I have never thought much of american comics. I mean the whole concept is somehow wrong, when the actual word for this art form in english is “comics”. I mean what’s comical about Batman (exept the outfit)? Most american heroes in comics/cartoons are vigillantes punishing criminals whom the law is unable to reach. What does that tell us about the society?

Do not get me wrong. The artform is in a great portion american born. And of course there have been some great artists, like Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Carl Barks (who actually brought social issues to Donald Duck). Mostly american comics are not art by any definition. They are mass products where one man writes the script, another makes some initial sketches, third makes final sketches, fourth draws the basic inkwork, fifth fills the black shadow areas and sixth fellow puts in to the damned thing some dull colours.

Frank Miller is a celebrated american cartoonist, whose stories have been transferred to big Hollywood production movies several times. One of these is the movie “300” wich soposedly tells the story of king Leonidas and his 300 spartans who sacrificed themselves in the battle of Thermopylai. The cartoon itself was in my opinion just blunt violence and lacked all actual vision or point. The movie (of wich the cartoonist can not be held responsible of) was an exeptionally loyal interpretation to the cartoon.

The movie makers obviously wanted also to make a point. So instead of filming a historical story, they decided to make this dream like fantasy which implied that the americans fighting their “war against terrorism” are like Leonidas & spartans against persians. The evil politicians back home were ofcourse backstabbing the heroes who went to defend democracy and liberty to foreing lands. The US has a tradition of inteffering foreingn wars for the “good of the world”, and certainly the movie (and partly the cartoon) has to be seen in that light. The earlier film version of the same story “The 300 Spartans” by Rudolp Mate was made in the fifties in the political athmosphere of those days and held similar implications of it’s own era.

The funny thing about the allegorical side about the history of Thermopylai is that in fact, when you think about the Persian empire, it was much like the US is today. A massive empire that wanted to rule and economically exploit all the smaller nations it possibly could. It had military presence all a round the known world. It was liberal in many ways. Especially in comparisson to the Greek states ( ironically this is how it is represented in the movie “300” also). The greeks where regulated by strict religious codes. Both the cartoon by Mr. Miller and the movie “300” tell how Efors the religious demagogues ruled over the kings. In this respect allegorically the spartans represent the modern day islamist terrorists. Indeed, they actually fight the multinational Persian empire by a suicide strike at Thermopylai.

Apart from political wievs, both the cartoon and movie “300” hold some rather annoying points in them. Like the point that the traitor is shown as an ugly invalid. Neither the cartoon or movie seem to question the facistic spartan way of deposing deformed newborn. Another is the total nonhistorical  perspective adopted by the makers. The spartans are depicted as bodybuilders wearing thongs. What kind of moralism says it is OK to show people killed by the masses, but not to show a penis? The persians are shown as some sort of “teenage mutant ninja warriors”. If the appearance of the greeks shows almost nonexistant historical backround work, the persians have had even less. If the cartoonist and movie makers could not show a naked greek hoplite, they should propably have shown them the way they were historically dressed and equiped in the time of the battle of Thermopylai, in woollen shirts,  linen or bronze cuirasses and corinthian helmets. There is of course a danger that modern reader or moviegoer does not recognize bad guys, if they are not dressed in black like the SS, but the persian immortals were propably dressed in light blues… And they definately did not have two swords, but spears and bows as their weaponry.

Was it only after WWII that “bad guys” started to be all dressed in black in movies and cartoons. Before that black dress symbolised authority and wealth. Propably that was what the nazis tried to signal when they decided the SS should have black uniforms. Anyway, they did manage to create an effective “brand” for evil. The black uniforms are of course worn by persian immortals in the fifties movie version “The 300 Spartans” for they are the “bad guys” of the story. Does this indicate that the Mr. Miller never used any other source for his “historical” story other than the old movie? This is a common phenomenon among historical movies, that costumers get their vision of the past only from older movies and cartoons…

Both the cartoon and the movie “300” failed to be consistent. Before the battle it is explained why the invalid spartan can not join ranks of hoplites is that he can not raise his shield to protect his comrade on his left side. This is important because the reason that spartans (and any other hoplites for that matter) fought in dense formation where victory was achived not by exeptional skill to kill the enemy, but by protective co-operation that allowed the hoplites in a phalanx to survive longer than their average enemies. Both in the movie and cartoon however the singular spartans run around the battlefield alone killing persians at will with no support from eachother. I detest this wiev of war as a field of personal glory and gratification. Especially so because the one historical army that was famed for the opposite aspect is used to promote the idea.

Finally, what annoys me in the many interpritations of the 300 is actually the 300. I mean that it is actively forgotten, that there actually were some 5000 of other greek warriors in Thermopylai and that about 1100 Boiotian hoplites remained there to the bitter end with the 300 spartans in defence of their own land and the retreating greek army. Sure they were goatherders and potters and not the hardened and trained spartans, but neither were they slavemasters like the spartans. For that was the reason for the spartans to train their citizens from childhood to military profession, to have skilled warriors to keep the slave population (who  did all the work) at bay. In the end with the 300 “bodyguards” did die a good number of their lakonian slaves in Thermopylai…

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