Holy Terror, Batman. (Frank Miller)
Who needs comic-book villains when real ones lurk? Not Batman.
Peter Hartlaub, Chronicle Pop Culture Critic
February 14, 2006
After more than six decades fighting the Joker and Two Face, Batman is getting ready to take on perhaps his most complicated foe yet: terrorism.
Frank Miller, who changed the way people looked at comics with his noirish 1980s Batman graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns" and his "Sin City" series, says he's started work on a book where the caped crusader will "kick a lot of al Qaeda butt."
"Not to put too fine a point on it -- it's a piece of propaganda," Miller told a group of about a thousand fans this weekend at the WonderCon comic book convention in San Francisco. "Batman kicks al Qaeda's ass."
Miller says the book will be called "Holy Terror, Batman." While there's no telling when it will be released -- Miller is known for taking his sweet time with his best projects, and he's in the middle of a different Batman series -- it's clear that the writer of "Sin City" is passionate about tackling the subject.
"I wish the entertainers of our time had the spine and the focus of the ones who faced down Hitler," Miller said. "I just think it's silly to have Batman out chasing the Riddler when you've got al Qaeda out there."
Miller's new twist in the Batman canon may revive the sentiment that surrounded Captain America during World War II. In the very first issue of that Marvel comic, published just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain America is pictured on the cover punching out Adolf Hitler with a vicious right cross. Other comic characters have fought in subsequent wars, including Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, whose adventures included stints in Vietnam.
But having the most popular comic book characters taking on real-life enemies of the state seems to be more of a rarity today. Captain America fought a terrorist group clearly modeled after al Qaeda a few years back. Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, said that after a few popular issues, interest waned.
"In all honesty, from what I've seen, when superhero comics try to get too close to what's going on in the real world, they fail," Field said. "If it's too close to what reality is, generally the readers back off from it."
The X factor here is Miller, who has arguably done for comics what Marlon Brando did for moviemaking. Miller is one of the most popular comic book writer/artists in history, and his darker take on characters has been much copied, while helping legitimize comic books as an art form and revive their popularity.
And at 49, Miller is perhaps at the peak of his career, coming off the success of the "Sin City" movie last year, which he co-directed. The past few Batman books by Miller have been best-sellers.
"No matter what he does, it's interesting," Field said. "Even if it's a train wreck, people will check it out."
Miller, who doesn't often speak publicly, on Sunday offered the crowd of fans limited details. He said Batman's home of Gotham City will be under attack. Miller also compared his Batman-versus-al Qaeda book to the phenomenon of the 1971 movie "Dirty Harry" -- Miller says Clint Eastwood's Harry Callahan character was an urban hero who popped up in response to a real-life urban crime wave.
Miller said he has inked 120 pages out of a 200-page book -- but there's no telling when he might complete it. The artist is also working on other projects, including another "Sin City " movie and the "All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder" series, which is written by Miller and illustrated by Jim Lee. (Years ago, he started talking about a comic book version of the life of Jesus.)
Miller said he would have editorial control over the Batman series. A spokesman for DC Comics, which publishes Batman, declined to comment on "Holy Terror, Batman."
Whenever the comic appears, it will probably be controversial, but it's questionable how much it will change the way people look at comic books or the fight against terrorism.
"It won't do much to stop terrorism," said Larry Gonick, a San Francisco cartoonist who has written more than a dozen comics that explain history and science. "Given Miller's propensity for portraying sadism as reasonable, it may reinforce the readers' approval of, or even enthusiasm for, torture. Like the TV show '24.' Or 'Sin City.' "
Gonick, who wrote an Islamic section in his "Cartoon History of the Universe" and says the response was overwhelmingly positive, wondered how Miller will handle his al Qaeda villains.
"A standard-issue treatment would show them as another crew of generic swarthy bad guys, and there will, of course, have to be a 'good Arab' or two to prove the comic isn't prejudiced. I'm guessing an Iraqi commando on our side," Gonick said. "But if Miller gives them the real characteristics of al Qaeda -- that is, really depicts the details of their religiosity -- he could get into trouble."
One thing is clear -- Miller doesn't plan to pull any more punches than Captain America did with Hitler. When it comes to heroes fighting during wartime, he said, "that's what they're there for."
HONEY BADGER DON'T CARE