Throughout the '80s, comic-book writer and artist Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) played The Replacements to Watchmen and Swamp Thing writer Alan Moore's R.E.M. They were both clearly the writers who mattered most, and both were doing more or less the same thing, making non-underground comics writing smarter and more interesting than it had been before. But both had such distinctively different approaches that there was really no mistaking one for the other. In the '90s, both have grown more selective in their projects, with Moore, not always by choice, devoting most of his energy to his excellent Jack The Ripper series From Hell and Miller working mostly on a bunch of self-created miniseries. All in all, it has worked out pretty well, with Miller's creative freedom allowing him to do work on par with the stuff that made him famous in the '80s, a fine example being the recently completed five-issue miniseries 300. He's shown a tendency to repeat himself a bit too often (e.g., the umpteen variations on Sin City and Give Me Liberty), but when Miller does create something new, it tends to be drastically so. As far removed as possible from Sin City's noirish environs and Give Me Liberty's quasi-dystopian future, 300 tells the story of the battle of Thermopylae, one of the early flashpoints of the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. Led by the Spartan king Leonidas, 300 Spartan soldiers and local allies held the pass at Thermopylae for three days, a crucial battle that, though lost, led the way to future victory. Though the Spartan way of life seems terribly harsh to modern eyes, which tend to drift toward the more seemingly forward-looking intellectual advances of the Athenians, Miller does a terrific job portraying it sympathetically, dedicating the first three issues to the events leading to the battle. He makes human, particularly in his portrayal of Leonidas and the centrality of storytelling, a culture that at first seems modeled after an insect colony. Itself a triumph of storytelling, with Miller providing the art in his beautiful, familiar style, 300 is precisely the sort of series that should reach anyone who still questions the validity of comic books as an art form.

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