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Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Holy Shit, Batman?

Frank Miller has divided comic fans since at least Ronin in 1983. The debate about Miller's latter day artistic worth and intent will probably never be resolved. Lazy, sexist hack cashing in? Bravely honest provocateur? Both? With each new project, including the current All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, Miller either descends further into self-parody or comes closer to perfecting his vision. Now (as Rich Johnston's column reminds us) Miller is almost ready to release Holy Terror, Batman, in which the Dark Knight takes on Osama Bin Laden himself. Miller openly calls the book "propaganda" and "a reminder to people who seem to have forgotten who we're up against." While it's impossible to say what the finished book will be, we do know something about Miller's political state of mind as he completes the project. From his recent interview at the site Comicdom:
...9/11 did change everything: the West is confronted with a fascist, misogynist, homophobic, genocidal blood enemy that is dedicated to the annihilation of everything civilization has achieved in three millennia. At the very least, my idea of what makes a true villain has changed. An existential threat to everything in the world that's worth a damn clarifies the mind...Look at the world. Almost half my country equates flushing a Koran down a toilet with sawing the head off an innocent contractor, or using airplanes those barbarians could never have invented to slaughter thousands of my neighbors.
Boy, it's a good thing people this paranoid and intellectually dishonest aren't running the country. Oh, wait.

There's no question that Miller has been a hugely influential storyteller, and he did help pave the way for greater creator freedom and control in comics. But his Andrew Sullivan/Little Green Footballs routine here is simply pathetic. Bullshit of this caliber doesn't get a free pass just because I liked Daredevil when I was 10.

For a free-thinking iconoclast, Miller gets his talking points directly from Wingnut Command Central. The irony is inescapable--and no, not the easy (if debatable) irony of Frank Miller denouncing misogyny. Like every other wild-eyed "existential threat" couch warrior, Miller talks like a grizzled tough guy who's clear-eyed-Spartan-man enough to know when killin' needs doin', but can't see the inherent abject cowardice in his hyperbole. FDR, it turns out, was flat wrong: there is much in the world to fear, and we must be ruled by that fear. Miller's Limbaugh-like cheap shot at implied liberals ("almost half my country") who supposedly forgive barbarism and murder while whining about the symbolism of a flushed book reveals how profoundly unserious Miller is. He may or may not be a lazy artist, but he is most definitely a lazy thinker.

Miller's critique of his fellow Americans is based on a false contrast. By my count, the only person judging the relative acceptability of beheadings vs. Koran defacement is him. I'd be willing to bet that the percentage of Americans who condone beheadings by terrorists is close to zero. But it doesn't take a radical leftist to realize that defacing the religious texts of devoutly religious people--all as taunting psy-ops--might be, um, somewhat counter-productive. By linking the two, Miller seems to show his real target of scorn: Americans supposedly too weak to stand up to the potential "annihilation of everything" at the hands of subhumans too stupid to make their own airplanes, so they had to steal ours. It's a mighty short hop from Miller's construct to, say, condoning torture by US forces because hey, these slavering, fanged towelhead demons want to kill us for our Queer Eye and HBO. What, are you a spineless pussy?

Al Qaeda are indeed dangerous, fanatical assholes. But whatever Miller's book turns out to be, ultimately Batman is not going to kick their asses. And neither are we. If our success against terror continues to be measured by how many of them we kill before they kill us, we are utterly fucked. Miller's language romanticizes Armaggedon, perversely willing into being the clash of civilzations as an eager partner with Bin Laden. (but don't stop shopping--for expensive Frank Miller hardcovers--or the terrorists win!)

Yet strangely, in the months before 9/11 the Bush Administration was positively chummy with the Taliban--and they were no less homophobic, misogynist, fascist, etc. They were open about their intent. And we still ally ourselves with the terrorist-coddling Axis of Evil when they're fighting gay or womens' rights in the UN. So what really changed after that dark day? The red-blooded half of our country Miller with whom apparently aligns himself aren't likely to be in any gay rights parades; they just want to put down those scary Arabs--for revenge, for fun, for imperialism, out of a misguided sense of self-preservation, whatever. U.S. warmongers are pretty much down with the Al Queda social program, they just would prefer it to be administered by the holy trinity of baby Jesus, Dick Cheney and George W.

In the cartooning world, Frank Miller may be a shining star. In the real world, he's strictly comic book.

He's dumbtarded.
Seriously, how disappointing.
I'm so tired of the crazy sauce.
For years I've seen this guy get away with pretty much anything in comic books under the shield of supposed irony--I'm glad some of his jingoism and sexism (those released script pages) are finally come to like.

He's done some great work, but I really think that's all behind him.
Oh, I still think Miller is capable of surprising people with great work, and much of what he says about comics is very smart and clear-headed. But his politics, at least as expressed in those quotes, are just stupid--at best, counter-productive. But the Ann Coulter rhetoric synchs up so closely with his Iron John/Spartan warrior obsession that he apparently can't resist it. The world view he's reinforcing now is presaged by most of the comics he's produced over his career.

I think some fans have constructed their own version of Frank Miller who is more nuanced and complex (and secretly liberal) than the man himself, as a rationalization for the problematic aspects of his work. Lately the real guy doesn't seem to be as enigmatic as many people would like to think. I find it amusing that despite the mountains of critical apologies, much of Miller's work may be more or less what it seems to be on the surface. I can read R. Crumb's most shocking stuff and get the irony, the complexity of someone identifying and wrestling with social programming about race, gender, sexuality. I don't get the same feeling from much of Miller's work. I read it much the same way I read latter-day Ditko, there are no questions being asked, just one guy's answers being stated. There's just absolutely no way to interpret self-admitted jingoistic pro-war propaganda as punk rock subversion. I choose to believe the guy when he says he's sincere about it.

It's not that surprising to me that someone who has dedicated his life to not just examining but glorifying the exploits of ultraviolent men (sometimes to greatly entertianing effect, I admit) thinks differently about the world than I do.
I was related by marriage to Frank Miller for well over a decade and I can tell you from ample--all-too-ample--first-hand experience (how many hours did I listen to his blather?!) that David Cutler is correct in his belief that Frank is completely sincere in his mindless tough guy posturing, his jingoism, his general reactionary point of view.

I was astonished when Sin City came out and a young liberal African-American woman I knew remarked on how funny the movie was because "every line is a cliche, every one is totally ironic." Believe me when I tell you that not a single line in that film or comic was ironic or meant to be funny. Frank Miller does not have a sense of humor--or at least not a sense of humor in keeping with those of his college-educated hipster fans. If you want to see one of the bits of humor Frank was most proud of, rent the Robocop sequel (2 and 3 run together in my mind, I didn't like either, but I think it's in 3) in which the title character uses one of his huge weapons to shoot the cigarette out of the mouth of some innocent guy on the sidewalk, then tells the terrified now-smokeless guy, "Thank you for not smoking." Frank thought this was a hilarious, brilliant sharp-edged bit of social critique (it coincided with the start of all those anti-smoking measures in CA)

Believe me, what you see and hear and read from Frank is all there is to him. The ham-fisted pre-pubescent view of the world, the impotent macho posturing, that sums him up. If you want to insert irony and nuance, go ahead--but don't be surprised when the next words from Frank's mouth are jaw-droppingly moronic.
batman is indeed dangerous but for the villians
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