"Athena Voltaire" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written and Illustrated by Steve Bryant
2014, 228 Pages
Graphic novel released on December 10th, 2014
Back before capes and super powers, there was a time where stories were filled with pulp heroes battling Nazis and gangsters with little more than a tommy gun and gritted teeth. There's a strange sense of nostalgia that can take over when reading the adventures of characters like the Rocketeer, the Spirit, or Lobster Johnson. They'd run into battle with guns blazing, ready to deal their own brand of justice to any bad guys that may show their sorry faces. The vast majority of these heroes were dudes. Athena Voltaire is most definitely not.
Created, written, and illustrated by Steve Bryant, Athena Voltaire is a world famous aviatrix who's not afraid to get her hands dirty when fighting Nazis and various supernatural creatures in the 1930s. Although she's drop dead gorgeous, she never relies on her looks to get her out of a jam. She's not going to sweet talk a guard or pop a few buttons on her shirt. Instead she'll outsmart her enemy and then kick their ass.
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All of this sounds pretty great on the surface. You've got the makings of a brilliant and exciting adventure comic. Unfortunately there's something missing when you put all the ingredients together. All of the five stories included in this massive compendium follow a very similar pattern. Athena is called in for a job that inevitably gets tied up with Nazis, zombies, and/or vampires, then after a painfully long scene of exposition, we learn the true power of whatever maguffin she was sent to retrieve before a quick fight scene where she beats the bad guy. The exposition portions are tough to slog through because they come across as a history lesson instead of exciting backstory. I understand that Bryant has to provide some context for the artifact or ancient civilization, but it's boring to sift through on the page.
Following Athena through her adventures is the mysterious Brotherhood of Shambalha. Not much is known of this organization despite the fact that the first story in this book is named after it. They pop up to help out Athena every so often, even though she seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Yes, we may have a strong female hero at the center of the story, but she still relies on men to save her skin every time.
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The conclusions to each story feel rushed, as if Bryant suddenly realized he was running out of pages. The bulk of each tale is spent getting Athena and a rotating array of male sidekicks to the place where the Nazis are attempting to unearth some ancient artifact to give Hitler godlike power. Then they run in, punch a few people, and call it a day.
Bryant's artwork is pretty solid throughout the compendium. His design for Athena is a welcoming sight in this day and age. While she's a beautiful woman, she's never presented as cheesecake for the reader. You won't see her in revealing clothes or a strange costume with her boobs hanging out. Instead, she wears the type of clothes you'd expect from an adventuring pilot. She's got a flight jacket that does show off a small amount of cleavage, pants, and boots.
There's a lot to like in Athena Voltaire, but it feels like the pieces don't add up to what I was hoping for. It coasts by on nostalgia and a sense of adventure with bulky textbook-like dialogue explaining the long histories behind each storyline.