In Ody-C, one of the year’s most ambitious and talked-about books, Matt Fraction and Christian Ward take Homer’s original and forge a dazzling new comics idiom out of it.
By a country mile, the first issue of Ody-C was last week’s most talked-about comic. Even if you haven’t bought the issue, by now you’ll know all about the gender-switching, the eight-page fold-out and the dactylic hexameter.
But while the book might be another feather in the cap of one of Image Comics’ poster boys, Matt Fraction (alongside titles as varied as Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam and the soon-to-return Casanova), the most exciting thing about it for me was the opportunity to see British artist Christian Ward hit the big time.
Infinite Vacation, his last major project for the publisher (2011-13, in collaboration with writer Nick Spencer), gave the design-oriented artist the opportunity to cut loose on a narrative built on shifting alternative realities and multidimensional science gone wrong.
Although an irregular schedule might have blunted some of its market impact (nine months passed between the penultimate #4 and the spectacular concluding issue), the book was an inventive and ingenious treat.
And while Ward’s work in the first issue of Ody-C might lack some of the formal precision of Infinite Vacation, what it offers instead is a kind of bonkers grandeur that seems entirely appropriate, given the book’s scale (embodied in the audacity of the opening fold-out) and the cultural weight of its progenitor.
After the wild opening chord of the fold-out, the first page of the story proper – as Odyssia makes her fateful blood-sacrifice to Amphirite – is redolent of the lyrical Art Nouveau stylings of Alphonse Mucha.
However, Ward is very much just warming the reader up for the dizzying psychedelic ride to follow. As the story blooms into cosmic incandescence, there’s something marvelously reminiscent of Brendan McCarthy about some of the visual touches.
But for all its extravagance, the most telling scenes here are also the most intimate, when Odyssia is alone with her thoughts and her ‘sebex’ concubine. Despite the kick-ass action, this is where the heart of the book lies: the conflicted soul of a weary warrior, desperate for home, family and peace.
Looking at the set-up of Ody-C, much has been made of the book’s gender switch. However, the evidence of this first issue suggests that the gynocracy hasn’t done much better than the blokes might have done: a galaxy riven by the savagery of war; a strict caste system enforced by a military elite; and spaceships – plus, presumably, a wider society – literally powered by unquestioning conformity, where dissent or even doubt is a capital offence.
This is clearly all stuff that Fraction and Ward have thought through at length: there’s enough seriousness of purpose here – and the series has certainly been gestating for long enough – to generate a sense of trust in its creators that it’s more troubling aspects will be addressed and explored.
Between them, Fraction and Ward have created a narrative voice that stands out from the rest of the comics hubbub. Fascinating, ambitious stuff.
Matt Fraction (W), Christian Ward (A) • Image Comics, $3.99, November 26, 2014.