By Allison Shaw
Art by Allison Shaw
“In fact, I think you're the only one who ever took my feelings into consideration”
Persephone page 135
This is an odd review, but it's been an odd year and the Almighty alone knows how odder still next year will be. Allison Shaw is an American artist and writer whose work is mostly known from a pair of webcomics, Far to the North (farnorthcomic.com) and Tigress Queen (www.tigressqueen.com). Earlier this year she launched a kickstarter to print her version of the Persephone myth in graphic novel form. It succeeded wildly and your not-very-humble reviewer was one of the donors. As it stands, there are no copies for sale but I am told it will be released on the Hiveworks website in the near future. As many of my readers will have likely guessed, I have a more than passing interest in mythology and knowing Ms. Shaw's work I was very interested to see what she would do with it. Let me discuss the myth in question first, just in case I have the honor to be the first person to tell you this story.
Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, the harvest, and fertility; and Zeus, king of the gods, lord of the sky and lightning, major pain in the ass, and despoiler of unsuspecting ladies (Read: Shapeshifting Rapist, Literal Golden-shower Enthusiast, Swan Aficionado etc). Persephone was the goddess of spring and flowers. One day while she was picking flowers, the earth split open and out came a terrifying black chariot with an invisible driver. That was of course Hades, lord of the underworld and judge of the dead. He grabbed Persephone! Then turned his chariot around and sped back under the dark earth which closed behind him with a crack of doom! There in the land of the dead he wed Persephone, some say with the blessings of her father Zeus. However Demeter was grieved that her only daughter was taken from her and refused to allow any crop to grow on Earth (Poor humans. The gods engage in dickery and who do the other gods punish? Humans who had nothing to do with it). Compelled by the prayers and cries of the starving masses, Zeus relented and ordered that Persephone be returned to her mother. However since she had eaten Pomegranate seeds while in captivity Persephone needed to spent one month in the underworld for each seed consumed. Which surprisingly, happened to be the number of months that winter lasted! So in the spring and summer Persephone dwells above with her mother bringing forth new growth but when harvest comes, she treks to the underworld where she spends the fall and winter with her husband.
Well... That's the traditional myth anyways. The thing about myths is that each generation looks at them from another angle because myths aren't dead things. A real myth? One with staying power? They're stories that are supposed to tell us a truth about ourselves and the world or give us a model for behavior to look up to and strive for. Stories like that change over time as the behaviors society holds up as honorable change or as our understanding of ourselves and the world around us changes. This isn't a modern idea either, the Greeks themselves were perfectly happy to modify their myths, as many of their plays took up scenes in the Iliad and rewrote them bringing in different character interpretations, changing the fates of minor characters and exploring the fates and feelings of background characters. This of course means that the ancient Greeks not only invented fan fiction but took it further than most other cultures (excluding the Romans, who with the Aeneid made fan fiction one of their founding myths!). So Ms. Shaw is joining a very old and storied company when she rewrites the myth to give us a different view of it.
That viewpoint is that of the young goddess herself. Persephone is a sheltered young woman in a lot of ways, which makes sense given the behavior of the gods around her. After all, given that Zeus is in charge of the justice system here, how far would you let your daughter stray? (The chastity belt! It does nothing!) This is reinforced as the story opens with Persephone literally being dragged by Apollo to an archery contests with Eros, who some of you might know better as Cupid. Persephone doesn't care for Apollo and certainly doesn't care for archery but Apollo has a cunning plan to fix this, he'll just have Eros shoot her with one of his desire inducing arrows and then when Persephone can't help herself, he'll... Well help himself (Insert Bill Cosby joke here). Eros is indifferent to this whole plan but from what I can tell owes Apollo a favor or perhaps just has bad judgment (this is certainly supported by later events in the story). This whole plan is thrown off the rails by two things: first Apollo decided to use a live dove as his target and Hades took offense to Apollo's rampant dickery. So when Hades breaks up the party to give that young whelp Apollo a talking to? He takes the arrow meant for Persephone and immediately declares that he is not going to be led around by his nethers by the magic of a mere arrow. Persephone on the flip side takes an instant shine to Hades, not only does he scare off Apollo and force the god of light to listen to him but he also treats her with some politeness and actually listens to what she wants. In fact Persephone decides she actually wants to be like Hades, because at least everyone respects him and isn't plotting to get into his robes. Hades on the flip side is looking for a cure to his feelings of desire at any cost because he believes that Persephone couldn't possibly be interested in him and his attentions would only cause her trouble. Meanwhile the two weave in and out of other mythical stories like the race of Atlanta or the fate of poor Daphne.
This take on the two is new and interesting. Now there have been plenty of modern setups where Persephone is all in favor of being kidnapped or has a thing for tall, dark, brooding older men who happen to be her uncle (look reader, they're ancient Greeks what do you want from me?). This story is the first I've seen to present it from Persephone's point of view and show us why she might like Hades and his company. This Persephone has goals, desires, and actually acts on them. It's almost always an improvement on the story if you can take a character who’s mostly served as a passive plot device and turn them into a character who wants and does things. Hades is also somewhat reinvented here. Where most popular media had a tendency to make him the bad guy (looking at you Disney and Clash of the Titans), here he's overworked, isolated, and grim but actually a pretty good guy. He works where he can to bring just a little more justice into the world and tries to act as a restraining force on the other gods but is limited in what he can actually do. He does this despite everyone fearing or hating him for the job he does. It's to the point where when Persephone tries to make it clear that she's actually excited to see him, Hades can't believe she’s doing anything but mocking him, because no one is ever happy to see the Lord of the Underworld. I gotta admit I felt for the guy at that point, imagine not even being able to consider someone might like seeing you. I like this Hades, he's stern and a bit distant but at the same time he's fair and as considerate of the people around as he can be. It's an interesting take and gives him more dignity than most.
I enjoyed the story, although I do wish we had gotten a bit more of Persephone trying to be like Hades or even seen more of them together. I also would have liked to see more of the underworld and what Persephone did there. In the event that Ms. Shaw reads this review, forgive the suggestion but you could always do the myth of Theseus and Pirithous if you were interested in continuing the story of Hades and Persephone. That said this book is a complete story in it's own right and makes for a nice romantic and modern retelling of an old myth. The art is amazing as well using a background that evokes greek pottery with smooth, modern character designs. I will note that this graphic novel is not for minors as there is a fair degree of nudity, sex and sexual overtones in the story. Still if you like cheesecake or beefcake, then there will be something in this book for you. I'm giving Persephone by Allison Shaw an A-. I hope Ms. Shaw gives us more books in the future based on myth or her own orginal work.
That's it for this year folks, my editor Dr Allen (whose comments are in the red text) and I will be going on hiatus until January 20th. Let me wish you a Happy Holiday and a Great New Year. Until we return... Keep Reading!