Bat-week: Frank Miller’s Holy Terror review

Holy Terror
It's Miller time!

Frank Miller’s Holy Terror started out as a Batman story inspired by the events of 9/11. Miller has gone on record as saying that it is a propaganda piece and that it’s likely to offend just about everybody. It was probably the realisation that DC Comics were unlucky to publish it that made him revise the main characters from Batman and Catwoman to his own creations of The Fixer and Natalie Stack.

I’m a little tainted by the fact that I’m aware that there is some controversy over the contents of the book and I’ve spent some time wondering how I’m going to tackle it. Some folks are upset about who exactly Miller is suggesting the enemy is in this, his fictional take on the “War on Terror”.  I‘ve decided that I’m going to review Frank Miller’s Holy Terror for what it is, a fucking comic.

Holy terror
Kissing and punching!

It is raining in Empire City (not Gotham) and masked cat-burglar Natalie Stack (not Catwoman) is being pursued across the city’s rooftops by the costumed vigilante known as The Fixer (not Batman). Natalie slips, The Fixer grabs her and cushions her fall. A well placed kick leaves The Fixer just short of apprehending the cat-burglar, triggering a rooftop melee between the two of them. The Fixer and Natalie Stack proceed to beat the crap out of each other. The aggression between them inexplicably turns to passion just as the city explodes.

With a nail stuck in her leg, shrapnel from a home-made bomb,  Natalie asks The Fixer what is going on, to which he replies, “It’s war, Darling. It’s War.” And so it begins.

In the simplified world of Holy Terror it’s a young female student, obviously of Middle-Eastern origin, that blows herself up just after delivering a monologue condemning America for its arrogance and excess, “Its towers stab into the sky like sharpened sticks aimed at the eyes of God”. Powerful stuff.

Miller protagonists, still reeling from the blast, nail still in Natalie’s leg, are then caught in a second blast, this one with razor blades as shrapnel. The Fixer protects Natalie, shielding her; an unselfish act she finds hard to understand.

What follows is a tale of two pissed off people taking on an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell that want to completely destroy their city an kill everybody in it. They are aided in this endeavour by a cop called Dan Donegal (not Jim Gordon).

Holy terror
Black, white and red all over

The plot is as thin as the paper stock used in the book (which is so thin that the heavy black art can be seen though the white spaces of the page). That doesn’t make the story a bad one. Sin City wasn’t exactly deep, either.

Ignoring a few dodgy, stereotypical portrayals of Ay-rabs (that, again, I’m sure others will pick up on and be suitably disgusted about, faux or otherwise) there are some huge leaps taken in the story. The biggest leap is the location of the terrorist’s hideout, which comes out of nowhere.

On the whole the story is OK, not Millers best by a long shot. It is uneven, it’s angry and the character of The Fixer is a bit of an unlikable tosser. But I think it is Natalie Stack that Miller wishes us to identify with, as it is though her that we are introduced to The Fixer’s world, his views and his methods.

holy terror
Not-Batman and Not-Catwoman side by side

Putting the story to one side, Miller’s art is still bloody fantastic. Any fan of Frank Miller since Sin City is going to love what he has put down on the pages of Holy Terror. The first few pages, depicting the rooftop chase, are a beautifully chaotic mess of rain streaks, light and shadows. Taking a cue from his Sin City series, the black and white art is punctuated with the odd bit of colour, never too much, but enough to draw your attention.

Holy terror
War on terror

The characters never appear static, their motion perfectly communicated although frozen on the page. This is something Miller has been masterfully able to convey since his days drawing the tumbling ninjas of The Hand in the pages of Daredevil.

Whilst for most of the book Miller’s art is very clear, with characters ironically illustrated in a fashion that wouldn’t be out-of-place as a pin-up, some panels are so hard to decipher that I really had to look hard to work out what was going on. Like the story, the art isn’t a steady ride. I don’t think it’s intentional, I think that it’s down to just how long Miller has been working on the book. It’s clear that the book has been under development for some time, Miller’s art all the while evolving. Even so, the art of Holy Terror is, generally speaking, modern Miller at its best.

I’m sure that there will all sorts of folks deconstructing Holy Terror. These seekers of truth and deeper meaning are likely to get upset; probably just as upset as Frank Miller did when a load of religious nut-jobs decided to fuck his city up on that fateful day in September 2001.

Mr Kiss-Kiss Bang-Bang

Personally, I’m not really offended by Holy Terror at all. At worst, it’s just a comic-book, created by an artist wanting to release some pent-up anger via a simplistic make-believe narrative. At best it is a piece of art, which like all art aims to provoke an emotional response. Then again, maybe it’s no more that Miller having a laugh at us, Holy Terror being his max-strength antidote to the politically correct bullshit that’s force-fed by our increasingly impotent, liberal western society.

In any case I enjoyed the book. My first read though was a bit WTF, but with each subsequent read the book has grown for me. If you are a fan of Miller’s work, you should pick it up now. If you have an interest in comic-books with interesting and different art styles, again check out Holy Terror. If you’re likely to be easily offended, I’d stay right away.

Frank Miller’s Holy Terror is out now and available from those fine fellas at New Zealand’s premier comic shop, Mark One.