Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: 364 BC, Clayton Cowles, Damar, Helot, Jordie Bellaire, kieron gillen, Klaros, Professor Stephen Hodgkinson, Sparta, Spartan, Terpander
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Ryan Kelly
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Historical Consultation by Professor Stephen Hodgkinson
Published by Image
Helots were the lowest of the low in Sparta, state owned people who could, and were, used as hunting practice by the sons of the Spartans. Their lives were worthless except to define the Spartans’ ‘heroism’, culling them once a year like animals.
In 364 BC, three Helots fought back.
Gillen’s script is as pared back as they come, introducing the violence of the Spartans first, then Klaros, Damar and Terpander, his leads. Klaros is competent, sullen and crippled. Damar is calm, intelligent and overlooked. Terpander talks for a living and as a result has no idea when to shut up. All three are cowed, all three Helots and all three are about to have their lives changed forever.
The Spartans are monsters here, eyes and cloaks and huge helmets. Their violence is so total as to be almost abstract at first and the terror their arrival brings the Helots is portrayed with feverish details by Kelly. They’re men who kill the same way some people breathe, arrogance seasoning their brutality. That clash, between Spartans who have everything and Helots who have nothing, is what drives the story and leads to the inciting incident at the end of this issue. The character dynamics between the three Helots are front and centre here and by the end of the issue you realize their relationship is a lot more complex than previously thought. You also realize, as they do, that relationship will almost certainly get them killed.
This is muscular, almost minimalist storytelling. Gillen, one of the best dialogue writers in the business, scales it right back and lets the Spartans’ violence speak for him. It works, and the casual brutality the book is littered with shows you what’s at stake without it having to be spelt out. Right now the characters are taking a back seat but, as the story continues, the focus will shift to the troubled relationship between the leads. For now though, this is a book about monsters who wear Spartan helmets and every page is filled with tension and threat. Kelly’s art is reminiscent of Darick Robertson in its detail and willingness to show the ugliness of people whilst Bellaire’s rich, deep colours set the stage and then throw arterial spray over a lot of it. Together with Cowles’ always impressive lettering and Hodgkinson’s historical backup, they create a book that’s red in tooth and claw and looks set to carve its name on every Spartan monument in fiction. Nasty, uncomfortable and violent, just like history and, based on this first issue, just as gripping.
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