The Odyssey is the third book in the All-Action Classics series and a really great pick for this sort of treatment. Kids might not be thrilled by the idea of an epic poem written thousands of years ago, but the ferocious cyclops on the cover ought to get their attention. Many a Classics professor has tried to convince their skeptical class that The Odyssey is actually a rip-roaring action story, but few have done so as convincingly as writer Tim Mucci and artists Ben Caldwell, Rick Lacy, and Emanuel Tenderini.
The book begins as the Greeks finally capture the city of Troy after a ten year siege, thanks to some clever trickery from Odysseus. Agamemnon, the Greek king, says that it’s the gods’ fault the war was so hard and refuses to thank them for the victory. That sort of pride never works out well in Greek myths. Poseidon and Zeus get angry and when the Greeks pile into their boats and sail for home the gods send a storm that scatters their fleet. Odysseus and his crew end up spending several years trying to get home. On the way they tangle with a cyclops, a witch, a sea monster, and all manner of other threats.
Mucci’s adaptation works really well. The story moves quickly from one threat to another, keeping things interesting. There’s nowhere near enough room to include all the crazy stuff that happens in the original poem and Mucci does a nice job of picking the greatest hits. All the high adventure is grounded by Odysseus’s relatively simple goal: He just wants to get home and see his family, something kids shouldn’t have any trouble understanding.
The characterization is cartoonish in a way that will amuse young readers and is surprisingly in keeping with the source material. Odysseus reminded me of Bugs Bunny, letting his curiosity and pride get him into trouble and then relying on his wits to get out of it. Zeus, most powerful of the gods, is played for comic relief. He’s childishly preoccupied with playing with his storm clouds and lightning bolts and easily manipulated by Poseidon and Athena.
The cartoonishness of the writing is backed up by the art, which is highly stylized and dynamic and a lot of fun. Odysseus looks slick and cool, his crew of unnamed goofballs is fun to have in the background, and the various monsters are outlandishly terrifying. Caldwell and Lacy aren’t afraid to go a bit off-model to convey a character’s emotion or bust out a weird panel layout to make enough room to show how big a sea serpent is. Tenderini does some very nice work using colors and lighting to heighten the magic and otherworldliness of the story with a lot of lush secondary colors and cool glow effects.
The publisher gives this an age range of 10-14, which seems appropriate. Odysseus solves most problems with wits rather than violence and when violence can’t be avoided it is presented without gore (the cyclops gets his eye stabbed out off-panel, thankfully). Kids younger than 10 may have a hard time with the language. Those older than 14 may still enjoy the book but might find it simplistic.