Three #1 is a book that rewards a slow read. Too often I find myself breezing through comics, especially single issue, Big 2 superhero books. I couldn’t even estimate how many Batman comics I’ve read in my life, so when I read another my brain almost fills in and glosses over things it has seen before; rooftop meetings, shadow skulking, the Batmobile, swinging through Gotham. Am I really “reading” this stuff or is it just washing over me until something “new” presents itself? I need to slow down.
Kieron Gillen (Journey into Mystery, Phonogram) and Ryan Kelly (Local, New York Four) slowed me down.
I’ve been avoiding pre-release interviews, previews and spoilers since I started writing for The Outhouse, I prefer to come at a book with fewer pre-conceived notions, so my knowledge of Three before reading it was limited. It may somehow relate to the historical event dramatized in Frank Miller’s 300 is about as far as I got. The book opens with a short prologue in Lakonia, Greece where a group of Helots (slaves of the state) are slaughtered by a group of young warriors in a yearly ritual to keep the Helots subservient. The prologue closes with a shot that gives a different impression of Spartan warriors than 300 has led a reader to believe.
The book then shifts to an undetermined time after the attack, still in Lakonia, and we meet our Helot protagonists; Klaros, an injured former warrior, Damar, a widow (possibly of the prologue attack) and Terpander, who is best described as an entitled asshole. The dialogue here is slightly stylized but it’s not Thor or Conan-speak. It’s not modern English either; it more reminded me of the approach Brian Wood took with Northlanders. It’s also pretty snappy and there’s some clever verbal sparring between the three characters. The book then shifts to the same evening when a Spartan ruler shows up in the town and things very quickly go south for the Helots.
It’s a great first issue that sets up the main characters, does a good job establishing their personalities and then gets down to the action quickly. It also benefits immensely from the art team of Ryan Kelly on pencils and Jordie Bellaire on colors. Kelly does a great job drawing people of different ages and body types; he also specifically draws the Helots as subservient and beaten down. They look gaunt and underfed and once the Spartans show up they are cowed and humiliated. Bellaire is a great colorist, the Helots clothing is drab and gray while the Spartans wear deep, rich reds, she expertly renders a room lit by firelight and there’s a very cinematic shot of the arriving Spartans that is executed by a cool lighting “trick”. Between her and Kelly Three is a beautiful book.
Three is an easy recommendation to make to fans of Brain Wood’s Northlanders or Conan, Gail Simone’s Red Sonja or anyone interested in historical fiction. It’s something of a tonal departure for Kieron Gillen though it does remind me of his work on Avatar’s Uber. Kelly and Bellaire turn in a great looking book and I’m eager to see what the second issue holds.