The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 32 | On Frank Miller’s “Holy Terror”

Leaving Proof 32 | On Frank Miller’s “Holy Terror”
Published on Thursday, June 30, 2011 by

So it looks like Frank Miller’s long-gestating Holy Terror project finally has a release date: 14 September, 2011, for those of you still keeping track. First announced in 2006 as a 122-page DC Comics graphic novel entitled Holy Terror, Batman!, the book was intended to be, in the native New Yorker’s own words, a “piece of propaganda” featuring Batman fighting members of Al-Qaeda, a concept Miller posits is not too far removed from the World War II-era Captain America comics that showed the shield-slinging superhero battling caricatures of the Axis Powers (the protagonist has since been changed from Batman to The Fixer, an original Miller creation, and the book has switched publishers from DC Comics to fellow Warner Bros. affiliate Legendary Pictures).

At the time of its announcement, the idea behind the book didn’t sit too well with some readers and some of Miller’s fellow comics professionals. Grant Morrison offered the following scathing commentary in a 2006 interview with Newsarama:

Cheering on a fictional character as he beats up fictionalized terrorists seems like a decadent indulgence when real terrorists are killing real people in the real world. I’d be so much more impressed if Frank Miller gave up all this graphic novel nonsense, joined the Army and, with a howl of undying hate, rushed headlong onto the front lines with the young soldiers who are actually risking life and limb ‘vs’ Al Qaeda.

While I don’t exactly agree with Morrison’s criticism of Miller’s project, the idea of Batman (or any other superhero) tackling modern, real-world terrorist threats holds no real appeal for me. It was tacky when Mark Millar did it with Captain America in The Ultimates, and there’s no real reason to believe that Frank Miller can do it any better. If his recent work is to be an indicator, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect it to be worse in its execution. Much, much worse.

Miller, for all his talent as an artist and storyteller, has never been known for his subtlety. Even before the events of 9/11 that had him publicly announcing a changed political attitude (which many viewed as a 180° reversal from the political views he espoused in 1990’s Give Me Liberty), his work has been occasionally labeled by critics as reactionary, exploitative, homophobic, and misogynistic. Observers are keen to point out seemingly fascistic themes that manifest themselves time and again in works such as 300, Sin City and Miller’s film adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Are these fair criticisms of his work? In many cases, I think such accusations are unwarranted or exaggerated. But in just as many instances, it’s difficult to say. Miller has a tendency to take certain concepts, like his depiction of women and the fetishization of violence, to such ridiculous extremes that the division between what he intends to be satire and his earnest message is often rendered inscrutable except in the most obvious of cases.

The elephant in the room that no one among his peers seems to be willing to address (although Morrison came close to broaching this) is the concern that—given the bent of Miller’s prior work, his name recognition, and the combination of his current stylistic and political proclivities—the worst-case scenario for Holy Terror is that it will be nothing short of a modern-day version of Kaufman‘s Germany Must Perish!, a morally abhorrent and hate-filled screed that ultimately undermines the very cause it purports to support. At best, I can see it working out as a cross between an episode of 24 and Miller’s brand of “grim-and-gritty” superheroics, perhaps with its impact and relevance somewhat dulled by the recent death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of the US military and the events of the Arab Spring that have changed many of the popular conceptions and misconceptions about predominantly Muslim states and their citizens.

More power to Miller all the same, though. He obviously feels very strongly about the issue of militant Islamism (and why shouldn’t he?). Even though I think his referring to Islamic militancy as an “existential threat” obfuscates important distinctions between different armed Islamist groups and threatens to further alienate moderate and integrated Muslims living in the West, as a fan of the medium, I can’t help but be at least a little interested in how Miller sets out to say, in comic book form, what he has to say about the matter (although not so interested that I’d be willing to pony up the $30 it will cost to take home the 120 page hardcover… the celluloid turd that was The Spirit has made me very wary of spending money on his later creative output).

Obviously, there’s very little sense in forming conclusions about Holy Terror itself when it’s months away from hitting store shelves. It hasn’t stopped critics and supporters alike on certain message boards from tripping all over themselves and their straw-men accusing each other of subscribing to reactionary ideological sentiment, though (I can only imagine the on-going Wikipedia “edit wars” going on in the background). The goddamn Internet, ladies and gentlemen: if it wasn’t so useful for everything else, I think we would have turned it off years ago.

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