Bat-week: Frank Miller and me

Frank Miller
Frank Miller: Batman legend!

I’ve just finished reading Frank Miller’s Holy Terror graphic novel, as much as I love Frank Miller’s work, I’m in two minds about it. So much so that I’m going to have to read it again, so no review just yet. In the meantime, by way of an introduction to his work and keeping with the Batman theme here’s my take on Frank Miller. It was originally going to be a preamble to my Holy Terror review, but it developed a life of its own. Forgive me if it’s a bit over-indulgent.

I was first introduced to Frank Miller’s work via a story in the colour supplement of the UK’s Mail on Sunday. I was around my aunt and uncle’s house. My uncle knew I was in to comics and thought I might be interested in the news feature about a new Batman comic.

The main image accompanying the article was of a massive caped figure, wearing an ill-fitting grey costume with all the finesse of a sack of potatoes. It wasn’t the Batman that I knew. By his side was another familiar but different character, Batman’s side-kick Robin, but portrayed as a red-headed girl.

The dark knight returns
The Dark Knight Returns: the best batman story ever!

In was 1986, the book was The Dark Knight Returns and the rest is history. If you haven’t read it you should have by now. The book’s twenty-five years old and is the best damn Batman comic-book ever written, hell it’s probably the best comic-book EVER written (sorry Alan). The Dark Knight Returns was very much a product of its time with featuring a thinly veiled Ronald Reagan on the verge of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It was a political piece played out with the anti-establishment Batman going up against a government-sanctioned Superman. In those four issues comic-books grew up and changed forever.

I’d missed Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil, but I managed to catch his second, the fantastic Born Again storyline. This time, instead of writing and illustrating the book, Miller collaborated with artist David Mazzucchelli. Born Again tells the story of what  the Kingpin, on finding out Daredevil’s secret identity from Matt Murdock’s former lover, systematically sets about destroying his life. It’s another piece of required comic-book reading.

By the time Batman: Year One was released a year later, again with Miller collaborating with Mazzucchelli , I’d purchased and devoured all of Miller’s initial run as writer and artist on Daredevil (it would be over fifteen years before I finally got hold of my own copy of Miller’s first issue of Daredevil, issue 158). Batman:  Year One successfully reintroduced the novice a Batman against the backdrop of a young Lieutenant Jim Gordon’s battle against the corruption in the Gotham City Police Department. This gritty origin tale, along with The Dark Knight Returns the year before changed Batman for ever.

Sin City
Sin City: saucy!

His work on Daredevil and Batman, as well as his bizarre Elektra Assassin collaboration with Bill Sienkiewicz, cemented him as my favourite comic-book creator. His Hard Boiled series (featuring Geoff Darrow’s beautifully detailed art) and later on, Sin City and 300 made me a Frank Miller fan for life.

Then along came the 2000s and with it Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Not a bad book, but a pale reflection of The Dark Knight Returns. Apart from co-directing the big screen adaptation of Sin City (which I love), Miller has been off my radar for the best part of a decade. The bad press around Miller’s movie adapation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit put me off watching it.

Frank Miller almost single handedly reinvented Batman, and indeed the comic-book media as a whole (with the help of Alan Moore et al of Watchmen fame) during the 1980s. But even now thirty-two years after his first issue of Daredevil, his style continues to evolve, each series is an experiment of its own. That’s what’s so great about Miller’s work, you know that you are going to see something new every time and long may he continue.

So here I am, just having read the first new Frank Miller material in almost ten years, the first Frank Miller material I’ve read written post 9/11. And, instead of actually writing my Holy Terror review, I’ve just procrastinated almost 600 words at you. Let me take another look at this book and get back to you.

As always, if you want to check out any of the books above, the folks at New Zealand’s best comic shop, Mark One Comics Comics in Hamilton, will be able to set you up.