Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Very Political Frank Miller: From "The Dark Knight Returns" To "Anarchy"

In which the blogger celebrates his on-going recovery from The-Virus-Which-Punished-Movement-With-Asphyxiation - a.k.a. the man-flu - with a few pieces on Frank Miller's work, beginning with an askew look at the politics of "The Dark Knight Returns", and ending on Friday with a review of "Holy Terror". Caveat lector:- the following is a ramble used to help me sort out my own thoughts about Miller's politics in both TDKR and his most recent proclamations. As such, I strongly suspect that it might be best skipped for the many far more succinct pieces elsewhere. No, really; caveat lector ...

"Everybody's been too damn polite about this nonsense: The "occupy" movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment." (Text from Frank Miller's blog-piece "Anarchy", art from "The Dark Knight Returns")

I'm finding it hard to separate Frank Miller's recent splenetic rant of a blog-entry from the vox pop talking heads of his The Dark Knight Returns. For the absurdities of Miller's Anarchy read as though they've been lifted directly from the panels of that book, which makes it hard not to believe that the whole distasteful harangue isn't actually the product of one of the smartest satirists currently writing. After all, how could a man given to the broadest of political sideswipes fail to notice that Anarchy was both absurd and incoherent? To catch so perfectly the tone and content of a belligerently confused and heartless old reactionary would, I'll concede, require the genius of a Swift matched with that of a Hicks, but who's to say what Miller's spent much of his time studying in the long years since he stopped producing smart and even on occasion compassionate comic books? A couple of feature films, a handful of "graphic novels"; there's been plenty of time for Miller to master rather than merely dabble in the dark arts of satire.


        
And I wish that I could believe that Anarchy was an example of smart-minded lampoonery, for, as Ty Templeton has his cartoon rabbit declare in his latest, and laugh-out-loud wonderful, Bun Toon, "I used to love you, Frank." But even if the cumulatively toxic effect of his last few decades of work could be ignored, and we comics fans do try, 2011 has brought us not just Anarchy, but the execrable Holy Terror, all bile and bigotry, ethnocentricism and ignorance. Frank Miller, it seems, isn't joking at all. Frank Miller is absolutely serious.
          
""Occupy" is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America."

It's interesting to note how Miller seems to have changed the way he thinks about the "pond-scum" of American society in the quarter of a century since The Dark Knight Returns was first published Given Mr Miller's sense of himself as a political artist, as he argues in his forward to the Absolute Dark Knight, we're obliged to credit him with the skill and the intention of producing work designed to be read dialectically. For what kind of political artist would he be if his work wasn't rigorously and purposefully controlled? As such, it's notable that there are significant differences between the politics of The Dark Knight Returns and those presented in Holy Terror and Anarchy. For example, those involved in 2011's OWS protests are defined by Miller as a ".... a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America."  This marks a considerable decline in Miller's faith where the redeemability of what he regards as the very worst of American society is concerned.


            
For in The Dark Knight Falls, the gangsters of the "Sons Of Batman" are turned from their nun-slaying, cat-stapling, family-torturing activities simply through the good example, and the strong right and left arms, of Bruce Wayne. How odd, that a criminal organisation composed of hundreds of murderers, drug-dealers and, yes, terrorists should be so easily, so swiftly, transformed into a modern-day version of Washington's Continental Army, whereas, according to Miller's blog, there's only a hope that America's current "military" might succeed in whipping "some" of the folks associated with the OWS into "shape". It can't be the fact that Miller apparently believes that today's activists are all "louts, thieves, and rapists" which means he believes they're so unsalvagaeble as citizens of the new embattled American order. It can't even be that they're all apparently without gainful employment. After all, the "Mutants" who became the "Sons Of Batman" were all of those things, although they were at least free of the apparently emasculating markers of iPhones and Lords of Warcraft.

The first mention of the "Mutants" in TDKR, who later go on to become the backbone of Bruce Wayne's revolutionary army. Most of us would regard that as an extreme progressive position to take on the matter of criminal reform, but it appears that that's a possibility for all but the insane and Miller's dreaded "Islamicists".
           
Instead, it seems that something more appalling than the blowing up of innocent women by placing bombs in their handbags marks out the "clowns" of today's Republic. (*1) It's not hard to conclude that the OWS's sin is the heresy of unAmericanism, of the poisoning of both the nation's moral good health and its physical wellbeing in the face of the apocalyptic menace of "Islamicism". The act of challenging the economic status quo of America today is, it appears, the mark of a traitor, as well as a "lout" and a "thief" and a "rapist", because it seems that the USA's capacity to defend itself against the deadly threat of "Islamicism" would be fatally weakened if the very richest of the nation's super-rich were asked to pay just a little bit more in taxes.

*1:- Evidence that Mr Miller wasn't quite thinking as clearly as he might have been in "Anarchy" abounds. My favourite example is his ability to label a group composed of  "louts, thieves, and rapists" as "clowns". He must either have been somewhat confused as he typed away or he carries a particularly low opinion of clowns.

           
""Occupy" is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the "movement" - HAH! Some "movement", except if the word "bowel" is attached - is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch if iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and finds for themselves."

There is, of course, a particular irony in this, for The Dark Knight Returns is solely concerned with the heroic responsibility of the people, under the leadership of an outstandingly moral individual, to revolt against its government even during a time of war against a more powerfully armed enemy. Nothing so marks the apparent evolution of Miller's thought as this, that the arch-conservative of 2011 was once a comic-book advocate of an authoritarian revolution against a Washington reeling from a nuclear attack from Soviet Russia. (Miller, being a political artist, has to be respected as setting out the grounds in TDKR under which the overthrow of the state is justified. Otherwise, he's just playing around with the tropes of authoritarianism, if not fascism, as a jape, and no serious political artist would do that, surely?) If the citizens of Wayne's revolutionary army in TDKR had followed Miller's current credo of do-what-the-powers-that-be-demand, then they'd all have returned obediently home at the story's end, and shopped the Batman and Green Arrow to Reagan's authorities too. America was at war, so, according to Anarchy, obedience was mandatory regardless of the health of the Republic and the welfare of its citizens.

Miller used to mock the powers-that-be. Now he mocks those who'd question them. Times change.
         
To today's Miller, a threat to the Republic is, we must assume, the point at which legitimate protest becomes entirely illegitimate. Who defines what constitutes such a threat is, of course, a problem which Miller's not defined in anything but the broadest of terms, but he does seem convinced that America is so fiercely challenged and so fundamentally weak that the OWS events are in some way a danger to the nation. After all, if the movement poses no threat at all, then why would Miller be venting so about it? Why bother to tackle the "garbage - both politically and physically", why mention the war, why emphasise the virtue of the army, why raise the spectre of "Islamicism", if not to draw a line between utter depravity and absolute virtue? Obviously, a comic book which presented a heroic rebellion against the American state was perfectly acceptable to Miller in 1986/7, and yet today's situation is so bleak that even a discussion of the reform of the tax system constitutes an unspeakably dangerous heresy. Yet given that the America of The Dark Knight Returns was most certainly at war, the sins of the OWS today can't be that they've argued for social change while America's armies are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's obviously a terrible thing for them to do in Miller's opinion, but it can't be the tipping point that triggered the fury and contempt of his Moses-coming-down-the-mountain moment.

Miller's President Reagan commits American forces to a war on a foreign shore which, due to inept intelligence and faulty strategy, results in nuclear war blowing back at the U.S.A.  An obvious satire of Pressie Ronnie's habit of meddling in the sovereign affairs of independent nations which would presumably be unacceptable today, according to the logic of Miller's "Anarchy".

Instead, it's hard to suppress the suspicion that Miller must be aware of some appalling danger to the USA which threatens not just its citizens in the context of potential terrorist attacks, but the survival of very country itself. Assuming that there's any sort of continuity between the political meaning of The Dark Knight Returns and those values expressed in Anarchy and Holy Terror, we seem to have passed from a time when a state-destroying Batman can be presented as a laudable individual into an age when even a public debate about the obviously inequitable distribution of wealth will threaten the state. Things must be far worse for America than most of us ever thought possible! Or can it be that Miller would now look back at The Dark Knight Returns and be appalled by how naively he presented the argument for a rebellion against the very political system which is today so precious to him?

For surely it can't be that the serious political artist that is Frank Miller would invest his precious time insulting a group of people which he regards as being both powerless and worthless?      

"This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they're spewing their garbage - both politically and physically - every which way they can find. Wake up, pond scum. America is at war with a ruthless enemy."
      
Or perhaps it's just that Miller's has become more conservatively-minded where the state is concerned in the years since TDKR. (*2) Yet in the mid-eighties, Miller presented his readers with a future America sending its soldiers overseas on Imperialist adventures based on nothing but self-interest, and in doing so, he made his position as regards Reagan's various unconstitutional South American adventures in the real-world absolutely clear. He had his President Ronnie catch himself in a televised address to the American people while owning up to having threatened the sovereignty of "Corto Maltese" for nothing but the most self-interested of  motives, and then showed the Great Communicator masking that slip by exhorting his people to "stand up for the cause of freedom -- and those cute little Corto Maltese people". That those "cute little .... people" didn't want America controlling their affairs was clear in TDKR, while Reagan's incompetence in creating unjust wars which might catastrophically backfire on America's national security is a major theme in the book.

*2:- Or is it only Miller and his fellow heroic individuals who are qualified to criticise America? Surely not.

           
Already uncaringly presiding over an economic crisis at home, Miller's Reagan matches his disinterest in the wellbeing of the American citizenry with an imperialistic zeal when it comes to over-seas adventuring. Having picked a fight with the U.S.S.R. over Corto Maltese for no defensible ethical or practical reason, and believing that Superman can counter any Soviet military threat, Reagan finds, as Miller's Batman declares, that "the USSR has taken the lead in the arms race". As a consequence, much of America's technology is fried by a Soviet super-nuke, and the world condemned to nuclear winter. In short, TDKR presents us with a President pursuing what appear to be at best laissez-faire economic policies at home while recklessly pursuing dubious foreign misadventures which cause endless disasters for the homeland The first matter triggers unbelievable economic hardship for the vast majority of the folks in The Dark Knight Returns, while the latter results in nuclear winter. The Miller of the mid-Eighties didn't just portray rebellion against such a state as a good idea; he presented it as a moral necessity, and, again, we have to credit that such a 'political' writer intended his work to carry such a revolutionary meaning.

"Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty titbits of narcissism you've been served up in your seltered, comfy little worlds, you've heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism."
          
In the light of that, Bruce Wayne's cartoon rebellion against the American state as it struggles to survive after the Soviet assault, and with its troops still in the field, would surely be abhorrent to today's Frank Miller, who can't even stand to see the state's politics being peacefully challenged anymore. A matter too serious for political protest must surely be too serious for comic-book political satire too. (*2 - see above.) From proposing the case for what seems to be nothing so much as a rich man's uprising during a time of national peril to deploring even the right of free speech during relatively benign times today; that's a dramatic arc of political development for an artist to travel in two and a half decades. To have managed to ignore the parallels between his own take on a future President Reagan, who he clearly despised in TDKR, and the regime of President Dudya, whose policies he's seemed to vigorously embrace, illustrates how far Miller's come. Once he presented comics which, for all their thoroughly unpleasant far right politics, expressed a horror at the capitalist system's fleecing of the people and against the expansionist sabre-slashing of the state which many of the rest of us could emphasise with; now he seems appalled by anyone who'd speak up against either situation. (*2 - see above.) The anti-racism of several scenes of The Dark Knight Returns, for example, meant that the book could come across in places as almost a liberal text, which may explain how the toxic politics of the work as a whole failed to alienate far more of its readership. (Rand's disdain for racism is often ignored both by those who'd claim her as an inspiration and by those who loathe her work, but Miller obviously listened to his self-proclaimed inspiration.) Of course, that progressive stance on race didn't extend to Miller presenting a leading character in TDKR who was actually Black themselves, but he did show - bless him - a passing measure of concern.

Miller's moment of political sensitivity on the matter of race in TDKR.

Today's Miller would rather have his Dark Knight fall into line behind those who think America is engaged in a state-threatening war against the "Islamicists". As Miller wrote in Anarchy, "America is at war against a ruthless enemy". Given that the threat from al-Qaeda is barely the tiniest fraction of that posed by the USSR of the mid-Eighties, in fact or even in the pages of TDKR, we have to assume that there's something particularly threatening about bin Laden's organisation to Miller. For Miller's thoughts about obedience and the unchallengability of the State have certainly changed over the years. Where once Miller presented a Batman justified in trying to overthrow the state while American soldiers were engaged in "Corto Maltese", now he argues for the moral obligation to shut up and do what you're told, while in Holy Terror, his Batman surrogate "The Fixer" is set on murdering as many members of al-Qaeda as he possibly can. Indeed, the politics of Holy Terror are concerned only with the glorification of revenge, torture and murder in the name of the American state. Whatever "our" side chooses to do is by its very nature necessary and correct, it appears, and so why would a Batman choose to overthrown such a virtuous system?

The Occupy Wall Street Protestors: Man Upped Division. (Surely some mistake here: editor)
          
Where once Miller appeared to worship at a sub-Randian alter exalting the heroic individual in his battle against the "little people" and their hero-crushing institutions, now Miller presents us with the concept of the holy state of America, whose continued existence in exactly its current form marks the only possible social good. (Rand certainly believed that the very existence of a government was justified in terms of its capacity to protect the people from physical harm, but Miller seems to be granting the post-9/11 state his blanket approval where economic and social policies are concerned too.) Such an obsessively, irrationally focused concept of civic virtue means that Miller's work has ceased to carry any great weight of values which might be seen as sympathetic to liberal humanism at all. In short, the balancing act which TDKR achieved, in that it could appear to be socially progressive here and there while presenting the most extreme range of values in general, is now replaced by the one-note drone of My County Right Or Wrong, And It's Always Right, Pond Scum!!!!!. And where once Miller fully accepted, in his self-proclaimed "political" The Dark Knight Returns, that the American government could be both entirely callous to its own people and a dangerously predatory world power too, now it's shoulders back, watch your mouth, salute stiffly, and pray that the military really does "whip you into shape".

           
Of course, that would be the military which has been so let down by American capitalism in The Dark Knight Returns that its Generals, having been refused health insurance for their dying spouses, are driven into selling top-secret weapons to criminals before committing noble, tragic suicide. And the Miller of 1986/7 was apparently as concerned with the abuses practised by the Health Insurance industry as OWS is today.. In that, we might expect Miller to express a great deal of sympathy for the protesters associated with OWS, given that health insurance has been a major concern of theirs too. Yet the folks of "Occupy" are nothing but "spoilt brats" to Miller , who ought to "find jobs for themselves" rather than getting in "the way of working people". (Does Miller expect his readers to accept the monied elites of Wall Street into their definition of the hard-working proletariat? It does seem absurdly so.) At what point, it's hard not to wonder, did the Miller of 1985-7, who seemed absolutely determined to paint a picture of largely unregulated capitalism as a wholly corrupt system, decide that the system as exists is beyond criticism? For in The Dark Knight Returns, practically every mention of both government and business reflects a belief in their absolute corruption.

Not everyone in the media is held in contempt in TDKR. "Lana", for example, is clearly intended to be providing Gotham with the correct answers, and her words do carry a familiar contempt that's often presented in Miller's prose too; "... for any motive too big for your little mind?", for example, could've been a line in Miller's Anarchy.
           
That the News media is presented in TDKR as "stupid" and full of "little people" who "so poorly chronicled the gigantic conflicts of the time", as Miller's 2006 forward to the Absolute Dark Knight states, is just one part of Miller's assault on almost-monopoly capitalism. Accordingly, the Health Insurance industry is attacked with all the sentimentality that Miller can muster; poor Margaret Corcoran can't afford to pay for her varicose veins to be dealt with, her insurance having been refused, while General Brigg's wife has died of Hodgkin's disease because the industry won't "sponsor a rare treatment". Hand in hand with Miller's portrait of Reagan's deliberate policy of ignoring America's economic collapse, therefore, is a picture of a system of soulless, soul-crushing economic oppression, the cumulative effects of which appear to justify the Dark Knight's campaign against the Nation. In The Dark Knight Returns, the state's inattention to the rights of citizens of America and Corto Maltese stands as yet another marker of the nation which requires a "powerful, demanding, unrepentant hero" to save it. Today, any such awareness of any such a problem appears to have entirely disappeared from Miller's work or pronouncements, and those who protest against the "1%" are doing nothing but "spewing their garbage". Either America has fundamentally changed, or Miller has.

The question of whose nation it is, and in whose interest it governs, is now, it seems, entirely off the table. From a comicbook argument presenting the individual hero's right to rule nations to a blog-rant effectively supporting an economic elite's duty to do the same thing; in the strange world of far-right politics, it's not such an inexplicable transformation at all. But beyond the boundaries of the faith-based community, it all seems rather hard to make sense of in rational terms.

The environmental catastrophe caused by modern warfare "even" in nations characterised by a great deal of desert, as seen in TDKR.
          
Yet it's remarkable how much of The Dark Knight Returns is concerned with issues which might appeal to a great many of those involved with "Occupy". It's not just that the Government is concerned only with the perpetuation of its own power, from Washington all the way down the chain to Gotham City, or that the economy is permitted to act in such a way as folks great and small can't even attain minimum standards of health care, let alone face the next energy bill with anything other than trembling. At the heart of TDKR is the situationalist argument that it's circumstances which create criminality rather than individual choice, which would be a profoundly disturbing argument, we must presume, to a great many of the Republic's less liberal citizens. Place the Sons of The Batman under the good example of Bruce Wayne, as we're shown, and they become more than good citizens; they become the very guardians of civil society. Society, Miller seems to have been saying, doesn't have to be so heartless and exploitative, but it's been corrupted by the very institutions which typical citizens look to represent them.

         
Remove the pernicious influences and even the most depraved of individuals can be nobly transformed. Rather than needing to be punished, or even contained, the example of an untypically just, if mentally disordered, man can turn the worst of criminals into noble little Founders. (It's notable that Wayne is seen as a waster, at best a victim, until he puts his wealth and power into protecting his fellow citizens. Wealth as the just reward of the genetically-superior, economically productive wealthy isn't a principle in The Dark Knight Returns, anymore than unquestioning obedience to power is.)  Even those in favour of gun control can warm to Batman's speech in which he declares that such weapons are verboten in his new order. Similarly, the environment and the horrors of its degradation by modern science appears as a prominent issue in The Dark Knight Falls. As Superman struggles to survive after the Russian nuke explodes, Miller has him say;

"You cannot touch my planet without destroying something precious. Even her deserts are abundant. There were birds here, who she blessed with chest feathers absorbent enough to carry water for miles to their children ... bullfrogs who slept for years in dried out riverbeds ... they dug their way to the surface when the rains come .."

It's hard to believe that the Miller of today is at all concerned with the likes of the depleted uranium which the Allied armies have deposited across the so-called wildernesses of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Miller of TDKR seemed well aware of the ecological disasters posed by modern weaponry.  For a creator who's seemed to always pride himself on being the most independent of men, Miller appears to have ended up as nothing other than an apologist for the least edifying aspects of the status quo. From impossibly dumb to even improbably dumber, there's something almost poignant about how Miller's thought has matched the decline of so much of America's public discourse over the period from the mid-Eighties to the present day.

"In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas' basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft. Or better yet, enlist for the real thing. Maybe our military could whip some of you into shape. They might not let you babies keep your iPhones, though. Try to soldier on. Schmucks."

Or could it be that, for a "political" writer, Miller doesn't know what he's talking about in any recognisably disciplined sense? Is it possible that Miller's own opinion of himself as a 'political' artist is contradicted by the evidence of his work?. Was he just making a joke about the rights of the heroic man in The Dark Knight Returns, and if so, how can we ever know when this political artist is ever being serious at all? Is it even certain that he's capable of producing a coherent satire that's anything other than the broadest of kneejerk libertarianism? This is a man, after all, who recently admitted that he knew little at all about the Muslim religion, and who yet began Holy Terror with a single supposed quote from "Mohammed" - "If you meet the infidel, kill the infidel" - chosen to present The Prophet as nothing but the most rabid of religious terrorists. (There's no attribution for the quote either. Should the word "chosen" in the previous sentence be replaced by "invented"? Either way, why not reduce all of Christianity to Matthew 10:34 too? "I come not to bring peace but to bring a sword?") That's either an act of impossible insensitivity or a deliberate attempt to brand an entire religion as a profound and irredeemable menace to America's security. The most overwhelming ignorance or a deliberate expression of unqualified bigotry? Who can say, but it's certainly one or the other, if not both, and neither is anything other than a despicable business in times such as these.

Perhaps we'll soon find Miller revealing that Anarchy and Holy Terror are nothing but grand political deceits, designed to mock the real bigots and fools who view the expression of liberal political opinion as tantamount to unAmericanism. What a wonderful satire that would have proven to be!

Hail Frank Miller, the people's - political - artist!

He does. He needs help.
      

.                                 

27 comments:

  1. "...could it be that, for a 'political' writer, Miller doesn't know what he's talking about in any recognisably disciplined sense?"

    Yep. Miller's politics are confused, but rooted in a single idea: there are Great Men, and then there's Everybody Else. The Great Men matter; their wills shape the world, and their efforts create all. Everybody Else should simply shut the hell up and express their gratitude towards the Great Men, or they're ungrateful bastards who deserve nothing but contempt and death. Oh, and most of Everybody Else is blinkered, dumb, and "doesn't get it." Only a rare elect can even perceive the value of the Great Men.

    As DKR and DKR2 themselves point out, great men like The Batman are "too big" for ordinary judgment or consideration. In DKR, Jim Gordon has a scene where he talks to his successor about Batman by telling a story about the rumor of President Roosevelt knowing in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor and letting it happen to draw America into the war. Gordon said how matters like that were "too big" for him to judge. It's not his place. He's not a Great Man, and he knows it. At the story's climax, when Batty leads his army, Gordon mutters "too big...he's too big." To cap it in DKR2, he has one big line: "THE EAGLES ARE BACK, YOU BASTARDS!"

    The proper role of the everyman is and always has been sit down, shut up, and love the Great Men who know better than you.

    The Batman does protect the citizens of Gotham. (Though of course they're universally buffoons, ineffectual, or ineffectual buffoons.) But these noble actions are not what make him great. His will to conquer and his ability to enforce that will are what make him great. Not being Batman is to deny his Greatness; thus, he must resume the identity and fulfill his role.

    Miller's hatred of OWS makes sense. It's (1) a leaderless movement (2) of "the rabble," and (3) they're fighting against the big figures of authority. They're exactly who Miller's Batman would attack, even in DKR, or at least spit upon. They're uppity. Notice that the revolution led by Batman is led by Batman. It's the work of a Great Man putting things right. That's not the same as a popular revolt.

    His earlier distaste for the Reagan Administration and the go-git-'em yahooism of the Eighties is, I would wager, mostly rooted in youth. Frank Miller, who is surely a Great Man in his own head, was against the Powers That Be back then because he wasn't among them. He was in his late twenties, and not yet a name. Now he's fifty-four, wealthy, a director of big-budget Hollywood movies, and a legend in his chosen field. That his perspective has changed from "those bastards up top have no right to rule me" to "those bastards down below have no right to question me" is a simple and common switch that comes with age and success.

    His Islamophobia is also easy to understand. Scared to death by terrorism and pickled in decades of black-and-white hero/villain stories of his own devising, of course he's going to put it into a context he understands. Given the outrageous naivete he demonstrates in his work, it's not a shocking outcome. He's never had a grasp of nuance; why would he develop any now, especially in the face of genuine crisis?

    (Also: "Was he just making a joke about the rights of the heroic man in The Dark Knight Returns, and if so, how can we ever know when this political artist is ever being serious at all?"

    Witness the fans tying themselves in knots trying to figure out if All Star Batman is intended to be humorous or not. My guess is that it is, but that his sense of humor is both terrible and confused, so the book veers back and forth without any control or focus.)

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  2. Miller's talking about Rand? Ugh. As a former high school teacher, you must be more than a little acquainted with that jive and the anxious kids who groove to it. The Great Man v. Hoi Polloi outlook is a core appeal of Randism. "I would be ruling the world right now if it weren't for all of you parasites holding me back!"

    -sigh-

    That's sad enough to hear from a teenage boy, who will likely outgrow it as the reality of the world sinks in and understanding begins to dawn. ("Oh, wait, there are billions of people in the world, with their own ideas and desires and then there's history's lessons and...oh crap.") To hear that twaddle from a grown man is just sad.

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  3. I don't think there's any way of rehabilitating Miller's words. To sustain such a charade for so long would take a considerable amount of talent, energy and concentration. Applying Occam's Razor here, it's simpler to see that he's just a bigoted, raving right-wing nutter.

    People say we should separate the artist from the man, but I like many artists, and I can't think of one who behaves so ignorantly as Miller. I'm trying to find them, but I really can't think of many great right-wing artists. Artistic talent and right-wing ideology just don't go hand in hand.

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  4. Hi Colin,

    Great post as always, I loved your one about Volstagg.

    I have to say, I see Frank Miller more as a comedy character these days. His recent Batman works have entertained me to no end with real comedy mileage. People hail his 'uber-gritty' style in Sin City and 300 etc all the time but I have always found it laughably ludicrous, so I've been loving Miller's recent statements about current events.

    When I first read All-Star Batman and Robin I sincerely thought the whole thing was satire of comics and his own 'uber-gritty' genre. Subsequent events and works have convinced me otherwise - that he meant for all that awful dialogue and characterisation! Which has really turned the man into a figure of fun for me. These days I eagerly await the next insane product of this genius' 'political artistry'
    (Although I don't think I can bring myself to pay money for Holy Terror, it must have really hurt for you).

    The sheer stupidity of the arguments in his pronouncements and works is what gets me. They make absolutely no sense! They aren't coherent at all! Nothing logically connects together, yet he keeps plugging along, bless his cotton socks.

    To be honest I'm more baffled than repulsed by his insane and terrified ranting about Muslims and Al Queada (Quaeda?) I can't quite understand the sheer terror they clearly inspire in him. Obviously it's been a while since 9/11 but people who lost family member don't seem so scarred as Frank Miller by that day.

    Personally I've come to the conclusion that he's a great artist who marinated in his own 'genius' for too long and turned into a crotchety old man, terrified by the beardy sand people whose method of attack is with bombs in their underpants and for whom no punishment is too harsh or brutal. It's time to sit back and laugh at the bumbling old fool struggling to understand this weird and scary world - just like Prince Philip!

    (I admit there is a large measure of schadenfreude involved that some may not find palatable. I'm not always the most ethical person:) )

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  5. Man, Frank Miller has turned into a really REALLY cranky old man.

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  6. Hello Harvey:- “Yep. Miller's politics are confused, but rooted in a single idea: there are Great Men, and then there's Everybody Else. The Great Men matter; their wills shape the world, and their efforts create all. Everybody Else should simply shut the hell up and express their gratitude towards the Great Men, or they're ungrateful bastards who deserve nothing but contempt and death. Oh, and most of Everybody Else is blinkered, dumb, and "doesn't get it." Only a rare elect can even perceive the value of the Great Men.”

    I wish I could ascribe this viewpoint to one individual’s psychology, but of course, this BS is now a cornerstone of a great deal of the mainstream of American politics. (There’s no point in not seeing the new popular right in America as being anything other than mainstream. It’s wrenched the envelope outwards until it incorporates ideas which would have been unsayable on the national stage not so long ago.) It’s a remarkable business, that such a fundamentally fascist concept - the Great Man who can only be judged by destiny - has become a key component of so much that’s popular. Yes, I know how it resonates with so much of the individualism of America’s culture, and with the myth of the Shining City too. But it shocks me that folks can’t see that a philosophy based on the individual’s right to do as they will inevitably leads to Power doing as it wants without any effective checks or balances. And what interested me most as I rambled through the above was how Miller had apparently shifted from worshipping the individual to worshipping the state which gave the individual the conditions of his freedom. What a strange idea, if Miller's expressing himself as he intends to. I can see how Randian precepts enable such a thing, but Miller’s lack of rigor in his thinking has led him to produce work which actually more offensive than it is stupid. The state is there to enable great men, he is a great man, the state is there to enable him, he’s beyond challenging, the state’s beyond challenging – unless he’s doing it.

    ”As DKR and DKR2 themselves point out, great men like The Batman are "too big" for ordinary judgment or consideration. In DKR, Jim Gordon has a scene where he talks to his successor about Batman by telling a story about the rumor of President Roosevelt knowing in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor and letting it happen to draw America into the war. Gordon said how matters like that were "too big" for him to judge. It's not his place. He's not a Great Man, and he knows it. At the story's climax, when Batty leads his army, Gordon mutters "too big...he's too big." To cap it in DKR2, he has one big line: "THE EAGLES ARE BACK, YOU BASTARDS!"”

    I love the fact that Miller relies on conspiracy theories about Pearl Harbour in order to establish the case for the Great Man. (Conspiracy is simply not necessary to explain the failures of intelligence which led to Pearl Harbour, of course, but Miller doesn’t seem to have any academic discipline at all, and he seems to just grab for whatever POV fits his own Great Man theories.) I love the fact that it was Roosevelt in the example you quite rightly give, whose policies would today give Miller several heart-attacks too. I just can’t imagine that Roosevelt’s New Deal policies today would find Miller declaring that FDR was a Great Man and should be left alone.

    Cont;

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  7. cont;

    ”The proper role of the everyman is and always has been sit down, shut up, and love the The Batman does protect the citizens of Gotham. (Though of course they're universally buffoons, ineffectual, or ineffectual buffoons.) But these noble actions are not what make him great. His will to conquer and his ability to enforce that will are what make him great. Not being Batman is to deny his Greatness; thus, he must resume the identity and fulfill his role.”

    You’re quite right to highlight the contempt in Miller’s work for the mass of people, whether considered as individuals or groups. The only folks who he seems to respect in his super-books at the very least are those who do what the great man says, or who are so helpless and harmless than they pose no challenge to the Great Man at all. It’s an irony that he discusses with a great deal of fondness Denny O’Neil and Steve Gerber’s ‘political’ comics in the introduction to Absolute Dark Knight; I can’t imagine how he would respond to GL/GA and Howard The Duck today if they were written in the spirit of those books great committed runs. I can imagine Gerber in particular having great fun with all the contradictions and absurdities in the OWS protests, but I also feel 100% sure where Gerber would have placed his flag and who he’d have considered the enemy. Miller seems to love challenging political discussion when its wrapped up in the comics of his youth. Today, AMERICA IS AT WAR and that’s the end of all discussion at all.

    ”Miller's hatred of OWS makes sense. It's (1) a leaderless movement (2) of "the rabble," and (3) they're fighting against the big figures of authority. They're exactly who Miller's Batman would attack, even in DKR, or at least spit upon. They're uppity. Notice that the revolution led by Batman is led by Batman. It's the work of a Great Man putting things right. That's not the same as a popular revolt.”

    Absolutely. It’s the rich man’s revolt. As anti-America a concept as might be imagined. Again, another irony of the long ride down from TDKR to “Anarchy”, is how the man who once argued that the Great Man was superior to the state is now arguing that the State is itself – or so it seems - a component of the Great Man. At some point, the social problems of TDKR, which justified revolution, ceased to matter. That’s the real story which Miller has never – to my knowledge – explained. How is that social problems such as those caused by predatory capitalism have become social virtues instead?

    ”His earlier distaste for the Reagan Administration and the go-git-'em yahooism of the Eighties is, I would wager, mostly rooted in youth. Frank Miller, who is surely a Great Man in his own head, was against the Powers That Be back then because he wasn't among them. He was in his late twenties, and not yet a name. Now he's fifty-four, wealthy, a director of big-budget Hollywood movies, and a legend in his chosen field. That his perspective has changed from "those bastards up top have no right to rule me" to "those bastards down below have no right to question me" is a simple and common switch that comes with age and success.”

    As I say, the fascinating thing would be to ask Miller how he performed this apparent shift. He credits 9/11 with changing a great deal of his thought, but I just can’t see how that means that the social problems he once argued against have become unimportant. I doubt he’d frame the explanation for this change in the terms you’ve given - :) – though your argument is compelling. As a ‘political’ artist, I’m sure he’s got some very interesting reasons for the switch from being appalled at the scandals of Health Insurance to being appalled by those who’d protest against them.

    cont;

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  8. cont;

    “His Islamophobia is also easy to understand. Scared to death by terrorism and pickled in decades of black-and-white hero/villain stories of his own devising, of course he's going to put it into a context he understands. Given the outrageous naiveté he demonstrates in his work, it's not a shocking outcome. He's never had a grasp of nuance; why would he develop any now, especially in the face of genuine crisis?”

    Again, it’s a compelling argument, it really is. Yet Miller’s attitude is so appalling, so insulting and – to say the least – unfair, that I wonder at anyone that could be so scared by 9/11 for so long. I lived in London through the IRA’s decades of bombing there, but it never occurred to me to hate the Irish, and the bombing of London earlier this century never ever made me consider either that an entire religion was somehow at war with my country or that a major power was challenging us. Do I believe that there are some terrorists from a host of groups and individuals – from a wide variety of causes and disorders - who’d not think twice about nuking London? Of course. Does it make me feel beleaguered? No. Why would it? That level of terror is completely inappropriate, and I find it hard to grasp why anyone who’s of sound mind – and there’s nothing we have which states with any conviction anything else where FM is concerned – could be so terrified. I can believe that a great deal of resources and respect should be granted to our security forces in order to defend us without believing that I ought to be fearful or my government granted powers which violate human rights. And I’m nothing of a Great Man. I’d imagine a Great Man would be even more immune from such hysteria and cowardice.

    ”Witness the fans tying themselves in knots trying to figure out if All Star Batman is intended to be humorous or not. My guess is that it is, but that his sense of humor is both terrible and confused, so the book veers back and forth without any control or focus.”

    It strikes me as having something in common with some of Ditko’s humour in Mr A. Ditko’s politics seem far more rigorously worked though, though hardly humane. Yet both seem to find differing POVs contemptible, and the humour often feels like the mockery of the bully. Yet I’ve no doubt that those of the far right would feel the same about satire directed at them. It’s a point at which my own beliefs compromise my sense of humour, I guess.

    “Miller's talking about Rand? Ugh. As a former high school teacher, you must be more than a little acquainted with that jive and the anxious kids who groove to it. The Great Man v. Hoi Polloi outlook is a core appeal of Randism. "I would be ruling the world right now if it weren't for all of you parasites holding me back!"”

    Randism hasn’t reached Britain in any force at all. I had to retire 5 years ago and I never met a student who’d heard of it. Mind you, the English can’t be said to encourage political thinking in their young on anything other than the most uncritical of fashions, or at least that’s so in the state sector of education. In fact, I only came across Creationism in any of my students in the last few years. I wonder if things have changed. With all due respect, there are significant elements of American culture which I’d very much rather the UK didn’t import. Moderation and compromise are tough enough as it stands.

    ”To hear that twaddle from a grown man is just sad.”

    And dangerous too. The very concept of the Heroic individual is a profoundly anti-democratic one. Heroes we could do with more of. “Heroic” individuals? As the conservative philosopher Popper argued, the unfalsifiable hypothesis in politics is always the enemy of freedom. And who can test who’s a Great Man or not?

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  9. Hello Miquel:- “I don't think there's any way of rehabilitating Miller's words. To sustain such a charade for so long would take a considerable amount of talent, energy and concentration. Applying Occam's Razor here, it's simpler to see that he's just a bigoted, raving right-wing nutter.”

    Well, as Sir Humphrey was fond of saying in “Yes Minister”, “You may say that. I couldn’t possibly.” :) But if FM set out to push a public image of himself which matches the one you offer, he couldn’t have done too much of a better job.

    ”People say we should separate the artist from the man, but I like many artists, and I can't think of one who behaves so ignorantly as Miller.”

    It’s a good point. I’m struggling to find any contemporary figure – especially from the comics industry – who’s been so consistently out-there when it comes to the extremism of his views. The sheer unpleasantness of “Holy Terror” is unmatched by anything I can think of that I’ve been exposed to.

    “I'm trying to find them, but I really can't think of many great right-wing artists. Artistic talent and right-wing ideology just don't go hand in hand.”

    Ah, now there’s a debate we could rage on about for a few years or so. I think it’s quite obvious that I don’t belong to what’s now called the Right, although I am a political conservative in that I don’t believe in radical, untested change for ideologies sake at all. I state this just to make my position clear when I say that I see little correlation between great art and any wing of politics. I’ve just finished Waugh’s “Vile Bodies”, for example. His politics aren’t mine, but his writing’s of course very fine. There’s a great deal of right wing satire which I wouldn’t be without, despite often being appalled by its meaning. “The Dark Knight Returns” would be an example of that in some ways, though reading it again has highlighted how weak and indulgent Miller’s plotting was there.

    But I will say that I can’t think of any significant measure of great art associated with the schools of right-wing thinking that Miller appears to subscribe to. By which I mean, even the "Dirty Harry" movies appear like liberal texts when compared to "Holy Terror" ...

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  10. Hello Ejaz:- “Great post as always, I loved your one about Volstagg.”

    That’s very kind. I’ve been incredibly unhappy with my last few pieces, though I hope there’s some ideas in them which make them worth perusing :) Just an excess of virus clogging up my thinking, of course. I’m very rarely ill, but when I am, I seem to do it properly!

    ”I have to say, I see Frank Miller more as a comedy character these days. His recent Batman works have entertained me to no end with real comedy mileage. People hail his 'uber-gritty' style in Sin City and 300 etc all the time but I have always found it laughably ludicrous, so I've been loving Miller's recent statements about current events.”

    I never thought that Sin City was anything other a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. I realise that this is hardly a popular take, but I’m with you on it being ‘laughably ludicrous’, although I think you’re being too kind there. The storytelling seemed slack, the plotting sloppy; it always seemed like slumming to me. That the bloke who once write that often-wonderful Daredevils could be producing such thin and indulgent works: well, I respect the fact that most folks love his SC work, but I thought it very poor indeed.

    ”When I first read All-Star Batman and Robin I sincerely thought the whole thing was satire of comics and his own 'uber-gritty' genre. Subsequent events and works have convinced me otherwise - that he meant for all that awful dialogue and characterisation! Which has really turned the man into a figure of fun for me. These days I eagerly await the next insane product of this genius' 'political artistry' “

    It’s probably the most positive attitude to take. Miller as an instructive comedy turn is too much of an intellectual leap for me to make, I’m afraid. During a particularly dark time in comics history, there was practically only Miller’s DD keeping the sub-genre going. And in 1984, just to show the respect he was held in, Alan Moore declared that FM was a better writer than he was. He was the sub-genre’s future at one point. Now he’s a anti-social old bigot. Oh, dear …

    “Although I don't think I can bring myself to pay money for Holy Terror, it must have really hurt for you”

    I would recommend that everybody find a way to read Holy Terror. It’s such an obscene text that it deserves to be read by everyone. The worst thing would be folks to avoid it, because material such as this really does need to experienced. Without doing so, no-one could believe how offensive it is.

    cont:

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  11. cont:

    ”The sheer stupidity of the arguments in his pronouncements and works is what gets me. They make absolutely no sense! They aren't coherent at all! Nothing logically connects together, yet he keeps plugging along, bless his cotton socks.”

    In political terms, of course, they make a great deal of sense, although you’re right to say that in rational terms, FM appears to be right out there. Yet that loathing of difference, that lack of interest in understanding what he’s pontificating about, that exaltation of the right of the state to do whatever it wants in the name of “freedom”: those are powerful political tools, and there are always interests happy to terrify the citizenry while using it as an excuse to gather as much power and wealth as they can. Whether FM grasps that is in doubt, on the evidence of his work, but if he does, then that makes the whole business even more disturbing.

    ”To be honest I'm more baffled than repulsed by his insane and terrified ranting about Muslims and Al Queada (Quaeda?) I can't quite understand the sheer terror they clearly inspire in him. Obviously it's been a while since 9/11 but people who lost family member don't seem so scarred as Frank Miller by that day.”

    Exactly. What is FM so scared of? The only alternative is that he’s not scared, but that he’s using 9/11 to push his politics.

    ”Personally I've come to the conclusion that he's a great artist who marinated in his own 'genius' for too long and turned into a crotchety old man, terrified by the beardy sand people whose method of attack is with bombs in their underpants and for whom no punishment is too harsh or brutal. It's time to sit back and laugh at the bumbling old fool struggling to understand this weird and scary world - just like Prince Philip!”

    Except that Prince Philip did have a good war fighting the genuine bad guys. I find the old duffer’s outbursts as appalling as you quite rightly do, but unlike Miller, he did go to war and he did serve with genuine distinction. When Miller talks about serving his country, he seems able to convince himself that he’s somehow fighting the enemy. Philip fought the enemy, and it WAS the enemy. I say this not to challenge your use of him above, because you were mentioning Philip only in the present tense – and I agree – but to highlight one thing about FM which does get under my skin. He hardly seems to be the kind of individual he constantly praises in his work. Machismo and Miller do not seem to be two concepts which fit easily together.

    ”I admit there is a large measure of schadenfreude involved that some may not find palatable. I'm not always the most ethical person”

    There’s a long history of ethical paragons indulging in schadenfreude, isn't there? In the Analects, for example, Confucius is quoted laughing at the sight of a neighbour falling off his roof. I'm not sure whether that was cruelty in its purest form or schadenfreude. My memory may be failing me there, but I suspect that Master Kong might have understood ….

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  12. Hello SallyP:- "Man, Frank Miller has turned into a really REALLY cranky old man."

    Sally, rarely has the word "REALLY" written in capitals said more than it does in your comment. Of course, you're absolutely right. He REALLY has become everything you say, at the very least :)

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  13. Hello Colin,

    there used to be a reason, why 99% of artists didn´t shout their opinions of current politics into the world. Because most of them knew that their point of view was not more informed or valid then their neighbour or their drinking buddies. So they didn´t gave a press conference when something raised their ire. And even if they would have I guess the press wouldn´t have been interested much. Nowadays of course thanks to our technology everybody is his own press conference and what a wonder, it produces mostly BS.

    Of course I am biased. Political discussions on comics-boards are a fascinating if mostly scary thing. I always shudder when I see american comic fans foaming about the supposed "left". What americans perceive as left would qualify in most european countries as a little step before far right. (I exagerrate, but you know what I mean). But that a grown man like Miller parrots such nonsense is painful.

    One wonders what Miller must think about Dashiell Hammett for instance. This was an artist who created a lot of the things which Miller made his whole career of (without adding anything new)- and who actually went to jail because he didn´t bow to those people whose successors still have this pathological hatred of all things they perceive as "unamerican". How is that for irony?

    Hammett I can respect as an artist. Miller is just a sad case who has become one of the "little people" a long time ago.

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  14. "Ah, now there’s a debate we could rage on about for a few years or so. I think it’s quite obvious that I don’t belong to what’s now called the Right, although I am a political conservative in that I don’t believe in radical, untested change for ideologies sake at all. I state this just to make my position clear when I say that I see little correlation between great art and any wing of politics."

    Well, I'd say there are many great communist artists, the novelist José Saramago being one of them; and he certainly didn't have problems turning his political creed into excellent novels, like Seeing.

    Now, I was thinking about it, and there are of course a handful of great conservative, right-wing writers: Joseph Conrad, Mario Vargas Llosa, and the playwright Vaclav Havel. But even when Havel was writing his satires against the Soviet Union, his work dripped with humanism, humor, and intelligence. And he was a man who had a tough life, being arrested and forbidden from working. Compared to him, Miller had a sheltered life; and yet there's none of the vitriol, ignorance or hatred in Havel's discourse.

    There's just no excuse for Miller. He's an insult even to great right-wing artists.

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  15. Hello Andy:- “there used to be a reason, why 99% of artists didn´t shout their opinions of current politics into the world. Because most of them knew that their point of view was not more informed or valid then their neighbour or their drinking buddies. So they didn´t gave a press conference when something raised their ire. And even if they would have I guess the press wouldn´t have been interested much. Nowadays of course thanks to our technology everybody is his own press conference and what a wonder, it produces mostly BS.”

    There never was a time when comics were free of ideology, was there, and yet today is, as you say, a time where some folks can’t just seed their opinions into entertaining comics, but also have to spit their opinions out over the net. I’ve no idea what made FM snap like that, and I fully accept that he doesn’t care about what we little people think, but I do think that it was a mistake, and for at least two reasons. Firstly, the lack of reasoning in “Anarchy” only emphasises the same in the likes of “Holy Terror”. Secondly, the more folks think about the politics of his work, the more they stare at those terrifying shallow and stupid pages and realise that FM can’t even tell an entertaining story any more.

    I suppose it’s the profoundly undemocratic contempt for others he expresses these days which really does for me. "Holy Terror" is so violently authoritarian and Islamophobic a text that the disgust the creator must feel for anyone not already in his camp is actually over-powering. I handed it over to the Splendid Wife this evening and she playfully asked whether the writer was aware of what ‘incitement’ meant. Having spent most of my life teaching Muslim students, I fear I can nothing in my experience to reflect what FM is stating about an entire religious community. (And he is doing that. The quote he leads off the book with damns The Prophet and all who follow him in no uncertain terms.)

    “Of course I am biased. Political discussions on comics-boards are a fascinating if mostly scary thing. I always shudder when I see american comic fans foaming about the supposed "left". What americans perceive as left would qualify in most european countries as a little step before far right. (I exagerrate, but you know what I mean). But that a grown man like Miller parrots such nonsense is painful.”

    I don’t think you are exaggerating about how some of America’s body politic has succeeded in defining as “extreme” left-wing views which are objectively moderate and humane. Thank heavens for the many Americans who’ll have no time with such nonsense. Whether of the right or the spectrum beyond it, there’s lots of folks who know the score. Thankfully.

    “One wonders what Miller must think about Dashiell Hammett for instance. This was an artist who created a lot of the things which Miller made his whole career of (without adding anything new)- and who actually went to jail because he didn´t bow to those people whose successors still have this pathological hatred of all things they perceive as "unamerican". How is that for irony?”

    And how Hammett and the likes of Dalton Trumbo paid for their refusal not to bow before the powers that be. America - the land of my dreams, I make no bones about admitting it, I’d move there tomorrow – does seem to descend into periods of furious authoritarianism. That Frank Miller, who was once such an inspiration to my generation, should be standing with the powerful against the powerless, is deeply disturbing to me.

    “Hammett I can respect as an artist. Miller is just a sad case who has become one of the "little people" a long time ago.”

    I hope FM writes an absolutely passionate autobiography soon. I would love to know what made him the man he is.

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  16. Hello Miguel:- “Well, I'd say there are many great communist artists, the novelist José Saramago being one of them; and he certainly didn't have problems turning his political creed into excellent novels, like Seeing.”

    It’s hard to find a political creed which can’t lay claim to a few great artists. I hope my abhorrence of anti-Semitism is clear, and yet I can think of dozens of great artists who’ve either been anti-Semites or at the very least produced work which is saturated with a loathing for the Jews. Shakespeare, Elliot, Pound …

    “Now, I was thinking about it, and there are of course a handful of great conservative, right-wing writers: Joseph Conrad, Mario Vargas Llosa, and the playwright Vaclav Havel. But even when Havel was writing his satires against the Soviet Union, his work dripped with humanism, humor, and intelligence. And he was a man who had a tough life, being arrested and forbidden from working. Compared to him, Miller had a sheltered life; and yet there's none of the vitriol, ignorance or hatred in Havel's discourse.”

    Yes, I think you absolutely nail it there. It’s not Miller’s right-wing status that sinks him, it’s his stupid, vicious ideas joined to his shallow, lacklustre work. Stupid, bigoted and heartless are words which I’d have no trouble using to describe “Holy Terror”, for example. In the end, it’s that Miller ceased to be a creator of any worth combined with the sheer bigotry of his work which sinks him. For example, I can read just about everything P.J. O'Rourke wrote in the eighties, disagree with it, even be disgusted by it, and still admire his craft and recognise a humane individual producing the work. There’s a great deal of right wing satire which is simply brilliant, just as there is the same from all parts of the spectrum. But Miller’s work is dumb, and its that which kills it even before the politics registers.

    “There's just no excuse for Miller. He's an insult even to great right-wing artists.”

    Yes, you’re right. You’d think such a Great and Heroic man would be a little smarter, if not a little kinder, wouldn’t you? I may disagree with his politics, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t recognise his worth as an artist. Sadly there’s neither worth not any significant measure of artistry as things stand. I think he’s actually producing work which is even more stupid and boring than Rand’s, which is REALLY saying something.

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  17. Another Colin Smith24 November 2011 at 09:03

    Excellent analysis of Miller's uniquely bizarre worldview, particularly from Colin and Harvey Jerkwater.

    If I might suggest an additional factor that likely contributed to his especially frothing hostility for the OWS protestors: panic at his own irrelevance. He had after all just published his Islamaphobia passion project 5 to 10 years in the making, only to find that everyone else was sick of the War On Terror and was much more interested in these young people and their hot new class struggle. And who do these punk kids think they are, too wrapped up in their snotty smartphone activism to pay attention to Miller's important terrorism comics?

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  18. Hello Colin:- Your generous words are very much appreciated.

    "If I might suggest an additional factor that likely contributed to his especially frothing hostility for the OWS protestors: panic at his own irrelevance."

    I find it a compelling argument, Colin, I really do. There's definitely a sense in the latest interview with him up on YouTube that he feels folks are ignoring the seriousness of the threat to America, ignoring the fact that one can recognise a threat without retreating into authoritarianism and paranoia.

    My local city of Norwich could be nuked and I still wouldn't find Frank's point of view any more sympathetic.

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  19. wow but I enjoyed this piece. Not that that's new at all.

    Guess I'm just a sucker for talk about DKR and Occupy stuff.

    Finished the talk on 5YL too, and thought I had nothing to add to discussion until I remembered I have all (or just about all) of the threeboot Legion book. I was happy to get on the ground floor of a Legion series, and it's pretty rough that many are down on this one. But really, how bad could a series really be, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Barry Kitson?

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  20. Hello Isaac:- Thank you! I hope all is well.

    "Guess I'm just a sucker for talk about DKR and Occupy stuff."

    I suspect the evidence stands that I share those interests :)

    "Finished the talk on 5YL too, and thought I had nothing to add to discussion until I remembered I have all (or just about all) of the threeboot Legion book. I was happy to get on the ground floor of a Legion series, and it's pretty rough that many are down on this one. But really, how bad could a series really be, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Barry Kitson?"

    It's a very good point, Mr I. And it is indeed hard to imagine a poor comic from Messrs Waid and Kitson, and their LSH certainly isn't that. The problem isn't their book, but what's been done to the property in the years since Crisis. What they were left with - in my opinion, of course, and naught more - just wasn't enough to float a distinctive, affecting series on. And I'm afraid that I struggled with the "ultimately responsible teens saving the adult world" trope when I was a teenager myself, and it doesn't work for me there, where the comic-book realism seems to clash with the central conceit of youth saving the universe.

    But would I rebuy the stories in a telephone book if DC reprinted it as such? In a second! It's in no way a bad series at all.

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  21. Being a Legion fan, did you check out "Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds"? It took forever to come out, but MAN was it a blast.

    ...

    Though I was slightly critical of the "cheap shots" towards my affection- how was I supposed to respond anything but positively to a series that brought back to life one of my favourite characters in the one issue before bringing back to life ANOTHER of my favourite characters in the NEXT issue?!? (I'd have preferred they hadn't killed them at all in the first place, they manipulated my emotions, they did.)

    The interactions between the three different Brainiac 5's were probably my other favourite part, all arrogance clashing against arrogance, with the threeboot Legion Brainy comically railing against adults- including his other self! Good times.

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  22. Hello Isaac:- I had a problem with the FC: LOTW issues, in that the Legion itself seemed subsumed in the stories of the Earth-1 Superboy, the post-Crisis Superboy and Impulse. And for all the fun of having three Legions on stage, I felt that the story was all surface and little depth. I suppose I'm guilty of judging the book on something it was never trying to do, which is taking the Legion and making it work again. Because of that, I think I must have missed a great deal that's good on the page. As I'm just heading to bed, I'll pull the collected edition down and re-read it as I drift off. I really don't like the whole let's-stick-it-to-the-fans aspect of E1 Superboy, but it's Perez and a cast of tens if not hundreds of Legionnaires. What AM I moaning about :)

    I do recall enjoying the Brainiac 5's in particular. At the very least, I know I'll enjoy those panels!

    I suspect there's a blog piece or two in how m'own prejudices stopped me enjoying that. My thanks for the inspiration :)

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  23. re Miller's changing politics: now he's on record as saying that he changed his mind and began buying into ideas he'd previously rejected because of September 11. Via wikipedia, he's said in an interview: "For the first time in my life I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die."

    But as you point out, DKR came out during the Cold War! And Frank clearly wasn't as worried about the threat of the Soviets, even though they were unarguably more of a threat. They took down whole nations and if the Cold War went hot everyone on Earth would die. Is this just a product of age, is it because September 11 was closer to home, or is it simply that Miller grew up & was used to the Cold War but Islamist terrorism is something new? After all, our country (the mainland anyway) has somehow forgotten the umpteen decades of sectarian violence, insurgency, and terrorism from our own countrymen, and acts like Islamic terrorists are shockingly new & unprecedented. We do that even as the Real IRA commit more attacks and threats! It's just that one is part of the background since the late 60s and the other isn't.

    (Do teenagers have the same concern about Al-Qaeda, when September 11 is something that happened when they were toddlers?)

    - Charles RB

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  24. Hello Charles:- You raise a host of questions about Miller's politics that I too wish we could have an answer to. For me, the whole process of his political development - in public at least - is a question of when and how he decided to become so irrational and bilious. At some point, and it appears to have happened before TDKR, Miller's work started to take on a cryptofascist tone which has become, in my opinion, more and more pronounced. The basic principles of liberal democracy appear to be of less and less concern to him, while his apparent adulation for the man of the destiny, the Great Man who's superior nature trumps morality and law, becomes more and more prevelant. It's a rotten business if you're not of an authoritarian, contemptuous frame of mind yourself, but I too wonder how it happened. 9/11 intensified Miller's politics, but there's nothing on the page beyond the repellent Islamophobia that's new.

    Miller's response to 9/11 has been to deny with scorn every opposition to his eye-for-an-eye-and-then-some approach, and no amount of data about the threat posed by terrorists and the historically successful way to deal with the problem can break into - it seems - to his faith-based psychology.

    The questions for me are whether Miller MEANS to say what he appears to be, and what convinced him that saying such things is a necessary component of his art and his politics.

    "Do teenagers have the same concern about Al-Qaeda, when September 11 is something that happened when they were toddlers?"

    The English teenagers I taught weren't afraid of Al-Qaeda at either the time of 9/11 or in 2005 either. The situation in America is something which I wish I knew more about. But I despair that so much of the American state and media played the fear card to the degree they did. America is - of course - a great nation; I could never understand what it needed to be fearful of. Vigilant, determined, armed, pro-active, smart; absolutely. But fearful? I've always been in love with America, if not nearly everything that's been committed in the nation's name. I've always believed that America never needed to be frightened of anyone, and I still believe that.

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  25. Colin, I'm glad you're feeling better! I'm also glad you're looking at Miller's political thoughts in a little more depth than most analysts are giving them. Clearly, he struck a negative chord in many people, but you're the first to really explicitly get at why, rather than simply ridiculing him under the assumption of "everybody can clearly see why this guy is bonkers, am I right?!"

    I thought I'd mention, while he does seem like he's severely changed position on stuff like gun control and rebellion and that sort of thing, he has consistently hated hippies. Carrie's parents are characterized as junkie burnouts who are so self-involved they've forgotten they have a kid. 
    There are parallels in his rant- he seems to view OWS people as similarly shirking their responsibilities. My own parents being hippies, it took me until partway through high school to realize that there was a portion of the population who REALLY hated hippies- so maybe I'm sensitive about that. (and being Jewish, the anti-Semitism of Dickens was also probably instrumental in me losing interest in his writings in high school. Plus, they were a little boring to me at that age.)

    It kind of reminds me of what George Orwell said about Salvador Dali*- that he was born convinced of his own superiority, but the only real skill he had was his draftsmanship (and charisma). So, says Orwell, when a man has no real talent above his elbow, for fame he turns to wickedness. 
    Now, I'm not saying Miller's views are wicked, nor am I saying he has no skill beyond artistic and drafting- he seems to have had an incredible amount of craft at one point, as well as skill in conveying a political viewpoint subtly enough to still make DKR valuable to people such as yourself who disagree with most of its premises and conclusions.
    But now, he seems to have either forgotten or lost interest in craft or subtle politics, and his current goal seems to be to use notoriety and controversy for attention and sales, and maybe to get across a political viewpoint (though that's not the same as convincing people, or presenting in a manner that will likely convince).

    To address Miller's words for a second, there have, apparently, been allegations of sexual assault and theft at Occupy events. So the "thieves and rapists" line has some basis in reality; of course, the actions of a few do not speak for the entire group, but he makes a similar generalization with Islam and terrorism. Still, how many people have characterized Tea Party protests as racist based on individual actions? Not saying there's an equivalence between the degree or amount of sexual assault at OWS and the degree or amount of racism at Tea Party, but I think it's a valid question, to play devil's advocate for a moment.

    Also, I thought I'd mention that I forwarded Miller's remarks to a good friend of mine who is a libertarian and apparently a lapsed comics reader, and his response was "ok, thanks to that I'll give him another chance. What do you recommend?" So, you know, courses for horses and all that. And of course, I didn't lose an opportunity to recommend some comics, regardless of the circumstance!

    And I have a few thoughts on Holy Terror, but I'll probably post those under your review.

    Also, mostly off-topic:
    After reading some Axe Cop, I have come to the conclusion that it is the closest thing we have right now to the legacy of super-dense, super-entertaining comics of yore. Most pages, every single panel is a new idea- each panel adds a whole new twist to everything that's going on and makes it THAT much more insane and ridiculous. It's amazing. 

    I know it's silly to suggest essay topics, but I totally recommend an essay on Axe Cop, maybe comparing it to early Journey Into Mystery or something?

    * from All Art Is Propaganda

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  26. Hello Historyman: Thank you for your kind thoughts. Them man-flus are a minor inconvenience at worst, but they don’t always feel so inconsequential ..

    “I'm also glad you're looking at Miller's political thoughts in a little more depth than most analysts are giving them. Clearly, he struck a negative chord in many people, but you're the first to really explicitly get at why, rather than simply ridiculing him under the assumption of "everybody can clearly see why this guy is bonkers, am I right?!"”

    There have been some very good looks at Holy Terror, although the blogosphere’s so broad now that it’s totally understandable that you might not have tripped over them. (You’re ALWAYS finding stuff I’ve missed.) You might enjoy, for example, Spencer Ackerman at Wired - http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/09/holy-terror-frank-miller/ - or David Brothers at Comics Alliance - http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/09/26/frank-millers-holy-terror-review/ I’ve done my best to try and find a nock and cranny or two that’s not been entirely mined out, but the blogosphere quite rightly – or so it seems - jumped on Holy Terror straight away.

    “I thought I'd mention, while he does seem like he's severely changed position on stuff like gun control and rebellion and that sort of thing, he has consistently hated hippies. Carrie's parents are characterized as junkie burnouts who are so self-involved they've forgotten they have a kid.”

    The loathing for the Sixties generation on the right, and especially the far right, can be extreme, can’t it? I find it hard to grasp what the blanket assumption about a whole generation of people is supposed to be based upon or what it’s supposed to me. As a teacher, I didn’t find that good parenting, for example, was in any way limited to right wing households. It’s just a lazy generalisation for a far more complex change in social mores.

    “So, says Orwell, when a man has no real talent above his elbow, for fame he turns to wickedness.”

    Or X-Factor and its sister ships.

    “Now, I'm not saying Miller's views are wicked, nor am I saying he has no skill beyond artistic and drafting … But now, he seems to have either forgotten or lost interest in craft or subtle politics, and his current goal seems to be to use notoriety and controversy for attention and sales, and maybe to get across a political viewpoint (though that's not the same as convincing people, or presenting in a manner that will likely convince).”

    It’s impossible not to agree. The storytelling on Holy Terror is incredibly lazy and self-indulgent, for example. It’s as if it’s been produced in a rush and a rage. The reader can see how gifted and able Miller is, and yet the care is as missing as the passion is omnipresent. That Miller’s work could be simultaneously shockingly callous and boring too has been something which I struggle to accept. I was such a fan for so long ….

    “To address Miller's words for a second, there have, apparently, been allegations of sexual assault and theft at Occupy events. So the "thieves and rapists" line has some basis in reality; of course, the actions of a few do not speak for the entire group, but he makes a similar generalization with Islam and terrorism. Still, how many people have characterized Tea Party protests as racist based on individual actions? Not saying there's an equivalence between the degree or amount of sexual assault at OWS and the degree or amount of racism at Tea Party, but I think it's a valid question, to play devil's advocate for a moment.”

    There have indeed been verified reports of genuinely disturbing crimes associated with OWS members, but that’s not, as you say, a reflection on OWS, and Miller knows it. To call an entire body of people louts and thieves and rapists is …. A mark of incivility which is to my mind disgraceful.

    cont

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  27. cont

    I’ve noticed nothing from Miller about the crimes and carelessnesses from Wall Street which quite literally caused years of economic hardship across much of the world. Miller plays the party card. His lot are never mentioned when the sins are being spat out, but those he regards as his opponents are vilified regardless of the facts.

    “Also, I thought I'd mention that I forwarded Miller's remarks to a good friend of mine who is a libertarian and apparently a lapsed comics reader, and his response was "ok, thanks to that I'll give him another chance. What do you recommend?" So, you know, courses for horses and all that. And of course, I didn't lose an opportunity to recommend some comics, regardless of the circumstance!”

    I know of a libertarian who’s appalled by Miller’s politics. His kneejerk response to state power, his blanket denunciations of his opponents, the Islamophobia which by design or carelessness appears in Holy Terror; I regard Randism and its various associated philosophies – I know I’m using shorthand hand – as a cruel religion in many ways. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise integrity amongst that wing of politics according to its own lights. And racism, for one, was something which Rand always despised, as well as any uncritical response to state power.

    “After reading some Axe Cop, I have come to the conclusion that it is the closest thing we have right now to the legacy of super-dense, super-entertaining comics of yore. … I know it's silly to suggest essay topics, but I totally recommend an essay on Axe Cop, maybe comparing it to early Journey Into Mystery or something?”

    I know nothing of Axe Cop beyond the press I’ve come across. OK! It’s added to the list. Thanks, as always, for the recommendations :)

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