Comic Book / Three

Three is a graphic novel by Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly, which began as a deliberate Spiritual Antithesis to the glorification of ancient Sparta in 300 but then became more complex in its approach. It tells the story of three helots (the serf class in Sparta), Klaros, Damar, and Terpander, who are pursued by 300 Spartiates after killing a group of Spartiates who massacred their community.

Tropes featured in this work:

  • The Atoner: Nestos considers himself this, as he pursues the Three alone after being condemned as a coward for running away from them at their initial rebellion. Also Klaros, for his role in an atrocity during the Messenian war.
  • Camp Straight: Terpander.
  • Death from Above: Kleomenes has Klaros killed by having his men drop a huge boulder on him from the top of the gully.
  • Defiant to the End: The Three, who make the trained Spartans pay for every inch when they are cornered.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Everyone. Deliberately, in the end the Three live the Spartan ideal more than the Spartiates attacking them.
  • Faking the Dead: Damar survives by hiding and letting the Spartiates assume that Nestos's corpse is that of one of the three helots, realising that they don't know that one of the escapees was a woman.
  • Foreshadowing: Damar's speech early on to the two guys about how just surviving is the best rebellion.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Terpander makes a suicidal attack on Nestos to give Klaros the chance to kill him. He explicitly invokes We Have Reserves on himself.
  • In Vino Veritas: The plot kicks off when an Ephor and his escort force a group of helots to drink unwatered down wine. When they don't like what the drunken Terpander has to say...
  • Lover and Beloved: Kleomenes and Tyrtaios had this relationship in their back story.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Nestos's attempt to hunt down the helots personally ends up giving Klaros the military armour and weapons he needs to battle the main group of Spartiates, and provides the extra corpse that allows Damar to get away at the end.
  • No Woman's Land: Averted, as the novel points out that despite its grotesquely brutal caste system, Sparta was one of the most egalitarian classical Greek states in its treatment of women.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Klaros fakes lameness at the beginning to avoid drawing dangerous attention to himself for his fighting skills and also as atonement for the atrocity he committed.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Klaros and Damar sleep together on their last night in the gully before the Spartiates attack. She survives and bears twin boys that she names after the other two.
  • Proud Warrior Race: A deliberate deconstruction, in that it doesn't merely condemn the grotesque abuse of the helots that underpinned classical Spartan society, but also demonstrates how the impracticality and rigidity of the martial ideal led to Sparta's military and political decline in the fourth century BC.
  • The Purge: The novel begins with a dramatisation of the Krypteia, the annual massacre of the strongest helots by the Spartiates as a demonstration and reinforcement of their power. It is also revealed that this happened to the helots who fought most effectively in the Theban War.
  • Sole Survivor: Damar is the only one of the Three to get away alive.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Damar ends up with twins by Klaros, and names them after him and Terpander.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To 300. Its initial conception was to expose the actual brutality and injustice of ancient Spartan culture, and point out how self-destructive its martial ideals were in the end. In Gillen's own telling, he came home one night drunk and started reading 300, before:
    Gillen: [He read] one of the speeches about ‘The only free men the world has ever known,’ and literally had a moment of incandescent rage and shouted at the book, ‘You hunted slaves!’
  • Stern Chase: The basic plot of the novel.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Klaros is very good at this. In the notes, Gillen tries to justify it by pointing out that in classical Greece, both the spear and the sword were primarily hand-held stabbing weapons, and that the sword was actually more practical to throw.
  • Vestigial Empire: Sparta is in the process of developing into this at the time of the novel, which helps explain why there is such an extreme reaction to the Three's revolt.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Eurytos sparks all the trouble at the beginning by forcing the helots to get drunk to demonstrate the evils of drinking to his followers, and then having all the helots massacred when Terpander drunkenly mouths off to him about the catastrophe at Messene.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Supposedly Sparta's attitude to helots who prove themselves to be a bit too good at fighting in war. In the notes Gillen points out that the actual evidence for this is ambiguous, but suspects that the helots themselves probably believed it.
  • You Shall Not Pass: Klaros's one-man 300 act at the entrance to the gully.