William Kulesa – Jersey Journal
Even with its many influences on Western civilization and American culture, there is precious little the average citizen knows about ancient Greece and its people. We learn a bare bones summation of its social and political structure (or at least we did when I went to school), hold it up as the great progenitor of Western civilization and move on by.
Learn the myths, learn some bullet point descriptions of each city state, boil it all down to a simple black and white picture of a people easily codified and move on to the next chapter.
In popular culture the bits and pieces we all learned about as children imbue so much that they have become not so much historical references as things invented solely for fantasy novels. In truth, and it shouldn’t be too surprising, this one dimensional interpretation couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth and Kieron Gillen’s newest book takes one small step to rectify this.
Out of all entertainment I would say that comics are the biggest criminal in the depiction of the ancient Greeks as cardboard cutouts of people and places. All of this can be laid at the feet of Frank Miller’s “300,” a book which I am unwilling to wholly condemn, but am also willing to point out is riddled with serious flaws.
While Miller paints the Spartans as stalwart warriors set on defending their land and way of life in the face of onrushing hordes from the east, he fails to expand on that way of life or the warriors that stood with those 300 soldiers.
All rousing speeches, mysterious and exotic ways, and pulse pounding action Miller’s work is as one dimensional as any myth. On the other hand Gillen’s series not only presents a substantially more historically accurate look at the Spartans but a deeper look at the individuals that made up the society of Sparta and greater Greece.
Cutting down from 300, Gillen’s book is simply entitled “Three” and tells the tale of three helots. This is a term not wholly unfamiliar with even the introductory student to Greek history, but Gillen does reveal a little more than many people know.
While the average grade school textbook simply describes a helot as a form of slave, the helots of Sparta were quite a bit more and existed in a far more complicated manner alongside and beneath the average Spartan. F
irst and foremost, they had the ability to serve as hoplites or elite soldiers, and did so right alongside the 300 Miller brought to life in his comic. Gillen’s story starts out with a harsh reality of the life of a helot in Lakonia, Greece as Spartans kill a number of them with no fear of repercussion but are later mocked by these same slaves for a defeat at their own hands. Unsurprisingly, the issue ends with the violence just as it began.
Gillen’s love of “300” brought him to this work and the research that led it to being a story that seeks to not just glorify a culture for one reason alone but to examine that thing and understand it more completely.
All this while entertaining us. With art by Ryan Kelly bringing to life these ancient people and their vibrant passions he does this by bringing to life a more fully realized picture of a people we all learn about as children and which almost all of us forget about as adults.