Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander #1
Written and Illustrated by Frank Miller
Colored by Alex Sinclair
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
Xerxes #1 is an interesting comic – a sequel to a twenty-year-old comic that was adapted into a movie twelve years ago that was then itself sequeled as a movie four years ago. When it was announced that Frank Miller was working on a sequel to 300, it was intended to be the basis for the movie sequel as well. Online sources still say that that movie, 300: Rise of an Empire, is based on the then-unreleased Xerxes, though a lot can change in four or five years, and with Miller anything is possible.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that it’s been a long road from the initial 300 series to now, but you wouldn’t know it from reading Xerxes. From the opening spread (or any of the spreads, really, since as with 300 everything is a spread), to the narration, to the bloody action, Miller picks right up where he left off. Or, actually, picks up before where he started, as this issue takes place ten years prior to the events of 300.
The issue is narrated by an unnamed Athenian soldier, and one gets a sense that the identity of the narrator likely doesn’t matter. The first-person narration allows readers to instantly immerse themselves in the action. It also establishes distance between the reader and the Persians, the de facto antagonists of the series as they were in 300. It’s an interesting choice made more so by a final page reveal as to why the preceding events of the issue took place. That justification paints both the Greeks and the Persians in an interesting light, and while to say more may be to give too much away, it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the series reflects that relationship.
I’ve been somewhat cold on some of Miller’s recent artwork, but not so with his work here. His action is intense, over-the-top without crossing over into self-parody. He alternates between minimalist wider shots and highly-detailed close-ups, and he does so to great effect. The coloring by Alex Sinclair is the most noticable difference between Xerxes and 300, which featured painted colors in a largely earthtone palette by Lynn Varley. Sinclair’s colors on Xerxes are more precise, not flat but also not as airy as Varley’s were, likely by virtue of being digital versus painted. Despite the difference they’re no less striking, particularly when contrasted with the splashes of black that Miller includes in the inks. In instances where Miller provides minimal background, Sinclair’s colors masterfully provide background that ties scenes together and textures that add depth to the world.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I had not read 300 before I read Xerxes #1. That said, I felt nothing was lacking in the reading of Xerxes as a standalone story, and I enjoyed it so much that it actually made me want to go back and read 300 sooner rather than later. It’s a strong first issue that’s definitely piqued my interest in what’s to come.