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Today's book is entirely [profile] thespooniest's fault. I would like to note for the record that I have already read Thomas Disch's 334, so this is unlikely to happen again.

So you know how a while ago there was a movie of 300, and it was full of guys wearing leather g-strings, extraordinarily racially loaded caricatures of Persians, anachronistic talk about freedom in confusing ways, a quantity of CGI that turned everything this odd sort of sepia-gray-glowy, and random Sparta Does Not Work Like That moments? So that Luminosity, bless her, made this extremely apropos video to Madonna's 'Vogue' from it? I wound up seeing the thing in theatres, both because I went quite early, before I heard, and because, well, they do not make movies about Sparta often. Not that this was one, but there was hope? Except that there wasn't.

It turns out-- and this surprises me, because I didn't think Hollywood could work this way-- that that was the single most faithful film adaptation I have ever seen in my life. PEOPLE. EVERY LINE FROM THE COMIC BOOK IS IN THE MOVIE. THE ENTIRE SCRIPT OF THE COMIC BOOK IS IN THE MOVIE. ALL THAT STUFF ABOUT FREEDOM? IT WAS ACTUALLY THERE IN THE SOURCE MATERIAL.

The stuff the movie added was everything back in Sparta with Leonidas' wife, you know, the parts that kind of vaguely were maybe considering the economics of it all and also had, although terrible, some lines for a female character.

I just... I want to sit down with Frank Miller, and be all, so, Frank, are you aware that YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT AN EPHOR IS? And that the oracle at Delphi told the Spartans to GO AHEAD AND FIGHT? Not to mention, the oracle is at Delphi, not... up a mountain somewhere... and I realize that you desperately wanted to draw a scantily clad woman at some point in this book or else you would be unable to sleep at night, but this was a confusing way to do it.

Also, you have the Spartans mocking the Athenians for being democrats (CORRECT! This is THE ONE ACCURATE THING in the ENTIRE GRAPHIC NOVEL except for, and this should just not be the most accurate thing about your book, THE SPARTANS' HAIR), but you also have the Spartans mocking the Athenians for being pederasts.

Oh, Frank, Frank, Frank. If I were in the room with you, this is where I would beat you severely about the head and shoulders with a copy of James Davidson's The Greeks and Greek Love, which is fairly thick but should hopefully leave you only slightly concussed. It is mildly stretching things to say that the Spartans had same-sex marriage. Mildly. You can actually argue for it based on evidence, though of course it was not monogamous same-sex marriage, because heterosexual marriage was an economic thing which applied to people regardless of inclination [here is where I snip a seventy-five page digression on Greek marriage customs and social constructions of sexuality, just go read the Davidson, you can pick it up from the floor where it bounced off Frank Miller's head]. ANYWAY. You know who had a reputation for this sort of thing? NOT JUST THE ATHENIANS. The Athenians were more disapproving, really; in Sparta it was a military institution.

Let's not even get into the whole thing where the ephors get bribed by the Persians with huge piles of gold. Spartan coinage, Frank, was made of iron. Possession of a lot of gold would be going Against Lykourgos, which Did Not Happen. Also, there is no way physically for the Persians to have sent a lot of gold to Sparta at that time.

And the freedom speeches. Look, the Spartans were the closest thing to pure Communists ever to happen in real life, okay?

*gets down off high horse for a moment* I kind of understand what Miller was trying to do here. He wanted to do a Hemingway-esque stripped-to-the-bare-bone version of this story, a gritty macho drama of life and death and heroic struggle. The art's not bad for that; more than passable. The inks are intricate but never over-refined, and the colorist, Lynn Varley, deserved entirely the Eisner she won for this, because this is quite frankly one of the best coloring jobs I have ever seen. It makes instant visual sense out of pages that could easily have been muddy and impossible to parse, it focuses the eye subtly on portions of the art that are of narrative interest-- in fact it is designed to lead your eyes through the whole-page and two-page spreads-- and it sets the desired mood and tone better than any other element of the book. I am genuinely impressed by Varley's work here, and although she also worked on the movie, it unquestionably works better on paper.

However, for what Miller wanted, he needed to throw out his entire fucking script and start over. He has missed the first rule of being Macho And Cool: you never talk about how Macho And Cool you are. These men need to be talking about supplies and levies and heat and dust and sandal straps and are we there yet, because when people who are going to do a very difficult thing move to do that difficult thing, they do not talk about honor and duty and freedom and glory all the time. There are times for that, yes. Maybe twice in the book it would have been appropriate; the start of the battle, and when Leonidas comes face-to-face with Xerxes. (Don't get me started on the Persian character designs. AAGH. Historically they wore trousers, Frank! That's scary/wrong enough to a Greek!) But the rest of the time, practical things, or not at all. These are the people for whom we coined the word laconic, who never used two words when none would do. This book should have been almost wordless. Get rid of the speeches and the pointless additions to the backstory to make Leonidas seem more badass (seriously, the real Spartans would have eaten these people for breakfast) and that way when someone has to talk about honor and death it means something. Visual art form, Frank! I know it's a short script, but it should have been shorter!

And backed by MORE, by which I mean ANY EVIDENCE OF, research. And Ephialtes didn't need to look like that, the man had enough issues.

Thrud has been to the mound of the three hundred. I've seen her photographs. It's a pile of rocks. It is an incredibly moving pile of rocks. It is a more moving pile of rocks in an amateur photograph taken on a cell phone than anything that appears in this entire book.

That about sums up the problem right there.


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