And the games begin!
Welcome back to Age of Bronze Seen. Here we are at the beginning of the second issue, and the competition is already under way outside the walls of Troy. A young Trojan named Deiphobus has just won the chariot race, and now the next event is about to commence: boxing.
Eric has obviously lost no time in moving the story along. But before we move with him, let’s pause for a moment to get our bearings.
Agelaus wishes Paris luck as the boy rushes off to join the boxing match. But as Paris soon realizes, he’ll need all the luck he can get if he’s even going to enter it.
Paris isn’t in principle debarred from the boxing competition. Unlike the chariot race, he has the required equipment: his fists. (Paris would, however, first need to wrap them in the oxhide thongs [line 684] which the Greeks used as boxing gloves.) But to judge from the way the other competitors react to him, there are unspoken social protocols governing who can and can’t take part in the games. The boxers are Trojan nobles, and they aren’t about to allow some rustic commoner into their circle.
We’re now introduced to the king of Troy by the unlikeliest source: Agelaus. But if we’re surprised to learn that Agelaus was once on speaking terms with the royal family, Paris is doubly thunderstruck. Did you notice how Paris’ exclamation, “You know the king!,” is accompanied by the detail of a boxer reeling in the background? Paris is no less stunned by his father’s revelation than the boxer is by his opponent’s blow.
Suffice it to say, Agelaus’ erstwhile acquaintance with the Trojan royals is no superfluous detail. Since it will become relevant later in this issue, let’s wait until then to discuss it. For now, let’s take a closer look at the figures singled out by Agelaus.
We were just starting to learn that the ash and the games are both expressions of ritual mourning, when Paris, realizing that the boxing match is nearly finished, dashes off to join what little remains of the fray.
Prior to Paris’ abrupt departure, Agelaus was in the process of telling us that the athletic contests Paris wants so badly to join are funeral games, held in honor of . . . someone. We’ll come back to the identity of the honoree in just a moment.
“. . . that a shepherd should defeat city-dwellers! Of course!”
That’s another line from Sophocles’ Alexander. Its sentiment is well reflected in the satisfaction with which Paris remarks, after overwhelming all of his opponents, “Bumpkin, hunh?”
So it turns out that Paris isn’t the ungracious one on this page! That distinction belongs to one of Priam’s sons, Deiphobus, who protests Paris’ victory by unilaterally withdrawing himself and his brothers from the footrace. Those of you who are familiar with the story of the Trojan War may be reminded of another famous withdrawal . . .
Now, on one level, Deiphobus’ pique seems entirely reasonable. Paris did indeed jump in after everyone was already worn out. To put it another way, his opponents were already defeated when he defeated them.
Paris spends the first panel exulting in his victory, but his exultation is short-lived. A second footrace beckons, as Deiphobus challenges him to demonstrate his prowess against competitors who are superior to mere nobles. If Paris wants to be the one to sacrifice his bull, he’ll have to outrun princes.
And not only that, he’ll have to do so at the same disadvantage under which Priam’s sons suffered in the boxing match. Deiphobus and his brothers were exhausted when they fought Paris, but now it’s Paris who has just finished competing.
We’ll have to wait a page to find out if Paris will be able to fare better than Priam’s sons. In the meantime, let’s look a bit more closely at Deiphobus’ words.
“Time will show what you are; by that evidence I shall learn whether you are a man of worth or not.”
The line is (probably) Priam’s, and it comes from Euripides’ Alexander. Priam’s words belong to a context that’s different from Age of Bronze—Priam seems to be announcing his decision to allow Paris to participate in the games—but the sentiment suits this page well. In the quotation Priam has decided that Paris’ quality won’t be determined by his status as a slave; the boy will actually have the opportunity to demonstrate his worth against princes.
Did you groan too when you read Paris’ answer to the king?
As Agelaus’ worried expression suggests—and as Deiphobus’ angry reaction confirms—no good can come of this. But still, as much as we may cringe at Paris’ braggadocio and dread its consequences, his behavior is well in keeping with what we’ve come to expect of him. Do you remember the impulsive way he attacked the king’s emissaries on Mount Ida? His impudence here isn’t so terribly far removed.
So Paris has gotten his wish. He will be the one to sacrifice his bull—if he’s not sacrificed first himself.
Let’s just take a moment to admire the way Eric has used panel layout to generate suspense. You can see how, in the top two tiers, Paris’ sacrifice of the bull is the main event, narratively speaking: Paris’ panels dwarf those to his right. Yet by cross-cutting to these smaller panels, and by zooming in ever closer on Deiphobus’ enraged face, Eric creates maximum tension. Even as Paris prepares to slay his bull, we know that slaughter is creeping up on him from behind.
I think my favorite part of this line is the fact that the priest speaks it to Paris for jumping atop the altar, and not to the princes who are trying to kill him.
But in fairness to the priest, Paris doesn’t just leap onto the altar; he also overturns the bull figurine resting atop it. That bull figurine is a theriomorphic (i.e. “in the form of an animal”) representation of the Hittite Storm God, one of the most exalted Hittite divinities. So “highly irregular” is actually quite polite, as far as shocked reactions to profound impiety go.
So the cloth is out of the bag. Paris is a prince.
Back in last month’s issue, when you saw Agelaus contemplating this opulent piece of fabric, you likely deduced that it would appear again. And so it does, as Agelaus, forced into action by Paris’ imminent death, finally displays his foster son’s swaddling cloth and reveals Paris’ royal pedigree.
Quite a way to learn you’re adopted.
Look at the panels in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Even if they were wordless, we’d still know that Paris’ and Agelaus’ relationship had changed. Agelaus, anguished, looks up at his son. And Paris, newly aware that his blood is indeed higher than his (foster) father’s, gazes back down.
Speaking of public performances . . .
The elephant in the courtyard is, of course, Kassandra, who bursts onto the scene by bellowing, “WAIT!” before going on to prophesy doom for Troy. Perhaps you remember her? She was the figure we saw at the end of last month’s issue, predicting a storm on the horizon. Here Priam tolerates her outburst with polite condescension, but we can imagine the fury lurking beneath the surface. Priam means to stage-manage this royal reunion, and Kassandra is not cooperating.
If this page reproduces Kassandra’s prophetic experience, it’s easy to see why she behaves the way she does.
The image is unlike anything we’ve encountered thus far in the comic. The very panels have disintegrated into a chaos of billowing flame, as memory, premonition and dream all overlap hurly-burly. A city alight; a firebrand being born; a disembodied head crying in agony. If Kassandra’s speech balloons weren’t there to guide us, how would you navigate the image? If you were trying to interpret it, where would you begin?
Here is a page on which John Dallaire’s wonderful color work has made itself a truly vital part of the story. The color isn’t just helping to bring the world of Age of Bronze to life on this page. It’s also being used to communicate, at a glance, Paris’ change in status.
Turn back four pages, to page 13 of this issue.
Do you see the widescreen panel in the center, where Priam fixes his gaze hard, and then, with a single word, halts the action of the scene? Now compare that panel to the one on this page, where Eric gives us a similar close-up of Agelaus’ eyes. We move in tight as emotion wells up in Agelaus, only to be choked back down as he prepares to say a permanent farewell to the son he has raised for sixteen years.
Unlike Priam’s stare, Agelaus’ grieving eyes interrupt nothing. The king’s presence is still felt in the panel to the left. Priam is running the show, in the theatrical sense. He’s both the director and audience of Agelaus’ goodbye, and he expects the man to play the part of the humble and obedient shepherd.
It’s a remarkable thing, what panel layout can do.
A page that speaks for itself. . .
I’ll make only two brief points about the kind of father Paris has lost, and the kind he has gained.
Perhaps you remember how this issue began, with Deiphobus winning a chariot race? Winning, in fact, the same chariot race in which Paris was too poor to compete? Now Priam orders Deiphobus tofind a chariot for Paris and to instruct him in its use. After all, a Trojan prince must know horses.
That’s ring composition, and Eric has used it well. Chariots trace the shape of Paris’ journey in this issue, from obscure bumpkin on the periphery to Trojan prince taking up residence on the citadel. Paris, once forced to watch from a distance as aristocrats raced their horses, is now about to join them.
Do you recognize the setting of the center panel? Perhaps the altar and bull figurine in the background?
What a difference a day makes, as these five sons of Priam walk together peaceably through Troy’s citadel, where yesterday four were trying to slaughter the fifth.