Wednesday, 30 September 2009

That Is Why - Sub Mariner: The Depths Isn't What You'd Think

Wow. Hello. Welcome to a new feature. It's a thing.

... Uh... A thing... About comics?

No? Yes, vague I know.

... Urm... OH! Yeah, this one's about Sub Mariner: The Depths.

Which... Isn't about the Sub Mariner, REALLY.

Still, in this new feature I'll be explaining the comic, why it's great and so on.

Mainly though, I'll be confused. Well that or focus mainly on what it is and how it isn't what you'd think.

Confused? Yeah I know.


Now that I've gotten the confusion all out of me I can get to the point. This is NOT a comic you would buy because you're a fan of Namor. Mainly because NO-ONE is a fan of the Sub Mariner. I mean why would you be? He hasn't had a good series in... Well I've never read a good series featuring him. Sure people'll bring up how good he is in Civil War or Stan Lee's Fantastic Four stuff, but can you HONESTLY say you've enjoyed, let alone read any series where he's the star?


No. No you haven't. Mainly because there aren't any readers here. Still who can blame you? A really crappy series spinning out of Civil War? EH. Weak 12 issue series in 2003? PAH!.... Uh... I think that's it unless you jump back to the late 90s.

Character's shit. One tone. Bland. Royal blah blah blah. Dark Reign stuff... Etcetera. So how do you make such a character awesome?


Seriously make him look this sinister in all the sub mariner comics and I'd love them regardless of how awful they are. But as I've said this book isn't what you think. How? Well, Namor's barely in it for starters.

"WAIT, WHAT?!" I hear... I don't know... Three of you say? Yeah that's a good number. Yeah, so I hear you three say wait what and I say "I KNOW!". But trust me, that's exactly why this is a great Sub Mariner comic. It isn't about Namor. Except it is. It's about the conceptual entity that is Namor for the most part, and one man's attempts to remain sceptical in the face of horror and his own mind. In fact yeah let's talk about that guy.

This is Dr. Stein, professional sceptic (debunker?) and best villain-looking moustache of the piece. More on facial hair later maybe. Dr. Stein is a ridiculously deep look at the non-believer, someone who rejects everything and despite what even he himself sees will fight to the end that it is untrue. Throughout the course of this comic we see him lead a submarine voyage to prove Atlantis and Namor don't exist. OH and make sure some people aren't dead in the process. On this fantastic voyage he is generally a huge douchebag and steadily goes insane, seeing things that go against his beliefs like, say, a pointy toothed fish-man or just general spooky shit. As far as seeing a character develop over a storyline this man is up there with... I don't know. A really well developed character. I'm not sure who I coulda said there.

Perhaps that's the biggest thing that makes this completely different to anything you'd expect. Character's all at least APPEAR to have depth. Some will only get seconds of air-time and you'll still get the gist of their character. When you open a comic expecting it to be about Namor and his faceless Atlantean soldiers you can never expect to get a great character driven analysis of madness and the nature of human beings. In fact you don't expect that from pretty much any Marvel comic nowadays.

To wrap up I really have to highlight the ending. Without spoiling too much it has a sense of tragedy like no other and reminds you that humans are ultimately pathetic beings as prone to being killed, lying, deceiving and going to extremes for their beliefs, even in the face of ultimate proof. I can't see there being an ending this interesting in another Marvel comic. Yeah, you could even say that it has DEPTH AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA *slap* ow!

So yeah, a brilliant Sub Mariner comic. And some writing where I haven't had to talk about flippin' moments, the writer OR the artist (though I must quickly mention that I haven't liked Ribic's art outside of this). A good day.

And now you know why Sub Mariner: The Depths isn't what you'd expect.

Next time?: more images to make the text more bearable

Friday, 25 September 2009

5 Days of Death: The Death of Captain Marvel

Ladies and gentlemen, the finale of the 5 Days of Death, the Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin. This was the first numbered Marvel graphic novel and, as you may guess, it deals with Captain Marvel's death. Mar-Vell is a Kree warrior, an alien with powers of cosmic awareness and Nega-Bands that lend him massive strength. However, even the strongest of warriors may fall -after the jump, that is.

First thing's first - exposition ho!

Full disclosure; when I first read this I had very little idea of who or what this incarnation of Captain Marvel was. It's one of those mantles that has been taken up by many heroes. I thought Captain Marvel was the black woman in Secret Wars - which, of course, she was. This tidy bit of exposition cleared everything up - in the space of three pages you get enough information to ground your understanding of the character. There's even a nice little character moment at the end, as Eros worries about his friend.

Anyway, Marvel and these Mentor and Eros fellows are going to the spaceship of Thanos (Mentor's other son), who I do remember as being an evil bastard. Since there doesn't seem, to be a Mrs Mentor, he probably was an actual bastard, but that's besides the point. Thanos was defeated when almost all of the heroes in the Marvel universe teamed up to take him down. He was turned into stoned by Adam Warlock (?) and now his family have come to take him back to Titan and be buried. When they arrive on the spaceship, however, they are ambushed by fanatical followers of Thanos. The three heroes defeat them easily, but Captain Marvel seems winded...

Hmm, maybe he's dying. In all seriousness, there's a real sense of peril here, as the powerful figure of Marvel is suddenly weak and helpless. After returning to Thanos, Mentor confirms what Captain Marvel fears - he is dying of seemingly incurable cancer, following a fight with Nitro a few years ago. He was exposed to a large amount of nerve gas, which seems to have incubated into cancer via comic logic. His Nega-Bands have kept the cancer in check, but now it's taking over and slowly killing him. This leads to an unhappy situation - Marvel must tell his lover Elysius that he is dying, and it's presented in a really classy way...

The subtle way Captain Marvel tells her of his illness is really awesome, as is Mentor looking on silently and then leaving the two of them alone. This is a great example of scenes without dialogue done well. This could technically be called decompression, but this isn't lazy like other culprits. Every panel is different, slowly progressing the scene in an emotive way.

Anyhoo, Captain Marvel goes to see his human friend Rick Jones, to tell him about his illness. Turns out, Rick is a dick.

Yeah, don't console your dying friend, make it about you. Captain Marvel is showing genuine concern for his friend by getting him checked out (their whole bonding thing could potentially affect Rick) and Rick responds by yelling at him. I'm not that familiar with the character, but either this is out of character, bad writing (unlikely considering the high quality elsewhere) or Rick Jones is one of those characters I would find annoying as all hell. You know what I mean, the whiny annoying sidekick presumably added to be someone for the reader to identify himself with; but why would you want to identify with a random kid when you could be Captain Marvel? Unless he's dying of cancer, that is.

The search for a cure goes on (though in a book called 'The Death Of Captain Marvel' I wouldn't expect much) while many of Earth's heroes turn up to pay their respects to the Captain, who has collapsed and is bedridden...

This is an OK group shot, but I have a few issues. I also have a few problems with the picture above. Why is Franklin Richards there? Bringing a small child to see a guy die is a bit odd. Why is the Human Torch powered up and dicking about with Spider-Man? That's more than a little inappropriate. Most noticeable of all, what the hell is going on in the middle? It looks like Hulk is flirting with Tigra, and this is pissing off Namor and Hercules for some reason. It doesn't make sense that everyone seems to be dicking about on such a solemn occasion.

Among the people showing up is Dick Jones the Dick, who has the typical reconcilement expected of the annoying whiny sidekick...

Yeah, well, he's still a dick. Also; final panel almost makes it seem like they're having sex in there. Hmm.

Presumably, seeing Dick Jones the Dick again was too much for Captain Marvel; he slips into a coma and approaches death....

This is a touching moment and all, but what is up with Mentor's expression? His good friend has just passed into a coma, and he has this weird little vicious smirk going on. I also find a bit odd that Ghost Rider is there - bit inappropriate to have a flaming skull hanging around as a dude is dying. This doesn't really draw away from the effect of this page; it's still awesome.

While the heroes stand over Captain Marvel, he dreams of Thanos...

Here begins a pretty cool segment of Captain Marvel, as he fights Thanos and several other foes to try and save his soul. It's a fairly good bit of symbolism, as Marvel is really fighting the cancer in his body. Eventually all of his enemies have fallen except for Thanos. The Captain attacks him and overpowers him...

Wow. That is classy as hell. As far as deaths go, this rivals Jean DeWolff's three page life flashing before her eyes. The idea of Marvel's heart soul stopping is great, as is the way Marvel accepts his fate and embraces the true face of death. The reaction of Mentor and the other heroes tops it off, with the act of Mentor turning off the machine representing Marvel's final departure from the world.

This was a strong graphic novel for Marvel to start their numbered line with; it has a good mix of action and emotion. I wasn't really emotionally attached to the character at all when i picked this up, but by the end I was truly moved.

And now back to your regular programming - Max is back.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

5 Days of Death: Watchmen

What to say about Watchmen? It's been described as 'A landmark in the graphic novel medium' by Time magazine, 'Peerless' by Rolling Stone and 'The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced' by Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost. Are these accolades that I would agree with? Well, Watchmen is certainly a landmark in the medium simply because of the influence it has exerted over subsequent graphic novels and comics. I would not, however, call Watchmen the greatest piece of popular fiction, nor would I call it peerless. In my own humble opinion, Moore himself has written a better novel - From Hell with Eddie Campbell - and while Moore is my personal favorite writer in the comic medium, he has many peers of comparable talent. I would also not say that Watchmen is the best superhero story ever, although it may be the best story about superheroes.

I'll explain. Moore has demonstrated a complex understanding of the psyche of the superhero over his career. He has experience writing for most of the major DC heroes, he has created dozens of credible superhero characters, and the best way to sum up his work for Marvel is probably to point out that he coined the name of the main Marvel universe, 616. M
oore has also worked with Rob Liefeld, but I try to dwell on that as little as possible. Needless to say, the man knows his heroes; and in Watchmen he seems to be presenting us with classic hero archetypes, bringing them into the real world and exploring how they would work. Let us take one example of the origin of one of the Watchmen heroes. An amazingly powerful being suddenly appears in the USA in the middle of a war, becoming the ultimate deterrent. This is Dr Manhattan, but it is also Superman, with a fair dose of Captain America (and, of course, Captain Atom). In the realistic world of Watchmen, however, Dr Manhattans wholly alien nature causes him to drift away from humanity, and his unbelievable power engenders nihilism and fear in the people of the world. If Superman really had landed on Earth in 1938, the result would be far more like Watchmen than the fictional canon of the character.

The other characters/case studies in Watchmen draw their own parallels to popular, famous superheroes. At a basic level, each of them is an analogue of a Charlton comics character because Moore's original intention was to use said characters; so Rorschach is the Question (and Mr A), Nite Owl II is Blu
e Beetle II, the Comedian is Peacemaker, and so on. To continue, Rorschach also has a lot of Batman in him, fueled by a burning desire to avenge his traumatic childhood; taking out his repressed rage on what he sees as the scum of the world. The rest of Batman goes into Nite Owl, who also has aspects of Iron Man. Powerless but augmented by technology (albeit to a primative degree), possessed of a financial inheritance that gives him the freedom and means to become a hero, and having an armed, crime-fighting craft in the style of the night animal he admires. Like Tony Stark (and arguably Batman), Dreiberg (Nite Owl) has his own personal problems; rather than a spiral of depression and alcoholism, he is completely impotent, metaphorically and literally, without his costume.

The many similarities between the characters of Watchmen are, I am certain, wholly intentional. The novel is like a cultural mirror, reflecting the distorted logic of the mainstream comic heroes. Putting aside technical issues, such as the hypothesis that Spider-Man's arms would be dislocated or ripped off as soon as he started swinging with any real speed, the heroes of Marvel and DC are inherently unrealistic. Moore seems to be pointing out that the motivations that would cause someone to want to take the law into their own hands, instead of, say, becoming a cop or founding a charity, are so warped that anybody possessing them would have personal issues of some kind. These are people who spend their days living a normal life and their nights running across rooftops and viciously beating petty thieves.

In my view, Watchmen is a critique of the superhero genre. It's also a tight, gripping story with great potential to be re-read. Moore's layouts are superb, as is the art by Dave Gibbons, but the real magic lies in the way Moore copies and subverts the popular superheroes of the time as the narrative progresses. For this reason, I have endeavored to avoid spoiling anything beyond the set-up of the book; if you haven't read Watchmen I hope I have persuaded you to. If you have read it, I hope you found the above illuminating. Feel free to comment below.

Note - Max will be back by Saturday, making this my penultimate graphic novel review. Tomorrow's finale will be The Death of Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin, in honor of Max's 5 Days of Death.


5 Days of Death: Spider-Man - Spirits of the Earth

The Marvel Graphic Novel series was an early 80s-early 90's effort, and featured stories on many Marvel heroes. It also introduced several heroes and teams. This particular 1990 graphic novel, Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth, was written and illustrated by Charles Vess; according to the back blurb, it was 'painstakingly painted over the course of two years'. Wow, a 72 page comic whose art took two years. The art should be outstanding, right? Hit the jump to find out.

Hmm. Well, it's pretty good, yeah, but two years of time to draw comes out at more than 10 days a page. Most artists can turn out the art of a 22 page comic in that time if they work intensively. It's not that the art is bad, just that it doesn't seem to justify the time taken on it. I do like the writing here, though. It's very evocative, making the reader feel like they're swinging through the city, and this can be hard for a writer to do. It's pretty impressive, but ruined a bit by Peter's inane thought 'It's magic tonight!' What's magic? The city is magic? Webswinging is magic? The theme of the story is magic? The third one is true, by the way.

Although we start in New York, the action quickly moves...

Wait, MJ has a relative in Scotland now? A relative called MacLeod... I know that's a fairly common surname, but when I first read this I had to yell 'There can be only ONE!' So, Peter and MJ have to go to Scotland to sort out some legal issues to do with the sale of land. However, there is trouble in the Highlands; The local Laird (lord) Sir Hugh's heir, his only grandson, has gone missing, and there are rumours that faeries or ghosts were responsible. Sir Hugh, for one, believes the rumours, and has a nice little outburst down at the local pub.

I know this is mainly exposition and plot mechanics, but the most impacting thing here is still the mediocre art. A lot of the faces have an odd, angular quality about them; they look like coloured sketches that Vess didn't have time to finish. This gives the story a very unnatural feel, and doesn't really help me get into the plot at all.

Anyway, Peter decides to to check out Sir Hugh's castle (derelict since a fire damaged the roof). He doesn't have more than the briefest of looks, however, before a sinister wailing draws him outside, where a troupe of ghosts has assembled...

And a very big Harro to you too.

Friendly fellow. Also, is it just me, or is Peter's recovery at the top of the third page a little hard to decipher? I mean, I can work out that he spins, webs the wall, turns again to hit it with his shoulder and then turns once more to 'stand' on the wall, but it's a bit obscure. The lack of any background in the second panel doesn't help, either. Final afterthought - Peter's bed back at the hotel is beginning to look real good? Can he see it? That makes no sense.

Anyway, everyone at the town, including MJ, has gone to a meeting to discuss the selling of land. Spidey is watching in the rafters but, when everyone is leaving, another group of ghosts illuminate Peter, and the townspeople chase after him, thinking him a demon...

I don't buy the peril here at all. Spider-Man can leap great distances, and can run faster than a normal human. He wouldn't have any trouble in getting away from the townspeople and hiding somewhere; but then he wouldn't have to be saved by Mairi, the woman from the pub, and then she wouldn't have been established as on his side. Anyway, Mairi convinces the townspeople into letting her deal with Spider-Man, and sends him off to find out just what is really going on in the castle...
Boo to you too? That's like the opposite of badass.

Talk about trial by fire; good thing that ghost wasn't real. Where's the generator that's making all this humming? It must be quite big, say as big as a car? Big as a bus? Big as a building?
Ha! Ha Ha! HA!

That... that subverts ridiculous. That makes ridiculous seem rational. Falling off a helicopter, liquidizing a random old guy and escaping unharmed? Makes sense when compared to someone somehow having the means and motive to build, staff and supply a massive city under a castle in the Scottish highlands without anyone noticing. I mean, there is traffic down there! Is this some sort of civilization? Spidey tries to find out what the heck is going on, and promptly gets captured...

So it was Angus, the nephew of Sir Hugh, who found a massive crystal here and got funding from the Hellfire Club to build a complex machine that will soon be able to harness the power of the crystal and allow him to control nature. Incidentally, he has lasers that can partially harness the power of the crystal to make ghosts appear in the castle. I don't have to explain how absurdly stupid this is, do I? At least it can't get any worse...

*slaps head*

This is really getting to be too much. You can't explain that the magic isn't actually magic, and then explain that it is magic! The worse thing it that it's so well written it almost works, but instead collapses under it's own pretension. Speaking of collapsing under it's own pretension, the ridiculous cavern itself starts falling apart, which gets Spidey out of a tricky spot...
Leaving a dead Sir Hugh, Spidey fights his way to the surface for the final showdown with Angus. I hope that broken arm that is broken won't stop Peter, but he can always use the arm that isn't broken. Y'know, instead of the one which has been established as broken...
Seriously? From the way Spidey is socking Angus in the stomach, his arm isn't broken. What is the point of introducing an injury if you aren't going to bother with obvious continuity issues? I also like the way Peter is thinking about Angus's suicide in past tense, on the same page on which it happened and seemingly before he has actually died. Talk about getting over it fast. As Angus dies, the cavern roof presumably collapses, creating a huge hole that is flooded to form a vast, clear blue loch (lake), but leaving the castle above the surface.

Time for a one page epilogue!
Sorry, but did they just refer to the kid as Sir Hugh? The old guy was Sir Hugh. I've just checked through the comic, and it seems that both characters are called Sir Hugh. What's more, I've also found a reference to the young Sir Hugh being the old Sir Hugh's nephew, when he is also described as his grandson. Why is a prepubescent child a knight? He's the new laird now his grandfather is dead, but being a laird doesn't make you a knight, it makes you a laird. Needless to say, the character continuity is all over the place. This is an ok ending to a very mediocre comic. It's not an awful read, but it won't serve for much more than a half hour's distraction, and has pretty much no reread value because of the silly twists. Read it if it's at a library, I guess, but don't go out of your way.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

5 Days of Death: The Question - Epitaph For A Hero

I was randomly leant a trade paperback from the late 80's Question series by a friend. The character was originally created by Steve Ditko for Charlton comics; when Charlton went into decline, DC bought the rights and, a few years after, gave the character his own series. Written by Dennis O'Neil and drawn by Denys Cowan with help from Rick Magyar, this series gave the Question a semi-reinvention, giving him a new outfit and a more zen outlook. The hero's alias is Vic Sage, reporter for one of the main news stations in Hub City, the fictional setting. Hit the jump, to learn a bit more about Vic Cage...

By the way, he's very bendy.

The Question is a faceless vigilante who tackles corruption in the city he lives in. Whenever Vic Sage the reporter cannot solve a problem, he becomes the Question. He's highly trained and athletic, but has no powers; relying on advanced martial arts training and peak physical fitness. He's a bit like the stock hard-boiled detective character from every film noir ever, or what Batman would be if he wasn't so camp.

Anyway, let's see what goes on in that head...

Well, being buried alive by crazy ex-soldiers will do that to you. In a fairly brave idea, the Question spends an entire issue buried alive, trying to last as long as possible. The leader of the soldiers imprisoning him is trying to prove that no-one is tougher than he, who cracked after around 3 days of similar treatment. He says that if the Question survives longer than that, he will earn his freedom. The Question promptly does so, and thus an arguement breaks out...

Jees, there's honor and then there's shooting yourself for no reason. I guess I can sorta understand why the leader kills himself - the Question has dishonored him- but why the hell did the other two do it too? Trying to be popular? Bloody conformists. I guess the moral of the story is that the Question can survive through any situation, no matter how much Deus Ex Machina has to be deployed. He's winging it, making James Bond look like a master strategist.

If you were wondering how Vic Sage becomes the Question, wonder no more. He has a rolled up mask made of special chemicals that sticks to his face that he hides in his belt buckle. Said buckle also releases a gas that changes the colour of his clothing and hair, like so...I like this transformation a lot, actually, because it is more logical than a lot of heroes. I mean, can we really believe that Peter Parker wears a fully body suit under his clothes at all time? One with gloves and big boots? No way. All the Question needs is his belt and a suit that is treated to react to the gas. Sure, the science makes no sense, but this is a comic book so I can forgive a few chemical impossibilities. Ok, haven't had anything awesome in a while... Let's think. Oh, yes, I got it...

Yeah, the descendants of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are terrorizing Hub City, targeting the last cop who isn't corrupt. Sundance gets captured after attacking the cop a second time, but Butch breaks him out, and they fly off the roof of the police station - but not before Vic catches a ride...

Huh? I'm sorry, but that has to be the stupidest, most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in a comic. I guess the first bit is taking the piss out of how heroes seem to grab onto helicopters all the time, but then it completely undermines itself by having a random old guy (introduced at the start as waiting for the angel of death) happen to be standing right under where the Question lands. This is another example of the Question winging it and somehow getting out of an impossible situation completely unharmed. What's more, I'm pretty sure that if the collision pretty much liquidated the old guy, there is no way anyone could get away without major injuries. People, even sick old people, are not squidgy cushions; we're full of bones, and I'm willing to bet that in a real life situation like this, the falling person would have worse injuries than the person they land on, because they have all the momentum.

Oh, and the 'Tot' guy? I have no idea either. Understanding landlord? Childhood friend? Gay lover?

Speaking of characters who are probably gay, guess who turns up next...

Yeah, Sage picks up a copy of Watchmen and starts dreaming he is Rorschach. This is a very clever conceit, because Rorschach was based heavily on the Charlton Comics version of The Question, since Watchmen was originally going to be inhabited by Charlton Comics characters. So, basically, we have here a character looking for inspiration from a character that was inspired by the character looking for inspiration... Bit of a creative paradox, I guess. That said, I think each of us could afford to take a moment every now and then to ask ourselves a very important question...

...What Would Rorschach Do (WWRD)
'He'd kick ass' is probably going to be the answer you'll get most of the time.

Unfortunately, this doesn't quite work, and Sage gets taken out into the middle of a snowy wasteland to be executed. When asked for his last words, Sage simply says 'Yeah. Rorschach sucks'. I'm really loving this Rorschach stuff. Suddenly, his captors are interrupted by...

'Question, I'm real happy for you, and imma let you finish, but Rorschach was one of the best trench-coat wearing heroes of all TIME'

Seriously though, nice interception. Green Arrow frees Sage (eventually) and they approach the base. First, however, Green Arrow takes out the lights...

... using his potent powers of decompression. Time for me to get on my soapbox; I don't mind the occasional use of decompression, but the relentless repetition of the same images that began to filter into comics around this time really irritate me. It's lazy, and it's boring; there are lots of interesting ways to show Green Arrow doing what he's doing above, without resorting to boring filler to take up another page of a story that isn't as long as you were hoping it would be.

Moving along to the final showdown...

I do like the standoff ending, though it's a bit silly to say an ace archer could load, aim and fire faster than an ace gunman could draw. It's also a bit odd that the Question has hardly anything to do, considering this is his comic. He doesn't really need to be here; having one of the heroes do everything kinda defeats the point of team-ups.

Well, in closing, I enjoyed this book a fair bit, it has a lot of gaping flaws. Clever dialogue is countered by moments of ridiculous plotting, awesome action moments are countered by bizarre situations, and a well executed Watchmen parallel is countered by yards of relentless decompression. All told, I would warily recommend this trade to readers, but I won't be in a hurry to read the others in the series.

Monday, 21 September 2009

5 Days of Death: 300

Note- Apologies for the cropped nature of these scans; 300 is a wide book and so it was hard to fit whole pages on my scanner.

300, written and drawn by Frank Miller and colored by Lynn Varley, is a 5 part graphic novel about the last stand of Leonidas of Sparta at the battle of Thermopylae. This was the first Frank Miller I ever read, having bought it after seeing the film adaptation - an entertainingly stupid testosterone fest. I found the book to be just as entertaining, but slightly less stupid. After the jump I'll detail a few of the scenes I found most entertaining or notable. By the way, there will be spoilers for the book, film and historical event. If you don't want to know what happened to Leonidas and his bodyguard, stop reading now. Pick up a history textbook instead.

The first scene I will have a look at is an account of how Leonidas was tested as a young lad by being thrown into the wild. Starving and freezing, he is attacked by a wolf...

I knew what would happen here when I first read the comic because, like many others, this scene is transplanted almost entirely into the film. It retains it's impact, however, because on every reading of the comic I smile a little here. The foundation of the dramatic impact of the story is based on making Leonidas and his Spartans seem as awesome as possible, and the wolf scene acomplishes this effortlessly.

The most famous moment of the film is, without a doubt, the moment when Leonidas yells 'THIS IS SPARTA' and kicks a messenger down a pit, essentially declaring a war on Persia. This moment is representative of the film in general; violently idiotic. It's also my ringtone. Shush. This moment is, of course, in the novel, but is a lot less over-the-top, retaining an unexpected feel that is sorely lacking in the film. It still doesn't really stand out as one of the best moments, however. A scene I find a lot more entertaining is the less famous 'Profession' scene, taking place as the Spartans go to war...

Again, sorry for the ugly clipping

This a very funny little scene. I especially enjoy Daxos's final comment. We also get a clearer understanding of the Spartan's warlike nature; their whole society is dedicated to the art of warfare. Needless to say, when the Spartans run into Persian scouts as they arrive at the battlefield, they deal with them easily...

There is something grotesquely beautiful about these corpses, and the effect is amplified by the reaction of the Persian slave. The contrast between the free soldiers and the enslaved conscripts is well presented; the two armies are very different. The Spartans are few in number, but are highly trained, well armed and holding a powerful defensive position between the cliffs of Thermopylae, while the Persian army numbers many thousands of slave soldiers with little training, low morale and poor equipment. This is a great set-up.

This is as good a time as any to talk about the accusations of racism leveled to both the book and the film. Both seem to depict proud, strong Caucasian men fighting swarming, pathetic hordes of dark skinned slaves from the east, led by an androgynous, hubristic coward. This criticism carries some merit; but I feel the fantastical way the story is presented here defuses the potential for racism. The Spartans themselves are faintly ridiculous, claiming to be descendants of Herakles (aka Hercules), throwing babies off cliffs and keeping diseased, inbred priests who seem to largely be in control of the country. The comic has only the loosest connection to the actual story of Thermopylae (as told by Herodontus); it is largely a work of historical fantasy and should be treated as such.

Speaking of fantasy...
...That doesn't really look like 300 men to me, based on the numbers of spears. Is it worth adding inconsistency to the novel just to make a good picture? Well, yes, it probably is. Miller is hardly about to alienate any readers that picked up the book in the first place by using a visual form of poetic licence.

Battle is joined, and we come to what is probably the most famous page of art from the book...

What can be said about this page that hasn't been said already? The use of silhouette and a limited pallet combine to create a stark feel that holds the eye well. It's no coincidence that they used the live action version of this shot for one of the posters for the film, because it encapsulates the whole tone of the story perfectly, with the Persian soldiers fearfully, unthinkingly retreating off the cliff rather than face the spears and swords of the 300.

There are many good fight scenes in this book, but they seem to gel together into an unending banquet of destruction. The madness finally ends when a deformed Spartan betrays the army and leads part of the Persian army on a secret path, letting them flank the Spartans. This is fairly well handled, but despite the fact it is roughly what actually happened this betrayal still feels like a macguffin; a way to subvert the Spartan's established dominance and make them lose.

Cue repetition of pose!

Yeah, that looks unfamiliar

This is a bit too similar to the earlier 'Come and get them' pose, but it still works because of the way the outward appearance of the army has changed. Their spears are notched, their cloaks are ragged, their helmets and shields scratched and bent, but the Spartan soldiers still stand firm. Great stuff, but all good things come to an end. After wounding the Persian king Xerxes, Leonidas and his men finally succumb to the thousands of arrows fire upon them, in a heroic last stand...

Truly, a powerful ending. Quick piece of trivia, the last two text boxes come from the inscription on the monument at Thermopylae (though presumably that inscription is in Greek).

There's a small epiloge style end in which Dillios, the only surviving member of the 300, leads an army of Spartans and other allied Greeks to fight the Persians again, in the name of Leonidas. Miller has crafted a skillfully written and well drawn work which suffers a little from it's own ego. It probably isn't his best work, but it is at times amusing, at other times provocative, and at almost all times entertaining. At the least, this is a book worth reading.