In the mid-1980s DC turned to a writer-illustrator from rival Marvel Comics to revive its flat-lining Batman franchise. Frank Miller, who had worked thanklessly on numerous cheesy storylines for Daredevil, took that opportunity and crafted a Batman who was part hero, part vigilante, with a flamboyant streak of cruelty that scared the daylights out of his opponents.
More importantly, it celebrated this character who didn't mind bending morality as long as the end result was to his satisfaction. The result was The Dark Knight Returns and it captivated the imagination of readers and energized Batman creatively and DC financially. It was hailed as a seminal event in comic book history.
Years later, Miller returned to pen a sequel, DK2, in which he drove his point home by staging the battering of flagship hero Superman by an aging Batman and his super hero friends. All of this became part of comic book folklore and Miller's subsequent works became bestselling events. Some of them, like Ronin and Sin City, were made into movies.
What marks Miller's work is that each panel he illustrates can pack shards of passion, cruelty, tragedy, bravery, and triumph - basic human wreckage. His drawings capture emotion by coding it into how his characters carry themselves, how they present their silhouettes, and above all, the look in their eyes. Beyond conveying essential emotion, the drawings are coarse, the lack of detail providing a singular point of focus.
In his ambitious graphic novel, 300, Miller takes us through the essential events of the Battle of Thermopylae. The battle itself was short but the campaign on either side was a lengthy one, resulting in the later repulsion of the Persian forces at the battle of Salamis. This tale is often presented by Western historians as a triumph of democracy over slavery won in the face of overwhelming odds and treachery. It's not difficult to extrapolate a whole bunch of racist undertones in this.
There are a few problems with this concept. The Greeks themselves in those days were enthusiastic practitioners of slavery, rapine and other forms of barbarism. They had monarchies as well. They had a harsh culture, especially in Sparta, where babies not worthy of becoming soldiers were killed at birth. Persian culture was fairly diverse and rich, although no one is suggesting that it was superior or less bloody and cruel in any way to that existing in Greece and its neighboring states.