Comics - 300 (4 stars)

Frank Miller & Lynn Varley

300 (Dark Horse)

EPIC

Re-reading Frank Miller’s graphic novella in its landscape format hardcover edition (it was originally serialised as a five-issue comic book in 1998/99), it’s clear just how perfectly suited 300 is for the Hollywood blockbuster film adaptation that’s poised for nationwide release. Beyond the superficial similarity of the elongated page format and the shape of a cinema screen, Miller’s novel is thoroughly cinematic.

Graphic in more than one sense of the word, it’s both illustration heavy and text light not to mention exceedingly gruesome. Thus the story of the battle in 480BC between 300 Spartan warriors and the invading Persian Empire’s gigantic 100 nation strong army is told largely in visual terms, and with frequent recourse to some truly visceral violence. Moreover, Miller’s bold pen and inking and Lynn Varley’s painterly colouring combined are alternately striking and moody, reminiscent of the composition and lighting of film’s great cinematographers.

The storytelling’s also lean and mean. As is the case with Miller’s Spartan heroes: there’s no room in the novella for sentimentality. The only let up from the paired-down, fast-paced storytelling is the sparing use of black humour, for instance when the Spartan king, Leonides, amuses himself with the very idea of behaving in a civil manner towards the enemy while his captain finishes off wounded Persians with his spear. The novella jumps right into the action, pausing only for a brief flashback to recap how the Spartans eagerly embarked on a suicide mission, not just to save Greek civilisation but for the greater good of the glory of battle. And following the fifth chapter’s red-blooded arterial spray of a climax, there’s a one-page epilogue and final panel heralding yet more brutal action.

There’s little depth to the story contained within this slim volume. Subplot and subtext are in almost complete absence. As they are in the Hollywood blockbuster.

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