Spartacus: Blood and Sand
I have an unhealthy love for Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a TV show aired on the Starz network this past summer. It was everything I expected it to be: blood, guts, and sex, and it never tried to pretend it was anything more. Eventually, I grew to love it for the characters and the drama as well, and it was easily my favorite show of the summer. So, when I heard there was a comic series tie-in, I was thrilled, if a bit cautious. Most TV/movie comic tie-ins aren’t as good as their media counterparts.
I absolutely loved this series.
This comic is as gory, bloody and vicious as the show, but there’s some real heart to it, surprisingly. I’d say the stories here delve a bit more into the human aspect of the gladiators, and into gladiators we’ve only heard of, all dead by Spartacus’s hand.
The first issue tells the tale of Arkadios, the last man Spartacus kills during his execution, leading him on the path he takes in the show. Arkadios is a sympathetic character here, and surprisingly enough, his story almost parallels our hero’s. All he wants is to take the life of the man who pulled him into his life of slavery (god as he is in the arena), but Spartacus kills him before he ever gets the chance. The writing is really damn good in this first issue (written by Steven S. DeKnight), spare but poignant, in a way. Interspersed with the fantastic artwork (by Adam Archer) are gems like this:
“I find no joy in the Thracian’s pain. No satisfaction in his blood. … It is the Thracian’s name they chant. Their new deity of of pain. Spartacus! Spartacus! Spartacus! He is a god. He is vengeance. And mine is lost. Forever.”
The rest of the three issues continue with Arkadios narrating from beyond the grave, tied to Spartacus until the gladiator dies. He narrates the lives and deaths of gladiators Spartacus and others in his ludus have met and killed in the arena. The Jackal twins, who Crixus takes out, a story sandwiched between Spartacus’s final test against Crixus in the second episode. Barca, a fellow gladiator forced to kill his own father in the arena. And in the saddest tale of all, the giant Theokoles, who draws with Doctore, the man responsible for teaching the gladiators.
I never thought such a great series of stories could come from a TV show that is mainly popcorn entertainment for me (as much as I love it). True, it’s violent, true, it’s simple. But there’s a beauty in the simplicity, and I relished the opportunity given to dive into the history of characters I never gave a second thought toward during the show.