By Frank Miller, color by Lynn Varley

Published by Dark Horse in 1998 as a five-issue series, reprinted in 1999 and 2006. $30

The Plot: It is 480 BCE. Not yet unified, the peoples of Greece stand in the shadow of the Persian Empire, which spreads west under the control of God/King Xerxes, who commands an army of hundreds of thousands. If King Leonidas of Sparta will agree to bow before Xerxes, he will be allowed to retain control of his kingdom with Xerxes’ support. But, because Spartans are general badasses who bow before nobody, he declines. This leads to the famed battle at the Hot Gates, where Leonidas and 300 men face off against the amassed horde.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe Positives: Frank Miller is at the top of his game when it comes to writing and drawing tough guys. Whether it be a grizzled old Batman, any of the Sin City cast or the legendary warriors of Sparta, Miller can lay out machismo with anyone. Here, he has the ultimate tough guy story, and doesn’t waste much space (the book is a really perfect length for the story) in setting up an epic battle and then delivering the goods. Still, he instills his characters with enough personality to allow the readers to worry for their fate. It really seems like Miller originally storyboarded this out for a movie, because the horizontal layout lends every page a cinematic feel. Having seen trailers for the upcoming movie, it really does feel like Miller’s art was pulled right onto the screen.

The Negatives: There is very little to complain about with this book. The price is a bit steep, for one. Also, it’s kind of hard to avoid reading into Miller’s writing. Here, the essential message is a group of free men fighting off an evil army hell bent on instilling their religion and rule upon the masses. Sound familiar? Since Miller has been so vocal about patriotism lately, it’s easy to see a parallel in 300. The only problem is that the message doesn’t quite fit. As much as Miller tries to set the Spartans apart as this free bunch, he can’t avoid that they followed old religions of their own, killed off weak children and maintained control through repression of personal freedom. Even if it was a cultural rather than political control, it was still control. And maybe he didn’t mean for that message to come across, but it’s impossible to avoid now.

The Grade: B+ A strong book from a famed creator more than outweighs the negatives. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if the film can surpass its inspiration.