Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Holy Terror" is probably the worst comic I've ever read.

Like many fans of the medium, some of my favorite comics are by Frank Miller - a giant in the industry if there ever was one.  Here's a guy who had created - mostly on his own - entertaining, sprawling, seminal epics like 300 and Sin City.  Heck, Batman has been around for 70 years and I don't think I've ever read a better story featuring the character than Batman: Year One.  When The Dark Knight Returns is second on a list of favorite Batman stories by one author, you know that there's some serious, prodigious, even, talent going around.

Because of this, and even though Miller has had a few flops to go along with his big hits, I was excited when I heard that DC Comics was publishing Batman: Holy Terror!, an original graphic novel by Miller.  My interest turned into curiosity once I learned that DC rejected Miller's proposal, at which point he took the concept to Legendary Comics (which seems to have been created for the sole purpose of publishing the book), removed the references to Batman from the story and truncated the title to, simply, Holy Terror.

My curiosity, in turn, became more of the morbid variety when the book was finally released and the reviews started to trickle in.  It seemed to me that, despite the interest surrounding the book, most of the reviews were overwhelmingly negative.  I saw the book stocked in a few local comic book shops, but didn't bother to flip through to check it out.

I probably would have forgotten all about the book if it hadn't been for my spring semester English classes.  The theme for the course centered around arguments - understanding them, making them effectively - and since I'm, well, a comic book fan, I started thinking about this book, the firestorm of criticism it caused for a while, and how something so apparently opinionated might work in a class that is set up to evaluate such forms of literature.  When I started putting my syllabus for the class together, I decided to take a chance and I ordered a copy of Holy Terror to read.

AND I HATED IT.  Seriously, every negative review of this book that I read was spot on.  It was, in a word, frightening to see how far Miller had slipped from "crime noir with its harsh view of reality" to "blatant, unrepentant racism", how a man so obviously talented could find himself so overcome by apparent hate as to put out a book such as Holy Terror.

The main characters are simply placeholders for Batman, Catwoman, Jim Gordon and other Gotham mainstays; some have even said that Miller took finished pages from his DC pitch and changed only a few details, presumably to avoid any legal issues with DC.  When I first heard that DC rejected Miller's pitch, I was surprised and thought that perhaps the company was overreacting.  Now that I've read the finished product, it's obvious that DC did the only thing it could have done, because allowing Miller to publish this as a Batman story would have, in my opinion, caused irreparable harm to the character and the overall concept.

The book, which simply deals with one night of violence, torture, ethnic stereotyping and misogyny to the worst degree, comes off as vapid in its content and disturbing in its message.  It can be difficult, sometimes, to separate an artist from his or her works, but in this case you almost have to to justify keeping anything of Miller's in your library.  It really is that shameful a piece of work.

I wrote a short review of the excellent anthology set 9/11: Artists Respond a while ago.  In one of the two volumes released, Miller had a short, simple story that read something like "I'm sick of flags; I'm sick of God; I've seen the power of faith" with an image of wreckage from the Trade Center attacks.  Miller seems to be playing again on this feeling of outrage, of indignation, but while the 9/11 short showcased the raw emotion that many felt that day, Holy Terror seems more venomous, more cruel and more bigoted.

I think that freedoms of speech and expression should be inalienable human rights, and thus I think that Miller should be able to print something like this, inflammatory as it is.  But I also can't strongly enough recommend that we all use a bit of common sense, don't get caught up in Miller's understandable level of fame, and put this book back on the shelf instead of buying it.

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