Friday, May 09, 2008


Well, with this post Stevereads turns 300, and what better book to feature on such an occasion than Frank Miller's comic book reshaping of the famous incident from Herodotus about how a handful of Spartans and their allies stood at the 'Hot Gates' of Thermopylae against the vast hordes of the Persian Empire under the despotic rule of Xerxes?

Of course, the Persian Empire doesn't come off all that well in Miller's telling - this is a comic book, after all, and comics (except for the current continuity over at Marvel, that is) need both heroes and villains. The heroes in Miller's book are the super-buff Spartans (despite hailing from a professional warrior culture, Miller's Spartans fancy going into battle with no clothes on) led by King Leonides. They're all uniformly fit and shapely, coolly competent at killing their enemies (the one Spartan in the book who's isn't physically fit is, of course, a villainous traitor). The villains are twofold: first, the seemingly endless force of overdressed (i.e. dressed) Persians who want to conquer the whole world, and second (because this is a Miller book and he's a grade-A paranoid crackpot) the shadowy Powers That Be who manipulate everything from the shadows.

Miller's Persians are a hoot (their weirdness is only amplified in the famous movie adaptation - amplified and added to: those of you coming to the graphic novel expecting to see the Giant Bestial Gym Teacher or the Guy With Swords For Arms will be disappointed), especially his Xerxes, who manages to be both effeminate and nine feet tall. They are decadent and weak, and the Spartan allies aren't much better, all being conscripts from other professions instead of hoo-rah professionals.

Actual women are hardly present in the book (except for Leonides' wife, she of the "come back with your shield or on it" ultimatum), which certainly introduces the waft of homoeroticism that always clings to warrior cultures. This effect is gigantically multiplied in the movie, which is practically a soft-core porn love-letter to Solo-flex.

And you all already know the ending: Go and tell the Spartans and all that, every warrior dying right there in the pass. But Miller's arresting visuals (so eerily transposed wholesale to the movie) are totally winning, especially given the book's extra-wide format. His battle-scenes convey multi-layered chaos, and Lynn Varley's coloring work is, as always, superb. And when all the bloodletting is over, Miller drops in a note suggesting his readers check out this Herodotus guy - something we here at Stevereads must always approve! You could scarcely have a more enjoyable introduction to that extremely enjoyable historian than Miller's 300, so we happily recommend it to both newcomer and seasoned (but hopefully clothed) veteran as well!

And as far as our 300th anniversary goes, we here at Stevereads would like to thank you all for stopping by so regularly and making this so much fun. For the next 300 postings, you can expect more of the same wisdom and sexiness you've always found here - plus a whole lot more, as we experiment with new ideas. Our new head of accounting has suggested, for instance, an unobtrusive Google Ads bar floating somewhere on the site, and you can look for a long-overdue overhaul of the links over there on the right-hand margin. Movies, TV, comics, the daily news, the sprawling content of the Internet ... all will be represented, plus our customary infallible book reviews!

So keep on looking in, and tell your friends! There's enough mockery here for everybody!


Anonymous said...

and many happy returns! --jc

Sam said...

Happy B-Day, ya old bastard! (Am I wrong, or did Stevereads actually pre-date the Internet?)

steve said...

It did! In its original form, I'd go from cave to cave, first telling its inhabitants what I thought of the latest oral saga, then making fun of them until the mammoth steaks were done. Ah, those were the days!

Kevin said...

Since its your 300th birthday, I'll let the 'comics need villains' bit slide.

Happy 300th!

steve said...

comics DO need villains! And they can't be any of the following: cancer, war, geopolitical instability, homophobia, or internal angst.

They have to wear CAPES. They have to have 'Doctor' before their names. They have to be prone to waving their fists in the air.

Kevin said...

I picture the the quote above in a word-balloon over a picture of Steve, wild-eyed, wearing a straight jacket and being dragged away by men in white coats.