Book Club / Most Fantasies should Remain in the Head

Holy Terror

By Frank Miller 

 

 

 

POW! Right in the kisser! Yes! The London Graphic Novel Network takes a plunge into Frank Miller’s Holy Terror and gallantly attempts to deal with the following questions: Do racist works make the world a worst place? What is that on the end of your fork? And what are Batman stories about anyway?

 

Sick Boy: It’s certainly a phenomenon in all walks of life. 


Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: What do you mean? 

Sick Boy: Well, at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever. All walks of life: George Best, for example. Had it, lost it. Or David Bowie, or Lou Reed… 

Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: Some of his solo stuff’s not bad. 

Sick Boy: No, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. And in your heart you kind of know that although it sounds all right, it’s actually just shite. 

Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: So who else? 

Sick Boy: Charlie Nicholas, David Niven, Malcolm McLaren, Elvis Presley… 

Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: OK, OK, so what’s the point you’re trying to make? 

Sick Boy: All I’m trying to do is help you understand that The Name of The Rose is merely a blip on an otherwise uninterrupted downward trajectory. 

Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: What about The Untouchables? 

Sick Boy: I don’t rate that at all. 

Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: Despite the Academy Award? 

Sick Boy: That means fuck all. Its a sympathy vote. 

Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: Right. So we all get old and then we can’t hack it anymore. Is that it? 

Sick Boy: Yeah. 

Mark “Rent-boy” Renton: That’s your theory? 

Sick Boy: Yeah. Beautifully fucking illustrated.
 

 

 
There was a very big part of me that really just wanted me to just leave it at that and that could be all that I say about Holy Terror but then – I dunno – there’s a few other things in my mind that I wanted to get down / clear up: just so everyone knows where I stand like: 
 
First off. It seems like there’s a core contingent out there that want you to believe that Frank Miller reached his peak with the Dark Knight Returns (you know: that book we talked about last year): and everything since then has been a matter of diminishing returns: but screw that. Elektra: Assassin. Give Me Liberty. Sin City. The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Hard Boiled. All Star Batman and Robin. The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot. I would stand and pledge my allegiance to all of them. They’re great comics: crazy, interesting and very very cool (yeah yeah I can the snorts of derision for some of those choices already but you know what? I don’t care).   
 
Everyone else tho (or so it seems to me) has had a cut-off point. A place where they go “yeah – this is where he lost it.” For some: it’s Sin City (“it’s just single black and white pages – there’s not enough story!”) for others it’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again (which I reckon would be fun for us all to do next year when Bats vs Supes comes out) and for others All Star Goddamn Batman and Robin (Malcolm in the pub after the Barbican Comic Forum last week made a proper face when I said that i kinda love All Star Goddamn Batman and Robin and then accused me of being the kind of contrarian guy who says that The Phantom Menace is a good film – to which I can only say: screw you Malcolm!). But yeah – for me: I’ve always been Team Frank. It’s just been everyone else that doesn’t get it – you know? (Apart from the Martha Washington sequels – those things are just. well. don’t get me started) and so yeah – before Holy Terror came out I remember really really looking forward to reading it. Who cares if the rest of the world thought he was crazy? I knew that Frank was still the master. 
 
Which just made the disappointment of when I actually read this stupid thing all the more complete. It’s like telling everyone how you’ve got this really cool uncle coming to your birthday party – and then this drunk in a trenchcoat shows up – spewing crazy racist nonsense as he throws up over the cake – and then soils himself you know? 
 
Although – just to get one thing straight: originally the idea behind Holy Terror was to have Batman fighting the Taliban (thus the joke of the title that only comes through when you imagine Burt Ward’s Robin saying it) but then between 2006 and 2011 when it finally came out (Holy Five Years for One Stupid Comic Batman!) Batman had been replaced by The Fixer. Quote Miller: “As I worked on it, it became something that was no longer Batman. It’s somewhere past that and I decided it’s going to be part of a new series that I’m starting.” Or as I like to think of it: someone at DC read what he’d done so far and were like: “Ha! There is NO WAY that you’re publishing this under the DC name. NO WAY.”
 
But yeah – wait what was I saying? I mean – I’m a left-leaning kinda guy. I don’t much think that the solution to war is more war. And religious hatred is bad, stupid and dumb (one of the best things that I found during that whole Charlie Hebdo stuff was this): but I don’t have any real problem reading things which I disagree with: in fact in lots of ways I enjoy it and I can even find it kinda enjoyable (crazy I know). My best and most commonly used example: Zero Dark Thirty. I mean – on the one hand: it’s a terrible work of American propaganda that dehumanizes non-Americans in a way that feels corrosive to the soul. But on the other hand: it’s a pretty well-made movie. You know: nicely shot and tense and exciting and all the rest. And I don’t think one has to cancel out the other. You know? I mean – the idea of having all my entertainment agree with me just kinda seem boring – you know? Plus: I think the only way to make sure that your beliefs stay healthy is by shaking them around a bit now and then and knocking them up against opposing ideas to find the strengthens and weaknesses of both… 

 

 
So yeah – I totally don’t have a problem with the idea of Holy Terror being right-wing or anti-Islamic or racist or whatever. In fact – having a comic that does those things kinda sounds like my idea of fun (I mean – we already have lots and lots of comics which are the opposite of that – the pinnacle of which I’d say is Rick Veitch’s The One: which deserves to be a lot more well known) . Because of the conflicting beliefs thing but also because – well – you know: a big part of the appeal of superhero action stuff is watching the good guy beat up the bad guy and even tho yeah – that’s not an understanding of the world that is conducive to universal peace and the joining together of humankind in tranquility and love: it can still be pretty fun and exciting to watch (what? Well at least I’m being honest about it right?). So yeah – you want to make a comic about Batman beating up Al Qaeda? Cool. Go for it. That sounds crazy – but also crazy entertaining).
 
And yeah: when most people talk about Holy Terror that’s the thing they have a go at (Quote from one review: “one of the most appalling, offensive and vindictive comics of all time … Miller’s Holy Terror is a screed against Islam, completely uninterested in any nuance or empathy toward 1.2 billion people he conflates with a few murderous conspiracy theorists.”). But yeah – no. That’s not the problem with this comic. 
 
Nah – the real problem is that it’s just a bad comic. Like – the uncle at the birthday party I mentioned before? That’s Holy Terror. It’s drunk. It smells. It doesn’t make any sense. And then it shits itself. And that’s the comic: an incoherent jumbled up mess that operates without any real rhyme or reason. 
 
I mean: Zero Dark Thirty (and about a billion other movies) shows that you can be wrong and racist and full of hate but also still alluring and captivating. You can use art to work seductive evil and hey – if you’re really good – you can even use it to get other people to believe your nonsense (“Who is John Galt?”). But Holy Terror manages to convince no one of anything apart from the fact that Frank Miller is a crazy person. 
 
If I can bring myself to re-read it over the next few weeks then maybe I can write down a list of all the things wrong with it (although jezz – that sounds pretty thankless) but man: I think I’d rather reread Crossed thank you very much: because as nasty at that is – there’s a sense of I dunno what to call it – artistry or whatever? pulling you through… But if most comics are different types of music (I’m pretty fond of thinking of The Dark Knight Returns is somesort of orchestral thingie while The Dark Knight Strikes Back is a three chord punk song played with laptops) then Holy Terror is just white noise from a tinny speaker: boring, boring and boring.   


RAMSEY
Twitter

 

I remember you saying on kraken about art supposing to make the world better – this comic doesn’t. It’s the comic book version of the unfocused I’ll-informed vengeful fury of the right wing as this infamous Fox News broadcast after Charlie Hebdo illustrated 

 
 
 

 

I’m of the ‘downward trajectory since DKR’ crowd, although it’s such that it was only towards the end of Sin City, the start of DKSA that it became terminal. I read ‘Ronin’ recently for the first time and the dress was both blue and gold AND white and black, I could see where it was stylistically impressive but I could also see the stuff that would get used again in Sin City and DKSA and ‘All-Star Batman and Robin’… there is a place for a Authoritarian/Fascist version of Batman and the JLA but Miller does not have the intelligence to write it in an interesting way. Sin City uses noir tropes to hide the growing deficiencies in his art but since then with DKSA and variant covers that he occasionally gets asked to do it’s either that he either doesn’t care or has somehow forgotten how to draw.
And I need to reread ‘Holy Terror’ before getting on to the deficiencies in what passes for Miller scripting these days…
 


 

Ok. re: Ramsey’s comment about what I said about how art is supposed “to make the world better.”
 
So I guess I should admit that I don’t actually remember saying that (but then I don’t really tend to listen when I talk): but it seems like the sort of slightly soft centered stuff I tend to spew out.  

Obviously one of the problems with any sentence that starts with “art is…” is that it’s pretty much always going to be proved wrong by something else (I remember at uni one of my essay questions was trying to come up with a good working definition of art and the only thing that really came close wasn’t anything that high-minded or deep but instead was just a simple: “art is whatever people say is art” which yeah – I can imagine is a bit unsatisfying for some folks but works for me just fine): I mean – yeah – it would be good if art was just making the world better and adding beauty and all the rest: but that’s not always possible you know: plus – hell – is art that important anyway? I mean – what about entertainment? 
 
Die Hard: everyone loves Die Hard right? And hell – if you wanted to say that it’s a work of art I’m not too sure that I’d disagree (I mean – it is very very well made). But man – there’s some dodgy ideology in there. You know: the idea that the only thing that can take out the baddies is one lone misunderstood wise-cracking white guy with a gun. That all government institutions should be mistrusted. And that the best way to deal with bad guys is to kill them – preferably by dropping them off a building. I mean – a more perfect version of Die Hard would be a community of people all joining hands to give Hans Gruber a hug and then talking things through until they realise that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death life is only a dream and we are the imagination of ourselves.
 
But then maybe that wouldn’t be as much fun as “Yippee ki-yay motherfucker!”?
 
 

 

This book is simply rubbish and I’m not convinced it even merits a proper discussion.  It was originally envisioned as propaganda which might have at least been interesting and there would have been a certain demented fascination in seeing a wish fulfilling populist Batman Vs Bin Laden a few months after 9/11.  As it was though it completely failed even on its own terms dribbling out many years later and I doubt it changed a single person’s mind.  The whole sorry thing reminds me of the Onion post 9/11 issue headline : Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake.

In it’s defense, the art’s not bad in places and most 9/11 response comics are pretty dreadful, aside from Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s ‘This is information’, which I think is the most powerful thing Beardface has ever written, you can read it here http://www.oesquema.com.br/trabalhosujo/2011/09/11/this-is-information-alan-moore-e-melinda-gebbie/

And it’s far from the very worst 9/11 comic, since that honour surely goes to THIS
http://culturaltrash.com/2013/02/22/yes-this-really-happened-chaos-comics-did-a-911-tribute-comic/

 
 
Bah, just noticed I misused an apostrophe above.  Oh, the shame!
 
 
 
 

JEREMY
 

“This is Information” is everything I love about Alan Moore as it reminds me of just how good a writer he is when he’s on form, and just how he towers over lesser writers.  I had a friendly pub discussion with Watters, who writes for T-publications, about Alan Moore vs. Grant Morrisson.  Watters had done his Masters Thesis (?) on Morrison and had argued that Moore was content lite, and, how Morrison had more ideas.  I argued that Moore was the better technician.  That one comic is proof positive – powerful, enlightening, moving.  I love the ABA Ternary form structure of it – the last panels recapitulating on the first – the perfect marriage of word and picture… Wonderful.

I’ve not read any Frank Miller since Sin City.  So, when 300 came out as a movie a few years back, I went to see it with a muslim friend of mine, Imran.  I’d heard that a number of American troops had seen it out in Iraq and had been whooping and hollering by the end, so my liberal antennae were set to offend, but I thought I’d give it a fair crack of the whip.  I’d enjoyed the film of Sin City, and the trailers for 300 certainly looked as if they had translated the artwork to the big screen.  So Imran and I went to see it at the Vue down in Croydon.

Now Imran had quite kindly taken me to a persian film festival a few years ago, where we’d come to see some Iranian films that had been smuggled out.  One of the directors were there and they had talked about how in Iran there was a vibrant, underground, movie scene.  Many of the members of the audience (I was one of only two white faces) asked many questions and the debate before the film was very lively.  Sadly, when the film started, it was entirely in Farsi, with no subtitles, and this robbed the film of any kind of detailed text I could follow – which was doubly sad because it was almost entirely verbal.

 

Imran’s always been deeply invested in his culture.  A film composer and sound recordist – I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life at an old people’s home where we recorded some elderly Indians singing Indian folk songs – when they sang, it was entirely without pretension or self conscientiousness, soulful voices, singing beautiful melodies, capped off by a joyful rendition of “you are my sunshine” in Hindi.  I remember listening to them sing on the cannes, getting chills down my spine – a beautiful moment.

So, Imran, loves his cultural background.  He reads Rumi.  His family have meetings, where they get together with other families and read Sufi poetry – a kind of spiritual and mystical Islam.   But don’t get me wrong – they’re not by any stretch of the imagination Fundamentalists.  To him, Islam is a spiritual, mystical, allegorical text.  These are an educated, professional class Indian family that take an active interest in their cultural heritage. Being from a typically western family, I envied to a certain degree, this close bond they seemed to share – which seemed a world a way from the dinner in front of the TV way I’d been raised.

 

Back to Croydon Vue.  The film has started and I’m sitting there.  I know I should have been prepared, but I wasn’t.  When Xerxes enters I lose it.  I see this ridiculously homophobic, caricature, the villain, naturally, as like a modern day version of “The Eternal Jew”.  I’m sat in my seat apoplectic with rage, at this pointed, propogandistic piece of trash, wanting to scream at Zack Snyder, “don’t you realise what you’re doing?”.   Every studio-detuned syllable of Xerxes voice, pitch shifted like the sense of morality of the filmmakers – downward – made me regurgitate bile.  In my mind, this is the clarion call for a new holocaust.  I can hear the troops hollering and whooping like blood thirsty wolves, “USA! USA!” whilst ridiculously muscled beefcakes eugenically cast out the weak or the deformed from their fascistic utopia.

If Frank Miller reviewed reviews, it might go something like this.

But in shorter, clipped sentences.  Real Tough guy sentences.  With a faux New York accent.

“Candy-ass liberals, so it made him sick.  Good.  I’m glad it did.  HE’s the reason this country’s going to shit.  A protozoa.  A microbe.  Barely even a speck.  That’s what he is.

Ain’t no room for bleeding hearts.  This is a WAR.  They struck us first.  Hell they deserve every thing they get.  Savages. that’s what they are.  I ain’t got no time to sugar coat no pill.”

So, you can see Frank Miller and I aren’t best of friends.  I still haven’t forgiven him for the 117 minutes of his life he robbed.

Time is a funny thing.

It appears, in the minds of men, that you can draw an arbitrary line in the sand, and say that the present starts at this point, and that all other events prior to that point in the sand have absolutely no relevance on any subsequent events.

That whatever event at that point in time wiped the slate of history clean and everything starts again.  First cause.  The Big Bang.  9/11.

That the events on september the 11th were just a chapter, albeit a particularly, spectacularly tragic one, in a continuing saga involving relations between the middle east and the west – and that events can be explained, but importantly NOT excused, in relation to the past. 


Russell Brand, gaw bless him, has a saying he likes to quote, “Fascism is the removal of nuance.”  Post Dark Knight, Miller appears to have suffered some kind of embolism that robbed his brain of any conception of nuance.  It’s like his beloved chirascuro appears to have sprouted tentacles, reached in and infected his morality.  Gone are the greys.  Everything is black and white.  Good and bad.   It’s enough to make a man wear a cowboy hat and dress in black.

Edward de Bernays said that Propoganda is the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions of the masses”.  It doesn’t need to be said that propoganda was a tool with which the Armies of the world dehumanised their enemies in the second world war.  Whether it be the stereotypes of the Germans, the Japanese, the Jews, the Russians, The Africans, The Chinese – all these resources have been used to make killing and enslaving people palatable.  It directly enables us to commit these acts.  “It’s OK – they weren’t really human.  Inhuman acts to kill non humans.  Don’t worry dear, it’s just beef at the end of your fork.”

 

With apologies to Will from last months’ crossed expose, but I feel like I’m copying your bit about the pidgeon:  1300 words in and I haven’t even touched on Holy Terror.  Frank Miller, if you’re reading this – you and Zack Snyder wasted 117 minutes of my life, and you wasted the 30 minutes it took to read Holy Terror.  I hope this wasted however long it takes you to read 1300 words.

Maybe now we can call it even.

I guess Holy Terror’s one redeeming feature is that it’s utterly transparent, that, unlike 300 – the film – it doesn’t try and dress it up in a thinly veiled metaphor.

I can’t really take the view that it doesn’t matter as long as it’s artfully done.  Even if Holy Terror had the technique of Alan Moore, it’s content is still despicable.  Understandable, within the tide of history, but not something that you think would spring from the pen of the Dark Knight Returns.  It strikes me as like a marriage wrecking comment said in an intense argument that you regret afterwards.  The only problem is, once it’s out there.  You can’t take it back.

When the film ends, Imran and I are walking out of the Cinema and I ask him, “So, what did you think?”

“I liked it.” He says.

I turn to him, shocked, “How can you possibly like this – can’t you see this was propagandistic trash?”

“Nah, it’s just a film.  It doesn’t mean anything.”



RAMSEY
Twitter

 

Morrison modifies Moores ideas whenever he can – Moore brought it up at his most recent interviews and its spot on



 


Hi everybody,

 

I sent a quick intro a while back, but since this is my first time actually contributing to your group, I thought I should reintroduce myself. First and foremost, thanks for adding me to your ranks; I’m looking forward to being part of the conversation. I guess I should also apologize upfront since I’m the fellow who suggested to Joel discussing HOLY TERROR. I’m a longtime fan of Frank Miller’s work, including his later career. And while I’m not surprised that a lot of people are turned off by that work, I am sometimes struck by the general unwillingness to engage with it—I know lots of people who won’t even read works like 300 or HOLY TERROR, let alone discuss them, as though those comics were radioactive, or that people are somehow even afraid of them. (“If I read them, I might wake up to find myself with a Star of David tattoo and fighting Al-Qaeda!”) So I appreciate that you’re making this space for discussing the stuff.

HOLY TERROR returned to my life because I met a comics scholar, Andrei Molotiu (who I’d love to see part of this discussion, if all agree); we got to talking about comics, and since I’ve written on BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Andrei pointed me toward this piece he’d written on HOLY TERROR:

http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2012/02/built-by-a-race-of-madmen/

I read it and was impressed, which spurred me to reread the comic and start jotting down notes on it. Since then, I’ve been considering writing something about it, maybe a paper or blog post or two—so my suggestion to Joel that the LGNN tackle the comic was in actuality a sneaky way of getting others to do my work for me, or provide an excuse to gather my notes into something more substantive. Either way, again, I’m looking forward to the discussion, and have already enjoyed the previous emails.

 
I have a lot of things to say about HOLY TERROR, and about Frank Miller, but I guess I’ll start with a few simple statements to clarify my own position. I think Frank Miller is a great comics artist, easily one of the greatest of the past thirty years (there’s no question about it in my mind), and I’m a fan not only of his 80s work, but of all of his work (including his filmmaking!). That isn’t to say I regard everything equally—I wouldn’t take HOLY TERROR over TDKR—but I find even Miller’s lesser efforts engaging and worthy of serious analysis. So I certainly don’t find HOLY TERROR devoid of artistry—quite the opposite. While many have loudly (and proudly) dismissed it as cliched, worthless propaganda, I’m struck every time I read it more by what a genuinely weird and creative comic it is. Of course I also find it offensive, and there are more than moments where I find myself shaking my head at what I consider Miller’s political naiveté. But that hardly prevents me from admiring the comic. I don’t think artworks or artists need to hold the same politics that I do, and I don’t think art criticism should be—or even can be—reduced to political criticism. Which is to say that I think art has its own value that is something other than purely political value. And I feel this way because art is formal, and representative, and so even if I like (or dislike) the thought or idea that’s being represented, art requires that we deal also with the structure or the form of the representation. And while Miller’s political ideas often put me off, the form he gives them always engages me, and even after several reads HOLY TERROR continues to interest me, impress me, and (perhaps most impressively to me) simply confuse me.

 

 
OK, so if you hate me by now, you at least have some idea of why you should hate me:)

I should add that I think it’s the duty of the critic to convince others that artworks have artistic value (not just in this case, but in every case).


And I should mention (as others already have) that I read HOLY TERROR as a thinly-veiled Batman comic—indeed, I think it has to be read that way. The shadow of the bat hangs over every page.


So I just reread the comic, and at the moment the aspect of it that most beguiles me is how Miller has chosen to represent crime, violence, and terror. The work features plenty of violence—lots of punching and kicking and scratching and gunshots, etc. But other violence is portrayed differently. The most obvious example of this is the use of empty panels, which represent the hundreds of people killed in Al-Qaeda’s attacks. Miller never really shows you those attacks—instead, he represents them indirectly (e.g., we see shrapnel, but it’s the shrapnel that’s not hitting people, and we don’t see corpses; we also get dialogue about smoke containing human remains, but we don’t really see it), even negatively. My first thought here is that he’s suggesting something about the difficulty of their representation: he can’t render it in a way that adequately represents such violence. Which is a common enough sentiment about representing things like 9/11: more than one artist has commented on how atrocities are difficult to represent in a way that truly does them justice—in a way that captures the immensity that the artist feels about them, and thinks others should feel about them. (I have to say here that I find Miller’s blank panels fairly effective, in this regard.) But this isn’t the only violence that isn’t directly depicted in the comic. Another version of this comes when Natalie verbally describes violence, rather than Miller directly depicting it: we’ve already seen one example, with the smoke. Another comes when she and The Fixer execute the man they’ve captured and tortured (“Yeesh. That’s a lot of chunks of terrorist”), or (more strikingly) when she recounts what happens to the Al-Qaeda member exposed to the chemical or biological device near the end: “His knees hit the floor. They drag the rest of him down with them. The sound is soggy, all wrong. He vomits blood.” (Etc.) And it could be that Miller just didn’t want to draw this stuff (or couldn’t—he sucks at drawing now, har har). And unlike with the earlier suicide bombings, here we’re dealing not with innocent victims of terrorist attacks, but terrorists dying via their own terrible weapons. And Miller isn’t exactly squeamish, elsewhere in the comic, about drawing excessive violence. Indeed, one of the things that’s presumably so offensive about the comic to so many people is how he seems to revel in doing exactly that—the comic seems to be his way of striking back at Al Qaeda. So I wonder why he restrains himself in those places.


Another aspect related to this is the business with the nail. The comic opens with Natalie exchanging plenty of kicks and punches with The Fixer, but other than the occasional “HUFF” and “GARR,” none of them seem to be causing any real injury to one another. But when Natalie gets the nail in her thigh, suddenly she can’t stop exclaiming about how goddamn much it hurts. The nail, of course, ends up in her leg via a terrorist attack (a suicide bombing), while the fisticuffs with The Fixer are different type of violence: she’s a criminal warding off a vigilante. And at the same time, their tussle is clearly a kind of foreplay. Here’s where I think it helps to read HOLY TERROR as a Batman comic: if she’s “really” Catwoman, and he’s “really” Batman, then we’ve seen this tussle before—they’ve been chasing one another, taunting and teasing one another, for going on eighty years. (I showed BATMAN RETURNS to my students earlier today, in the film class I’m currently teaching, and a lot of that film is built around this iconic love-hate relationship.) So this chase really is a kind of foreplay—a cat-and-bat game that turns the two of them on. They fight, they fuck. It’s how they get their kicks. Natalie’s protestations to the contrary, they do this every night. (It’s even a slow night.) But then the bomb start going off, and the nail winds up in Natalie’s thigh, and suddenly she feels pain. And I read this as being a similar problem to the one I described in the previous paragraph: comics are all about fighting, to the point where violence is so commonplace that it doesn’t really register. And Miller has made plenty of Batman comics that feature plenty of violence. But now he finds himself wanting to represent something different, a different kind of violence, and he wants to do it in a way that really registers with the reader. And I think that, politics aside, part of whether you think HOLY TERROR a good comic or not will depend on how successful you think Miller is at doing this. (I find the blank panels and the verbal descriptions more effective than Natalie’s protestations about the nail, though her insistence eventually stand out to me in a way that I guess is somewhat successful.)

 

 
Switching to a different but related thought (I told you I have a lot to say): holy terror. Does anyone else agree that the strangest thing about this comic is that it retcons Batman to be a sleeper agent for Mossad? (OK, a man too extreme for Mossad!) I’ve already mentioned how the rooftop fight at the beginning of the comic is routine. But later in the comic, The Fixer calls it something else: “Practice. Staying in shape. Getting ready for tonight.” In other words, this version of Batman doesn’t fight crime to avenge his parents’ murder, or to help create a world in which no other kids are orphaned by criminals (two common justifications given for Batman’s incessant war on crime)—but because he was recruited years ago in Yemen (!) by David, “the most dangerous man alive,” who knew that someday Al-Qaeda would attack Empire City (!!). A few things here: 1.) Like, what? 2.) No, like, seriously—like, what? 3.) Is anyone else reminded here of the conversation in TDKR between outgoing-Commissioner Gordon and incoming-Commissioner Yindel, where Gordon gives that long monologue about how conflicted he felt when he heard that maybe FDR knew Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked, but let it happen because he knew it would galvanize Americans to enter WWII? I sure am. Because this is a version of Batman who knew from his Israeli contact (mentor, actually) that Al-Qaeda was going to eventually attack Empire/Gotham City, and who returned home to keep in fighting shape by beating up criminals (not really trying to stop crime, mind you—just practicing, keeping up his skills), waiting for that inevitable attack so that…? So he could order twin Asian assassins to kill the corrupt police commissioner? (Who is, remember, an ally of Al-Qaeda here, another sleeper agent, caught rerouting squad cars to maximize the damage inflicted in the attacks.) 4.) Like, what?

I guess you could call this pretty bizarre stuff, and maybe this is what others mean when they claim that Mad Uncle Miller’s finally gone all crazy. And maybe he has—but it’s a pretty interesting crazy, I want to argue, and also not entirely inconsistent with his previous work. The first point of Gordon’s speech to Yindel in TDKR was to explain how, in the end, he couldn’t decide whether FDR was guilty or not—the president was “too big,” as Gordon so memorably put it. And Yindel later comes to agree with Gordon’s second, more subtle point: she abandons her plans to arrest Batman when Gotham goes dark due to a Soviet nuclear bomb (we might pause here to remember that Miller has always been mixing Batman with real-world politics), and Batman proves the only person capable of rallying the city. “He’s too big,” she mouths to an officer nearby. And I see a continuity here between The Fixer and the Batman: both men ultimately prove “too big,” to far beyond conventional judgment or morality—beyond good and evil. I think that’s definitely there in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Is it so unambiguously there in HOLY TERROR? One thing makes me think that it is: in both comics, the devastating attacks have pretty much the same effect. In TDKR, people initially run rampant—men punch priests, then shoot guys who looted the supermarket first—but once Batman arrives on his horse (once the cavalry arrives), men recover their senses (after a few blows to the head, natch). Gotham City finally settles down, goes quiet. Which is the how we find Empire City at the end of HOLY TERROR. Don Donegal cowers in bed, sure, but the city as a whole has gone “all quiet and scary-polite.” What was once a crime-ridden, dangerous metropolis has now been pacified—terrorized into subordination. Which The Fixer was to some extent complicit (a la FDR) in bringing about—fighting crime night after night was just practice, but now that the true enemy has revealed itself to all, Empire City is no longer caught up in its petty criminality. (It’s not unlike Ozymandias’s solution to ending crime in WATCHMEN.) … Is that why they call him “The Fixer”? Batman’s true purpose has been revealed, and so he receives his true name.

 

 
Historically, Miller has cited at least two reasons why he makes crime comics. One is that he simply likes the genre—he loves hard-boiled detective novels, and wanted to make crime comics from the get-go. Hence his decision to work on Daredevil and Batman, then ship off to make SIN CITY. The man is consistent. Along these lines, he even drops in barb against heroes “wrapped in spandex” in his author’s bio at the end of HOLY TERROR. He’s not really into superheroes, never has been. Which is one reason why later works like THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN and ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER find him so eager (I’d argue) to vandalize and profane DC’s legions. But Miller has also never been shy that crime comics are for him a kind of escapist fantasy, a means of acting out dreams of power that can’t be realized in real life. TDKR is loaded with references to actual violence and fears that Miller experienced (in some capacity) while living in NYC in the 1980s: punks, gangs, muggers on the subway, the constant threat (real or imagined) of mutually-assured nuclear annihilation. Daredevil and Batman became his means of fantasizing about someone big enough to wade into that mess and knock heads together until all the bad guys were lying in a heap on the floor. Again, Miller wasn’t shy about this—just read the interviews he gave at the time, like the ones in the COMICS JOURNAL. (They’re all collected in one volume.) He said he was making fantasies for adults, and they needed to be violent and cruel to be any good. (He specified that they were intended for adults, not kids—Miller has always been perfectly clear that he expects his readers to know the difference between fantasy and reality.) And in this regard, Miller was hardly atypical: 1970s and 1980s Hollywood cinema is filled with fantasies of lone individuals taking revenge against criminals in the Big City, not to mention dreams of bringing about the end of the Cold War. (Superman even flew up into outer space and threw all the nuclear weapons into the sun!)
 
So I’m hardly surprised that HOLY TERROR finds Miller still at it, raging against Al-Qaeda in the pages of a comic, drawing panel after panel of “The Fixer” blowing the heads off unambiguously deranged and unambiguously deadly Jihadists. He sets them up, he knocks them down. (While I appreciate that there are differences in Miller’s work past and present, I’ve always been more fascinated by the consistencies—the way his early work contains the seeds, so to speak, of his later comics.) So I guess my thought or question or what-have-you here is this: why is HOLY TERROR beyond the pale in this regard, while the previous comics are not? And, sure, I totally get that Miller’s presentation of “the terrorists” in HOLY TERROR is hardly sensitive or politically correct, whatever. But what made his depiction of inner-city crime in NYC—I mean Gotham City—in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (or Hell’s Kitchen in DAREDEVIL) more preferable? Because isn’t it pretty well understood (to most liberals, at least) that crime—the kind of crime that Batman and Daredevil fight (when they’re not fighting, say, Bullseye or the Penguin—but maybe even then)—is caused primarily by poverty? So isn’t TDKR—aren’t most Batman comics—”really” about a rich guy who dresses up in bondage gear night after night in order to beat the crap out of the poor? Poor people who have been driven to crime, mind you, by rich people like Bruce Wayne, who own the entire city! Being a socialist, I hardly find that politically correct or fair, and yet I still love THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and I still love Batman—partly because, as I already said, I don’t go into art expecting to find the same politics I hold—I expect to find good art—but also because I get that these comics are exactly what Miller called them: fantasies, representations, stories not under any obligation to be factually true or correct or unproblematically representative. (Don’t get me started about my unrequited lifelong love for James Bond.) And I think that many adults are perfectly capable of enjoying fantasies about things that they would never for a single second think was acceptable in real life—what else is a fantasy, really, then something you can’t have or do in real life?

 

So why is HOLY TERROR then not a fantasy, or not an acceptable fantasy? What makes it so different, so horrible, so radioactive that no polite (liberal) person can stand to look at it, let alone touch it, let alone read it or take it seriously? And I realize that this is, in some sense, a naive question, but I’m trying to ask it sincerely, or as sincerely as I can, because I’m genuinely interested in the answer. And if I can begin to answer my own question, I think it has something to do with the fact that, in 2015, nice liberal people feel they must publicly announce that they are very disturbed indeed by a fantasy about a crazed vigilante beating up Al-Qaeda, because we all want to announce that, unlike Miller, we have the proper politics—we’ve all been taught to respect ethnic diversity, and religious tolerance, and we all know that the worst thing that anyone can be right now is racist, and so we’re all constantly policing ourselves and others for any traces of racism, sexism, religious intolerance, homophobia—all the identity politics. A disciple of Michel Foucault might say here that we feel the eye of the Panopticon so constantly upon us that we must never stop professing the right politics—even when we’re discussing not some real-world action that someone did (Miller didn’t go around fighting Al-Qaeda members), but a comic book fantasy about that. Except, at the same time, it isn’t even really that, because Miller’s representation of Al-Qaeda and what they did is rather different from reality in many crucial aspects—the same way that, even though his TDKR is rooted to some extent in things like Bernie Goetz, it isn’t directly “about” Bernie Goetz. Which is kind of to say—we are talking about a Batman comic. (Or do we think that Miller really believes that 9/11 involved nail bombs and corrupt police commissioners and the destruction of the Statue of Liberty?)

OK, so part of the problem is certainly that, squicky fantasy aspects aside, Miller clearly isn’t being sensitive enough to Islam, to Saudis, to Arabs, etc. But why then is it perfectly OK to make comics in which crime (i.e., poverty) is treated in so superficial a fashion? Why is it OK to read TDKR and enjoy it as a classic, even though Miller then and now clearly has very little sensitivity toward punks, inner-city gangs—i.e., the poor? I mean—he’s a pretty rich guy, has been doing all right for a long time now! And he’s never been a very sensitive guy! And I never see anyone feeling much need to stand up and decry Frank Miller’s depictions of the poor, which are certainly more caricatured—and I’d argue, ultimately more offensive—than his portrayals of Al-Qaeda. I’ll offer a simple solution: polite liberal taste doesn’t demand that people stand up for the poor. It demands constant vigilance against racism, but the poor—they can go hang.

Miller’s fantasies are deliberately escapist and offensive and loud and big—”too big.” They are always caricatures of real world problems, attempts to take the everyday, in all its messiness and difficulty and powerlessness, and turn it into a kind of cathartic adult escapism, in which the people who want to read them get to dream about sexy people beating the snot out of people and threats (real or imagined) in a way they never could in real life. (Does anyone read SIN CITY and think Miller is trying to faithfully render an actual city somewhere?) And, for the record, Miller has always understood this, or at least still understood it back in the 1980s, when he told the COMICS JOURNAL that Batman was just a fantasy as far as he was concerned—a very good fantasy—but not a thing that could happen in real life, because in the real world, you’d have to lock Batman up—you couldn’t let a guy like that run around loose. And I think he also understood it in the 90s, when he made SIN CITY. So maybe the question is—does he get that now? And even if he doesn’t, does it really matter? I mean, it’s not like he’s running around, looking for members of Al-Qaeda hiding in an underground city built hundreds of years ago by “madmen” whose ornaments and architecture have left archaeologists “bewildered.” (This is part of what I meant up top that HOLY TERROR, if it is mere propaganda, is certainly very weird “mere propaganda.” I mean, Captain America punched out Hitler, but I don’t remember him doing so in front of giant snails and dinosaurs, or whatever the hell a lot of those things are at the end of HOLY TERROR. Which is another way of saying: if all Miller wanted to say was “fuck Al-Qaeda,” he could’ve done it much more simply, and more straightforwardly.)

 

 

Yet another way of putting this is that I certainly get and understand that it’s become fashionable in liberal circles—our circles—to consider people like Miller “the crazy uncle,” someone who’s once was OK but now truly deranged, but I have to wonder—is he? Or is it more that we don’t like his politics now (though I wonder—did we ever?), and therefore feel the need to spend every second publicly denouncing his work so everyone else knows that it isn’t the kind of stuff we’d ever want to read—now where’s that final issue of Hawkeye? (And understand that my primary nervousness in writing all this has been—”Gee, I hope I professed loudly enough that I’m not endorsing Miller’s politics!”)

OK, thanks for entertaining these rather lengthy meanderings, and know that I look forward to the rest of the conversation!
I’m especially looking forward to Joel telling me why I’m totally wrong:)

(See how I sneaked in that apology for DIE HARD?)
 
Kindest wishes,
Adam

P.S. Here’s my previous TDKR thing, in case you’re interested. There was already a link to it, and maybe it’s obnoxious of me to repeat it, but it also explores some of these same thoughts in different form:

http://bigother.com/2010/01/23/reading-frank-millers-batman-the-dark-knight-returns-part-1/





UGH—sorry to add a postscript to that lengthy email (and apologies if it was too long—I really did mean to keep it short, but once I get going…) &BUT:

1. My thinking about the representation of poverty, and its arguably inverse relationship with how we regard expressions of racism and other identity issues, is deeply influenced by one of my professors at UIC, Walter Benn Michaels. Along these lines, I would very highly recommend his 2006 book THE TROUBLE WITH DIVERSITY: HOW WE LEARNED TO LOVE IDENTITY AND IGNORE INEQUALITY. (Joel, I will insist that you read it, but only after you finally watch WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS.)


2. I feel the need to reiterate that Andrei’s post really inspired me to look at HOLY TERROR again, and I wouldn’t be thinking about it right now if it weren’t for him, so I can’t recommend enough that you go read it.


3. Sorry for all the typos. It’s late here, and I wrote all that after a bout of grading. Should have proofread more first, or sent it tomorrow morning. Apologies!

& thanks again for reading all those paragraphs (or even just glancing at them).
 
 

JEREMY
 

Great post Adam,  Some really interesting stuff.  Couple of things occcured to me whilst reading it.

1.  “polite liberal taste doesn’t demand that people stand up for the poor.”

I think Inequality is something that’s at the forefront of liberal thinking, stretching back to the days of Dickens.  It’s just that, post collapse of the Soviet union, quite often the narrative is co-opted with accusations of Marxism, or redistribution of wealth – which is largely unpopular.  (I’m defining “Liberal” to mean left leaning, egalitarianism, as opposed to Neo-liberal Free market Adam Smithery here).

It’s something that should be addressed in comics.  One of the things that I think would be an interesting subject would be a more nuanced take on criminals in superhero comics.  In modern works, certainly post 60’s marvel, it seems that “crooks” aren’t the villains anymore unless they’re supervillains – most probably for dramatic purposes.  I always wanted to write a take on Superman where he was the “bad guy” because the criminals were just trying to survive – kind of like Death of  Salesman meets Breaking Bad meets Superman.

2.  “I don’t think artworks or artists need to hold the same politics that I do, and I don’t think art criticism should be—or even can be—reduced to political criticism”

 

I agree we shouldn’t expect artists to hold the same things we do.   But I don’t think of it as a reduction.  I think politics is an essential part of everything and needs to be addressed, especially if the work is overtly political.  It’s not possible to separate the two – “the personal is political”, no matter how much we wish it weren’t.

I don’t think this is a censorship issue, btw.  Miller should be allowed to publish and be damned.  But damned he should be, in the same way that if someone produced a modern day take on “The Eternal Jew” they should be damned.  I’d posit that one of the reasons we haven’t had a modern day update is because any publisher worth their salt would realise the damage this could cause and it would remain festering away in whatever the state the equivalent of rotting paper is in the digital world – corruption maybe?  That in itself speaks a lot about society’s attitude to Muslims that Legendary are prepared to put it out in the first place.

This also begs the question about what an artwork is and what an artist does.  I would argue that artworks are fundamentally functional.  I don’t think they’re innocuous doodles.  They serve a purpose, and they exist within a societal context.  But whose purpose do they serve?

Molotiu makes some interesting comments about Miller’s artwork, but hate wrapped in a pretty bow is still hate.

3.  “Miller has also never been shy that crime comics are for him a kind of escapist fantasy, a means of acting out dreams of power that can’t be realized in real life”

Perfectly legitimate, but if he’s going to release it commercially in the hope of gaining income, then he has to expect some criticism.  Most fantasies should remain in the head, not vomited over the public.

 
 

RAMSEY
Twitter

 

“The Bonfire of The Vanities is a mess, but it’s the kind of mess only a great filmmaker makes”

– Pauline Kael
 
‘Holy Terror’ is a talented artist with a bunch of wrong ideas. Of course some reminants of what made him such an exciting creative force in comics in the 80s will find its way into his work but the point of the work itself is so odious it ruins the whole book. 
 
Like the fantastic oratory in Enoch Powell’s ‘River of Blood’ speech or to a greater extent the filmmaking in ‘Birth of A Nation’ – these are devices, however skilfully used, that rely a toxic & untrue message.
 
So we can sit here appreciating the aesthetics like those who laud the deft appropriation of symbols to produce a singular powerful iconography of Nazism but I think it’s what the art is saying that matters
 
 

 

I think I’ve already pretty much said this – but just to be clear let me say it one more time: I have absolutely no problem with enjoying the hell out of a racist/sexist/homophobic/evil work of art. In that – if it’s well made and exciting and whatever then I’ll enjoy it. I mean – I might need to take a moral shower afterwards and think deeply about it and wring my hands and apologise and all the rest: but yeah – whatever. If Quentin Tarantino produced a modern day take on “The Eternal Jew” then I’ll be in the front row with a soft drink and big bag of popcorn. The problem with most “art” nowadays isn’t that’s it ideologically bad (but yeah – ok – that too). But that’s it’s poorly made and boring. You know: I like my entertainment to be entertaining. If it’s also morally righteous then so much the better. (A good example of the other way around – Jupiter Ascending = as a work of ideology it’s pretty much spot on – you know: lots of good stuff to think about etc: but as something that’s actually enjoyable to watch: well – not so much). 

 
But let’s get on to how Adam gets it wrong (sorry Adam! You know I love you right?).
 
First thing to say: boy I’m glad you showed up. I mean: without you – this would just be a succession of people taking it in turns to slap Holy Terror across the face. And at least this way I can point at you and say: “You see! This was all HIS idea!” 😀
 
But let’s get to the meat. 
 
I think this is the main crux of the stuff: “So why is HOLY TERROR then not a fantasy, or not an acceptable fantasy? What makes it so different, so horrible, so radioactive that no polite (liberal) person can stand to look at it, let alone touch it, let alone read it or take it seriously?”
 
I mean – yeah: ok. For most people out there it’s the whole Islam thing like you said – but I think that’s actually a mistake. Because I think a lot of people are actually (even if they don’t realise) a lot like me – and that if you entertain them then they’ll willing to actually take quite a lot. I mean: you mentioned James Bond which may be an even better example than Die Hard (although I’m not much of James Bond fan anymore so not a good example for me): but yeah – every Bond film is filled with all sorts of the most dreadful ideological nonsense you can think but everyone loves it. So – erm – why? Is it because that most guys want a fantasy where they can sleep with any woman they want to and kill any man they don’t like? Erm. Yeah – ok. Stupid question. 
 
Damn. Actually. Wait. Better example than Die Hard and James Bond = True Lies. Which yeah – paints a picture of “evil Arabs” barely any better than Holy Terror and yet is still – come on – a fantastic way to spend a lazy Sunday (and yeah – I’d much rather spend my time defending True Lies than James Bond: and well – True Lies basically is Bond anyway – so what’s the difference right?). 

 

 
And the thing with True Lies is that it’s really well constructed. There’s thrills, suspense, nice structure (it starts off like a Bond film – then goes into this strange detour where it’s all about Arnie pranking Bill Paxton and Jamie Lee Curtis in a really messed up OTT way – and then: blam! back to the Bond action again: bridge scene, atomic bomb blast, fighter jets the end). You know – it’s a nicely told little story (and stories are important right?). 
 
But now – compare that with Holy Terror: which I think you managed to perfectly sum up with: “1.) Like, what? 2.) No, like, seriously—like, what?”
 
I mean – like you said Adam: “I guess you could call this pretty bizarre stuff, and maybe this is what others mean when they claim that Mad Uncle Miller’s finally gone all crazy. And maybe he has—but it’s a pretty interesting crazy,”
 
Yeah sure: we can dig into all this stuff and pull out these nice little nuggets of meaning (and that stuff you say with the nail and everything is interesting and cool and seems to hit it on the head – ha!) but my contention would be that if you want to do all this stuff and if you want an audience to want to join in and care (and by audience I guess I just mean me) – you have to have a story that managed to get the basics of making me care: you know – thrills, suspense and all the rest. Otherwises it’s just crazy noise and gibberish.
 
I mean: to use a less extreme example – there was this (really good) thing that you wrote on The World’s End: http://htmlgiant.com/film/25-more-pints-revisiting-the-worlds-end/ which YES is full of all sorts of lovely tasty insights “. . . That is how clever Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are. They are indeed reworking material from the earlier films—and from other earlier films—but they are repurposing it.” but – my overall feeling was one of sadness after reading it because – even tho (as you point out so capably) The World’s End is full of really clever bits of construction and meaning and purpose (read the link already) as a film / as piece of entertainment / as an experience or art or whatever – it failed it get it’s grips into me (for a whole bunch of reasons I won’t get into here because yeah – I type slow). 
 
I guess what I’m trying to say is that a comic or a film or whatever has to work foremost as something that will draw the reader into the world and keep them entertained and let them enjoy themselves and then – after that – then we can get into the ins and outs and savour the meanings or whatever. Or at least – that’s how I work (I’m guessing Adam you feel differently? And that something as frivolous as “entertainment” doesn’t really cross your mind? Or is there something else I’m missing?).
 
Like: if Holy Terror was more like Die Hard or more like True Lies and delivered the goods and satisfied the lizard part of my brain that just wants to be shown a good time then I would be up on the battlements with you Adam defending it from the boos and jeers (and I imagine a lot of other people would be too): but yeah – as it is: all thumbs down. 
 
Other stuff: Death of  Salesman meets Breaking Bad meets Superman? SOLD!
 
 
 
 
 

 

I don’t know if it’s because “deep down that I know it’s not about me.” But I do take your point. I mean – yeah – a benefit of my white male privilege that I can be thick skinned about the corrosive side of the stories out there (well – ok: technically I’m more “mongrel” than “white” but I guess we should go by what I look like rather than all the ins-and-outs of whatever). 

 
But my question to you Ramsey is: do you not think you could ever enjoy a screed (what a great word!) by an artist who was really really good at what they did? Like: if Steven Spielberg got hit on the head and made a film about how much he hated gay marriage? Like – imagine it was one of the best films ever. Set in space. And the hero was a dinosaur. Would you refuse to enjoy it on ideological grounds? Or – as I’d argue – would you go: that film was awesome it’s just a shame that it was so hate-filled and wrong-headed? 


 
 
 
 
 

 

Ha. Up until now I had never heard of the term “Sambos” – so thanks for that.

 
I get what you’re saying Ramsey – but I think that maybe the point I’m trying and obviously failing to make is a little different. Namely – that there’s a difference between creating something that has hateful characters/stereotypes and something that is actually hateful in it’s core (and I think I’m going to use “hateful” as my catch-all term for racist/sexist/homophobic/etc – because it’s quicker and also you know – so that no one ends up getting the wrong idea and thinks that I’m like “yay racism” or whatever). 
 
I mean – I was going to write up an example about my imaginary Spielberg movie where the main dinosaur space hero (played by Tom Hanks) turns towards the camera and says something like: “God created Adam and Eve – not Adam and Steve!” but then realised that that kinda thing is way too obvious and basic for what I’m trying to talk about. I mean when Frank Miller was talking about Holy Terror he referred to it as a work of propaganda and – well: imagining what a “good” version of Holy Terror would be like: I’m imagining something that would be a lot more persuasive than just having characters spout hateful (boring) lines of dialogue – or filling things up with hateful (boring) characters/stereotypes. Was it Alan Moore who made the point that all artwork is propaganda? All of it is trying to convince you of something. All of it is trying to shape your worldview and affect your thoughts and emotions. I mean – most mainstream entertainment is all about how the status qup is good and everything is ok and sleep tightly because everything is under control: we all live happily ever after. etc. And yeah: most of the stuff that I really like and that has really made an impact tends to challenge that and strike out against it and you know: I think it’s a good thing when it does so. But I don’t want to live in a world where everything I watch and read and listen to agrees with me – and yeah (as you may have noticed) – I enjoy having my opinions challenged and tousled around a bit: so hey – if Frank Miller (or whoever) wants to create something that is working for the other side. Then hey: I’d much rather read something interesting that I’m ideologically opposed to – than something boring that was on the side of angels. I mean yes – with everything else been equal: of course it’s better if something is ideologically right on and good and making the world a better place BUT that’s only one consideration among others: and something can be evil and yet still be well crafted and all the rest of it… 
 
Of course the one wrinkle that I haven’t really touched upon is that hateful speech is not only hateful but also massively dumb. I mean if you’re hating on someone for their sexuality/gender/skin colour or whatever – then well: that’s totally dumb and you’re been raised poorly and you’re obviously sublimating a whole bunch of stuff and you should go and seek help from somewhere: which is why – there isn’t really any good properly hateful art out there – because to do it “properly” you need to be somewhat smart: which means that things are kinda stuck before they even start you know?  

 

 
But then – well: at the risk of sounding like that guy on the talk show from that episode of South Park (“Montel, I think we’re forgetting something very important in all of this. Okay, sure he touched some children, but the man is a great singer and he has entertained us for so many years.”): Holy Terror (before I read it) was made by Frank Freaking Miller: who is (not to it into a pissing contest or anything) one of the greatest comic creators of all time and did stuff that altered the medium like several times over. He’s the comic book version of Spielberg or The Beatles or whoever. So yeah – I kinda figured – well hey: if anyone is smart enough to make something properly hateful – then it would be him. I mean – some people think that Dark Knight Returns was a justification for facism (I don’t see it myself – I think it’s much more just a justification for Batman: but maybe I’m reading it wrong?) and I love Dark Knight Returns so erm yeah. 
 
But then – maybe Holy Terror is the proof of the point and you just can’t make something that is hateful but is also well made? That if you’re dumb enough to be all like “Muslims are the problem” or whatever – then you’re too dumb to make entertainment? And that maybe making good entertainment and art or whatever is all about seeing further than sexuality/gender/skin colour etc? And it’s only when you recognise that we’re all human and we all have worlds inside us (uh oh – now I’m starting to sound like Neil Gaiman) that it’s only then that you can create anything worthwhile? And yeah – maybe if Spielberg made a film about how much Gay Marriage was the work of the devil or whatever then he wouldn’t be Spielberg anymore – and that that flaw would make the movie unwatchable? 
 
But still – I want to say and I want to defend the idea that ideology is not the be all and end all of whether something is a good work of art. And that actually it can be a benefit of our entertainment products to make us think about the world in different ways you know? The comics you read / the films you watch shouldn’t just be agreeing with you all the time: because that path just leads to becoming intellectually soft and lazy. So yeah – to go back to what Ramsey said: well – I walk into every movie with open arms too and then if something fucked up happens – well – that’s when I start getting excited. 
 
And if I was gonna try and sum this all up – well: just say yes to more fucked up things innit? 
 
 
I’d say an example of ‘good propaganda’ standing up for the same sort of values as Holy Terror would be the (very entertaining) first Iron Man film with an origin story featuring nasty Afghans, (as opposed to the origin story from the 60s comics which featured nasty Vietnamese) and lots of cheer-leading for the 1% and the defense industry.  In these self aware, post modern days, I suspect the most effective propaganda that actually changes peoples’ minds is probably stuff with a sense of humour.
 
 

 

A lot of what I was going to say has already been said by others either here or in the stuff Joel’s been linking to on FB all week, but it comes down to this. I don’t hate this because in the few pages when it’s espousing a philosophy it’s one that I strongly disagree with, I hate this because Frank Miller has become someone that apparently cannot write or draw an understandable story. It’s in the dialogue, EVERY Miller narrator for years talks exactly. Exactly the same. EXACTLY the same. Dick Grayson, age twelve. The clipped. The clipped sentences. They repeat themselves. The clipped sentences that repeat themselves. Exactly the same. The BIZARRE emphasis that NO-ONE in the REAL WORLD would TALK like. The clipped SENTENCES that REPEAT themselves with the BIZARRE emphasis on random WORDS.
Initially there’s glimpses of the old Frank in this, some of the page layouts giving a sense of Not-Batman and Not-Catwoman in motion around the rooftops of Not-Gotham but then when the terrorists turn up it all goes weird, is Frank Miller going from the ‘realism’ of a superhero comic to some other metaphorical level without warning us? Frank doesn’t give us any clue, like explaining where Little Miss Suicide Bomber is, but unless she was actually standing on a ledge right under where Not-Batman and Not-Catwoman are screwing, surely they wouldn’t get caught in the explosion of nails to the degree they are? And if she were, what possible target could she be in where setting off a nail bomb at the top of the building is in any way a useful target for the collateral damage that bombers tend to aim for? At this point even Jack Bauer and the cast of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit are looking at this and calling bullshit. And what’s with the giant snail, is this a sign that not-Green Lantern and I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-The Justice League of America are also on hand and fighting the terrorists, or is it an allegory for something or is it just that when it came to draw that page Frank didn’t notice that’s he’d doodled a giant snail on there until he’d finished and thought “bugger this, I’ve already spent fifteen minutes drawing this page which is ten minutes more than I take to draw a page and I’m not going to go and draw it again”? What’s with the intricate dungeon scene when, at the start of the book, Frank represented a smoky metropolitan skyline by… not drawing anything at all?
It’s tempting to try to believe it’s all some intricate double-bluff, that actually Frank is satirising the simplistic ideology of the right-wing straw-demagogue rather than actually being a simplistic right-wing-straw-demagogue who thinks he’s being really clever by drawing a picture of a constipated Michael Moore. But to be honest, whatever his motivation, he’s done a really dumb comic and, considering some of the things DC are proud to put their masthead on, the fact that he didn’t get them to publish this says everything.


 

So. For my sins I actually sat down and reread Holy Terror this weekend and well yeah – afterwards it felt like my brain had stepped in something icky.  

 
I mean – is this what the inside of a crazy person looks like? (answer = yes). 
 
Thought that maybe I’d try and wash my mind by rereading Dark Knight Strikes Again (which I’ve loved every other time I’ve read it) but – damn – it felt kinda tainted and the similarities of the artwork kept putting in mind of Holy Terror. 
 
Only yeah – strange thing is that in DKSA you get stuff like this: 
 
 
Which – well – seems to be taking the mickey (right? I mean – “I’m no Ayn Rander! She didn’t go nearly far enough!” is the very definition of tongue-in-cheek dialogue…). 
 
And then – well: that got me to thinking about probably the strangest moment in Holy Terror (which is basically a comic of strange moments flung together with no real rhyme or reason) is the scene of the pink girl (does she have a name? I don’t remember and I don’t have the book in front of me…) – but you know who I mean yeah? (No not Not-Catwoman: the other woman). 
 
I mean – I’m struggling to even think of one other example of showing the point-of-view of an actual suicide-bomber (in fact – there’s Four Lions: but that’s it) but right in the middle nested away is probably the most understandable and – dare-I-even-say-it? – actually kinda cool actually kinda relatable depiction of the mindset I think I’ve ever seen. I mean – it pretty much all boils down to a single exchange “Where’s that, the dark ages?” “Maybe the future. We’ll see” but still – I mean: it takes a point of view that is considered completely beyond-the-pale and completely toxic and evil and unhuman and well yeah: makes it make sense (if you see what I mean). 
 
Which to be honest is the last thing I expected to be saying about Holy freaking Terror. 
 
But there you go. 
 

 

Come to that, I suspect it’s probably also the last thing Frank Miller expected anyone to be saying about Holy freaking Terror. Don’t forget to email him and let him know this!

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