An emperor amasses an army of hundreds of thousands, drawn from two continents, to invade a third continent and conquer a tiny, divided nation. Only a few hundred warriors stand against them. Yet the tiny nation is saved. It sounds like the plot of a preposterous fantasy novel. It is historical fact. In 481-480 B.C., King Xerxes of Persia raised forces in Asia and Africa and invaded Greece with an army so huge that it "drank rivers dry." Then they entered the mountain pass of Thermopylae and encountered 300 determined soldiers from Sparta....
Writer-artist Frank Miller and colorist Lynn Varley retell the battle of Thermopylae in the exciting and moving graphic novel 300. They focus on King Leonidas, the young foot soldier Stelios, and the storyteller Dilios to highlight the Spartans' awe-inspiring toughness and valor. Miller and Varley's art is terrific, as always; the combat scenes are especially powerful. And Miller's writing is his best in years. Read it.
Do not, however, read 300 expecting a strictly accurate history. The Phocians did not "scatter," as Miller describes. His Spartans are mildly homophobic, which is goofy in such a gay society. Miller doesn't say how many Greeks remained for the climactic battle--you'd think 300 Spartans and maybe a dozen others, when there were between 700 and 1,100 Greeks. Herodotus's Histories does not identify the traitor Ephialtes as ugly and hunchbacked, or even as Spartan. 300 establishes a believable connection between Ephialtes's affliction and behavior, but his monstrous appearance, King Xerxes's effeminacy, and the Persians' inexplicable pierced-GenX-African looks make for an eyebrow-raising choice of villain imagery. Nonetheless, 300 is a brilliant dramatization.
For the full story of the failed invasion, read Herodotus's Histories or, for a concise, graphic-novel retelling, Larry Gonick's great Cartoon History of the Universe: Volumes 1-7, From the Big Bang to Alexander the Great. For a lighthearted look at post-invasion Athens and a very young Alexander the Great, check out William Messner-Loebs and Sam Kieth's witty and gorgeous graphic novels, Epicurus the Sage Vol. I and Vol. II. --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
The Battle of Thermopylae ranks as one of the ancient world's most important events, where Spartan King Leonidas and his 300-man bodyguard met the massive army of Emperor Xerxes of Persia, who intended to add Greece to his empire. To no one's surprise, the Spartans were destroyed. While the battle bought the Greeks enough time to defeat the mighty Persians, it was more important for the metaphor it created: occasionally one has to lose to win. This is clearly the inspiration behind Miller's attempt to place this epic tale in the context of a graphic novel. A renowned comics artist and writer known for hard-boiled stories of almost operatic intensity and stylishly overwrought violence, Miller (Sin City) injects his own brand of graphic sensationalism into this ancient tale of national survival. Miller clearly isn't as interested in being a historian as he is in telling a story, but his portrayal of the ancient world is compelling. His drawings of the bearded Leonidas are pensive and starkly imperial. The Persian King Xerxes is represented as majestically African, his body covered in a gaudy and bejeweled network of meticulously rendered chains and bracelets. Form and content are ideally wedded: Miller's writing is stark, his drawings moody and dramatic, and intensified by Varley's grimly appropriate palette of earth and blood. The reader can see and feel the harshness of both the Grecian landscape and Sparta's battle-worshipping culture, as Miller presents the complex historical moment facing the 300. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.