Thursday, November 13, 2008
Fair Trade: 300
One of the more unusual developments which I have seen with the rise of comic book movies in the last decade or so is the assumption amongst "norms" that as a comic book fan, you are not only aware of every property which is 4 Color, but also that you are in fact quite knowledgable about it. Folks see that "based on the graphic novel" tag on a trailer and then go to their local nerd-resource for the info. (This query usually includes the "they're called 'graphic novels,' right?" question, to my eternal frustration. Does anyone who actually reads and collects comics call them "graphic novels" with the exception of actual OGNs? I dig it when Hollywood creates a stereotype!) It got to the point in 2007 that my wife's co-workers were asking her about the Silver Surfer because they assumed that, being married to me, she must know this stuff. (To my non-comic book reading wife's great credit, she retained enough of my ramblings over the years to give a solid description of the Surfer.) I am currently facing assumptions of this nature with Watchmen (as I am sure a lot of those reading this are as well), and I can fake it well enough for that. And while I have not had the chance to read that one yet, another such occurance happened with the comic we're looking at today, Frank Miller's 300.
(Also, can I use any more parenthesis in this post? Yeesh!)
Now, in the case of 300, faking it wasn't too hard, since I knew the story of the 300 Spartans already, and that's pretty much all you need to know. But, for those who aren't in the know, 300 details the story of King Leonidas, king of Sparta in 480 BC. Spreading into the Greek states is the ever growing Persian Empire, ruled by the great "god king" Xerxes. The Persian forces, their rankes swelled by conquered slaves, strange beasts such as elephants, and the elite Immortals, have overrun any who have dared resist them. But King Leonidas will not back down, as he mercilessly kills Xerxes' heralds, and then marches off with his 300 personal guard to Thermopylae, the "Hot Gates." The terrain at Thermopylae will negate the Persians overwhelming numbers, and give the superior trained Spartans the advantage. But can even the tightly-knit machine of the Spartan phalanx stand up to the overwhelming forces of the Persian Empire?
If you've seen the film version, 300 holds up quite nicely, in no small part because of director Zach Snyder's slavish devotion to Miller's visuals. If you haven't seen it, well, you should probably be prepared for what may very well be the most entertainingly violent piece of anachronism ever commited to page. Miller's structure (wherein the tale is being told by a storyteller) allows for hyperbole and exageration of a tall order; the battles on display approach fantastical despite their historic roots. Miller's linework is reminiscent of his work on Sin City, only in color this time, thanks to Lynn Varley, with less shadows for the characters to hide in. The characters themselves run the gamut, from the bulging Spartan soldiers to the strangely Asiatic Persian Immortals and the lanky, bejeweled divine emperor Xerxes.
As befitting a comic book series which was adapted to film, every page is actually a two page spread, made even more emphatic in the oversized hardcover. The result is a truly "widescreen" appearance, but the downside of this is that it makes 300 a very short read -- in fact, it'll take you a little longer to watch the film than to read the hardcover. Admittedly, there's an extra subplot in the movie, but still, it's a rousing adventure but it doesn't last very long. As noted, you also probably shouldn't use this as a source for your history report on the ancient Spartans, either, but this is a work of historical fiction, after all.
Fans of the film, or of Frank Miller in general, will definitely want to track down a copy and read this one. Folks with a sharp eye and good memory will recognize all of the panels which Snyder used as his storyboards, and Miller's fanbase tends to eat up whatever he does, but this one is standout. If you are not prone to liking Miller, I don't think 300 will change your mind as it still contains his usual excesses. Similarly, if you like your history more, well, historical, then you should probably give this one a pass. Still, this is a superior effort in a historical era not often represented in the 4 Color world, and most will themselves wrapped up in King Leonidas and his brave Spartans stand against the unending hordes of the Persians.