is a man determined to make his own way in life in defiance of what is demanded of him by higher powers. Following the fall of Troy, Odysseus’s fate tangles directly with vassals of Poseidon – god of the sea – who demands that Odysseus bend his knee to the will of the gods. Odysseus rejects him, refusing to willingly play a role as a mere pawn. And so begins an Odyssey quite distinct from the one you may be familiar with, in which the plots and power struggles of the Greek Pantheon, heroes and monsters play out in a manner not entirely expected.

It’s a quite extraordinary re-telling in many ways, and it does not represent much of a spoiler for me to state that Odysseus’s defiance of Poseidon, and his unshakeable faith in the future of men superseding that of the gods, reaches a most appropriate culmination. The old Greek myths portrayed men, even the greatest among them, as little more than playthings of the gods, with both bound into factional combat by the support of various bloodlines and feuds. To the ancient Greek storytellers war was its own reason, needing no justification, and why would the gods think differently to men in this respect?

In contrast Odysseus the Rebel portrays men as weak and strong or defiant and cowardly in equal measure, but it is its protagonist alone – always the cleverest of the heroes – who sees beyond the simple struggles for survival and power that characterise those who war against him. It is this vision, coupled with a powerful inner strength, that makes the gods hate and fear Odysseus so powerfully, and it is this that sets them so ardently against him, makes them so determined to break his will.

Artwork is provided by Scott Bieser, another name I’m not familiar with. As usual I don’t feel competent to comment on comics artwork, save to say that it is bold and flows well; the character designs are good and distinct (particularly given that there are an awful lot of muscled, black-haired Greek men in this comic); the action sequences and large-scale shots are a particular strength. The art becomes more assured as the series goes on, but I expect this is true of any artist beginning a story or moving into a style they’d not previously been familiar with (on the BHP website, Bieser states that he wished “to create a more energetic style which will evoke the highly intense, driven personality of Odysseus”).

The story, now that it is finished, is soon to be published in dead tree format by Big Head Press. It’s still available online, as are La Muse and many other stories, and I heartily recommend you check them out either digitally or in print.

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