Charles Hatfield's Reviews > Marathon

Marathon by Boaz Yakin
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Jun 25, 12

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Marathon retells, at a furious clip, the legend of the first marathon run ever: that of a tireless Greek, here called Eucles, whose nonstop running helped Athens gain victory over the Persians who sought to conquer them in 490 BCE. Eucles runs from Athens to Sparta in a failed attempt to garner timely support from the Spartans, then runs from Sparta to Marathon, there to join the embattled Athenians in their assault on the Persian invasion force, and thence runs to Athens (that fabled 26-mile distance) to warn of approaching Persian ships. The book's narrative consists of running, fighting, running some more, being chased, and, for a lot of characters, dying. Did I mention the running?

This story of the first Persian invasion of Greece, drawing as it does from Herodotus and Plutarch, cannot help but recall Frank Miller's 300—which retells part of the second Persian invasion of Greece, an event that Marathon alludes to briefly, in effect consigning Miller to sequel status (Miller's hero, Leonidas, is here recast as a voice of reason against his father Cleomenes' mindless tyranny). Surely this project was greenlit because of 300? In any case, like Miller's work, Marathon locates in its ancient heroes the origins of prized American values, in this case not just liberty but democracy and the self-respect of the common man. Thankfully, it lacks Miller's hateful stereotyping and one-sided veneration of brute power. (But it does seem like the treatment for another movie waiting to happen.)

The book has momentum to spare: it starts at a run and stays there, sprinting briskly from one challenge to the next. Infurnari's sketchy, fiercely energetic naturalism conveys the necessary desperation; the violence goes by in a blur, punctuated by the occasional moment of fatal clarity. Gorgeous sepiatone production compensates a bit for the hazy indeterminacy of the settings, which run a distant second to the characters' hurtling bodies. The layouts bespeak the influence of manga, alternating open and paneled images, laying smaller panels on top of bleeds, and, in the most violent, action-filled moments, favoring slashing, diagonal panel shapes. The net effect recalls Sanpei Shirato or Goseki Kojima when they're whipped up to full fury. I like this; a more sober graphic treatment, like that typical of European historical BD with their ligne claire tendency and full color, wouldn't do the job for me.

Unfortunately, Infurnari pays the price in narrative clarity. The action is hard to follow, and the characters often indistinct. His frenzied graphics run afoul of what seems to be a fully researched scenario by Yakin, one which includes a large handful of characters drawn from historical personages and demands a certain precision—if for no other reason than so that we can tell the characters apart and understand the surprises and reversals in the plot. Marathon doesn't help us do this. It's too much of a blur. Staring at the pages in hope of understanding doesn't help; in fact it's better just to read at a runner's pace, and not worry about the details, even though this robs the story of what could be some powerful comeuppances and resolutions.

Simply put, the story is hard to keep track of—and this isn't one of those art comics where a deliberate obscurity adds to the atmosphere or buzz. Rather, this is a story that maneuvers like a blockbuster movie, and asks for emotional investment and big returns. So some middle ground was needed between too-staid precision and frenetic sketch-work, something that would have preserved Infurnari's breakneck pacing but made it easier to tell who is who and what's going on. For all its energy, Marathon ends up a vagueness.
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