Brand Miller

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Writing this on a cold and rainy night, with raindrops plink-plinking into a mop bucket on my kitchen floor, I feel like I’m in a scene from a Frank Miller comic.

The legendary (and now somewhat infamous) comic book writer/artist has a new graphic novel, Holy Terror, coming out this month – his first comic work since All-Star Batman and Robin #9 in 2008. The story features a Batman-inspired superhero taking on Al-Qaeda, and many consider it to be the culmination of the right-wing eccentricities of a man whose work in the last ten years has been just a little bit crazy.

In some ways I feel like the good press and critical acclaim over the years may have gone to his head and made him feel untouchable. I call his current perceived invincibility “Brand Miller”: insane, ridiculous, sometimes good, sometimes terrible noir featuring a bevy of tough guys, dangerous women, gold-hearted hookers/strippers, ninjas, cyborgs and the occasional “what the fuck?” Nazi imagery.

I first became aware of Miller’s work as a bored 8-year-old at a family party one Thanksgiving on Long Island. My older cousin read comics and had a nice collection of Batman, G.I. Joe, and Daredevil. While I love G.I. Joe and was aware of Batman, it was Daredevil that drew me in with Born Again.

This was a darker New York than the one inhabited by Spider-Man; there were less animalistic super villains and more mobsters, junkies and a government killing machine called Nuke.

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This was the Frank Miller of the ’80s: a dabbler in multiple styles and genres in both art and writing – still reining his muse in but not afraid to introduce elements of science fiction, superheroics, noir and feudal Japanese history into his narrative. Both Ronin and his Wolverine limited series with Chris Claremont are classic examples of this as well.

[pullquote]Beyond all the goddamn prostitutes, post-9/11 right-wing paranoia, rain and ninjas, maybe there will actually be something of substance to glom on to[/pullquote]

Flash forward to 1990. I first caught wind of a graphic novel collection from 1986 called The Dark Knight Returns. It was being called the ultimate Batman story, written and drawn by this guy who worked on Daredevil named Frank Miller.

I was curious about the storyline centering on an older Batman in the future reclaiming a Gotham City that was overrun with gangs and organized crime. There have been a handful of times where a comic has blown me away, and putting down The Dark Knight Returns after reading the last page was one of them.