Friday, September 30, 2011

holy terror, batman!

Frank Miller's response to 9/11 was finally released this week. Originally conceived as a Batman tale, but repurposed to involve a generic Batman-like vigilante (the "Fixer") after DC nixed the ultra-violent spree of bigotry, hate, and inappropriate sex, the end result is still unmistakably Batman, albeit the Batman of Frank Miller.

Reviews so far have focused (perhaps unsurprisingly) on the objectionable political content. Muslims are portrayed without subtlety as evil terrorists; the heroes are devoid of character except for their righteous indignation and glee in slaughtering terrorists.

But "content," whether it be plot, character development, or political commentary is not the level of which this book was meant to work. Miller himself has described the project as "propaganda," but there is no pretense here to affect the views of the reader, to manipulate him into any particular view.

Rather, Holy Terror is a passionate rant, an explosion of pure emotion onto the page—in some cases, quite literally.

In the aftermath of the first wave.

The comic works on a purely visceral level; as much a cathartic purge for Miller as anything, the reader nevertheless feels the sweep of Miller's rage, even if he can't quite grasp its target. Of course, Miller's targeting Islamic terrorists, also terrorism in general, also (perhaps) something political? Cultural? Some pages filled with caricatures and random evocative images are clearly not narrative, just splatters of Miller's scattered thoughts.

What exactly is this supposed to mean?

Some reviewers have criticized the lack of characterization of the Fixer. Supposedly, since he isn't Batman, we need backstory, characterization, some reason to sympathize. Despite certain deliberately non-Batman moments (the Fixer uses guns, he explicitly says he suffered no childhood tragedy at the hands of crime), the Fixer is unmistakably Batman—not the Batman of lore and continuity, but Miller's Batman. Miller has earned the right to tell stories with that icon, and he clearly does so here, even after discarding the baggage the historical DC Batman has accumulated over the years as part of his mythos.

Miller's Batman was a Batman pushed to the breaking point, turning his frustration at the world into violence. Unabashedly taking justice into his own hands, a vigilante in the purest, truest sense—however ugly such a thing may be. Targeting fascists, he himself was also a fascist. Just the right fascist. This was the message already in Dark Knight Returns, and the Fixer is in many respects the logical extension of this idea.

"Jihad!" . . . "Gesundheit."

In Holy Terror, the climactic terror event, the proxy for 9/11 (after a sequence of nail bombs explode all over the city), occurs when terrorists fly an airplane into a large statue on the city's waterfront. Reviewers have commented on the obvious similarity with the Statue of Liberty, and one even claimed a simplistic liberty-oriented symbolism: "The terrorists somehow scramble fighter jets (several of them) to blow up a thinly veiled Statue of Liberty (because they hate us for our freedom)."

But this interpretation is bizarre. Although it obviously references the Statue of Liberty, Miller's statue is of Blind Justice. And this is no mistake, for liberty is not a virtue in Miller's world. It is not freedom, but justice which reigns supreme in the world of the vigilante, and it is the destruction of justice for which Miller faults the terrorists, not of liberty. Likewise, it is not even the defense of justice which motivates and explains the actions of the Fixer, but rather the realization of justice. It is just that the terrorists die, the consequences of the Fixer's actions to eliminate them and their collaborators beyond their deaths are simply irrelevant.

Oh, you're surprised / offended by this?

Who are we kidding here? How short is your memory?

Ultimately, Holy Terror suffers from many defects. Criticisms of plot and character are not at all misplaced. But the book works at the level of a rant, and it is a rant of beauty and passion. The art is indeed uneven and schizophrenic, but here again, every style has its moment. More importantly, the unevenness of the art strengthens the feeling of raw power. It's as if Miller is blinded by his own emotions, he can't even see straight while caricaturing Obama, or Michael Moore, or whoever those are supposed to be; he can't even put into words his response because it occurs at gut level. There is no reason, no rationality behind the response, just an intense feeling of injustice and a fantasy to respond and correct.

And in this sense, Holy Terror is more honest and true than many responses to 9/11. There's no pretense here, for better or worse. And let's not forget that Miller is still (at least) a profound talent with images. However chaotic the emotions, facile the story, or uneven the storytelling, Miller can still make the jaw drop with his neo-noir blasts of black and blood and light and shadow.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011


"8. Do NOT attempt to deep fat fry in your oven."

~ microwave instruction manual