What happens when you subvert a historically inaccurate comic that turned itself into a largely inaccurate movie franchise with another comic that is far more historically accurate than said comic but still fictional enough to maintain an air of absurdist fantasy? You get Three, the new ongoing by Kieron Gillen (Young Avengers, Phonogram) and Ryan Kelly (Saucer Country).
Three, for all intents and purposes, is the complete inversion of Frank Miller’s 300 (I think there’s supposed to be some sort of clever title symmetry here, but I’m not quite getting it). Whereas 300 focused on a group of men fighting for the freedom of man, Gillen’s take on the perspectives focuses on 3 Helots, Terpander, Damar, and Klaros. Helots were/are essentially a different type of slave who were owned by the nation rather than upper-class private citizens. Helots were, interestingly enough, hunted and killed by Spartans like the ones in 300. What we see here in Three #1 is a complete role reversal. Rather than have the Spartans portrayed as heroic warriors of myth, they are portrayed as brutal, antagonistic savages with little regard for human life.
Even though there are minor depictions of said savage brutality, the violence is primarily at a minimum this issue. Rather, the audience is sickened with wordplay and the cruel frame of the Spartan mindset. The Sparta are sadistically vicious to the Helots, forcing them to eat vomit like dogs and having them simper around like cowards. One slave, Terpander, decides to regale the Spartans with a tale of what really happened to the 300. This is where Gillen’s excellent wordplay comes in. Terpander uses a combination of raw anger and biting wit to strike the Spartan’s nerve. The dialect reads a tad bit modern-ish but for the most part you can imagine men of that era speaking like they do in this comic.
It’s a strong first issue with a complete story, even though it feels like it starts in the middle of one. We’re only given the barest of background information the characters, who would rather let their actions define who they are then a biographical flashback. Damar is a strong, silent type with a grudge, Klaros is so far defined as a worrying woman, and Terpander is a snooty upper-class type who occasionally reaches out beyond his boundaries as a slave.
For as much as I like the story and the writing, this book would not nearly be as good as it is without the art team of Ryan Kelly and Jordie Bellaire providing the visuals. Kelly’s environments are depicted as realistically as his humans, with none being too ugly or too beautiful. Everything is just natural and believable, which I suppose is required for a historically accurate (kind of) comic, and the thick inking gives a strong weight and a wispy clarity to the visuals. I’ve mentioned Bellaire’s coloring before in my review of Zero, but it’s worth mentioning again. Set pieces built around the visual motif of an indoors fire are graced with a strong presence of warm reds and oranges bleeding out into brown, muddy walls, while scenes outdoors are given a realistic coloring, matching their real-life counterparts with a measured degree of accuracy.
Three #1 by Gillen, Kelly and Bellaire is a fantastic read and a nice alternative to the glorified machismo of the Frank Miller graphic novel. This is 300 for those with a history-oriented academic background, defined not by its embrace of the epic battle of war but rather its depiction of the brutal savagery coming from the hands of the warrior class. Three is an excellent read for anybody looking for something new and exciting.