Review: Ody-C #6

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Review: Ody-C #6
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Christian Ward

Ody-C #6 is certainly the most ambitious instalment of the bombastic, provocative adaptation of The Odyssey. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Christian Ward create stories within stories and use mythological tales as a framework for exploring the vast themes that can only arise in a gender-bending sci-fi epic. There is an amalgamation of various classic stories, introducing more male characters and broadening the scope for the series to come. This proves to be a double edged sword in both expanding the scope of Ody-C and overloading the reader with too many characters, narratives and unclear story transitions.

Odyssia is nowhere to be seen, the drama instead focussing on Ene and He, gender-swapped interpretations of King Menelaus and Helen of Troy respectively. The description of “He, of the cock that once launched in his honour some ten thousands swift ships,” is a stroke of literary genius. This issue details their journey home after the Great War caused by He, led by Ene and her sister Gamem, while He is told stories that blend together like an epic, intergalactic tapestry that takes the reader from dark forests to the vibrant city of debauchery that is Q’Af.

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#6 challenges the reader to examine the rape culture and sexual politics of mythological stories, especially pertinent with the gender roles reversed. His status as a male – and thus a minority in this universe – renders him a sexual commodity. It often feels like the visuals convey much more of the exploration of gender and sexual identities than the actual dialogue. One notable regret in the deviation from the series’ main narrative is the absence of hero Odyssia, whose warrior mentality and ruthlessness are missing in this complex side story.

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Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Ody-C is its lack of accessibility. This definitely required a number of re-reads to understand what was happening. The series so far has been a fairly intense and challenging interpretation of classic mythology, interpreting ancient stories and characters within a gender-swapping context to explore various issues within its narrative. This, of course, can’t be for everyone; while mythology enthusiasts will appreciate Fraction’s nuance of obscure and lesser known stories, readers not so in the know will most likely struggle to invest as much in Ody-C, especially in the case of #6 which deviates even further from the main storyline of the series.

The language and dialogue, as always, are pretty dense. This is in keeping with both the nature and the tone of the stories depicted, but again isn’t instantly accessible. On the other hand, why should Fraction dumb down his ideas and poetic language to make the book easier to understand? One admirable quality of Ody-C is Fraction’s ambition in cultivating a complex and intense narrative within the realm of ancient mythological tales with psychedelic illustration. No other comic book creators are doing this, and it certainly allows Ody-C to stand out from the crowd.

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The storytelling aspect of Ody-C #6 allows Ward to explore multi-dimensions and visual landscapes. As always, his art work is the most fascinating aspect of the book, managing to create visual distinctions between each story, for example, by incorporating various human forms. The best cohesion with Fraction’s writing is surely when the She-Wolf informs Herakles of the consequences of rape – that Inanna, mother-god of whores, dictates “You too will be undone by blood. Boys who rape shall all be destroyed” – and blood splatters cover the page, the human faces are distorted with terror or vengeance and the sequence is separated in a book-shaped panel. Scenes like this are perfect examples of how well comics work when the art and writing compliment each other flawlessly, creating a truly spectacular reading experience.

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As with every instalment of Ody-C, the mind-blowing visuals compensate majorly for the dense and baffling plot. This series very much caters to scholars, enthusiasts and those well-versed in classic mythology while slightly alienating anyone who isn’t. And while the dialogue attempts to explore the nuances of this gender-swapping interpretation of classic texts, the visuals certainly continue to be what drives the reader to continue and convey that which the dialogue often can’t. A challenging read, here’s hoping Ody-C #7 reunites us with our eponymous hero and is a little easier to digest.