“Olympia” #1

By | November 22nd, 2019
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

With 36 pages of story, as well as 6 pages of preview, “Olympia” #1 reads like a double issue, giving writer Curt Pires and his talented team of artists plenty of room to deliver a well constructed, heartfelt debut. (Warning: may contain minor spoilers.)

Cover by Alex Diotto
and Dee Cunniffe
Written by Curt Pires
Illustrated by Alex Diotto
Colored by Dee Cunniffe
Lettered by Micah Meyers

DOUBLE-SIZED FIRST ISSUE! Elon is a latchkey kid who spends his days alone reading comic books—until his favorite superhero, Olympian, comes crashing off the page and into reality! But as he nurses his wounded and delirious hero back to health, he discovers Olympian isn’t the only thing that came through… something evil followed him. A comedic yet heartfelt love letter to the comics medium, OLYMPIA is also a meditation on hope and loss, conceived by CURT PIRES (Wyrd) and his father, TONY PIRES, while Tony was undergoing treatment for cancer.

Look, I’m the first to admit, I’m a sucker for Ben-Day dots. Much like hearing the distinctive sound of a needle dropping onto a record, the sight of Ben-Day dots immediately commands my attention and provokes a visceral reaction. Certainly, there’s an air of nostalgia. I can almost feel and smell the cheap, pulpy paper between my fingers. I can picture the glossy covers calling out from the spinner rack…. More than all that, however, is the feeling of escape. I see Ben-Day dots and I know, at least for a while, I will be magically transported to another time and place, leaving my cares behind.

Needless to say, the moment I saw Alex Diotto and Dee Cunniffe’s cover for “Olympia” #1, I was ready to dive in, without hesitation. Meaning, for better or worse, I’d somehow managed to miss all the pre-publication buzz and didn’t know what to expect.

Inside, I was pleased to see Diotto and Cunniffe continue the cover’s retro aesthetic across the first three pages. Intriguingly, though the story we’re joining is hurtling toward a climactic moment, the paneling is restrained and intentionally formalistic. Everything feels symmetrical, with vanishing points that pull us deeper into the scene. Even the characters feel like architectural elements. Ignore the dialogue and you have no idea what’s actually happening. It’s a subtle, clever effect that forces us to fully engage with writer Curt Pires’s epic dialogue. Without question, there’s a mighty showdown unfolding between to adversarial gods, but it all feels a bit removed, like we’re watching from a distance.

Finally, in the last panel of this opening sequence, Olympian steps forward and says – radiating Kirby Krackle – “There is only one way this ends….” Turn the page and you’re met by a captivating splash page within a splash page as we see our young protagonist, Elon Andrews, reading the last page of this very same comic. “Holy shit!” he says, summarizing our own reaction.

From there, the visual aesthetic immediately and completely changes and the real story begins. Notably, unlike the first scene, in which dialogue drove the story, for much of the rest of the book, the illustrations take over. In numerous wordless panels – including multiple sequences that span entire two-page spreads and other substantial chunks of real estate – Diotto and Cunniffe artfully and efficiently set the scene, while also showing us everything we need to know about Elon and what makes him tick.

In one particularly cinematic, action-packed sequence, for example, we watch Elon rush home on his bicycle, barely arriving before his single mom returns from her late night shift at the hospital. With equal parts wit and charm – including a vertical split-screen – it evokes not only Spielberg, but Ferris Bueller, too. It’s funny, it’s exciting, and it’s damn good storytelling.

Stylistically, Diotto’s inks tend to showcase a contemporary flavor that leans toward indie titles. The vibe is not too different from a book like “Paper Girls,” for which Cunniffe did flats. It’s not totally stylized, but it’s not exactly completely realistic, either. There’s often a lot of contrast, with some pretty heavy blacks, and marks that are more suggestive than strictly representative. Clearly, Diotto is more interested in evoking specific emotions than he is in showing precise, concrete details. Indeed, in the most intense action sequences, even minimal details vanish. Instead, colorful, empty backgrounds are only punctuated by motion lines, Diotto’s crackle, and other small flourishes. Not coincidentally, this is also where Cunniffe’s work really shines.

Continued below

From the title page through most of the book, the background color palette is predominantly cool, featuring multiple shades of blue, lots of green, purple and black. The book begins and ends with night scenes, framing Elon’s day in the middle, but the emotional effect is that of a lingering twilight, as though the entire story takes place in a dream world, suspended between daylight and darkness. Notably, the blonde haired, Thor-like superhero Olympian contrasts conspicuously with this earthly environment, a literal and metaphorical beacon in the dark. Not to be overlooked, Cunniffe’s wonderful shading and somewhat whimsical use of light and dark accents give the settings and characters great depth, nicely balancing realistic and expressionist elements.

Image Comics has described “Olympia” as a love letter to comics. That’s not an unfair assessment, and yet, it also tends to suggest a certain one-dimensional quality not found in this debut. True, the plot occasionally feels somewhat derivative and convenient, but there’s real emotional heft and an authenticity that push the book well beyond this minor shortcoming. A lesser writer may be tempted to let the story-behind-the-story carry the emotional weight. Curt Pires doesn’t do that. The longing that Elon feels—his loneliness and loss—are powerful and palpable, but never schmaltzy. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but one that Pires and his team do exceedingly well.

Final Verdict: 9.2 “Olympia” #1 is not only a great debut, it’s a powerful, fitting tribute to the late author’s father, Tony Pires, who co-created the story.

John Schaidler