When you think of Spartans and comics, there’s one story that comes to mind, the epic 300 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. That classic comic (and awesome movie) retold the story of the Battle Of Thermopylae, where only 300 heroic Spartans stood against the huge might of the Persian army, protecting the West’s freedom against the evil slavers. Only of course, the real world is more complicated than that, as the Spartans themselves had many slaves, The Helots. In this new mini-series, Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly are showing a rather more realistic depiction of what the Spartans were like, and whilst it can’t ever be 100% accurate (Gillen’s essay at the back was very interesting in this regard), and though I still love 300, this looks like being a very good story.
I was initially worried at the idea of a ‘politically correct’ response to 300, as it’s kind of Tumblry pussy bullshit, but Gillen isn’t really doing that, he’s telling his own story, and showing a different side to this ancient culture, and doing so successfully, and with a lot more humanity than Frank Miller could these days.
After a shocking opening sequence which demonstrates the harsh lot of the Helots, and the shocking brutality of the Spartans, Gillen introduces us to the characters that I assume are the titular ‘three’ Helots. There’s Klaros, a taciturn man who was injured in the war, Terpander, a talkative, cocky kind of guy who is sort of the leader of this particular group of Helots, the ‘first amongst lessers’, and Damar, a woman, who at this point doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, except that she seems the most accepting and driven down of the slaves. The scars on her face would seem to indicate an interesting back-story, and since Gillen normally writes good women, I expect she’ll develop a lot more in the remaining issues.
After introducing these main characters and their interpersonal dynamics, the Helots are visited by a passing group of Spartan warriors, who assert their dickish dominance, forcing the Helots to get drunk. They even force Klaros, who has a weak stomach, and when he vomits up the wine, they tell everyone else to lick up the sick. Terpander sticks his foot in it when he says that one of the Spartans would not have been able to serve with the 300 at Thermopylae, and whilst he manages to dig himself out of it (men with no sons did not fight that battle), he only gets in more trouble, as he tells the story of a Helot uprising against the Spartan’s namesake. In response to this, the Spartan leader declares that ‘everyone dies’, and well, the slaughter begins.
I’ve ben a big fan of Ryan Kelly’s art ever since Local, and whilst that was tonally very different to Three, his arc on Northlanders, which was Viking, rather than Greek history was excellent, and he carries that same style here. Everything here seems very real, and since Kelly is an artist who most often works in present-day settings, it does feel contemporary, there’s no disconnect with the past, the people are just people. And when it’s time to bring the blood and gore, he brings it, and then some. The colours from the suddenly ubiquitous Jordie Bellaire are of course fantastic, she is such a good colourist, and man, she’s doing everything, she’s like the Wolverine of colourists.
This was a strong opening issue, even if the main story of 3 slaves on the run is yet to begin. Gillen manages to introduce 2 interesting characters, and the other one is almost there, as well as reveal some illuminating stuff about the real Spartans. He’s not deconstructing 300 really, just being more accurate. You have to decide what you want in your Spartan comics, accuracy, or bad-ass violence. But then again, this book does have it’s own fair share of bad-ass violence, so it’s win win, if you love 300 or loathe it, you’ll probably like Three.