The creator of legendary titles like Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City, Frank Miller, in 1998 wrote a historically inspired graphic novel, which, while not in the same league as the aforementioned titles, is an indispensable part of his career as a writer and illustrator. 300, the graphic novel based on the Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.) in Greece, is a heroic tale of 300 Spartan soldiers making their last stand against the colossal Persian army.
While there is much to criticize in 300, what stands out most in this book are the double-paged spreads in striking artwork. Written and illustrated by Frank Miller and painted by Lynn Varley, the artwork is dark, firm lines, washed out colours with a prominence of a dull yellow and the characteristic Spartan red which fits the warm and difficult summers of the warring Greece perfectly. It’s comparisons to Sin City would be unwarranted, given lack of diversity of colour and the stark difference in setting.
Inspired by The 300 Spartans, a movie which Miller encountered as a young boy, depicts the King Leonidas of Sparta take a group of 300 soldiers to make their last stand in a suicidal battle at “The Hot Gates”, the narrow coastal passage of Thermopylae. The idea is to defend a stronghold which prevents them being overwhelmed by the sheer number of the Great Persian army led by Xerxes. We see Leonidas inspire his men. He is a charismatic and yet laconic character who’s sarcasm stands out, particularly in his interaction with Xerxes. While I will refrain from spoiling the relatively simple plot for the few who aren’t familiar with the narrative, the story is not what is special about 300. It is essentially Miller’s theatrical portrayal of one of the most celebrated last stands in history depicted in a manner in which the intensity of a battlefield drips from the pages. Needless to say, there’s an unrestricted depiction of violence. However, we also get to see much of the history of Leonidas depicted in the story as flashbacks as they march towards the Hot Gates. His treatment of the Spartans within their city is also striking and his knowledge of the city shows.
However, there is one thing that needs to be pointed out to new audiences of the book. The depictions of the Spartans in their attire, that of Xerxes, the lack of depiction of the hypocrisy of the Spartans in their slander towards the Athenians are all historical inaccuracies that stand out for those familiar with the actual history of the war. This is a romanticized tale of the Spartans which is essentially black and white while history tells us the real story had shades of grey (No, never meant that pun!)
Having said that, the book is an important part of Miller’s bibliography, up there with the likes of Ronin. If you’re a history nut, you might want to avoid this, but for the Miller fans, this is indispensable reading. For those of you who’re still on the edge, go pick up this book. Regardless of what anyone says, it’s difficult indeed to not thoroughly enjoy a book like 300.