In 1998, Eric Shanower started a seven-volume series that would retell the story of The Trojan War with all of the mythical elements removed. Still ongoing, it is published in magazine form by Image Comics and in graphic novel form by Hungry Tiger Press.
Dreams and visions by the god-touched and regular people alike occur throughout, and one of these dreams kicks the plot off: Paris dreams the beauty contest of the goddesses and the awarding of the golden apple. Events then lead him to Troy, where he is reunited with his family and learns of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta.
Sent to recover the king's long-lost sister, Paris' first stop is Lakedaemon, where Menelaus rules by right of his marriage to Helen. Instead of proceeding to Salamis and Hesione, Paris seduces Helen and convinces her to accompany him to Troy. His men raid the palace as they leave, taking most of the valuables with them.
A storm blows Paris' ship off course, preventing him from being in Troy when the first Achaean embassy reaches Troy. King Priam's reply is... less than diplomatic, and the Achaean Greeks prepare for war.
Kings, princes, and their people gather and prepare for war. Helen's beauty and the kingship she brought were such prizes that each suitor swore an oath before the gods to defend and aid the suitor chosen, should Helen be stolen. The suitors' oath is invoked, and breaking a sacred oath would offend the gods and bring disaster on the forsworn.
Those too young or old for the suitors' oath are recruited as well. Achilles is found where his mother hid him, and the old but wise Nestor is convinced to join.
After many trials and the sacrifice of a maiden, the army arrives on an island within sight of Troy's walls. A final embassy is sent, but Paris' actions rather spectacularly screw things up for both sides.
War has become inevitable.
The first four novels in the series are:
- A Thousand Ships
- Betrayal: Part One
- Betrayal: Part Two
All further issues have been digital.
Specials and One-shots:
- Age of Bronze: Special: A special published in 1999. It provides backstory, telling of the curse on the House of Atreus
- Age of Bronze: Behind the Scenes was published in 2002. It gives insight into Eric Shanower's research and working methods.
The Age of Bronze site can be found here.
Beware! Unmarked spoilers below!
- Achilles in His Tent: Aside from the Trope Namer, humorously enough it's Agamemnon who plays the trope straight. When he's required to sacrifice his own daughter he for a while retires from leading the Acheans sulking in his tent and musing about the family curse falling upon him.
- Adaptation Distillation: The series doesn't limit itself to Homer's works for reference, but also other parts of The Trojan Cycle, to later works from Greek, Roman and even medieval and early modern times, like Chaucer and Shakespeare's takes on the Troilus and Cressida story.
- Adaptational Job Change: In the myths, Paris was a shepherd before he abducted Helen. At the start of this series, he is a cowherd.
- Adaptation Dye-Job: The comic changes the hair color of most of the characters who had light hair to black. Achilles has always been described as xanthos (a term that essentially means light haired that covers hair colour from very light brown to ginger) but in this version, he has black hair. Agamemnon, Helen, Odysseus and even Hercules are supposed to have blond or red hair. The only one who seems to have Iliad accurate hair is Menelaus
- Always Someone Better: Palamedes is considered cleverer than Odysseus and a better leader than Agamemnon by the army, which irks the two to no end.
- Ambiguous Situation:
- It is never made clear whether Paris actually did dream the judgement or if he is just lying to Helen to seduce her. Given how slimy he is, the latter is not unlikely.
- On the subject of Medea, we only hear Priam's claim that she is one of the Asian princesses taken by Achaeans, much like his sister Hesione. Due to Medea fleeing with Jason in the original myth, it is debatable how accurate this is.
- Ambiguous Time Period: There is no date given beyond the 13th century BC and the name of the Pharaoh of Egypt, when mentioned by Paris, is never given. It could be anyone from Horemheb to Amenmesse or Seti II.
- Annoying Background Event:
- The Greek fleet is stuck at Aulis by contrary winds that blow all the time, represented by replacing the panel borders with "sh sh sh".
- Agamemnon tries to hold a council of war but Philoktetes bellows of pain keep interrupting.
- Art Shift: Whenever someone is telling a story and there is a flashback to the event this will occur. The first sack of Troy has a cartoony style. What makes this particular art shift so noticeable is that this is the only time we ever see Hesione. Even when Priam brings her up in Betrayal Part One that features an image of Helen on one side of him and an image of Hesione on the other, Hesione looks the same she does in the art shift in contrast to Helen who is drawn in the more realistic style the comic is usually in.
- Bound and Gagged: Iphigenia is bound and gagged when she is to be sacrificed. The reason for the gag was out of fear of her cursing the men.
- Brother–Sister Incest: Discussed in "A Thousand Ships." Polyxena is in love with her brother Hektor who is in love with Andromache. Polyxena used to dream of being Hektor's first wife. As Troilus points out they are Trojans, Hittites if their attire is anything to go by, not Egyptians and thus Polyxena cannot marry Hektor.
- The Cassandra: As another rendition of the Trope Namer, Cassandra's predictions are generally not believed. In this incarnation's case, she is mentally unstable and likely suffering ongoing emotional trauma from being raped as a child. Many of her predictions are rendered in riddles only clear after the fact, and several apply to distant events, such as Achilles' slaying of Mnemon, making it impossible for the Trojans to verify.
- Cassandra Truth: The daughter of Priam, Cassandra frequently makes predictions. While some are clear, others are gibberish and only decipherable in hindsight. This tends to get all of her prophecies dismissed -even when she's reminding Priam of a prophecy he believed. The problem is compounded by Priam being insistent on having his own way, to the point of ignoring other, saner prophets.
- Carpetof Virility: Agamemnon, Menelaus and most of the Trojan princes are quite hairy. And the amount quite matches the amount of hair modern day Greeks have in the case of Acheanes.
- The gods don't appear, and there's no evidence that they actually exist in the world of the adaptation. This is deliberate, as the afterword makes clear.
- Helen of Troy is only fairly attractive, not beautiful (but she is very conscious about her image and spends a lot of time on her dressing and makeup; this, coupled with her exotic appeal and personality, is what makes all of Troy fall in love with her). Odysseus and Agamemnon decide to say she's the most beautiful woman in the world on the supposition the Hellene soldiers will fight more willingly than they would for the real reasons for the war, which are more complicated and less glamorous.
- The series is specifically set in the 12th century BC (the time the events that inspired Homer, who wrote around 800 BC, are believed to have happened) and there is great attention to detail to make architecture, dress, weapons, etc. be true to the period. So while the Homeric names, personalities and relations between characters are kept intact, these are cosmetically as far from any other adaptation of the Iliad, usually based on the Classical Greece of 500 BC or later, as they can be. The Achaeans are Mycenaean Greeks with some leftover Minoan influences, and Troy is mostly Hittite.
- Nymphs like Oenone and Tethys appear, but they are just wise women that engage in healing and divination. They are divided in orders that worship different gods; as a result, they call themselves "daughters" of said gods.
- The earlier sack of Troy by Herakles (aka Hercules) is narrated differently by a bitter Priam. Herakles is an Achaean warlord (though one so popular that he is treated "like a god" by his men) and he raids Troy after getting in "a dispute over a couple of horses" with Priam's father, Laomedon. Priam's sister Hesione is not saved from Human Sacrifice but taken as war bounty.
- The Judgement of Paris is a dream. A dream Paris claims to have had, anyway, during a long, seductive speech he makes to Helen.
- Cheiron, while called a "kentaur", is a big, hairy Mountain Man rather than a half man, half horse creature.
- Agamemnon does not kidnap the Oenotropae (goddesses of seed, wine and oil) to feed his army. He sends Palamedes to Delos to ask or trade for its vast food reserves, deposited there as temple offerings by the other Greeks. The comic's Oenotropae are in fact not goddesses, but three priestesses that manage said offers, which is why their father Anius calls them the bringers of wealth to his island. Anius is addressed as son of a god - because he is a priest of Apollo.
- Helen is really the daughter of Tyndareus. Her mother believes Helen was hatched from an egg after she had intercourse with Zeus in the form of a swan because she is insane. However, in the world of the comic the story has already taken life of its own and translated into a rumor that Helen is of divine origin.
- Averted with the many prophecies of doom. Cassandra's, of course, are the most detailed and accurate, but they are taken for incoherent ramblings and not believed.
- Most disturbing is how Cassandra got the gift of premonition. She believes Apollo appeared to her when she fell asleep at the temple as a child, but this is actually a distorted memory of her assault by a pedophile. He told her that nobody would believe her (about the incident), but she mistook it as a curse making her not being ever believed by anyone, about anything. This makes Cassandra's curse a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: She acts crazy because she fears no one will believe her, and people don't believe her because she acts crazy.
- Philoktetes is not wounded by one of his hydra-poison arrows (he lands on an arrow, but it's not poisoned) but by a snake near an altar of Herakles.
- Disguised in Drag: To save his life, Thetis has Achilles disguised as Pyrrha on Skyros. It works well, up until Odysseus' arrival in search of Achilles.
- Exact Words: On learning that the war will last for nine years and only end on the tenth, some debate not attacking until the last year, but this is nixed by Agamemnon pointing out it gives the Trojans nine years to prepare.
- Face Death with Dignity: Iphigenia accepts her fate, and doesn't even cry as she's sacrificed.
- Last Kiss: Combined with First Kiss, before she is sacrificed Achilles shares a kiss with Iphigenia, who believed he was her husband-to-be. It's a kind moment that doesn't exclude attraction, as he regrets not having married her for real.
- Gag Penis: Thersites apparently has one to explain how he manages to convince a woman to sleep with him despite his remarkable ugliness.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Deiphobus towards Paris for two reasons.
- The first is that Paris is the second born. Until he came along and Paris was revealed to be the son of Priam and Hekuba, Deiphobus was next in line for the throne after Hektor. When Paris came along, Deiphobus was pushed back a bit.
- The second is Paris' marriage to Helen. He wants her for himself, believing that had he been the one to go to Lakedaemon he'd be the one married to Helen and not Paris.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: None of the characters can really be called pure good or pure evil.
- Heal It With Fire: How Telephus' wound is finally healed. The spear that injured him has the metal blade heated in a fire and the infection in the wound burned out.
- Heel Realization: Odysseus realizes he's come to enjoy his position as The Smart Guy and Guile Hero after he witnesses Iphigenia's willing sacrifice (when he thought up the plan to bring her there).
- Heritage Face Turn: The High King of Mysia Telephus breaks off hostilities and joins with King of Rhodes Tlepolemus as part of the Achaean fleet against the Trojans when he discovers they're both sons of Herakles despite Tlepolemus' forces killing hundreds of his men a short time before the revelation.
- The High King: Agamemnon is called that as he leads all the other Greek kings and can command them but they do remain quite free to rule as they see fit. This is another case of Shown Their Work as recent findings show that this might have been the ruling model of Greece during the time the Trojan War supposedly happen.
- Horny Vikings: Just as the Real Life section of the trope page can attest with the Samurai and Teutonic Knights, horned helmets were quite the thing in the bronze age making this Truth in Television. Achilles and Odysseus are only two examples of many who sport horned helmets.
- Human Sacrifice: Kalchas claims that in order to turn the wind that keeps the ships locked into the bay at Aulis, a maiden needs to be sacrificed to Artemis -a daughter of Agamemnon, since he's the one who ticked her off. Iphigenia is lured to Aulis under false pretenses and duly sacrificed, to the protest of few.
- Identical Grandson: Tlepolemus of Rhodes claims his paternal half-brother Telephus of Mysia looks just like their father Herakles.
- I Have Your Wife: While Helen going with Paris is a literal wife-napping as far as the Achaeans are concerned, the trope is only played straight when Palamedes endangers Odysseus's baby son Telemachus to make him snap out of his faked insanity.
- In the Back: Paris is stated to have shot the King of Sidon in the back at a banquet.
- Kid Hero: Achilles since, according to the story, he was "on the verge of manhood" at the start of the war. That said, he's old enough to have fathered a son even before leaving (and still without anyone finding out his gender).
- Loophole Abuse:
- The Cypriotes promise Agamemnon a fleet they cannot deliver, so they send a single real ship and a fleet of miniature, clay-made ships.
- Odysseus doesn't want to join Agamemnon but he cannot say so for honor reasons. So he pretends to be crazy when they come looking for him, in an attempt to make Agamemnon leave without him. It doesn't work.
- Manly Tears: Menelaus openly cries as his niece is killed.
- Men Are Tough: Odysseus suspects Pyrrha is actually Achilles Disguised in Drag, he confirms this by putting a spear in the gifts for Lycomedes' daughters. When an alarm sounds, Pyrrha is the only one to grab the spear and prepare to fight.
- Meaningful Name: Odysseus names his son Telemachos (distant battle) just before leaving for a war halfway across the Mediterranean.
- Mythology Gag: While telling Paris the tale of Herakles' sack of Troy, Priam mentions it was because an old grudge was held by the Achaean hero because of a pair of horses. Those familiar with the mythology know that Laomedon, Priam's father, had promised Herakles magic horses if he saved his daughter Hesione. By the time Herakles did come around to send for the horses he had been promised Laomedon, who had never kept his word, sent two ordinary horses.
- Nemean Skinning: Herakles wears a lion skin over his head of shoulders (of course), while his son, King Telephus of Mysia, wears one as a cape. Paris wears a leopard skin when he comes back from his journey in the eastern Mediterranean.
- Never My Fault:
- Helen feels incredible passion for Paris; he also tells her his dream of the goddesses, with one of them awarding the most beautiful woman in the world to him as a bribe for the prize. So she blames the gods for her running off with Paris to Troy, even though at no point is she seen double-checking with another priest, priestess, or oracle on whether this is a good idea.
- Menelaus pressures Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter like the gods requested despite being the one who wants most of all to sail for Troy (at that point Agamemnon himself wants to back off) and argues that it's not his fault if the gods requested this sacrifice. Both Agamemnon and Clytemnestra tell him he should go and get the damn wife back without bothering others.
- Paris himself behaves like a complete asshat and always seems surprised that people might be angry at him for it.
- Achilles kills Memnon for not warning him in time that he was about to kill a descendant of the sun god.
- No Pregger Sex: Clytemnestra denies sex to Agamemnon on the basis she's with child, much to his chagrin. Averted with Paris and Helen, who don't waste a minute.
- Obfuscating Insanity: Odysseus receives a prophecy that he will not return home for twenty years if he heads for Troy. He must fulfill his sacred oath, but he dreads the consequences. His solution: Faking madness. Unfortunately, Palamedes sees through it.
- Original Position Fallacy: A prophecy claimed that Mycenae would have to sacrifice its most beautiful possession in fourteen years. It would never have occurred to Agamemnon (or, admittedly, anyone else) that it meant his own daughter.
- Panthera Awesome: Achilles fights a lioness and plays with her cub when he is introduced.
- Parental Abandonment: When Helen leaves with Paris, she takes her infant son with her, but leaves her nine-year-old daughter behind. She claims it is to secure Menelaus' claim-by-marriage to the throne; but it does not explain why she does not leave her son instead of her daughter, or leave them both.
- Parental Incest: Averted by Telephus, who nearly married his own mother (a snake served as a Moment Killer, which he believes was sent by his father Herakles). He therefore does not appreciate one of Oedipus' descendants being buried in his kingdom, viewing it as a deliberate insult.
- Pet the Dog: Despite being already established as an arrogant and a terrible husband, Achilles does indeed try to protect Iphigenia like he vowed to her mother to the length of helping her escape the sacrifice. She still refused to do it, but he tried hard.
- Proud Warrior Race: Averted: No one, especially the Spartans, is particularly bloodthirsty to the point of neglecting other realities of life, and at one point spend two years waiting around for the rest of the army to regroup instead of heading for Troy.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Philoketetes' pain causes him to insult the gods themselves.Shit-eaters on your mountaintops! Pus-drinkers in your caves! Puking morons in the deeps of Ocean!
- Sacred Hospitality:
- Taking Helen, with or without her consent, Menelaus' son by her, and the valuables of the palace is a massive breach of the hospitality that the Achaeans believe in. It's not just a breach of manners and trust, it's a breach of the gods' laws.
- Agamemnon is reluctant to accept Telephus' invitation until it's pointed out that not going is both a breach of hospitality and unlikely to convince Telephus to join them against Troy.
- Sadistic Choice: Agamemnon is shown to love his daughters, so of course he has to sacrifice Iphigena to stop the winds that are preventing him from leaving.
- Setting Update: Inverted. The traditional date for the fall of Troy is 1184 BCE making that the 12th century BCE. According to the "Our Story So Far" section of the comic's official site the setting is "about the thirteenth century BCE."
- Sex for Services: Cressida laments how the women in the Acheans camp jump in every bed they can for food and comforts. Eventually she gives in to Diomedes' advances because she and her father are starving.
- Shipper on Deck: Pandarus is eager to get his niece Cressida together with Priam's son Troilus, in part because his brother Kalchas' betrayal is making things difficult for her.
- Shown Their Work: Shanower researched the architecture and clothing, resulting in something that looks different from other adaptations set in The Trojan War without it seeming like it was set in an entirely different era. The most notable bit isn't the clothing or the architecture; rather it is the face of Agamemnon, which is designed to look like the Mask of Agamemnon discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876.
- Spell My Name with an S: As is the case with ancient Greek names, some names are spelled with a 'K' instead of a 'C.'
- Strong Family Resemblance: Given Shanower's impressing attention to details, most of siblings group are designed to look like each other: Hektor, Deiphobus and Paris share the same face and similar hairstyle. Agamemnon and Menelaus have the same facial traits but with different hair color and hairstyle. Clytemnestra looks like an older and plumper version of Helen.
- Suddenly Shouting: When Menelaus and Odysseus meet with the Trojans in the beginning of the war, Odysseus is silent with his eyes closed while Menelaus endures Paris's insults. Then Odysseus suddenly launches into an extended loud harangue.
- Took a Level in Jerkass:
- In A Thousand Ships, Paris starts out as a slightly arrogant but relatively decent and enthusiastic youth who is a bit overwhelmed by his new life. By Betrayal, Part One, after three years as a Prince of Troy and being indulged in his behavior by Priam, he has become very arrogant, rude, pushy, and refuses to accept he could be wrong.
- Of note is that Paris initially feels justified to take Helen from the Achaeans because the Achaeans took Hesione from the Trojans. But when he returns to Troy after many numbers offscreen, he nonchalantly talks about how he sacked several Phoenician cities and even killed a king just because he could.
- Unreliable Narrator: Due to being a bitter old man that is retelling a less than happy event from his youth, it is best to take Priam's telling of Herakles' sack of Troy with not the proverbial grain of salt, but the entire shaker.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: When Paris was newly returned to Troy from being a "bumpkin", Troilus tells Paris of Helen whom people call "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World." One of the other sons of Priam then brings up what would happen if Priam were to convince Menelaus to give them Helen resulting in one of the sons of Priam getting her in marriage. The answer would be that she'd marry Hektor since he is the eldest but he will marry no one but Andromache and thus since Paris is the second son he'd get Helen. Thus the desire of Helen is placed in Paris' head.
- Wangst: In-Universe: Menelaus' repeated complaints about his wife tend to be treated as such by his fellow Acheans after a while.
- We Cannot Go On Without You: It's prophesied that the war can't be won without Achilles' presence.
- Worshipped for Great Deeds: Herakles is elevated for godhood for his herculean accomplishments before his death by wife. His exact accomplishments aren't shown, but they were presumably exaggerations of relatively mundane achievements. Priam is also a biased narrator, as this is seen in a flashback to his sister Hesione being kidnapped by Herakles.
- Wound That Will Not Heal:
- Telephus' wound, caused by Achilles. Given the Doing In the Wizard nature on the work, he's the reason it won't heal: he keeps tearing and scratching at it so it keeps festering, and is convinced that only Achilles can save him, since "he that wounded shall heal" (despite Achilles having attempted to heal the wound when he first saw it). Odysseus picks up that this meant Achilles' spear, and Telephus finally heals when the spear is used to cauterize the wound.
- Philoktetes' snakebite causes him immense pain, and none of the Combat Medics can do anything about it.
- You Can't Fight Fate: Achilles is fated to be killed if he ever kills a descendant of the sun god. Thetis tells Memnon to stick close to Achilles to point out any of them so Achilles can avoid them, but naturally Achilles runs ahead and kills two of them before Memnon can catch up. It gets him killed.
- You Have Failed Me: After learning that his latest victim was the son of a god and that he is now certain to die, Achilles kills Memnon for not warning him (even though it was Achilles who ran out miles ahead of the others).