Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Age of Bronze, Volume 2: Sacrifice
Written and Illustrated by Eric Shanower
The second installment of Age of Bronze wasn’t at all what I expected. Volume One ended with a thousand (or so) Grecian ships sailing towards Troy, so I fully anticipated the battle to begin in Volume Two. Not so. But rather than allowing me to become frustrated at the delay, Eric Shanower used his 200-plus pages to build tension, keeping me completely immersed in the story the whole time. More so even than in the first collection.
Sacrifice begins with Agamemnon’s fleet headed toward Troy with young Achilles and his warriors leading the way. But things go horribly wrong when Achilles spots shore too early, over-eagerly lands the fleet, and attacks Troy’s southern neighbor Mysia by mistake. The people of Mysia, thinking they’re being menaced by pirates, fight back and are no slouches. Even one of the King’s wives is a former warrior-princess and pirate-fighter. Though – in true comic book fashion – both sides eventually realize that they’re not actually enemies, they also both experience massive casualties. The Greeks are hit hard enough that they’re forced to return home for reinforcements. And with winter coming, they won’t be able to start for Troy again for at least another year.
I have to admit I was disappointed when Agamemnon decided to lead his fleet back home, but Shanower keeps things moving in a variety of ways. One of the best things about a story this epic is that there are multiple plots to bounce between, so while the Greeks are sailing Shanower can cut to Troy and let us see how Helen – just arrived with her new husband Paris – is being received.
Xena, horror, and more of that brat Achilles below the jump.
This was a crucial part of the story for me, by the way. I said when I talked about Volume 1 that my biggest problem with the Trojan War story has always been Helen. Why would so many Greeks go to Troy over her? Why would Priam, King of Troy, sacrifice so many lives to keep her? It’s never made sense to me.
Shanower convincingly explained Greece’s side of it in Volume One and touched on Priam’s, but he goes deeper into Priam’s motivations in Volume Two. Adding to the Trojan king’s arrogance and thirst for revenge, Shanower reveals him to be kind of a letch as well. And it’s how Shanower does this that I love so much. He never comes right out and says that Priam wants to boink Helen; he just has Priam spend a lot of time near her, touching her every chance he gets. Add to that Paris and Helen’s claim that Helen is carrying a future heir of Troy and there’s enough reason for Priam to let Helen stick around for a while.
I’m curious if Helen actually is pregnant, and even if she is, what Priam’s going to do when the child is born (he’s already shown himself willing to send Helen back while keeping her and Paris’ older child in Troy). Homer’s already spoiled what Priam’s decision’s going to be, but – like with everything else about Age of Bronze – I’m curious to see how Shanower explains the motivations behind the actions. Will Priam’s lust for Helen be enough to condemn Troy to war?
As important as they are to the epic, events in Troy actually take up a small amount of space in Sacrifice. Most of the story is devoted to Agamemnon and his fragile leadership as the Greeks’ high king. As soon as the ships get back to Greece, many of them scatter and return home to be with their families. Agamemnon’s got a difficult task in bringing them back together and he relies on two men to help get it done, though he’s resentful of having to rely on one of them.
Palamedes is a prince and natural leader. The Greeks look to him and rely on him and that makes Agamemnon nervous. We don’t get to know Palamedes well enough to know what his ambitions (if any) are, but Agamemnon’s distrustful and that creates a tense political situation in camp.
The high king is much more enthusiastic about using Odysseus’ skills as a tactician and diplomat. So much so that he continually refuses Odysseus’ requests to go home to Ithaka before the army sails again. Though Agamemnon is trusting, this creates more tension because we don’t know how long Odysseus is going to put up with it or what he’ll do once he’s had enough. Or, rather we do know (thanks again to Homer), but Shanower’s characterization of these people is so strong that we get wrapped up in them and forget that we know what’s coming.
The most heart-wrenching tension though is in the events from which the book gets its title. Even once the Greek army is gathered again, winds are making it impossible for them to set sail for Troy. According to the oracles, Artemis has set herself against Agamemnon and the only way to regain her favor is to sacrifice his fourteen-year-old daughter. I wouldn’t dream of revealing the outcome, but I will say that Agamemnon reacts exactly as a father would. Speaking as a dad, the horror of Agamemnon’s position feels one-hundred per cent genuine. Shanower never cheats. He never lets Agamemnon off the emotional hook. It’s painful to read, with your own emotions rising and falling with each attempt to save young Iphigenia and each foiling thereof. I won’t say more about that except to note that when Achilles gets involved I actually started liking him again.
I’ve always liked Achilles, but Shanower’s version is a young, impetuous brat. He was that way in Volume One and grows even more irresponsible in the early parts of this volume, but damn if he doesn’t turn out to be outright heroic by the end. I suspect that Shanower’s taking us on a journey as Achilles becomes the hero history portrays him as. I hope that’s the case. I can’t wait to find out.
Five out of five pirate-hunting warrior-princesses.