Comic Review – Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1

Frank Miller’s 300 was something of a revelation when it first came out in 1998. Based in equal parts on the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus and the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, it told the tale of The Battle of Thermopylae from the perspective of King Leonidas of Sparta. Though Leonidas and the Greek forces were defeated by the invading Persian army, their stand helped inspire the various Greek city-states to unite as one in a larger force. This would lead to the war that ultimately halted Persia’s attempts to conquer Greece. For that reason, The Battle of Thermopylae is held alongside The Alamo as one of the greatest last stands in military history.

300 is widely considered to be Frank Miller’s greatest work. It won the 1999 Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, with Miller being honored as Best Writer & Artist and colorist Lynn Varley winning Best Colorist. The book was later successfully adapted into a 2006 film directed by Zack Snyder, fueling his rise to fame.

Despite being a critical and commercial success, 300 did not go uncriticized. Many took Miller to task for the story being historically inaccurate in certain respects, such as depicting The Spartans as homophobic or going into battle essentially naked. Writer David Brin specifically criticized Miller’s ignoring the greater historical context of Thermopylae and how The Spartan’s involvement in the battle was driven by their shame at having sat-out The Battle of Marathon a decade earlier, due to it occurring during the holy festival of Carnea, in which martial combat was forbidden.

This bears consideration when one reads this first chapter of Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander – the five-issue follow-up to 300. The title and cover are a bit misleading, with Xerxes – the villain of 300 – not making any appearance in this book apart from being seen on the cover. Rather than focusing on a single battle, Miller is now exploring the long history of Persian/Greek conflicts, starting with the first attempts of Darius (father of Xerxes) to invade Greece and ending, eventually, with the rise of Alexander The Great.

This first chapter is devoted to The Battle of Marathon and seems to have been written purely in rebuttal to Brin’s criticism in specific and complaints of Miller’s failure to profile the contributions of the Greek city-states besides Sparta in general. The focus here is on the Athenians, as they lead the charge against The Persian Army, driving them back to their ships.


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Those who enjoyed 300 will find more of the same intense action here. All issues of historical accuracy aside, Miller can block a fight sequence better than most and the battles here are as gloriously over the top as you would expect. The fact that our heroes are now the playwright Aeskylos and a young Themistokles, years before he would go on to become a great Athenian general and politician does not stop them from unleashing Hades upon the Persians, Unfortunately, Miller’s tendency towards unnecessary homophobic remarks continues, though it may be more historically accurate for The Athenians to be making jokes about how The Spartans can’t join the battle because of a fertility festival, because that is the only time Spartan men share beds with women.

A larger problem is that Miller’s glory days as an artist are behind him and it is clear now why his most recent efforts have seen him focusing on writing with other artists illustrating his stories. While Miller’s work here is far stronger than his most recent works at DC Comics, it’s a far cry from the level of quality we saw in 300, with Miller’s tendency toward cartoonish exaggeration not serving the story well. The colors by Alex Sinclair don’t help matters, putting a vibrant coat on artwork that was always at its best when kept half in shadow. One wonders if age is starting to make the old master’s hand falter but he’s too proud to admit it.

Ultimately, there’s little reason to pick up Xerxes #1 unless you’re a fan of Frank Miller and the original 300 looking for more of the same. There’s nothing new here, beyond Miller showing that The Athenians were more than capable of winning a war without The Spartans’ assistance. It’s good for what it is but it’s ultimately an unnecessary prequel.

5/10

Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1 releases April 4, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1

Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1 Cover

Doctor James Robinson had always been a dreamer who looked to the stars for inspiration. An astronomer by inclination and a physicist by training, his theories regarding a cosmic energy called para-radiation got the attention of an American government that needed an edge in the atomic arms race and they thought Robinson’s theory of a para-zone that could be tapped for infinite energy was an avenue well worth exploring. With their financial backing, Dr. Robinson was able to prove his theories correct and soon had the money he needed to move his wife and son out of their crumbling tenement apartment and into a proper home… but it wasn’t enough.

This being an age of heroes and with a war going on, James Robinson did what any patriotic red-blooded American man would do – throw on a costume and get ready to start punching Nazis. He found further fame and thrills as the mystery-man Doctor Star… but he would go on to lose far more than he gained.

I suspect it is impossible for me to give Doctor Star & The World of Lost Tomorrows #1 a fair and unbiased review. While this mini-series is a spin-off of Jeff Lemire’s acclaimed Black Hammer series, which pays tribute to the superheroes of The Golden Age of Comics (i.e the late 1930s to mid 1950s), it is also a tribute to a very special and specific comic series – the 1994-2001 Starman series by DC Comics. This series happens to be a personal favorite of mine and the source of my nickname, for those who care to know.

For those who haven’t been exposed to it, let me sum up – Starman came about because writer James Robinson (note that name!) had an idea for establishing a common mythology between all of the previously unconnected superheroes that DC Comics had created that used the codename Starman. This included a scientist from the 1940s, an alien warrior from the 1970s and a cosmic prince from a one-off story tied into Crisis On Infinite Earths.  At a time when the comic industry in general was abandoning its tights-and-capes history in favor of superheroes with big muscles, bigger guns and tiny feet, Starman embraced its lineage. It subverted the values of The Dark Age, presenting a sneering, tattooed hipster hero in the form of Jack Knight – son of the first Starman, scientist Ted Knight – while deconstructing and ultimately reassembling the classic values of traditional comics as Jack went from a reluctant hero to an honestly good person.

Thankfully, while the tribute to Robinson’s work is clear enough (even ignoring the main character’s name), Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1 stands just as well as a story on its own terms. Lemire’s script does a fantastic job of establishing the character of Dr. James Robinson and the setting for the benefit of those who haven’t read Black Hammer. The artwork by Max Fiumara (with colors by Dave Stewart) proves a perfect partner to Lemire’s writing, capturing the pulp-fiction aesthetic of the tale. If you enjoy tales of weird science or retro-superheroes as much as I do, this series is a must read!

10/10

Doctor Star & The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows #1 releases March 7, 2018.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Tomb Raider Survivor’s Crusade #1


Lady Lara Croft is on the move again! Tracking the sinister organization known as Trinity – an ancient society that seeks to find and destroy ancient artifacts of great power, lest they be used to corrupt modern society or challenge the official history laid down by the rich and powerful – Lara has come to the Italian village of Cornigila. The city hosts a small chapel to Saint Christopher – the patron saint of travelers – but Trinity believes the church hides a greater secret than that.

As much as it pains her to see historical artifacts destroyed, stopping Trinity’s destruction of the chapel is not Lara’s first priority. She seeks the name of the Trinity agent who killed her father, whose work as a scholar threatened to expose Trinity’s existence to the world. Lara may have to settle for thwarting their plans, however… assuming she survives!


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Those who are unfamiliar with the current state of the Tomb Raider franchise – either having missed out on the series’ reboot in 2013 or only being vaguely familiar with the character from the classic video games or the Angelina Jolie films – need not worry heading into Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade. The story by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly (JoyrideHacktivist, Gotham City Garage) is written to be easily accessible to new readers. Everything you need to know about Lara’s motivations is explained in the opening pages.

Everything you need to know about Lara as a character is shown in the following pages, as we see Lara take on several Trinity soldiers in close-combat. This action sequence does a great job of replicating the experience of playing the game. More, it shows Lara’s skills and ferocity in battle far better than any exposited internal monologue ever could.

Unfortunately, this action sequence is also simultaneously the weakest aspect of the book. While the artwork for this issue isn’t bad, the art team involved might not have been the best choice for delivering Lara Croft to the comic page. Artist Ashley A. Woods can draw great action sequences with strong female leads, as the series Ladycastle proved. However, with thin inks and limited shading coupled with the light colors of Michael Atiyeh, the aesthetic here seems entirely too bright for the world of Tomb Raider.

This light touch results in some pages that look just plain goofy, such as when Lara shoots several Trinity soldiers in the head with arrows. The red on the arrow heads looks like red tempera paint and there’s no blood around the entry wounds. Lara herself is shot at one point and the bullet wound looks like a black dot with some light cross-hatching around it!

While Lara herself is well-drawn and the character designs and poses look amazing, one expects more realism in terms of how damage is depicted in something bearing the Tomb Raider name. Fans of the games will probably love this comic despite the issues with the art, but this Survivor’s Crusade is unlikely to develop many new fans for the franchise.

5/10.

Tomb Raider Survivor’s Crusade #1 is due out November 22, 2017.


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.

Comic Review – Wonder Woman/Conan #1

It all began in 1940 in All-Star Comics #3, when All-Star Publishing joined their most popular superheroes together as The Justice Society of America. The logic was that kids would be more likely to spend their shiny dimes on a story featuring all their favorite characters working together than a book focused on a single hero or an anthology with multiple, unrelated stories. Logic won out in this case and thus was born both the first superhero team and a long tradition of comic book team-ups.

Hither now comes Wonder Woman/Conan #1, which on the surface might seem the most unlikely pairing in comics’ long history. The popular wisdom is that these two characters could not be more different. Most imagine Conan as an illiterate berserker – a man of few words and swift action. Wonder Woman, comics’ most famous feminist icon, is seen as a calmer presence, given to long thoughts and preaching peace. The truth is quite different in the case of both characters.

While frequently portrayed as dumb muscle in the wake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movies, the original character was quite different. Described as “strong and supple” in the original pulp fictions by Robert E. Howard, Conan was frequent compared to a panther or a wolf in battle. While he found little use in “the arguments of theologians and scholars”, Conan did understand them, having “squatted for hours in the courtyards of the philosophers.” Conan was also a surprisingly egalitarian character, respecting any who could prove their worth in war, man or woman. And everyone who has seen this summer’s Wonder Woman movie can vouch that The Amazing Amazon is hardly some hippie harridan who shies away from a fight!

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Gail Simone proves the perfect writer to pen this tale. Simone has extensive experience crafting sword-and-sorcery tales, having written a 12-issue arc on Red Sonja that fan-demand expanded to 18 issues. Her Conan/Red Sonja mini-series with Jim Zub – the first team-up between the characters since Marvel Comics held the license for both – was loved by Conan purists as well as fans of The She-Devil With A Sword. Simone is also one of the most respected Wonder Woman writers in the business, having co-written the 2009 animated Wonder Woman movie and a beloved run on the monthly Wonder Woman comic.

Simone’s former partner on the comic, Aaron Lopresti, provides the pencils for this issue. The entirety of this book showcases why Simone and Lopresti’s partnership drew frequent comparison to that of Marv Wolfman and George Perez in terms of the writing and the artwork being of equal eloquence.

10/10


Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.