comic books, fiction, review

A Thousand Ships

35563773995_fd0f1ed35b_oThe war between Troy and Achaea is perhaps the most famous one in classic literature, the most memorable, the most talked-about, the most retold in modern era. It doesn’t only revolve around revenge, dignity and heroism, but also passion and reckless love. It has been so often reproduced in many forms of popular culture, and now it appears in the form of graphic novel, entitled A Thousand Ships. It doesn’t exactly retell the story of the Trojan War, but the beginning, how it comes to the horrific end. Eric Shanower, the illustrator responsible, has made a tremendous effort to represent the old legend in pictures, and tried his best to formulate a narrative adaptation to accompany his drawings which would be easily fathomable.

It all starts with Paris going to Troy to win back his precious buffalo taken by the King’s representatives to offer to God. Things are getting complicated when he learns that he is not actually the son of his father, but that of the King of Troy, Priam. He was supposed to be left to die after his birth, for the prophesy didn’t hold something good about him. But he is not dead, and raised instead by the old man responsible for the horrible task into a young, handsome man. In short, when the truth is finally revealed, Paris is welcome at his homeland as the long-lost prince, and his real father embraces him with love. As the time goes by, his recklessness and natural character as a spoiled young boy bring imminent disaster to the kingdom. When he is supposed to set off for Sparta to free his father’s sister Hesione, he can’t help but fall blindly in love with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, and deadly set to take away home the most beautiful woman in the world. Menelaus is greatly offended, no doubt, and determined to wage a war against Troy to take back his wife. And at this point, the role of Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother and the Grand King of Achaea, is on display. The great king takes it upon himself to mobilize his friends and allies from various small kingdoms and even looks for Achilles, the one foretold to bring victory to the Achaea’s side. And this is only the beginning.

As a myth, as an age-old legend well-known through generations and nations, the Trojan War has been told and retold by various writers, poets, and even playwrights. It has even been adapted into the big screen. So many versions available, so many approaches have been employed to deliver the story that sometimes the curious audiences cannot decide which one is true, or which one is to their favor. Eric Shanower might not present the truest version, or the best one, but his graphic-novel adaptation of the Greek myth at the very least tries to make it simple for the reader to get the general picture. It is indeed easy to understand and very much entertaining. The narrative, and how Shanower arranges it into a well-organized structure, is very informative, though it might not follow the complicated, already blurred, inexplicable origin.

As it is a graphic novel, it is only natural that readers would have pretty high expectation especially of its drawing quality. And Shanower doesn’t disappoint a bit. Every picture is created in meticulous detail, every character is sharply drawn, they’re even quite graphic sometimes that I believe this is not for children. However, subjectively speaking, they are not to my taste. Perhaps I’ve been too used to Japanese-manga/Chinese-manhua style of comic books to accept the way of the American. So however good the drawings might be, I cannot say that I liked them, especially—what a shame—those of Paris and Achilles, the two main protagonists in this famous War of Troy. I expected Paris to have a truly handsome facial character, but he turns out to look dumb and dull. The same disappointment brought about by the character of Achilles, who is supposed to be so handsome that he looks girlish instead. I didn’t find him handsome, nor too beautiful to manage to hide himself among girls.

A Thousand Ships is not a disappointment of a work. Only it is not to my favor and didn’t live up much to my expectation. It is well-structured, though, and makes for essential bits of information about the Trojan War. That said, I will just keep it in the corner of my distant memory.

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Last Tango in Paris

Indonesian edition’s cover

Novelization takes something more than words. I’ve never watched Last Tango in Paris, to be honest, but I can say that this book by Robert Alley has provided me with something that screen visualization can never give. The deep characterization, the beautiful language, the atmosphere, this novel has it all. Having read it, I immediately decided that Last Tango in Paris is not merely about sex.

The story reveals an encounter between two people, Paul and Jeanne, in a certain part of Paris. The moment they set eyes on each other, lust and desire flare up so strong that both can’t help having sex. Paul, having found his wife committing suicide, seeks for an escape from his loneliness and emptiness, while Jeanne, a committed young woman with a fiancé, blindly looks for something “different”, some challenge to face. She wants to get away from her daily straight life, to take a chance, exploring the unknown experiences. Unexpectedly, the brief sex continues and becomes an inevitable habit, hidden behind the closed doors of the abandoned apartment they occupy occasionally in secret in Rue Jules Verne. Everything just happens in a flash. They don’t know each other, don’t even bother to introduce themselves, they don’t care what happens or has happened to each of them before coming over to the apartment, and they only have sex for the sake of pleasure and, I would say, escapism.

Paul and Jeanne can be described as unexplainable characters, with complexities intricate enough to make us wonder. Sex is the only tie knotting those troubled two, for they are not of the same ilk. They are looking for something, that’s for sure, but what drive them to search are two different, and complicated, things. Paul may be a rude, arrogant, hateful person, but inside he is lonely and empty, hungry for love and affection. And Jeanne, on the contrary, is a loving young woman, nice, gentle, and sexy, yet she is also a wild one within, a wild one who seeks for a challenge and a way to leave the straight and narrow, although at the end, she desperately wants to get back on track.

To all outward appearances, Last Tango in Paris is merely a story of sex and lust, desire and an unattached relationship. From the beginning to the end, Robert Alley seems to unrelentingly, and unrestrictedly, narrate numerous lustful and unexplainable sex scenes and talks on nonsense. But, under the passionate surface, it’s about lonely hearts and anger, depression, frustration, lost souls. It’s about people searching for something that can ease their pain, erase their uneasiness. People often do that in order to get away from their confusing, troubled lives. When they are in distress, they’ll easily run away, looking for an escapism where they can be safe and forget, where they can pretend that life is not the way it’s presented to them and where they don’t have to, if only it actually is, deal with it.

Last Tango in Paris is not a story narrated in an extraordinary way, instead, it is told in a simple narrative and straight storyline, without twists and turns to make us puzzle over it, or to trigger more of our interest, for that matter. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have anything to present to the reader. Alley has successfully injected emotional spirits into the characters, described them thoroughly and faultlessly in words. When you read the whole novel, you may only see two hungry, lost, troubled people, but when you get deeper into its words you’ll find their real natures, you’ll see through them. All that narrative and description are packaged in a romantic, dramatic language, where Alley uses dialogues and sentences as his tools for dragging the reader into the depth of the characters of Paul and Jeanne and their sad, grim encounter story. I’d frankly say that, whether or not he’s successful in adapting a notable movie into a book, Alley has definitely succeeded in creating a good novel.

All in all, Last Tango in Paris is not a depressing novel, though it has a depressing story, for it is narrated in a terrific way and presented wonderfully. Robert Alley has it in him to describe both main characters deeply and emotionally with his ordinary yet sense-provoking sentences, showing clearly that this book is not only about sex.

Rating: 3/5