The end of an empire beckons as even with lesser numbers, Alexander cuts a swathe through the enemy forces and Darius III loses everything, as well as suffering death not in battle, but at the hands of a traitor.
XERXES: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DARIUS AND THE RISE OF ALEXANDER #5
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Frank Miller
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Additional Illustration: Andy Kubert & Alex Sinclair
Publisher: Dark Horse
What You Need to Know:
After suffering a humiliating defeat at Issus Darius must bargain to save his wife.
What You’ll Find Out:
We begin with Alexander hearing that Darius bargains for the return of his wife and he asks her where she would rather be. Listening to his soft words she has decided to stay with Alexander, with a visual showing Xerxes looking down from his throne above with his fellow fallen gods as the narrative puts forward the idea he is watching in shame. The more Darius offers Alexander the more he is refused by his opponent.
Led by the Spartans in march Alexander swiftly takes control of Gaugamela. With some discussion of tactics soon follows Babylon, Susa and Persian capital Persepolis, even with substantially fewer forces, some 40,000 to Darius’ 500,000 to 1,000,000. all in the matter of a year. Only to arrive in 330 B.C. to discover his opponent already assassinated and the honor of fighting him denied, witnessing the scene himself and supervising the arrests.
He does the only honorable thing he can and pays tribute to Darius III in ritual and bids him farewell, pondering their similar lives and lack of understanding of their plight going on to state he did well enough and he can rest and will be welcomed by his ancestors, before pondering his own path ahead and the task he has before him.
What Just Happened?:
Writing: Overall throughout the series I would have to say the battle of Marathon and the first two or three issues were the most memorable, but with regards writing it fell a little by the wayside by issue four and it was almost as if Miller was distracted by something else. The start was amazing and given the subject matter, it would be a Herculean effort to keep up that momentum. There were some bright spots and some minor and one or two dire errors in the historical text. The inclusion of the Spartans is not historically accurate as they did not become involved in the ongoing battle, ultimately seen as unreliable and untrustworthy as they had given up land to the Persians in the bargain. Also, the use of Greek Fire, as mentioned in my review for #2 was a small point of inaccuracy, as was the story of Esther who was part of the royal harem at the age of 15, not picked from a vast search of the kingdom. However as the book of Esther is the story that is the heart of the Jewish festival of Purim, during which it is read aloud once in the evening and again the following morning, it was an interesting addition here and the most in-depth we got of any of the characters after the battle of Marathon. Given the final two issues were almost exactly the same regarding the quality of writing content I was almost tempted to copy and paste my previous review, but didn’t. There were a mere TWO pages of actual spoken dialogue, not counting one page with a charioteer screaming “YAA”. Those two pages consisted of Alexander talking sweet nothings to Esther and a page further on with Alexander going into attack plan with his men in the run-up to the final battle that never comes with Darius III. This was not enough, even with commentary relaying information about the actual murder of Darius. The finale with Alexander paying tribute to Darius rang a little hollow for me and didn’t ring true emotionally and though it was intended to be tragic and humbling and relay how the two opposing leaders were so isolated from their own people and had more in common with each other, I just felt nothing in way of emotion about the fate of either. And no mention of Alexander later killing Artaxerxes V, who was to be the murderer and successor of Darius III, which with the anticlimax of not having a battle with Darius, could have been a more satisfying end.
Characters: The omission of Alexander until well into issue #4 was glaring considering the title of the series. This and the chopping and changing of the royal Persian line was dizzying to say the least and hardly done in a worthwhile way to back up the narrative. Historically it would have been a mammoth task to fit in all the lineage, the Persian Empire beginning in 559 BC by the First King Cyrus, followed by his son Cambyses II in 530 BC, then when he died in 522 BC was succeeded by Bardiya for less than a year. Then our boy Darius becomes the fourth king the same year and rules until 486 BC while Xerxes is known to have ruled alongside him for a year until his fathers death and was himself succeeded by his son Artaxerxes (also noted by some historians as being the husband of Esther, not the son) who would then go on to have three sons who would kill each other in quick succession to rule in each others stead until the last surviving son Darius II (also known as Artashata) for twenty years, little is known of him, which is odd considering the length of his time on the throne compared to the others who reigned. The whole dynasty was pared down to three kings, which made total sense. However, none of them, from Darius, through Xerxes and on to Darius III were really given the spotlight in a satisfying way in the whole series. After the last issue, I had hoped the battle of Gaugamela and the rout of Darius and the Achaemenid Empire would be of epic proportions and would have to be, to have any sense of satisfaction for readers. This was not the case. The mosaic style seems to be reserved for scenes with Xerxes in and mercifully so. As with last issue it again brushed over any tactical enactment, sticking in a map of the Persian and Macedonian forces in the style of Minecraft or some PC strategy game and as with last issue resorting to just showing more glorified spear throwing and face gurning, though this was the only low point in terms of the art and each page turn gave another feather in Alexanders cap.
Art: The first two issues bore some stunning art which bolstered the writing and supported it well, but as the series continued the art could do little to disguise the fact the writing was getting less focussed and almost anecdotal, even too jokey at points. As a consequence, the continuation just fell flat in comparison and did not do justice to the legend of the first 300 series. Miller began heavily relying on the same double spread page of last two issues and the story was almost non-existent. This final issue was a vast improvement on the previous issue, which had little to draw you in. This time Alex Sinclair did a wonderful job coloring Miller’s splash pages, the soldiers coming out of the sunlight leapt off the page and the background sky of the final pages made Alexander look resplendent and regal in every way. And the eye was drawn to some visual feasts in the form of soldiers again running out of a bright sun-drenched dawn, as well as the sight of the bird flying over Gaugamela and the towering statues in Susa, Persepolis, and Babylon.
Although yet again these pinups replaced actual content and simply masked the glaring absence of story. With limited dialogue or characterisation, it relied on the art alone and it was barely enough for me. The splash pages again began to take over from telling the story, but thankfully with less of the repeated scenery showing the same thing over again, as we had last issue. The lampoonery was thankfully also absent this issue, though maybe that would have added more depth than what passed for a final battle and the grand finale and denouement of the whole story with no payoff in the writing. Despite the improved art leading up to the end it then fell flat with an anticlimax of a battle. There was little of the bloody imagery and pain of battle we were used to from the first issue, which Miller did a wonderful job on. Again as last issue, the bonus illustration was stunning, this time from Andy Kubert and Alex Sinclair.
Overall: Miller has written and drawn this whole series and as I have said of three of the previous issues they have been visually stunning. From issue four balancing art and narrative has clearly become too much and both art and writing suffered terribly. This is not what I recognize of Miller, especially when reading this straight after the most recent issues of Hit Girl and Kickass for Image. This was to be the completion of his magnum opus, begun with the epic 300 and instead it came off as doing War and Peace for your thesis and adding on the plot of the Teddy Bears Picnic to finish it all off. The dialogue was nonexistent which meant characterization went down the plughole. The art took over and made it look like just a comic in the loosest sense of the word. And even the art ended with no depth or substance although the finale was a vast improvement on the penultimate issue.
Rating: 5/10 this issue
Overall: I have to give 6.5/10 for the first three issues alone.
Final Thought: A severe disappointment and not how I thought this would pan out when I began reviewing the title. And I’m talking artistically not historically.
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