Entry for March 12, 2007 — 300, Captain America, and weekend

Friends, I hope you had a good weekend. On Saturday, 10 March 2007, Janice and I attended the Rhode Island Pet Show in Providence. We observed canine competitions in agility and breed, saw rare breeds of dogs and cats, and even saw a fashion show featuring dressed-up humans and animals.

After that, we went to the Providence Place Mall, which is one of the bigger shopping malls in New England. On Sunday, we took advantage of the warmer weather by going to our usual book shops in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m pleased to report that Pandemonium Books & Games in Central Square has avoided bankruptcy for now.

Janice and I also screened 300, based on Frank Miller’s loose recounting of the Battle of Thermopylae. I own several of Miller’s graphic novels, including cyberpunk samurai drama Ronin, his redefinition of D.C. Comics icons in The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, his work on Marvel Comics’ Daredevil, and gory noir Sin City, also recently (and faithfully) adapted into a movie.

Miller/Snyder wallpaper
300 Spartans

300 is about how King Leonidas of Sparta and some of his troops defied Greek law and momentarily held a much larger Persian invading force at bay in a mountain pass in 480 B.C.E. The visual storytelling was excellent, including computer-enhanced imagery, muscular acting, and fluid fight choreography. Gerard Butler, Lena Headly, Dominic West, and David Wenham, among others, give solid performances, overshadowing the more stilted Troy (itself a very loose retelling of The Iliad).

However, as some critics have noted, 300 is more Miller’s epic version of the story than a historically accurate depiction of events. As one noted, it’s the sort of movie the ancient Spartans themselves might have wanted to make rather than the truth.

For example, talk of Western “freedom” and “reason” versus the superstition and decadence of the East is mere propaganda. Sparta’s warriors were among the best in ancient Greece because the city-state’s many slaves enabled its landowning men to spend most of their lives in a standing army (aided by the navy of Athens when they weren’t fighting it). Homosexuality was common (not that there’s anything wrong with that), soldiers wore armor by then and didn’t fight half-naked, and feuds and corruption were as common as anywhere else.

The Persian empire was cosmopolitan, had many Greek allies, and while fearsome, their elite warriors and nobles were not the inhuman monsters (riding rhinoceri and elephants, no less) shown in the film. The same goes for the traitor Ephialtes, who was a shepherd, not a hunchback. Miller commonly uses such grotesque and exaggerated images. The doomed Greek forces were probably outnumbered 10 to 1 rather than 1,000 to 1, but that said, I enjoyed the bloody spectacle, which I would give a 7 or 8 out of 10.

Miller tends to go over the top with violence and sexuality, and I’m not a big fan of his flirtations with fascism in Dark Knight 2, All-Star Batman, or 300. Ever since the Greeks, Europeans have viewed themselves as purer, freer, and smarter than the rest of the world, and as U.S. troops are mired in modern Iraq and Afghanistan, the descendants of the Persians in Iran and those of Alexander the Great in the West have much needless bloodshed to answer for. All people deserve freedom and peace.

Speaking of comic books and nationalism, the assassination of Steve Rogers/Captain America in Marvel Comics last week made real-world news before issues had even reached retailers! The issue itself is a decent recap by crime writer Ed Brubaker of the star-spangled superhero’s career over the past 65+ years.

Like D.C.’s death of Superman about a decade ago, such an event may get mainstream popular culture attention, but is likely temporary and is more a means of selling comic books than a social statement. Both liberals and conservatives in the U.S. have tried to read meaning into Cap’s death, and as with Marvel’s recent “Civil War,” each can still come away convinced its side is right.

Part 2 of my root canal is tomorrow morning, but I hope to post another update installment and more comic book reviews in the coming week.