By Kieron Gillen, Ryan Kelly & Jordie Bellaire
“In Sparta are to be found those who are the most enslaved and those who are the most free.” Three is the story of the most enslaved, as it covers the tale of Helot slaves in ancient Sparta. There has been a lot of media attention on the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in recent years, largely due to the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. However, if you’re looking for a book that is grounded on an actual historical basis, look no further because Three #1 has finally arrived.
One of the big initial draws to this series was the inclusion of a historical consultant, Prof. Stephen Hodkinson. For any story rooted in real-world history this is an excellent decision. The Spartans themselves are well known to the average reader, but the aspect always excluded from their tale is that of those who were less than slaves, the Helots. Kieron Gillen outlines his passion for this story at the end of this first installment while discussing Miller’s 300; as most of us know, the Spartans of this particular work claim to value liberty. Gillen is quick to draw our attention to the truth: they hunted slaves.
Three #1 is a magnificent opening issue. The story begins with some historical background on the Spartan treatment of Helots and the annual hunt they undertake. This was a perfect introduction to the overall tone of the series and does a great job of instilling a more accurate idea of these disparate factions in the reader right from the beginning. The rest of the issue was conveyed in a somewhat unexpected, but still highly effective manner. A few Helots are introduced as they go about their business in their own settlement. This segment of the book further initiates the reader into the relatively unknown world of Helots by drawing attention to the differences between city Helots and those who reside in the country. The calm is soon upset by the arrival of a small group of Spartans. During their stay we see just how much contempt they have for their Helot underlings as they are treated as less than human. However, one of the slaves tells a fantastic tale of Helot rebellion. This, of course, doesn’t go well, but provides yet another magnificent introduction to the tone and overall feeling of this series; repression and rebellion, slavery and freedom. Furthermore, the writing throughout Three #1 was suitably intelligent and finely crafted. The dialogue throughout this issue was perfect and really helped immerse the reader in this great plot. There is a depth and power that exudes sincerity and a real passion for the story being told.
The artwork provided by Ryan Kelly was also perfect for this particular series; a lot of it was reminiscent of various Conan books, well-suited to the ancient landscapes portrayed in this first installment. Both the backgrounds and the characters are wonderfully detailed with excellent defining features. The facial expressions were also very well-executed; the contempt for the Helots is written all over Arimnestos’ face, the fear on the slaves’ faces as Terpander tells his story of rebellion is palpable, and the pure anger and hatred on Klaros’ face as he is given orders from a Spartan is wonderfully clear. The colouring contributed by Jordie Bellaire was another perfect addition for this series. The major tones employed in the opening sequence have an almost sepia quality which works very well, particularly when followed by the more vibrant pages which follow. As usual, Bellaire’s work really helps to enhance the apparent realism of the illustrations with wonderful attention to detail and accuracy, especially regarding the various lighting effects. Finally, there are some great panels where the colouring lends a very cinematic sense to a number of scenes, particularly when the Spartans first arrive in the dark of night while a storm rages, and also the blood-spatter which overlays the flashback tale of Helot rebellion.
As Gillen mentions after the story, the popular image of the Spartan warrior probably includes a group of men marching with shield in hand; Spartans never carried their own shields, as this job was left to the Helot slaves. This conjures up quite a different image of ancient Sparta. Three #1 was a very interesting way to start this series. It features a very different take on this period which is not only refreshing, but also well-rooted in history. Judging by the first installment this series is going to be unique and full of depth; and while issue #1 was truly amazing, the real excitement comes from the potential this story has. Gillen is clearly very passionate about the story he is telling and this translates well in the book itself. It remains to be seen where the story will really begin next month now that the initial introductions are apparently complete. Wherever this story is taken, however the plot proceeds, it looks as though Image Comics have done it again. Gillen’s writing is a breath of fresh air, full of sincerity and depth, while the art of Kelly and Bellaire is perfectly suited to not only the subject matter at hand but the overall tone of the story. Three is a series to look out for and readers can surely expect great things from this excellent creative team.