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‘Olympia’ TPB (review)

Written by Curt Pires
Art by Alex Diotto, Dee Cunniffe
Published by Image Comics

 

An unrelenting pandemic, civil unrest, and an ever divisive American government, given the collective trends of 2020 would anyone have been surprised if a plague of locust lay siege upon us to close out our rusty unprecedented year?

Not me. Asking for empathy while grasping for any semblance of optimism to survive our newest COVID-19 normal is beyond reasonable.

Also, it makes perfect sense to choose the comforting embrace of nostalgia. The emotion continues to be in high demand, especially when encountering a joyless news cycle day after day.

Revisiting the moments when we first experienced wonder provides the impression that the silver lining is drawing closer yo us.

Enter the mighty work of Olympia, a graphic novel filled to the gills with the magic of a Steven Spielberg film and paired with the style of Jack Kirby inspired illustrations.

Yet, before you dismiss this story as a paint by the numbers tale of youthful innocence facing off against jaded experience, Olympia offers a more nuanced meditation. The drama unfolds a compelling portrayal of discovery, resilience, and the value of a deeply rooted shared purpose.

Composed by the father son team of Tony and Curt Pires, the story begins with Olympia, a hero god cracked from the mold of Greek myths or Asgardian lore. He exists in a dimension vastly different than our own. Olympia’s kingdom is under siege.

Fighting valiantly but grossly outnumbered, Olympia falls to earth wounded and unconscious. The injured god with a fragmented memory is discovered in the woods by the leading character, Elon, a boy fighting his own epic battle called adolescence.

For Elon, Olympia is the literally the same person he was reading about his comic book, also called Olympia. Thus, the adventure becomes a story within a story as Elon and Olympia search for the creator of the comic, Kirby Spiegelman, hoping that the author can provide critical information to help Olympia return home and save his kingdom. As we learn more about Kirby, a man grieving the loss of a close friend, it’s quite clear that Olympia and Elon are not the only people under siege.

As a graphic novel, Olympia celebrates the bold and fantastic elements that are the staples of the cosmic themed comic books that dominated the graphic novel culture of the 70s and 80s.

If you were a fan of The New Gods or rode with The Silver Surfer, you might recognize the grandness of Pires’ inspiration. The authors use that template as a means for addressing the modern day complexities of adolescence, parenthood, and friendship. It was well executed and felt like a remix of the Jack Kirby comics that continue to hold a lot of nostalgia to readers old and young. It did take awhile to understand where this story was going. Olympia’s action begins midstream. I was not sure if the character was the hero or the villain.

Other than Olympia’s abnormal size, I was unclear about his powers or where he fits in the continuum of heroes. Olympia is not an origin story about the god Olympia. This is a story about authors who create the illustrations and construct the story.

Once I understood what I was reading, I enjoyed it.

The themes are very mature and I would not recommend it to an audience that has had a difficult time understanding mental health. As a dad to young daughters, if my adolescent wanted to read Olympia, I would make sure we debriefed due to some of the themes that lean into frustration, suicide, and violence. Parental guidance is suggested and encouraged.

If you are an adult, go for it but be prepared to ask yourself how do you fight the demons of loss and unfulfilled ambitions. Unfortunately not everyone has a blond bearded god named Olympia with a broadsword ready to fight our demons for us.

But that brings us back to the innovation of what Tony and Curt Pires created with Olympia. Humanity is experienced through a complex web of emotional events that often are reduced into a bright constellation of highs and lows. We place ourselves in this weird binary of good and evil. It is easier for us to grasp that than our ambiguous reality. The horde of adversaries who stand against Olympia are not much different than Elon’s adversaries who bully him in school. How we face adversity defines our level of heroism, and it will inspire either courage or cowardice.

It seems simple. And it is simple until you add layers of adversity.

What happens when you are not just balancing one problem but dozens like Kirby Spiegelman, the author of the fictional comic that Elon uses to help Olympia.

Spiegelman is balancing alcoholism, the loss of his best friend, unemployment and a broken family. Perhaps it is too much to shoulder.

Yet Spiegelman is the creator of the hero who stands tall against all evil? Shouldn’t the mind who can forge a fictional hero handle his reality with a similar resolve? Or, does our weakness inspire the creativity required to contemplate one’s heroism?

These are the themes that make this graphic novel more than a bundle of illustrations. It is a story that forces you to ask when that battle comes to you, where will you stand?

I will stand with Olympia.

 

 

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