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Friday, August 22, 2014 

Extra article about Frank Miller from Wired

Wired wrote an article/interview about Miller's life, conducted this time by Sean Howe, and for a piece coming from a magazine like theirs, it's surprisingly respectable to Miller up to a point, though it still has flaws. At the start, they say:
...Miller's blunt morality wasn't confined to the page or screen. He distinguished himself as one of the most vocal and courageous forces in the comics industry, fighting corporate exploitation and censorship. But, as if Miller were one of his own antiheroes, his stark individualist philosophy has also led him down some lonely corridors. He's written graphic novels that many of his fans recoil from—including one that WIRED called “one of the most appalling, offensive, and vindictive comics of all time.” And he followed that up with ferocious online musings that provoked an outcry, even from some of his most stalwart supporters. [...]
I believe the Wired writer Howe's referring to is this guy, whose pan of Holy Terror sounds fully deliberate, influenced by his political positions, and comes borderline close to doing what Miller's been against, and what you'd think he might admire him for, but obviously doesn't.

Now, here's where Howe goofs, when he brings up The Dark Knight Returns, and this took me by surprise:
That anxiety would fuel Miller's Dark Knight, which reimagined Batman as an embittered, bristle-haired 55-year-old ready for punks to make his day. Published in 1986, the year Miller and Varley married, it became a pop culture phenomenon, garnering lavish coverage from Rolling Stone and Spin. Reviewers and readers were particularly drawn to the dark reinterpretation of its campy source material. [...]
"Campy"?!? This all but throws my confidence in Howe as a historian. Any true expert knows the Golden Age origins were anything but campy, and only in the Silver Age, for about a decade, did they go the campy slapstick route, with the Joker toned down to the same level as the Prankster and Trickster. And Denny O'Neil brought it back to the original vision with the story "The Secret of the Waiting Graves" in 1969. And Howe doesn't know anything about that? If he misreported the history of late companies like Charleston and Eclipse's output, I'd frown on that too.

Later on, however, they bring up the structure of his sequel to DKR, this time called the Dark Knight Strikes Again, and if I'm reading this correctly, he didn't go about it well:
At the turn of the millennium, Miller and Varley were working on their long-awaited Dark Knight sequel. It was initially hatched as a romp, a reinjection of Day-Glo fun into what had become a relentlessly grim superhero landscape. They were about halfway through the series on September 11, 2001. By this time Miller had moved back to New York, and the assault on his home disturbed him deeply—which again quickly became apparent in his work. In the later issues, Batman decides to let an alien force destroy Metropolis and its citizens, Captain Marvel is killed, and Batman kills a genetically manipulated Robin by hurling him into a lava-filled chasm. “I think there was a PTSD effect,” Varley says of 9/11. “I think many people didn't get over it, that it will continue to affect their lives forever. And I think Frank is one of those people.”
I don't think it makes sense to say 9-11 had anything to do with this angle he takes towards the end of the story, because it doesn't sound like something a guy who cares about human life would do. This direction he takes in the DKR sequel sounds like something that was derived from a pre-9/11 vision (lest we forget Miller was leftist in past decades), which most of Miller's peers in the comics medium are still doing. In fact, this posting on Comics Grid confirms it follows pretty much the same angle as DKR. You can even see something like that in Civil War. Honestly, I'm not surprised if that book came across as a disappointment, and Howe's not being very clear here. Batman turns defeatist and lets his good friend Superman's city go under? That's not heroic. If he'd created different characters specially for the role of a defeatist, that would be one thing, but putting a character who believes in defending human life into a white-flag waving role is not true to the hero's standings. At least since then, he's shown signs of improvement with his own graphic novels, though his All-Star Batman is still a very ridiculous take on the Masked Manhunter. Based on the mindsets of modern DC editors, I can't say I'm too surprised DC would greenlight the Dark Knight Strikes Again, but not Holy Terror, Batman, as he originally set out to write his 2011 GN. Howe goes on to tell about the mistakes he made with the Spirit movie, and describes more of the All-Star Batman & Robin book:
The Spirit fell prey to a danger that Sin City had flirted with—that the faithful application of comic-strip language to film could veer into stultification. Miller's sensibility, so often pitch-perfect, seemed needlessly dark in the lighter world that Will Eisner had created. The results were messy. Divorced from the panel flow of a comic-book page, the fussily composed frames and staccato bursts of one-liners vanquished most traces of humanity. When it was released, Miller's solo debut as a filmmaker was ravaged by critics and ignored at the box office.

“We all thought Frank had his own following and that they'd be true to him regardless,” says Del Prete. “But that was wrong.”
Does this mean they were relying exclusively on people who read his comics? That's one of the biggest mistakes filmmakers can perform. For a movie to succeed, you have to sell it on its own terms in writing and acting talent. But that wasn't the only error. Unmentioned in this article is Miller's turning Dennis Colt into a living-dead protagonist, which makes it hard to care when you know he may not even be vulnerable to injury. Still, it could've been worse: they could've made his character a ghost, and you definitely can't get much character drama out of that!
That became even more apparent when issues of his widely panned series All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder—which featured a gratuitously sadistic Batman—stopped appearing in 2008.
Depending on how that sadism is used, yes, that would make it one of Miller's definite mistakes with Batman, and it could easily put his own respect for the Masked Manhunter under a question mark. If he did it out of revenge against DC management for refusing to greenlight Holy Terror, that was foolish, because taking out your anger against characters the modern management didn't create solves nothing. I don't deny Miller's made mistakes in his career, and I won't here either. But now, here's where Howe takes up a questionable direction on Holy Terror:
Then, in September 2011, Miller finally published Holy Terror, the graphic novel that had been percolating for a decade. By then the project had left DC's development pipeline, and Miller had redrawn it without the Batman. Frenetic and vicious, Holy Terror portrayed a cowardly American populace, a corrupt government, and a protagonist who gloated while committing torture on Muslims. What were readers being rallied to do, exactly? If a piece of propaganda is to be judged by how many it persuades or even by the coherence of its message, then Holy Terror's failure was profound. The reviews, and the response from fans, were unforgiving.
I'm afraid this is where Howe is parroting the lines of a political movement he won't even name - the leftists. "Fans" doesn't explain anything; it's completely superficial. The biggest annoyance here is that he didn't seem to ask Miller what Paul Levitz and Dan DiDio's reception was for his original take on the material with Batman. Obviously, they balked, even if they weren't willing to tell him they're cowards. But that Howe didn't get into that has got to be one of this article's weaknesses.
“People attacked my city,” Miller says today. “They killed my neighbors. I despise them. And I want them destroyed … If people think that's somehow reactionary or overly conservative, that's their problem. Let them have their neighbors murdered and see what it feels like.”
I'll give Howe some credit for quoting that. Rage and anguish at al Qaeda for murdering more than 3000 people is neither a conservative nor a liberal position. It's just that of somebody who cares about human life and finds murder itself offensive. Even a career leftist could feel the way he does and it would have nothing to do with political leanings.
Despite the uproar, Miller didn't exactly back down. Instead he followed up Holy Terror with a startling anti-Occupy rant on his personal website. “Wake up, pond scum,” he wrote. “America is at war against a ruthless enemy. Maybe … 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.” His website—which he'd promoted as “a more direct, participatory way for us to stay in touch”—filled up with comments, over 11,000 of them. The site was abandoned soon there­after, although the comment-section vituperation remains. “I used to be your biggest fan,” reads the top-voted comment on the page. “You're now dead to me.” Miller's comic-book contemporary, the avowedly anarchic writer Alan Moore, went even further. “Frank Miller is someone whose work I've barely looked at for the past 20 years,” he told an interviewer. “I think that there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller's work for quite a long time.”

Asked about it now, Miller is immovable:

So about that Occupy post … it was about that time that your updates stopped.

My computer was disabled, so I've … I've been offline. And I'm kind of enjoying it.

You're completely offline?

Completely, now.

Because of the Occupy thing?

No, it was computer problems. I haven't solved it.

You should get a better technician if you want to get back on.

[A silent stare.] I will.
I suppose this does explain why Miller stopped being seriously active online, though it pays to get out of the house more often. I suppose he also figured most of his comics peers wouldn't want to talk to him anymore, save for being nasty to him, and that made him decide he'd refrain, even at neighbor's house or a library. I do remember Ty Templeton, Erik Larsen and Gail Simone were among the negative leftists, and it was disgraceful of them.

But did Miller really suffer a public downfall, as Howe's headline claims? Yes and no. If he did fumble, artistically or otherwise, I'd say it was with his mainstream superhero work and the Spirit movie. His GNs like Sin City are another story, and he seems to be doing a lot better with them. As the Sin City sequel makes clear, he's actually survived the leftist hostility to his ideas, little the worse for wear. But as Tom Brevoort made clear, he is blacklisted at Marvel today (and to be sure, at DC too from a writer's perspective), and there's no chance he and Joe Quesada would ever allow Miller to write Captain America.

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Breevort never made it "clear" that Miller is blackballed. He never inferred anything other than he wouldn't want Captain America be the lead character if Miller went the Holy Terror route.

The author of this article is inferring it and it couldn't be further from the truth.

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