Friday, October 28, 2016
MYTHCOMICS: "AMAZONS" (1989)
I've been able to find out little about the genesis of this project, aside from what writer-artist Frank Stack (a.k.a. underground comics-creator Foolbert Sturgeon) says in his introduction to this 1989 Fantagraphics one-shot. I've seen an online source label the art as hailing from 1972, but I think that source conflated the Fantagraphics work with a one-shot Rip Off Press publication, AMAZON COMICS.
Stack's second and apparently last Amazon story was presumably completed under the auspices of publisher Fantagraphics. Like a lot of underground comics, it's full of ribald language and violence. Unlike most undergrounds, Stack obviously researched his subject in detail. He lists his sources and influences in the introduction, but even without that information, it would be obvious that he emulated the tradition of Greek line-drawing from the Classical period. I'm not expert enough to say if he succeeds in imitating the specific look of Greek art from the Bronze Age, when the story takes place. However, since AMAZONS is a work full of verbal anachronisms, any possible inconsistencies in the art-style become of negligible significance.
The plot amounts to an "untold story" of the Trojan War. Nine Greek soldiers, led by the Iliad's central hero Achilles, are scouting the countryside around Troy to eyeball possible Trojan maneuvers. The ten men then come across a Trojan patrol on horseback, and to the Greek's surprise, the four riders turn out to be a quartet of Amazons (traditionally the allies of the Trojans in post-Homeric stories of the conflict). The male soldiers try to take the Amazons prisoner. The female warriors fight back, taking advantage of their mounted status to harry the Greeks and generally make them look like fools. The two groups reach a standoff, which is broken when Achilles confronts, battles and loses a fight with the Amazon leader, Hippolyta. Having taken each other's measure, the factions exchange prisoners and go about their separate ways. A couple of the warriors take advantage of the cessation of hostilities to have a little quickie sex.
Though a lot of underground comics pursue the path of satire, AMAZONS is balls-to-the-wall comedy. Its pervading joke is that both the Greeks and the Amazons don't talk in the elevated language of the Iliad and its imitators, but in a rude demotic style. The Greek soldiers are, as Stack himself says in an authorial aside, are "male chauvinist bullies," and they talk like military grunts have probably always talked. Achilles' first words to his troops are, "Shut up the bitching and keep your eyes peeled for Trojans." The other Greeks are a bunch of gross dickheads, tossing out anachronistic slang like "Boogie till you puke" and "What's with them bloody bitches?" The Amazons are no less vulgar, referring to Achilles as "this big macho faggot" and the soldiers as "dumb grunt dogface asshole jock straps."
Stack's attitude toward the marvelous aspects of the Trojan War are a little ambivalent. On one hand, everyone's aware of the legend of Achilles' invulnerability, and at one point an Amazon arrow ricochets off his chest, though one of the female warriors deems it an "optical illusion." On the other hand, in the big fight-scene, Hippolyta scores some pretty good hits on the Greek leader. Possibly she has special dispensation, since she claims to be a "sacred queen" in contrast to his "sacred king" status.
Aside from a few of these references to prevalent Greek religious beliefs-- more enjoyable than usual, when voiced by hard-bitten, foul-mouthed warriors-- there's no attempt at cultural characterization here. Achilles gets the best lines, since Stack has to distinguish him from the "dumb jock straps" he commands, but all the Amazons sound about the same. Still, this may be the wittiest "women's lib" comic book ever authored by an American artist, and no connoisseur of comic-book fight-scenes can afford not to enjoy the five-page Achilles-Hippolyta fracas.