Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review - 300

by Frank Miller; Colored by Lynn Varley
Hardcover edition designed by Mark Cox
1999 Eisner Winner for Best Limited Series
1999 Eisner Winner for Best Writer/Artist
1999 Eisner Winner for Best Coloring
2000 Eisner Winner for Best Production Design

I will promise you this right now: I will not type that over used meme in any way, shape, or form in this review.

Thanks to the movie from a few years ago even those people who couldn't name three other city states of ancient Greece are able to give a basic outline of the Battle of Thermopylae. On one side you have a gigantic army of one million Persians who are marching down the Grecian coast and conquering everything. On the other three hundred Spartans who chose to block the Persian army in order to cover the retreat of the rest of the Greek army. The only advantage the Spartans had was that they held a tiny pass and so they fought a battle that would be used until the end of time as a demonstration why massed frontal charges against an entrenched position is a bad idea.

(Okay, the history there is a bit off but everyone going back to the ancient historians felt the need to exaggerate the story and I don't want to be left out.)

Frank Miller takes that bit of history and turns the story of these three hundred Spartans into a glorious ode to machismo. 300 is the story of macho men from the world's most macho society doing macho things and saying the right macho words. There is no room for weak girly-men with the Spartans. Anyone who doesn't live up to their standards of perfect manhood should just go home since real men don't care about being outnumbered three thousand to one.

And Miller does this completely unironically. There is no nudge and wink to indicate that the harsh standards of the Spartans might not be the best thing in the world. While I doubt that Miller would actually advocate throwing imperfect infants off cliffs 300 works because in the context of the story it is the ideal way of making the perfect man. This is a version of story of Thermopylae that the Spartans would have approved of.

The only Spartan who is allowed to show less than absolute confidence that their band of three hundred men can defeat the Persian army is their leader Leonidas. And the reader only knows it because they get his internal monologues.

Miller's artwork is astonishing in 300. He uses silhouettes with an impressive effect throughout the book. It helps that he was clearly inspired by Greek art of that period and some of the posed and figures could have stepped right off an urn. He also designed the page layout to take advantage of a wider profile that gives 300 and huge, open view.

Where Lynn Varley found bronze watercolors I won't be able to figure out. The book is painted in red and bronze (when you're talking about Greeks bronze is only color that matters) with only occasional splashes of other color. It might make things a bit dull but the dappled colors give the artwork an additional texture that looks great.

I enjoyed 300 quite a bit as an over-the-top version of history. Miller's take on the Spartans is an extreme one but it is right for the story he created. The artwork never goes below impressive. That makes the package as a whole a stand out book for me. I can understand the tone of the 300 and the excessive violence putting off some readers but at the same time it's the entire point.