been a stigma about comics since their inception, and it's
that comics are juvenile and hold no redeeming value, save
for their pretty pictures.
of us who have been reading comics for years, starting when
we were children and maturing along with our comic books,
it's been an uphill battle to garner credibility for the literary
medium we love.
have been attempts at it (Alan Moore's Watchmen and
Art Spiegelman's Maus for example), and while these
works have gained some respect for comics in general, the
credibility is usually laid upon the writers and artists themselves,
rather than the medium. One book that has taken a significant
step in demonstrating the ability of comic books to tell historical
fiction, bringing with it the credibility that accompanies
such a genre, is Frank Miller's 300.
is the tale of the Battle of Thermopylai during the beginning
engagements of the Greco-Persian War in 480 B.C. It was here,
at a narrow mountain pass called The Hot Gates, that a force
of seven thousand Greeks, three hundred Spartan soldiers at
the forefront, managed to hold off the hordes of the Persian
god-King Xerxes, a force that dwarfed the small army of the
held the pass for three days, and it seemed they would be
able to endure the assault until a collaborator betrayed their
position. Persian soldiers took a small band of Greeks who
were holding a strategically indispensable position by surprise,
slaughtering them. When watchmen brought word of this to the
bulk of the army, most of the forces deserted, save for a
few brave volunteers, and all three hundred of the Spartans.
They met the forces of Persia and bloodied their spears before
succumbing to the vast numbers they faced. While the battle
was lost, this battle quickly fell into legend and helped
to inspire the rest of the Greek city-states to raise arms
and push the Persians back across the sea.
is as historically accurate as any other piece of historical
fiction, with Miller taking only a few artistic liberties
here and there. (An example is found during a panel depicting
the approaching Persian hordes, some riding elephants, which
the Persians did not employ.)
interesting twist, the story is told through the thoughts
of King Leonidas of Sparta (an actual historical character
rather than one crafted specifically for the sake of the story),
the commander of the Spartan forces. In telling the story
through Leonidas, Miller gives the reader an ancient Grecian
cultural education as the King encounters the demands of Spartan
law, butting heads with the corrupt priests of his community,
the Ephors, who will not allow him to raise a true army of
Spartans to counter the Persians. Also, the reader gets a
glimpse of the role and demeanor of women in ancient Sparta
during a brief encounter with Leonidas's wife, who tells Leonidas
to "Come back with your shield or on it."
all these smaller instances of historical accuracy, the overall
feel of the book conveys a deeply begrudging respect for the
Spartans. The Spartans themselves were warriors born and bred.
From the age of seven, Spartan boys began their training in
war and were enrolled into the army at twenty. They lived
in the barracks until they turned thirty, when they were allowed
to live at home with their wives. Those lucky few that made
it to sixty were permitted to retire, where they could then
join the paella, the legislative portion of their government.
The Spartans lived harsh lives and Miller truly captures the
feel for this in his treatment of the history.
also handles the art duties with his usual panache and flair.
While not as dark as most of his other work, Miller proves
that he is still the master of negative space, crafting very
detailed lines and dark and lingering shadows. The battle
scenes are appropriately bloody, and the reader doesn't miss
a single spear-thrusting second thanks to Lynn Varley's expert
coloring. Miller and Varley have been working together for
years and they blend their abilities seamlessly on paper.
Miller's battle scenes are a mass of action and Varley colors
as such; casting deep, cool colors around at times when the
action is slower, and fading to a gritty gray tinged with
blood spatter when depicting scenes of massive confrontation.
Expertly done on all accounts.
be a hard book to find at times. When Dark Horse Comics put
out the original issues, they had a low print run and the
comic itself is printed sideways (the book is wider rather
than longer), which made displaying it hard for comic sellers.
The collected edition is an oversized hardcover and it runs
pretty expensive at $30.00, but, should you not be a big fan
of capitalism (you rotten commies) and you don't plan to buy
it, 300 can be found at your local library: residing
there as a part of the recent trend wherein libraries are
starting to stock comic books. So grab your wallet, make sure
your library card is still in there, and find yourself a copy
should you find yourself reaching for the platinum card instead
of the library card, make sure you purchase through the Fanboy
Planet link provided so we can stay alive and continue providing
you, the readers, with free and fun opinions about the things
that matter most: comics, movies, and the false god we all
pray to, television.