While the odd moments of “Sparta, U.S.A.” remain in its final issue, there’s a conventional streak in it that works against what made the initial issues so captivating and intriguing. Instead of acting as emotional payoff for what’s been set up, the town of Sparta rising up against the occupying Nazis with Godfrey McLaine leading them seems too pat and typical for the conclusion of this series. It’s still a good comic and satisfies on most levels, but there’s something missing that rises to the bar set already in the series. If anything, things play out too smoothly, even the parts that go wrong for McLaine and company. It all comes off as according to plan and there’s something unsatisfying about such a clean finish.
With Sparta under Nazi occupation on the orders of its founder/figurehead, the Maestro, former football hero Godfrey McLaine has created an underground resistance with the two forces engaging fully in this issue. Lapham plays upon the Sparta name to allude to the 300 Spartans that stood against the Persians (most comics fans will be familiar with Frank Miller’s rendition of that story), while also combining that with football and how the town’s obsession with the sport gives its citizens a stronger understanding of teamwork and strategy. The football element doesn’t land as strongly as it could, while the Spartan allusion seems more cute than anything else.
Part of the problem is that Lapham needs to cram a lot into this issue, making the fight come off as rushed. Johnny Timmons’s art is serviceable, but has slowly become less polished and finished as the series has progressed, and he never delivers any strong visuals to play up the drama. When the Spartans drive out the Nazis, it doesn’t have any oomph, partly because of the decision for a splash page that shows the residents of Sparta standing around with their weapons. It’s a choice that severely undercuts the story, partly because the execution isn’t as imposing or bold as required. It looks too static and boring when the intention is the citizens are so in sync and impressive that the Nazis must flee, knowing that their superior numbers won’t help them.
In some places, Timmons’s rougher art works quite well. His faces are far more interesting now that there isn’t the photorealist polish of previous issues. The jagged lines and harsh shadows give the characters a stronger personality visually. The Maestro, in particular, looks fantastic in this issue. Lapham’s use of the character at the end is definitely intriguing and twists what McLaine accomplished in an interesting way that makes me want to see what happens next.
That’s a problem, too, because the end of the issue doesn’t feel like a conclusion, it’s more an open ending for future stories, and I would have liked to see something a little more definitive, but there are only 22 pages. That does mean that “Sparta, U.S.A.” doesn’t end as well as previous issues suggested, but it’s still a good ending. With any luck, Lapham and Timmons will get a chance to follow-up on the promise of that final page.