Writer: Matt Fraction
Illustrator: Christian Ward
Release Date: November 26, 2014
There’s something to be said for revisiting the classics. The story of ODY-C is both familiar and unexpected: at its core, it reworks Homer’s The Odyssey, albeit with most of the major characters reimagined as women, all set against a space-opera backdrop. But that approach allows writer Matt Fraction and artist Christian Ward to venture onto a scale that’s epic on a number of levels, and one that pushes the envelope of the original narrative’s scope. It’s as though Fraction and Ward saw fellow Image creators Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s East of West, which also abounds with sci-fi fantasy grounded in ancient mythology, and decided to raise a pantheon’s worth of mind-melt imagery.
The first issue opens with a series of double-page spreads that embraces the psychedelic, featuring backgrounds laced with surreal schools of cosmic jellyfish and translucent layers of vivid color. The scenes portrayed are evocative: the bodies of inhuman creatures sprawled over ruined landscapes, the wreckage of spaceships and debris clustered in the background. One of the ruins bears a horse’s head: this is, after all, a reinterpretation of an epic Greek poem that takes place in the 12th century. “Troia, impregnable, fell,” reads the first narrative caption. The subsequent page introduces protagonist Odyssia, the captain of a vessel called ODY-C. She’s also, as her classical predecessor was, described as a trickster.
The storyline of the first issue blends classic space opera imagery and innovation — a starship powered by the minds of the crew, sleek vessels traversing through space — with the looming presence of angry gods. The narration falls between Asimov-era sci-fi and classical with lines like “Swimsleeping women who power the ship think of ten-thousand horses at once,” and “Swiftship of clever Odyssia, rumbling to life at long last, at long last.”
The pacing of this debut isn’t always perfect: the long, wordless opening certainly adds an element of epic, but may work better in a collected edition. Similarly, the use of narration, which sometimes includes spoken dialogue, can disorient when more familiar dialogue bubbles appear a third of the way into the issue. Ward’s artwork pulls off the trick of straddling both the psychedelic and visceral. And the armor worn by the characters reads as both an homage to ancient Greece while maintaining its sci-fi cool, one of several elements that sets the tone well.
The first issue of ODY-C is a bold opening, and one with a density that can be unwieldy. In light of all that it establishes, though, that density is understandable —Fraction and Ward are both negotiating the parameters of their story while nodding in the direction of its source. It’s an unlikely mixture of elements, but it hits an inimitable combination of cool and classic that pulls you into the orbit of an intoxicating journey.