To be sure, The Dark Knight Returns had the most significant impact on the industry. These dense four issues basically ushered in the "grim 'n gritty" storytelling style that helped boost the industry and lead it to more mature themes. (On a less happy note, the industry quickly went overboard in its depictions of ultraviolence and depressing tales - the 1990s are regarded as a low point for mainstream comic books).
Over the years, Miller has continued to push his bleak, neo-noirish style to new heights and has achieved some magnificent results, most notably with his Sin City series. The brutal black-and-white style, coupled with bleak tales that only very rarely have anything that can be considered a truly happy ending (and, even then, one has to really stretch to find the happy), make those stories classics.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that as the years have dragged by Miller has painted himself deeper and deeper into a story-telling corner by pursuing such a singular vision. Alan Moore, by contrast, was also part of the grim 'n gritty revolution of the 1980s with his V for Vendetta and, yes, Watchmen, but Moore refused to limit himself to a single style. Moore would go on to pen things like Tom Strong, a more heroic, light-hearted (though certainly not immature) series with a protagonist based on 1920s heroes like Doc Savage, and Promethea, which explored occult and magic themes.
But Miller's single-minded focus on making things ever grimmer, grittier and bleaker has today made him (in)famous for such things as All-Star Batman and Robin, which gave rise to the immortal quote: "I'm the goddamn Batman."
and . . .
Not to mention his incredibly surly Wonder Woman, who refers to men as . . . well, just look:
ASB&R was uniformly considered to have been so over-the-top bad that it actually generated a cult following, like people who get together for midnight showings of Plan 9 From Outer Space.
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More recently, Miller has produced Holy Terror. Originally conceived as a response to the 9/11 attacks, Miller had planned for the story to involve Batman taking the fight to al-Queda. But as time dragged on Miller's story changed and by the time it was finally published it starred a generic creation of Miller's own: "The Fixer." The Fixer was basically Batman without DC (the owners of the Batman character) having to worry about their most profitable property being dragged through the mud. You can read a full review of Holy Terror here, but to cut to the chase I'll just quote the review's subtitle: "A propaganda comic that fights faith [Islam] instead of evil [al-Qaeda]."
And that sounds about right. Miller has gone on record several times proclaiming his belief that the 9/11 attacks were just the first act in what he perceives to be a war for the soul of civilization with an implacable enemy that wants all Americans dead. He has explained that Holy Terror is intended to be "a reminder that we're in the midst of a long war" and that "the enemy we're up against is pernicious, deceptive and merciless and wants nothing less than total destruction."
In many ways, for me, Frank Miller has turned into the Ayn Rand of comic books. He created a popular, fictional world for himself and then began to delude himself that the stories he told in this imaginary realm had any kind of meaning or translated at all to the Real World. Reading about a fascist Batman torturing people for information in The Dark Knight Returns 25 years ago was entertaining for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was the sheer novelty of Miller's new take on the character. But - above all - the story could be appreciated because it was about, well, Batman. The comic book world is not the Real World . . . just as one f'rinstance, when people die in the Real World they stay dead.
Miller's use of the 9/11 attacks to justify bringing his fictional perspective to bear on the Real World informs his recent rant about the OWS protesters. You can read that rant in its entirety here, but this is the essence of Miller's "thoughts" on the movement:
“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached - is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.
Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy.
Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.
And this enemy of mine — not of yours, apparently - must be getting a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh - out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle.
In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas’ basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft.
Or better yet, enlist for the real thing. Maybe our military could whip some of you into shape.
They might not let you babies keep your iPhones, though. Try to soldier on.
Madness, all of it. (And what is the obsession critics of OWS have with the protesters having iPhones and iPods? I see that in almost every sneering dismissal of these protests and I just don't know what it is intended to signal.)
Truthfully, though, I wouldn't be surprised to see Miller's criticisms take root and blossom in the fertilizer pumped out by the Right Wing Noise Machine. Indeed, the more I think about it the more I see how perfectly this rant marries together two tropes beloved by the right-wing. On the one hand, you've got the "filthy, lazy, dirty, weak hippie" theme, and on the other you've got the "Muslims are coming to kill us all in our sleep and impose sharia law" theme. To borrow a word from Miller, how pernicious to merge these two and argue that "the OWS protesters are weakening America and making it impossible to fight the Muslims."
Insanity, of course, but when Rush and Sean and Ann and Pamela Geller start making this argument, remember that all they will be crazily trying to do is apply comic book reasoning to Real World issues.
(Artist Anjin Anhut)