Title: Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander.
Series: 300 Universe #2.
Writer(s): Frank Miller.
Illustrator(s): Frank Miller.
Colourist(s): Alex Sinclair.
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics.
Format: Oversized Hardcover.
Release Date: March 19th 2019.
Genre(s): Comics, Historical Fiction.
My Overall Rating: ★★☆☆☆.
It’s always a shame to see a creator wear his worse costume as he approaches the end of his career. In this case, his end came much earlier but he continues to work in the industry as he embraces his passion for comic books and his desire to publish stories set within the same universe as his previous work. Unfortunately, all I could gather from that is a man clinging onto the success of his past work to continue to do what he does. Frank Miller is the creator in question whose critically-acclaimed work, such as Sin City, Batman: Year One, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and 300, have caught the eye of many readers around the world and set the bar high for a lot of writers and artists who look to leave their own impression in the world of comics. This time around, Frank Miller revisits the world of 300 with a story crucial to our understanding of history yet fails miserably in his execution.
What is Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander about? Collecting issues #1-5, this story recounts the rise and fall of the Persian King’s Empire as well as the rise of Alexander the Great. While focusing exclusively on the key events, such as the death of kings and armies, the story jumps through time without any sense of direction to quickly present historical events, marriages, and conflicts. As much as I’d like to delve into the details by presenting the context behind everything, this graphic novel completely overlooks it all and offers a jumbled mess that could never elucidate any question you could possibly have about the events illustrated in this story.
This is the kind of story that makes you want to hit the pause button and wonder why you even cared enough to pick it up and read. For something set within the universe of 300, it was never supposed to be this convoluted and incomprehensible for the reader. While it is supposedly based on historical events, it is nearly impossible to follow any of the events illustrated and it’s not even because of the atrocious artwork. There’s also a panoply of key characters introduced but never properly contextualized, making it futile to follow the narrative or care about anything happening in the universe. Split into multiple segments highlighting either the fall or the rise of different empires, the story somehow also manages to blend realism with mysticism without ever clearly defining one or the other. Even if I wanted to understand what was going on, I would have to do my own research and revisit this tale, and even then I believe I’d consider this abomination to be impertinent for readers. Let’s not forget the incredible amount of simplification and all the unnatural dialogue incorporated within this story to make it so much harder for the reader to comprehend anything..
Although 300 had a similar graphic novel format and the intention to maintain that format was extended to this latest installment, the story and artwork failed to justify that need and simply came across as pretentious. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call the artwork monstrous but it wasn’t unexpected from Frank Miller. I’ve never been a huge fan of his talents—if you can call it that—as his visual style is honestly grotesque, rough, and careless. So far, none of his work where he takes on both the writing and the artwork has ever worked well with me. In this story, his focus is often on epic battle scenes—which isn’t surprising considering the historical events in question and the graphic novel format—but none of the drawings make any sense. From individuals getting stabbed by spears in awkward positions and sliced up at odd angles, nothing was intended to impress but seemed to only convey raw brutality through infantile artwork. I sort of feel bad for Alex Sinclair being involved in the colouring but at least he’s not in fault for any of Frank Miller’s ludicrous ideas.
Xerxes: The Fall of the House of Darius and the Rise of Alexander is a disaster that marks the end of a creator’s ability to deliver quality material.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy for review!