Book Title: Marathon
Author: Boaz Yakin (author) and Joe Infurnari (Artist)
Style: Graphic Novel
Target Audience: Young Adults
Genres: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 188
Format: Paperback (library)
Reading time: 1 hour
Date Finished: 1/07/17
My impressions: Here’s another book I picked up off the library shelf because it looked interesting. The hook seemed compelling to me: a graphic novel about the battle of Marathon, one of the most important events in Western History, celebrated today as a lengthy foot race inspired by the runner who trekked about 25 miles to tell the Athenians the day was won. But the devil’s in the details, and I’m not a big fan of what Marathon does with this idea.
There was a trend a few years ago in the comic book world where screenwriters would adapt their unsold screenplays into graphic novels and publish them, either hoping to get the attention of producers or just hoping to get their story out there. I suspect this is the case with Marathon, a graphic novel which would make much more sense as a historical fiction film than it does in this format.
The chief problem with Marathon in terms of its story is that it’s not clearly sourced from actual history, but rather from a romantic Robert Browning poem and some accounts like Lucian’s that aren’t considered broadly reliable. I knew that there were problems right away when I saw that the main character was named Eucles (as in the Browning poem, he’s more commonly known as Pheidippides, and Eucles was likely a different person entirely). I was also greatly concerned to see the early pages showing a highly fictionalized backstory where a king slaughters his bastard son for not being as fast as Eucles and where there’s a lot of political intrigue and grandstanding among the Spartans and Athenians that, pretty likely, never happened. (In fact, the entire history of the Marathon run itself is pretty likely a myth, popularized by Browning’s poem and used to justify the 24.8 mile race in the 1896 Olympics, later changed to 26.2 miles when the event was held in London in 1908 to reflect the distance between Windsor Castle and the Olympic Stadium.)
So, if we were to treat this story as mere fiction (or historical fiction), would it hold up? Not really. The characters are threadbare, and many of their motivations and actions are difficult to understand. The emphasis of the story is on action, and there are many invented sequences where skirmishes take place just to ensure that there’s tension and bloodshed. Most of the characters fall into three archetypes: the arrogant king, the reasonable servant or the heroic ally. Eucles himself has a sidestory about trying to get his wife pregnant and a deviation into his guidance by an apparition of Pan, but it doesn’t come across cleanly in the graphic novel format.
That leads to my other criticism: the art, while high in quality and reflective of the talent of Joe Infurnari, isn’t well-suited to this story. The rough, scratchy pencil style makes it hard to follow the characters or the action (especially since so many of the characters look alike), and the manga-style layouts make the pages hard to read, especially when it’s not clear if the spread is meant to be read all the way across or page to page. I suspect the idea here was to replicate some of Frank Miller’s magic in 300, but that story was told in an extra-wide storybook format with big, bold illustrations to suit its clearly mythological style.
All in all, Marathon was a pretty forgettable read for me. I didn’t connect to any of the characters, I had trouble following the visual sequences and the story was so bogus it was hard to believe it. It’s easy to breeze through, but it’s just a fun run, not the more meaningful race I hoped it’d be.