Olympia graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Image Comics - 978-1-53431-595-2
  • Release date: 2020
  • UPC: 9781534315952
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Fantasy, Slice of Life

Olympia spotlights a smart, but lonely kid who discovers the hero of his favourite comic lying in the local woods. Brandon is thirteen, his father is dead and his mother has to work late shifts at the hospital, so his escape is the superhero comics of Kirby Spiegelman. Unfortunately shortly after the Olympian arrives, Brandon learns his comic has been cancelled, which is even worse news for its creator, whose life is already on the slide.

Curt Pires plotted Olympia with his father Tony while the latter was undergoing ultimately unsuccessful treatment for cancer. It must have hurt, therefore, to have so many references to loss and failed hope embedded in the story. It’s there in Brandon’s loneliness, the Olympian’s weakened condition, in Kirby also losing a father figure while aware he’s failing his son, and Brandon’s notional replacement of his father with the uncomplicated Olympian.

Aspects of a traditional superhero story occur, especially toward the end, but the focus is squarely on Brandon, with Kirby examined later. “Why does everyone I love leave me in the end?” is an understated cry from the heart, and it’s appropriately placed near Olympia’s closing pages. It’s an unresolved theme, and to some extent a question that never can be resolved, although Pires transfers the responsibility in the epilogue.

Italian artist Alex Diotto conveys the heartbreak of the ‘real’ world extremely well, ensuring we have sympathy for the right people, while his real world Olympian is a goon, seemingly based on the cinema Thor. For all the good qualities Diotto brings, his drawing for a few pages inserted as superhero comics is strangely stiff. He’s imitating Jack Kirby’s poses, but half-heartedly, and isolated from Kirby’s stylistic continuity they don’t work very well.

Kirby Spiegelman is knowingly named as opposite poles of energy and intellect among comic creators, yet is his identity actually a midway point? For all the narrative and visual references to Jack Kirby the melancholy introspection and infusion of philosophical questioning may remind older readers of Steve Gerber’s Marvel work, never straightforward, conceptually strong and emotionally tight. A scene where Kirby stands in the woods bellowing at the sky after drunkenly crashing his car could be straight from the Gerber back catalogue of twisting comic clichés.

Olympia is not only knowing nods to archetypes and familiarity. Fiction and reality blend for what’s infused with sadness and hope in broadly equal quantities.