Comics you should be reading: ODY-C

Last year, Matt Fraction and Christian Ward launched a book that blew my mind from its first issue, four-page timeline fold-out. That book is ODY-C, and it’s a genderbroke Odyssey that plays with all kinds of norms and tropes to create a full-color explosion of badassery on every page. This book is so good that I’ve been sending issues to my stepdad so that we have things to talk about when I go home for the holidays. (Okay, so I actually gifted him the first issue for Christmas last year and then sent him the first trade this summer because I’m not organized enough to actually send my stepdad comics every month and he’s not “outwardly nerdy” enough to actually go to a comic shop and set up a pull list. Whatever.) It’s a story that can and should appeal to any reader. As you can imagine, my stepdad and I are very different people, but we both really love this comic.

I haven’t read the actual Odyssey since high school, and even then I’m not sure I actually read (or understood) the whole thing. Since that ill-fated attempt at learning about Greek mythology in my freshman honors English course, I’ve become deeply entrenched in the wholly bastardized version of Greek mythology presented in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and made a personal commitment to actually read Homer’s works again, cover to cover, now that I’m an Adult. ODY-C has made me even more driven to fulfill that commitment, because the story presented within its pages is so deeply fascinating and well-wrought that I want to read the source material in order to more fully understand what Fraction and Ward are creating.

From the Image Comics website:

An epic 26 centuries in the making: In the aftermath of a galactic war a hundred years long, Odyssia the Clever Champion and her compatriots begin their longest, strangest trip yet: the one home. A gender-bent eye-popping psychedelic science fiction odyssey begins HERE, by MATT FRACTION (CASANOVA, SEX CRIMINALS, SATELLITE SAM) and CHRISTIAN WARD (INFINITE VACATION, OLYMPUS).

In his note in the first issue, Fraction says that he wanted to “write a classic, traditional, super-hero for [his] daughter in a Wonder Woman mold.” Odyssea, the gender-swapped protagonist of this incredible Odyssey retelling, is most certainly the star of that. But equally important to the tale are the Greek gods — goddesses, in this space-set universe — who control the skies Odyssea flies her ship through. Issue two explains the bulk of how this universe came to be as it is: out of anger at the realization that children who grow up to become men often become powerful enough to overcome their parents, Zeus (in this ‘verse, a powerful fat woman referred to deferentially as mother-father) destroyed all men. Now there are only women and sebex (a third gender that is neither man nor woman but can, much to Zeus’ irritation, birth children) occupying the world. When I said that ODY-C is genderbroke, I meant exactly that: none of the original characters in Homer’s work are as you would expect them to be, and this universe is all the more compelling because of it.

(I just need to reiterate here that Zeus is a fat woman. A fat woman! That might seem totally inconsequential and unimportant to most people, but for me, it’s incredible. Zeus is the most powerful god/dess in Greek mythology. Zeus is the one that nobody fucks with, because if they do they’re brought to their knees in seconds. The fact that Fraction and Ward opted to make her a fat woman in ODY-C honestly brought tears to my eyes when she was first introduced in issue one. It’s really rare that I see fat women positively but also unapologetically represented in the media I consume. Although Zeus is definitely as heartless, cruel, and violent as in the traditional myths, she is also buxom and desirable and powerful. It gives me a little thrill every time I see her on the page. It’s just so, so cool. Thank you for that, Matt Fraction and Christian Ward. Thank you.)

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From what I understand from reading various reviews written by people who actually have read and understood The OdysseyODY-C only keeps the barest skeleton of the original story and turns everything else on its head. There are, however, specific elements that I recognize: the fatal visit to the cyclops’ island, for example (“nobody” becomes “all-men” in a perfect, perfect subversion of the famous scene), and the family Odyssea has left behind to go to war. (I might have overstated, a bit, about there being only women and sebex in this universe — there is at the very least one man alive: Odyssea’s son, Telem. Oooooh, spoilers!)

Fraction writes each panel mostly in poetic verse, which makes it unlike any comic I’ve read. Keeping up with this comic month to month is difficult, mostly because the story is so continuous but also so detailed that it’s sometimes hard to recall the moments in the last issue that led up to the opening moments in the new. I’ll be frank: though I pick up this comic every month from my local shop, I don’t always read the issues right away. I like to take time out of the week to sit down and re-read and then dive into the new issue(s). I also find myself often getting distracted by Christian Ward’s beautiful artwork, which isn’t to say that Fraction’s writing isn’t gorgeous (because it is). It’s just that there is so much color and intricacy packed into every panel that I find myself wanting to read each issue through at least twice: once to read just the words, once to pay painstaking detail to just the art. With the first five issues collected in the first trade paperback, a third, fourth, and fifth re-read have all revealed something new. I just can’t get enough of this story or the way it’s being told.

ODY-C is unlike any other book out right now. I don’t read a ton of comics, nor have I been an active comic book reader for very long (just over a year, thanks to the stellar knowledge and enthusiasm of my partner), so it’s possible that I’m full of bullshit in making that claim. But hear me out: this comic takes a Greek classic and totally subverts it to make it about powerful women, who despite that power still have weaknesses and fears and constraints that they must deal with and suffer through in order to succeed. I was floored by the first issue of this series and every new issue I read gets me just as pumped. There are lots of female-driven books on the market right now, but none quite so heavy as this.

I recommend this comic to everyone because I think it’s really important. It’s packed with so much content that it’s easy to spend hours pouring over it and analyzing every panel, every decision made by Fraction and Ward and why those decisions matter to particular segments of the story. ODY-C has reinvigorated my desire to learn more about Greek mythology and also made me want to talk about gender and heroism in literature and comics on a much more widespread level than I have been since I graduated from college. This comic is beautiful and badass and weirdly academic and I’m obsessed with it. The first trade paperback is available now for anyone looking to read, and new issues are released every month through Image Comics. Ask your local shop about it. It’s generated a lot of buzz, and rightly so.

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