Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander is a five-issue comic series from Frank Miller and published by Dark Horse Comics that continues to build off his original comic series. Reported to provide some of the source material for the Rise of an Empire sequel film, Xerxes is a prequel story taking place before the events of 300 and documenting the rise of the Persian king, Xerxes. The first issue of Xerxes is singularly focused on a Persian skirmish into Greece and encountering a force of Athenians. A Persian scouting party arrives via boat but is easily repelled by “a pack of potters and tailors and blacksmiths and fishermen” fighting to defend their homes. This narration is a not-so-subtle jab at the key scene in the original 300 (both comic and film), when Leonidas and his Spartans meet the Arcadians. Prompting the rag-tag army for their professions, they respond back as potters, blacksmiths, etc., the underlying message being Leonidas’ Spartans are true soldiers and not the Arcadians. This introductory scene flips these expectations on their head, as the Athenian soldiers, made up of civilians fighting to protect their land from the Persians, are extremely effective warriors.
The skirmish shifts to a large, seemingly one-sided battle against the Persians. Various Athenian characters become fleshed out: Aeskylos who yields a large, double-bladed spear that slices Persians in half; Themistokles, the captain who is ruthless in melee; and Miltiades, a brilliant commanding general. All of these characters view the Spartans begrudgingly, perhaps feeling unappreciated by them.
Frank Miller’s writing is quite poetic in Xerxes, especially in his prose with the narrator invoking the various gods in the early pages to justify the various mishaps the Persians encounter as they try to invade: the breath of Boreas blasting the invaders with sea water into their eyes and sucking the air from their lungs; Hephaistos summoning volcanic rock to stab at their legs; etc. Of course, the gods are not really there, but their evocation into the narrative adds to a greater myth and a sense of wonder to the story.
Miller’s art combined with Sinclair’s coloring is reminiscent of their collaboration on The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. There are quite a few striking panels, such as when the Athenians have locked their bronze shields and push into the Persian forces; the martial might of the army is felt right off the pages. Yet, as violent and bloody as the battles are depicted in the pages, Miller and Sinclair keep it conservative, with the bloodshed never reaching the gory levels such as those found in, say, the comics from Avatar. Warriors lose their limbs and are stabbed with spears, but the violence never seems excessive or over the top. Perhaps this is due to the nature of the Athenians; they are, after all, soldiers second and are fighting for their lives and not for glory, and glory demands the bloodthirsty spectacle.
In this regard, Miller is setting the stage in Xerxes to be both an exciting, as well as clever, addition to 300. Xerxes seems to not only build off the 300 canon, but critique it, as well. While it is wondrous to view or read about the larger-than-life Spartans in 300, seeing them via a different perspective makes a reader view them in a more complex and interesting fashion.
Creative Team: Frank Miller (story and art), Alex Sinclair (colors)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, peplum films, and H. P. Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.