Continuing after the Battle of Marathon in Xerxes #1, issue two sees the Persian King Darius and his son, Xerxes, leading their armada to Athens. Though the Battle of Marathon was won, Athens itself is not in the proper state to combat the invading Persians. Themistokles, the cunning leader from the first issue, assumes command of all of the women, slaves, and injured of Athens and quickly formulates a plan to trick the Persians that perhaps Athens has more able-bodied soldiers than perceived.
If Miller’s original 300 graphic novel was inspired by watching The 300 Spartans (1962, Rudolph Maté), then issue two of Xerxes must surely have been inspired by the Steve Reeve’s sword and sandal classic, The Giant of Marathon (1959, Mario Bava). For example, the underwater sequences in the film’s finale of soldiers installing spikes to puncture the incoming ships is similar to Aeskylos covertly swimming underwater with his javelins to lay a sneak attack on the Persians. Miller’s peplum work has always been respective to the golden age of Italian sword and sandal flicks, and Xerxes #2 is continuing proof of that.
There are some choice panels of Miller’s art and Sinclair’s coloring that are wonderful to behold. For example, early in the issue, as the action transitions to Athens, there’s a large, beautiful panel showing a statue of Athena, looking victorious toward the sun as an owl flies by. Another stellar panel shows Themistokles atop his horse in the foreground, with an army of silhouetted “soldiers” behind him. It’s a powerful panel that fools not just Darius, but the reader as well, at the martial might of Athens.
The vast majority of pages in Xerxes show Miller’s art being flat against the page, lacking any sort of depth. This isn’t a determent at all, but instead gives the impression that the pages are emulating the murals of antiquity. While Miller may mostly be renown for his noir-influenced artwork, his neo-peplum style is just as interesting; it plays off Miller’s own unique style while at the same time looking appropriate for the sword and sandal genre, as if it were plucked from surviving pottery of antiquity.
Creative Team: Frank Miller (writer and artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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