Frank Miller's Holy Terror isn't just a bad comic — it's a bad propaganda comic

Illustration for article titled Frank Millers emHoly Terror/em isnt just a bad comic — its a bad propaganda comic

After five or so years of gestation, the graphic novel that was once titled Holy Terror, Batman! is finally in stores. Was it worth the wait? Goodness, no.

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Even though Holy Terror was conceived as an uncompromising propaganda piece by The Dark Knight Returns author Frank Miller, it fails even at that incredibly basic task. This book doesn't titillate or drum up righteous rage. All it does is remind us of how good Frank Miller used to be.

When Holy Terror, Batman! was first announced, the high-concept selling point was Batman clobbering Osama bin Laden with a right hook. Readers were promised a throwback to World War II, when Captain America would sock Hitler and everyone would cheer their lungs out. Back then, it was unclear if HTB! would be self-aware kitsch, pure polemic, or at least an acknowledgement of the historical tradition of superheroes intervening in real-world conflicts.

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Holy Terror, Batman! was supposed to be crafted under the aegis of DC editor Bob Schreck, but Schreck was laid off from DC and became the editor-in-chief of Legendary Comics. Miller followed Schreck, and HTB! was forced to jettison its Battiness. Not that this change of imprint mattered. For all intents and purposes, this is a Batman story — you just need to use your imagination.

For example, "The Fixer" is the goddamn Batman from All-Star Batman and Robin and "Natalie Stack" is Catwoman — it's the reader's job to picture the little triangles above their heads. Similarly, "Dan Donegal" is "Jim Gordon" and "Empire City" is Gotham. Given that these are DC characters with pseudonyms, Miller doesn't bother with characterization. He also tosses in a Mossad mercenary and two ninja assassins (shades of Miho from Sin City, Miller even pens a metatextual throwaway line acknowledging this link).

Illustration for article titled Frank Millers emHoly Terror/em isnt just a bad comic — its a bad propaganda comic

This is familiar territory for Miller. It's so familiar that it feels recycled. The opening make-out session between the Fixer and Natalie feels cribbed from All-Star Batman and Robin. Miller's depiction of Al-Qaeda is so cartoonish — razor blade bombs and corrupt police commissioners! — that it could be any one of the shadowy cabals from Sin City.

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This fictionalization of Al-Qaeda guts Holy Terror of any emotional resonance. Miller doesn't depict the terrorists as any real-world threat. No, they're James Bond villains who happen to yell "Jihad!" a lot. The goofiness of the villains makes the Fixer a piss-poor avatar for revenge — you might as well be cheering him on as he fights COBRA or Goldfinger's henchmen.

The artwork further chips away at any propaganda value. Remember, this is a city drawn by late Frank Miller, so expect characters with fists the size of fax machines jumping through inkblots and chiaroscuro rainstorms. It's an intentionally muddled, scritchy-scratchy book.

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I guess Miller was attempting to depict the firsthand chaos of a terrorist attack, but barring a panel in which an ersatz Statue of Liberty is knocked over, the reader has no clue what's happening spatially. It's hard to be terrorized by black-and-white geometry blowing up.

The thing is, Miller can draw cities. Anyone who's read his run on Daredevil knows this. And Frank Miller has written good comics, so why he chose to write an incoherent superhero story that equates Islam wholesale with terrorism and (literally) underground secret societies is beyond me.

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Holy Terror could have succeeded as either a punch drunk, sarcastic update of World War II propaganda comics or a superhero conspiracy tale in the vein of Sin City. Instead, Miller's mixed the two and thrown in a stinking dollop of "war of civilizations" rhetoric. Insultingly priced ($30 for a plotless wafer of a graphic novel), ideologically troglodytic, and way less fun than Ronnie James Dio's "Holy Diver," Holy Terror is a goddamn mess.

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DISCUSSION

maythetechbewithyou
Johnathan Jay Hartel

Frank Miller reminds me of George Lucas in a way. Now before you all jump on this and claim Lucas is nothing like Miller because at least Miller never subjected us to prequel horseshit, hear me out.

Lucas crafted the original Trilogy under a heavy editing and financial strain. Studios were very heavy handed with him on deadlines and such to the point he had to make his filmmaking a collaborative process (and for anyone who works in entertainment they know the business is very collaborative). He crafted some fantastic work with the input of those around him. Gary Kurtz being the most outspoken of these peers.

Prequels come along and Lucas had no one to challenge him anymore, and his vision was unrefined as none of the actors, producers, writers and editors challenged him on anything, the collaborative spirit of film making was gone and thus they sucked. Director does not equal Dictator, and unfortunately, Lucas forgot that.

Comics and Film are very similar media. Comics use scripts and screenwriting in much the same way film does, they both have their actors and both are visual media as well.

Frank Miller, when he was working on 300, Sin City, The Dark Knight Returns and even All-Star Batman and Robin, collaborated with those around him, his artists drew fantastic interpretations of his script and together, with an editor, they decided what was best for their characters, story, and the like. However, as Miller became more popular, the comic industry decided to trust his judgment, judgement misplaced as he soon had 100% control over his projects and became a Dictator in the same way George Lucas did. He sullied The Dark Knight Returns with a useless and unnecessary sequel, and he destroyed one of his closest friend's comic titles,Will Eisner's The Spirit, by making a directoral debut that showed his lack of vision without those to challenge him. And now this, a boring recycled mess of anti-Middle East propaganda that does nothing but make those who are already prejudice feel more justified, and those against, disgusted.

Is it sad? Yes. But if Miller keeps doing this, his credibility is going down. I am not even looking forward to Xerxes anymore just because he will ruin it.