Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly’s historical tale gets a lot more interesting in this second issue as we learn more about the other side of the story. Not our three main Helot heroes, but the Spartans who will be chasing them.
The issue begins with some glorious slaughter, with the Spartans killing all the Helots thanks to their insolence last issue. Gillen wisely leaves this relatively dialogue-free, allowing Kelly’s excellent art to tell the story and show the blood-shed. Klaros, the taciturn Helot with a limp has ran outside to dig out his sword to fight back, but all throughout he is telling himself to just run away, to not be stupid. But in the end, he is stupid, going back to save his friends and kill some Spartans. He struggles against one warrior, but he and Terpander manage to work together to take him down. That leaves just the head Spartan, the old man, who yeah, they kill. His son bursts in, and, seeing what they’d done to his dad and the others, flees back to Sparta. What can the three Helots do now? The answer is simple… run.
Gillen then moves the story to Sparta, where we see a group of young boys being told a fable about Sparta, and about how just being born a Spartan doesn’t mean they will become great warriors, they still have to work for it. Kleomenes, the current King of Sparta (they have 2, it’s odd) overhears this, and notes that the fable has changed since he was a child, that back in his day, the story did not give being born Spartan as much importance. This is a clever way to show how, at this point in time, Sparta was not the force it once was. He talks with his friend Tyrtaios about it, and his life as a newly married man. It’s here that Gillen does a very good job at exploring the Spartan attitude towards sex, and in particular homosexuality, as Kleomenes and Tyrtaios are former lovers. In Spartan society, the woman strive to be as strong in battle as the men, and the men strive to be as good at fucking other men as the women. It’s a well-written scene that never gets too obvious, and it’s a nice retort to 300, which presented the Spartans as not being gay. I find Gillen’s depictions of gay characters in Young Avengers a bit lacking and heavy-handed, but this was much better.
The King is on his way to a meeting of The Ephors, the council that rules Sparta alongside him. It turns out that the old man the Helots killed was an Ephor, and that they are sending the King out to hunt them down in revenge. This scene was a little confusing, if he’s the King, why are these old dudes telling him what to do? And wait, they have 2 Kings? I recommend reading the back-matter interview between Gillen and Spartan expert Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, which explains a lot of the Spartan political system, and clears up these events. So, Kleomenes is sent off to track down 3 Helots… with 300 men. Hardly a fair fight is it?
This was a strong issue, it brought the violence thanks to Ryan Kelly’s wonderful art (he draws some awesome naked statues too!), and whilst the political stuff is a bit confusing, it doesn’t matter too much. We know the score now, 3 against 300, the rest of this mini-series is going to be insane.