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Apollo the Brilliant One
by George O'Connor
First Second, $9.99, 80pp
Published: January 2016

I've reviewed a lot of First Second graphic novels here at the Nameless Zine and am overjoyed to see them celebrating their first decade in the business. They produce a lot of very varied books and they've never disappointed me thus far. Here's to the next decade!

'Apollo the Brilliant One' is a large format graphic novel that's part of the 'Olympians' series; all written and illustrated by George O'Connor, who has produced seven previous volumes, each focusing on a different Greek God. This one, at least, is skimpy, running less than 80 pages, even with extra material at the end, and I expect that it matches the others.  That said, it's an enjoyable enough romp through various stories about Apollo, the god of the Sun, and his own son, Asklepios, the god of Healing. As you can imagine, attempting multiple stories within this sort of page count means that there's little depth, but I still learned a couple of things I didn't know. 

One interesting approach is to shift the narration of this set of short stories between the nine muses, who occasionally double-up but mostly handle things individually. It's a bit of a stretch on occasion but I liked this take on things and felt that it worked pretty well.  For instance, it begins reverently with a cowled Polyhymnia, the muse of hymns, visiting a temple of Apollo and introducing both herself and her subject, before telling us the story of his birth.

Zeus, the King of the Gods, had fallen for a Hyperborian mortal named Leto and, as always, knocked her up. While he attempts to keep her condition hidden by disguising her as a she-wolf, Hera, his wife and Queen of the Gods, discovers this and, as you might imagine, is far from happy about the situation.  So she passes an edict that no spot of dry land should give Leto protection. Zeus, countering this with the nitpicking nature of the gods, has his brother, Poseidon, god of the Sea, throw up a section of the ocean floor to float just below its surface, so that she can shelter there and give birth to his children on it: Artemis and then Apollo.

It's a good story, full of love and hate, not to mention the pettiness and interfering nature of the gods. It even has its own monster, as Hera sets Python onto Leto's trail. Other gods make brief appearances, like Hera, Poseidon and Ares, all of them subjects of previous 'Olympians' volumes. As we ought to imagine, the literally incestuous nature of the gods means that these books will build upon each other. The inside cover is a deep dive into their relationships and family histories through a complex genealogical chart.

And, with this origin story done, Kalliope, the muse of epic poetry, takes over from her sister and recounts what the grown Apollo does when he comes of age, namely to seek revenge. This isn't against his stepmother but some of her tools, like Python, who did what he was ordered to do but suffers for his loyalty, fulfilling a prophecy in the process. There were prophecies everywhere when it came to the Greek gods.

And on we go. I liked O'Connor's simple stories, designed as they are as an introduction to this mythology for children. He also includes notes, a bibliography and some reference pages, along with a set of questions designed to be starter points for discussion in schools.  I liked his artwork too, which is also simple but effective. He isn't just a writer who is able to illustrate his work; he's an artist, too, and these two skills work hand-in-hand here.

I can't say that I was stretched by this quick read, but I did learn a little and enjoyed new takes on a lot of stories I knew. I don't have the earlier seven books in the series but I presume they work in a similar fashion and I'm sure that there will be more volumes to come. Those gods did like to create more of themselves, after all. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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