After a breathlessly paced first issue, Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly take a step back in the second half of Issue #2 to look at the underlying structure of Spartan society. While the overall pacing suffers as a result, these scenes reveal the depth and detail of Gillen’s research, and it’s impressive.
Upon hearing that the Helots have murdered one of their own, the elite Ephors of Sparta must decide how to respond to this atrocity. Gillen meticulously maps out how they arrive at their decision, tracing their historic and cultural motivators. While the information itself is quite interesting, it is unfortunately delivered almost entirely by talking heads. Kelly performs admirably, utilizing every angle available to make these conversations interesting, but there’s only so much that can be done with an exchange this wordy. Gillen is trying to cram in quite a bit of information about Spartan society while still moving things along, and some of it inevitably drags.
Admittedly, after the way the first issue was laid out, it was expected that this installment would have to do more of the tidying up and fleshing out. This is a book that aims to look at class and the systems that enforce it, so it does need to examine both of those things in some depth. This issue provided an excellent lens for how oppressive systems aren’t only oppressive because they enable those who are already monsters, but because they make monsters out of men who are not. When Gillen introduces King Kleomenes II, he does not seem to be a particularly terrible man in his daily life. He has public service principles, takes his position seriously, and even talks enthusiastically about his wife. And yet he’s going to lead 300 men to hunt down three slaves. When the Helots fought back in the first issue, they were trying to survive. When the Spartans send an army to hunt them down, they think they’re doing the same thing.
Speaking of the slaves, the title Helots still dominate the first half of the issue, and that section is stellar. Kelly’s action scenes are vivid, powerful, and carefully laid out. For fun, I went back and traced each character’s journey through the carnage; they’re all easy to follow. In addition, Jordie Bellaire, she-who-makes-all-the-comics-happen, continues to impress on colors. The contrast between the two indoor rooms and the outdoors creates distinct and easily discernible arenas of action, while her explosive reds and splatters show that the Helots can be just as savage as their masters.
The trio keeps to their established characters even when acting as executioners. Terpander remains Terpander, with his only two lines spent swearing and announcing that he’s killing a man from behind. Klaros and Damar don’t get much more development here, but they do demonstrate their strength and courage. When the Ephor who ordered the massacre asks for his life, I almost felt sorry for him. (Almost.)
While it didn’t match its predecessor, the second issue of “Three” remains strong. Its combination of deep research, fully realized design and a clear point of view is why “Three” remains my favorite historical comic of the moment.