Frank Miller’s Holy Terror came out a decade after 9/11. For those who don’t know Frank by his artwork, you might recognize him by the celluloid adaptations: 300 and Sin City. If you’re fan of the grittier, darker portrayals of Batman, you can also thank Miller. In short, he’s an artist with a body of work that can claim to have reached the rarefied air of genius.
What really makes Frank Miller an interesting case study is his epiphanic eye opener to the “existential menace” that is radical Islam. His NPR piece, This Old Cloth, is beautiful and touching and sad:
Then came that sunny September morning when airplanes crashed into towers a very few miles from my home and thousands of my neighbors were ruthlessly incinerated — reduced to ash. Now, I draw and write comic books. One thing my job involves is making up bad guys. Imagining human villainy in all its forms. Now the real thing had shown up. The real thing murdered my neighbors. In my city. In my country. Breathing in that awful, chalky crap that filled up the lungs of every New Yorker, then coughing it right out, not knowing what I was coughing up.
For the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden I realize what my parents were talking about all those years.
Patriotism, I now believe, isn’t some sentimental, old conceit. It’s self-preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation’s survival. Ben Franklin said it: If we don’t all hang together, we all hang separately. Just like you have to fight to protect your friends and family, and you count on them to watch your own back.
So you’ve got to do what you can to help your country survive. That’s if you think your country is worth a damn. Warts and all.
The last pages of Holy Terror turn to Dan Donegal. “A hard man. A tough cop.” Interesting thing about Dan: he sports “a cough that comes out of nowhere, no telling when, making the most body-proud health nut sound like a chain smoker.” Funny thing is, when some of us see “Dan Donegal” on the page our minds read “Frank Miller”…and it’s with that lens customers should look through as they approach the book. Some reviewers haven’t done that, and as a result their analysis has been unfair.
The plot to Holy Terror is pretty cut-and-dry, as it should be. “The Fixer” and his sidekick, Natalie Stack, must weather a storm of suicide bombers and stop a larger terrorist plot from unfolding in Empire City. It’s that simple (mainly because the nuances are almost exclusively in the artwork). Readers who are upset over the mostly black and white (and red) presentation, or the storyline that lacks intricacy, miss the point entirely, which is to highlight the distinction between “us” and “them.” Dangerous? Yes. But Frank Miller should be commended for being one of the very few artists out there with guts to do it. Holy Terror isn’t just a comic — it’s a story about how 9/11 affected an artist who was there in New York — who had friends die in the terrorist attack. That is an aspect of the book Frank had no control over.
The Comics Alliance review by David Brothers asserts that the work is bigoted, the artwork at times incoherent in indecipherable. He complains about a panel of oblivious Transformers-watching American teens juxtaposed against the stoning of a woman in the Middle East.
The artwork is incoherent and sloppy at times (and at times truly touching) because it reflects the confused and complex feelings of the artist. It’s in black and white, but it’s still difficult to follow — just like the subject of 9/11 and Islamic terrorism! Detached, clueless teenagers who say “Kewl” and “Awesome” in Holy Terror are propped up against a stoning because Americans are clueless and detached from the very real stonings and state-sponsored murders that go on today in places like Iran.
For the first time in a comic book, someone had the guts to shed light on the barbaric practices going on, in 2011, in the Middle East. Bravo. (This too sickens David Brothers.)
Holy Terror is at times raw, confusing, and poignant. Sometimes it angers (do you think that might be intentional, David Brothers?). It also makes anyone who reads it wonder why it had to be written in the first place. Fans of Holy Terror know why, and some of us aren’t afraid to talk about it. Critics of the book liken any frank (no pun intended) discussion of Islamic terrorism to an attempt to make it synonymous with Islam as a whole. Again, whose fault is that? Perhaps we should ask Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch film director to whom Frank Miller dedicates the book. Or not…because he’s dead, slain by Islamic radicals.
Perhaps we should ask another comic book writer and movie director, Kevin Smith. Or not…because he’s busy writing horror movies about Christians.
Frank Miller is a brave man who wrote a bold book. Go out and buy it, and then tell a friend.