In the future, people line up to plug in their minds and live the battles of the gods of Greek antiquity. They can experience and feel the adventures of Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, and the rest of the Pantheon of Mount Olympus in their never-ending battle against Hades.
A sickly looking, wheelchair-bound man has participated, but he discovers a secret.
This is the world established in Dread Gods #1 by Ron Marz, Bart Sears, and Tom Raney. It's a fun yet challenging adventure romp that mostly consists of a bombastic clash between the aforementioned Pantheon and the Hydra, which had been sent by Hades to attack Olympus. Zeus and Hera take center stage throughout most of the runtime. We learn little of the man who appears to be the de facto protagonist in the dystopian other world, not even his name.
Frankly, the comic comes off as quite generic, but this may be by design.
The Greek gods are depicted as superheroes fighting a battle against a villainous antagonist. They have none of their quirks and complications that mire their real-world mythology. Zeus is simply heroic; he doesn't have any of his famous arrogance or sexual proclivities. Hera seems to be a doting housewife. Ares is aggressive. Hermes is a bit of a smartass. Hades is simply the villain instead of a deity filling his role.
The ending (spoiler) sees Zeus admitting to the unnamed protagonist that he and the other gods are trapped and want to be freed.
Here comes the potential for some interesting implications. Here, Dread Gods moves into the direction of being a satire of serialized superhero fiction, mainly stuff from the Big Two, as well as endless-by-design serialized media in general.
The gods of the Pantheon have been reduced to archetypes that haven't dealt with Hades because they're meant to never deal with him. Living as the Greek gods is escapism from a rapidly deteriorating world. It lives is a power fantasy for those who plug in to live it out. The gods will be trapped in this endless cycle forever.
Now, if you're read any of my other Bleeding Cool material, you know my love of DC and Marvel. They're most of what I review for the site because I have a passion for what they put out. That being said, this could easily be a smart and interesting satire of the type of stories the Big Two put out.
However, Dread Gods does have its flaws.
It's a pretty boring story on the surface. The battle between the Pantheon and the Hydra is all flash and no substance. Even if that was the point, it does nothing to engage the reader. While this is only a first issue, a better establishment of the endless cycle, if that truly is the intent of Dread Gods, would be very beneficial. As it is, I'm having to give this comic a good bit of leeway in assuming that it's intended to be satire and isn't just a story of the Greek gods as a boring version of the Justice League.
The dullness of the struggle and the simplicity of the gods' characters is also a bit unfair to Marvel and DC, and it only serves to add to the lack of substance the story brings. Marvel and DC put out a lot of quality comics these days with complex and interesting characters. They aren't all one-note, and the battles they fight are often fraught with complexities and genuine struggles beyond the physical. Watchmen did a similar thing 30 years ago, and all of its characters were interesting and nuanced.
We learn nothing of the protaganists' personalities or character, giving the reader nothing in which to invest.
The art is pretty solid, though, and it does capture the look of the kind of world where people live out their wish-fulfillment fantasies of being all-powerful superhero gods. The designs of the gods are pretty great, too. Zeus, Hera, and Ares all look really cool. Zeus has four arms, Hera turns into a naga snake-woman, and Ares is a centaur. The colors are flashy and bright too, creating a cohesive aesthetic.
This comic has interesting ideas, and seems to be hinting at a pretty cool satire. It just needs to flesh itself out more, and hopefully the follow-up issues will address the problems the first had. That being said, I can tentatively recommend this one.