Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1 by Frank Miller Review

Frank Miller has a well-earned rep for delivering his projects late. Remember the ultra-crappy 300 sequel, Rise of an Empire, from 2014? Wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t – I saw it and I barely remember it! But that movie was based upon Xerxes, this comic, the first chapter of which has only just been published – 4 years after the movie was released!! I honestly thought Miller had scrapped the book entirely after missing the deadline by so long and the lacklustre response to the second movie effectively killed any remaining interest in the 300 franchise, but here it finally is. So was it worth the wait? Hell’s naw! This. Was. SHITTTTYYY (kicks comic into a pit in slo-mo)!

It’s been a number of years since I read the first 300 and 20 years(!) since it was published so some context would’ve been appreciated. Not that I’ve forgotten the story of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans’ valiant sacrifice in attempting to fend off Xerxes’ Persian army at the Hot Gates, but the dates that open this issue mean nothing to me. 499 BC – so is this before or after the events of 300? In some scenes it’s obvious that it’s taking place after 300, with the references to Leonidas’ last stand, but in others it’s anyone’s guess! If it’s anything like Rise of an Empire, which it should be, then Xerxes is both a prequel and a sequel which is probably why it reads like such a bugger’s muddle! 

The basic storyline is the same as the first: the Greeks, like the Spartans, represent Democracy standing against the Persians who represent totalitarianism/theocracy/monarchism. What made 300 so compelling was seeing Leonidas’ men go on what we knew was a suicide mission but seeing their bravery and dignity as they rose to meet their impending annihilation. It was an inspiring story that Miller told so masterfully he even made me think at one point that they stood a chance against the impossible odds, despite history telling us differently.

There doesn’t seem to be anything like that in Xerxes. How many Greeks are there going up against the Persians? Are they equally matched? Is the situation more or less dire in the wake of Leonidas’ efforts? Are there other nations willing to throw their lot in with the Greeks to stem the tide of Xerxes’ invasion? No clue to any of it. All we’re given is the basic premise: Greeks v Persians, and we’re meant to root for the Greeks because Democracy and the Persians were the baddies of the first book. Pathetic storytelling. 

Miller introduces a couple of Greek soldiers – Aeskylos and Themistokles – who I’m guessing he hopes prove to be as memorable as Leonidas except they don’t seem to have any character. Because they’re so woefully underwritten, they’re just names on indistinct character designs, attacking what I’m assuming are Persians. There’s no background to any of the fighting so I didn’t know or care about either side. The subtitle to this issue is “The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander” – who’s Darius and who’s Alexander? Is Alexander Xerxes? We don’t see Xerxes in this issue, or the House of Darius (whatever that is) fall or the rise of Alexander (whoever he is). “Marathon” is mentioned – is that supposed to be important? Maybe students of ancient history know but I was lost and it’s down to the writer anyway to inform the reader if it is – still more crummy storytelling! 

The art is plain fugly. As strange as it was, at least the designs in the first 300 book of Xerxes’ hordes as dark masked quasi-monstrous ninjas were easy to discern from Leonidas’ bright red capes and golden helms. I couldn’t tell the Greeks from the Persians, the designs are so weak. The panel showing the boats was horrendous – Miller makes the sea look like mountains! When I initially saw it I wondered why ships were cresting mountain ranges! 

It’s astonishing to me just how bad a writer Frank Miller has become. Xerxes is a completely unnecessary continuation of a perfectly self-contained book. He tries to find the energy of 300 and there’s nothing there because that story was told and what wasn’t isn’t worth bothering with. I’m bailing on this series already after such an underwhelming and garbage first issue. Sorry to be a jerkxes, Frank Miller, but Xerxes #1 is too little, WAY too late!

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