Titan Books and its comic subsidiary Titan Comics have been putting out some fine, high quality works of late. We’ve reviewed recent ones here like Ordinary, Death Sentence, Tarzan in the City of Gold, and The Simon & Kirby Library: Horror!, all very positively.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak quite as highly of their latest graphic novel release, Odyssey, Vol. 1: History Lesson.
My curiosity was piqued when I first saw one of the variant covers in which a very Captain America-esque superhero stands front and center, proud and determined, flanked by two World War II-era American soldiers. I’m a big fan of Captain America so that alone already grabbed my interest. And two non-traditional superhero comics I’ve reviewed recently, Sex and Translucid, both build upon the basic Batman archetype and do some very unique things with it, so I was interested in seeing what writer Dave Elliot was planning on doing with Blazing Glory, his riff on the Cap archetype.
For the first twenty or so pages, we’re shown the origin of Blazing Glory and it’s almost too similar to Captain America’s origin. A very eager soldier gets recruited during World War II and is volunteered for an experiment in which he’s injected with some kind of serum. But there’s some mysterious occult element thrown in that made it different and interesting enough to keep me reading. And another thing that helped was the polished, self-assured art by Garrie Gastonny (with colors by Sakti Yuwono) which is as good as anything you see in the titles coming out of Marvel and DC.
The next several pages show him in action on the battlefields of Germany with his compatriots and again this plays very much like an early issue of Captain America, though again the occult aspect injects itself just briefly enough to make the reader keep wondering.
From there on things start going a bit downhill.
First of all, the gradual disillusionment of our hero with the establishment is nothing we haven’t already seen in Captain America stories. Odyssey keeps teasing us with traces of those occult or mythological elements but not enough of that is revealed soon enough to make the first three-quarters of the book not feel overly derivative. And when we finally do start getting answers, they don’t quite feel right.
Next, part of the problem is also the fact that Odyssey can’t seem to figure out exactly what it wants to be. It’s all over the place. There are too many subplots, too many motifs. It wants to pay homage to Golden Age Captain America. Weave in some mythological and even religious elements. Critique post-9/11 degradation of civil liberties. Honor the men and women of the armed forces.
Like the Marvel character that inspired him, Blazing Glory ages slowly, making it possible for him to live through most of 20th century American history. Odyssey jumps from era to era, conflict to conflict, almost like a Forest Gump-through-history montage, only not quite as good. It feels jagged and rushed. Some of these flashback sequences are all the more confusing for being drawn by a different artist, Toby Cypress, who has a radically different, more satirical style, making me wonder if these events actually happened the way they’re narrated or if they’re a dream or some hallucination on the part of Blazing Glory.
There are also some bizarre threads woven in that don’t quite work. For instance, in one scene our hero reveals that his helmet was custom-created by Steve Jobs to block out government surveillance of his spoken words. The moment comes across as being more embarrassing than evocative. Zombies/demons even make a very brief appearance without enough context or explanation to justify their usage. It’s all quite confusing, and the at-times clunky dialogue doesn’t aid comprehension either.
Odyssey, Vol. 1: History Lesson is a well-illustrated and ambitious but messy work with some interesting ideas that it isn’t able to develop enough or cohesively.