Thursday, November 10, 2011
FRANK MILLER's HOLY TERROR
Frank Miller first announced HOLY TERROR sometime just after the events of 9/11-- in his original plan Batman would go after Osama Bin Laden the same way he'd gone after Hitler in World War II-- although to be truthful Batman only fought Hitler on the covers of some of his books, and for the most part that fighting involved hitting him in the face with a baseball.
Miller felt that comics and superheroes should be an outlet for us to work out our aggression, and after 9/11 there were a lot of us who were very angry. Regardless of what led them to decide to do it, attacking us on our own shores in a cowardly fashion costing the lives of thousands of innocent civilians rightfully made us want to get some kind of retribution, and in Frank Miller's case he wanted to sic the angry Dark Knight version of Batman on them.
Miller is truly one of the visionaries of the comics and graphic novel industry, and when he's firing on all cylinders he can't be touched.
His work on DAREDEVIL in the late 70s through the early 80s redefined a character who had lost his way and turned him into a figure straight out of the best of the classic film noirs. Lured away from Marvel Comics to rival DC Comics Miller then produced RONIN which put the comic book industry on it's rear. A critical smash while remaining a commercial disappointment this epic story combined elements of film noir with Japanese culture and mixed it with the works of some of the great European cartoonists like Moebius. It's heavy emphasis on paper quality and production values made it a legitimate piece of art in a medium that was still churning out stories of Clark Kent trying to trick Lois Lane into thinking he wasn't Superman after all.
After RONIN came THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS in 1986 in which Miller took an aged Batman out of retirement to clean up Gotham one more time. This version of Batman made Dirty Harry look more like Harry Potter by comparison, and it was a huge hit-- paving the way for blockbuster graphic novels like WATCHMEN.
Miller had dealt with the end of Batman's career and decided he wanted to play with the beginning so he crafted BATMAN YEAR ONE, and this time he turned the art chores over to his Daredevil collaborator the amazingly talented David Mazzuchelli. YEAR ONE rivaled, and some say surpassed, THE DARK KNIGHT in this story about Batman finding his way.
Miller revisited Daredevil with ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN, a prestigious art sized book that featured superior production values and told the story of this character's return from the dead. The book was startling, well written and beautifully drawn, but by this time Miller's artwork had taken a slightly abstract feel that turned off many hardcore fans.
From here Miller jumped over to DARK HORSE to begin his creator owned SIN CITY Series and again he was like lightning in a bottle, capturing the raw power and energy of some incredibly violent stories with minimalistic but amazing artwork that took him back to his love of Film Noir.
Miller could do no wrong. Now regarded as the heir apparent to Will Eisner, the man considered the father of the modern graphic novel, and it would have been hard to argue with them.
Miller returned to Batman after a few years with a collaboration with Todd McFarland on his SPAWN Series with a Batman/Spawn team up, this time handling the writing. It was a much watered down version of Batman and the writing seemed less than brilliant.
Miller announced he'd be doing a sequel to THE DARK KNIGHT and it was the most highly anticipated graphic novel of all time. To say it was met with disappointment would be akin to saying The Hindenburg hit a bit of a rough patch in New Jersey. Gone was the tight writing of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and in it's place was haphazard dialogue that seemed ridiculous if you read it out loud, and artwork that was so loose and cartoony in parts that it seemed a parody of itself.
HOLY TERROR took ten years to produce, and the first warning sign that something was wrong with it came when DC Comics decided it wasn't interested in publishing it-- which makes a Batman book impossible to do. Unless you white out all the Batears and give your character another name...
Which is exactly what Miller did, now called THE FIXER, this caped and cowled hero leapt around a thinly disguised Gotham City chasing after a Cat Burglar and dealing with a high ranking police official who looks a lot like Commissioner Gordon.
The artwork is Miller RONIN combined with Miller SIN CITY and that's not a bad thing. Looking at the pages filled with ink smudges and splattered ink it has a tremendous sense of energy virtually exploding at you page after page.
The story finds Fixer and Cat Burglar hooking up after a multi page chase, and they are interrupted by a terrorist attack which seriously ticks The Fixer off, so he decides to go after the terrorists giving them exactly what they want "without the innocent victims".
Miller's anger is clear on every page and that might have been enough to keep the story going if he had any of the classic Miller dialogue from some of his stronger projects. It's as if Miller has stopped hearing the way people speak and can only hear his own version of natural conversation in his head-- which is ridiculous and forced.
Even the internal thoughts of the characters told through narration is unimaginative; here's a bit right out of the book from Cat Burglar
"He's right on my ass.
Right. On. My. Ass.
What is his Goddamn problem?
All I did was steal a lousy diamond bracelet.
And now he's right on my ass."
Compare that to ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN, with this line of narration delivered by Daredevil as he walks a snowy Manhattan street in his secret identity as Matt Murdoch
"The traffic stops cold at Hudson with no hope of movement in this life.
So I walk the last four blocks to St. Bart's. Pinned between ghetto blasters and playing hopscotch over the hopeless and thinking about Elektra.
It isn't the kind of morning I'd expect to find her on my mind.
But then, I've had the whole night to practice."
Narration that could rival Raymond Chandler.
HOLY TERROR feels lazy, and coming from a true genius like Frank Miller, that is the real crime here.
Posted by Andy Fish at 12:15 AM