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December 6, 2010 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Frank Miller is titan of comics, whose noirish take on superheroes in the 80s has been hugely influencial. But back in 70s Miller was just an aspiring artist showing off his portfolio to Neal Adams, who proceeded to rip him him a new one.
posted by Artw (76 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's wrong with Irish superheroes?
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 12:25 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


Frank Miller was a titan of comics. Now he's a Dave Sim level crank who has damaged his legacy as a titan with All-Star Batman and Robin and the (always forthcoming) Batman vs. Al Qaeda.

Basically, after 9/11, he went off the deep end the way Dennis Miller did and became a scared reactionary who believed his own previously ironic stereotypes.
posted by fatbird at 12:27 PM on December 6, 2010 [19 favorites]


loved.this.wow.
posted by Avenger50 at 12:31 PM on December 6, 2010


Frank Miller was a titan of comics.

Oh, he's definitely gone a bit weird and obsessive these days - you can see that in the linked interview and in his insistence on pushing that stupid sounding Holy Terror project, but you have to give the guy his props.
posted by Artw at 12:33 PM on December 6, 2010


Frank Miller was a titan of comics.

He's always been a weird obsessive, imo. Aside from Dark Knight Returns, I've found his stuff completely unreadable, and after I read one issue of Sin City, I couldn't even read that again without being squicked out by the Robin stuff.
posted by empath at 12:36 PM on December 6, 2010


Needs the whoreswhoreswhoreswhores tag.
posted by fight or flight at 12:36 PM on December 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


Alas, Holy Terror, Batman is no more.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:38 PM on December 6, 2010


"Wh- you call that a streetwalker? Where are the dangly piercings? Where's the New Wave haircut? As for this - well, I'm not even gonna call it a gun. Much too small. Go back to maple syrup country, you thumbless hick."
posted by Iridic at 12:38 PM on December 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


you have to give the guy his props.

And I do. Dark Knight Returns was brilliant, and the reason he seems like such a crank now is just because of the comparison to the Miller who did that earlier work. It's really hard to see him so uncritically lauding now that which he handled deftly before, fully aware of the subject's complexity.
posted by fatbird at 12:43 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's goddamn Frank Miller!
posted by kmz at 12:47 PM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


fight or flight -

But here's the deal. Wrote a story with a female character who is not a prostitute, and you leave here alive.

Heh. Of course, I have to rebut that by pointing out that he's written one of the best female comics characters of all time.
posted by Artw at 12:47 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It helps to think of Frank Miller a straight-guy camp. Or, with 300, gay guy camp.

But Will Eisner would be entirely justified in committing a homicide for what Miller did to The Spirit.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:49 PM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ironically, the comic he's talking about there, Adams' Batman: Odyssey is, from all accounts, a horrendously nutty trainwreck from a dude who used to be much better than he is now and is currently regarded as something of a kook.
posted by Legomancer at 12:56 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to get all fan-boy and bitch about how much of a hack I think Miller is. No really. I am not.

I will say that, if you like your comics noir (and I know you do) please check your local shop for stuff by Brian Michael Bendis.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:04 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pff. He was better before he started getting big gigs and became Boring Michael Bendis. And he was never as good as Miller.
posted by Artw at 1:08 PM on December 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Miller has always been a one-trick pony. He got lucky once, and proceeded to repeat his formula over and over and over again. Yeah, Frank, we get it. Please evolve, now.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:18 PM on December 6, 2010


I've always liked his hat
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:20 PM on December 6, 2010


@Artw, I have one word for you, and one that Miller uses a lot:

"WHORES!"

That is all.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:22 PM on December 6, 2010


I'll admit it. I like most of what he's put out. To me, Sin City is just a really stylized version of preconcieved ideas about "gritty noir".
I've just been working my way through Spartacus: Blood and Sand and keep thinking about how much they ripped off Snyder's 300 which directly took it's cues from Miller. You just can't deny he's obvoiusly had huge influence upon a lot of people and art.

I don't think anybody can have a real understanding of Frank Miller unless they read something other than his Batman or Sin City stuff. Go read Hard Boiled, and than come back and say he's a little kooky. Yeah, no shit. He's over the top on purpose.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:27 PM on December 6, 2010


I will never give up the few issues I have of Neal Adams drawing Conan. This had to be what was playing in REH's fevered brain.

Oh wait, we were talking about Frank Miller? Meh, he's done nothing since The Dark Knight.
posted by Ber at 1:29 PM on December 6, 2010


I'd actually suggest 1999 as the cut off point for Miller being any good, which is when this happened.
posted by Artw at 1:44 PM on December 6, 2010


Oh my God. It's all just Judge Dredd and Aliens with you, isn't it?

His covers for Lone Wolf and Cub were superlative.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:49 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


NEEDS MORE SWASTIKAS, FRANK.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 1:56 PM on December 6, 2010


Well, he probably knocked those out, had his brain tumour or whatever and then went on to do his mono-ped Dredd and Dark Knight Strikes Back and all that...

Those covers are lovely though.
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on December 6, 2010


If it was a tumor that produced Hard Boiled, I'd like him to get that tumor back. It's the wildest thing I've seen since Ranxerox.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:05 PM on December 6, 2010


Hard Boiled is 1990!
posted by Artw at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2010


What am I, a calendar?

It's 20 years old? Fuck.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:08 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure it's what Geof Darrow his Matrix gig... and lets face it, anything in The Matrix that is cool Hard Boiled has times a thousand.
posted by Artw at 2:13 PM on December 6, 2010


I think Miller's work on Daredevil (both the middle of his first run, and Daredevil: Born Again) made for some of the best superhero comics ever. (In other words, my candidate for the cutoff is 1986.)
posted by Zed at 2:17 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


You had to bring out the boot...
posted by P.o.B. at 2:19 PM on December 6, 2010


Hard Boiled, Ronin, his Daredevil work, The Dark Knight Returns (times a thousand) and a handful of other things will always make me appreciate Frank Miller.

Then there's stuff like Sin City and 300, which to me, are neither here nor there but explore gritty noir and historical drama in Miller fashion. I have an interest, but not as much of one.

On the other hand, The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a much better follow-up than people will give it credit for. It's a lot more shallow in its reach, and a lot more playful in in its violence. Then there's All-Star Batman and Robin, which is bonkers and hilarious.

Batman: Odyssey, from what I've seen, is like Adams' take on the latter, with some extra crazy old man stuff thrown in.
posted by mikeh at 2:23 PM on December 6, 2010


If you accept that Miller once was a good writer, than he is a perfect example of the Brain Eater. This is as opposed to Millar, who regularly causes Brain eaters to starve to death.

Then again, I still blame Miller for a large portion of what happened to comics in the late 80s. He wasn't the only one that ruined comics; Moore, McFarlaine and others share quite a bit of the blame for the Iron Age, and comics still really haven't recovered. But Moore and Dark Knight Returns really gave people license to do the moody grim-dark nonsense.
posted by happyroach at 2:37 PM on December 6, 2010


Heh. Are you John Byrne?
posted by Artw at 2:52 PM on December 6, 2010


Sweet Jebus what is up with Neal Adams and the expanding earth? I mean WTF?
posted by PenDevil at 2:54 PM on December 6, 2010


Oh my God. It's all just Judge Dredd and Aliens with you, isn't it?

Yeah, like there's anything else.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:56 PM on December 6, 2010


All-Star Batman and Robin is awesome. Miller gave us a whole new Batman archetype! You've got original Bob Kane Batman, Adam West camp Batman, TAS Batman (the platonic form of Batman), Dark Knight Batman, and now batshit crazy Batman that defends himself against Green Lantern by drinking lemonade. All these Batmen can happily coexist. Each portrayal plays up a different aspect of the character. Batman's always been unhinged, and All-Star B and R just intensifies that. I like batshit Batman and hope he sticks around.
posted by painquale at 2:56 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


All these Batmen can happily coexist.

I wish the folks at Cartoon Network felt that way - I've just heard that the awesome Brave and the Bold cartoon cartoon has been cancelled to make way for some shitty-ass "dark" version of the character, because aparently we don't have enough of that already, thank you Mr. Nolan and your grossy over-rated films.
posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lest anyone think there's nothing here for people who have no strong emotions about comics, one way or the other:

This and worse Neal Adams said to me, time and again, but I kept pestering him with new samples, ever hopeful.

But I learned, very quickly, never to feel sorry for myself.

That’s the thing about Neal Adams. If I showed a trace of self-pity, he’d dismiss it without a thought. His kind—and that includes Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and my own father, God rest his soul, none of these men had a nanosecond’s patience with self-pity. May we learn from them. Self-pity is for losers.


I found this incredibly inspiring.

When you have talent and no training, you have to be your own biggest fan, because no one is going to be able to see your talent until you develop the tools for its expression.
posted by silentpundit at 3:03 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Excuse me, I have to get back to my sign painting -

BRING BACK THE SCHUMACHER NEON BATMAN!
posted by P.o.B. at 3:05 PM on December 6, 2010


Heh. Are you John Byrne?

Wozzers, I'd forgotten just how much of dick John Byrne is/was
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:07 PM on December 6, 2010


That's because you're a Brit, and therefore out to destroy comics!
posted by Artw at 3:08 PM on December 6, 2010


Minions, aim the Deconstructortron at Seattle!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2010


Oh and if it's not got a giant typewriter, it's not Batman!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:11 PM on December 6, 2010


On the other hand, The Dark Knight Strikes Again is a much better follow-up than people will give it credit for. It's a lot more shallow in its reach, and a lot more playful in in its violence.

I agree, SA is a fine followup to DKR that turns DKR on its head the way DKR turned Batman on its head.

WRT Sin City, Miller played out the premise of the good-hearted-tough-guy-pushed-too-far about half-way through. The problem wasn't that it was overthetop noir, it's that he kept telling the story of Marv over and over again.
posted by fatbird at 3:12 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I will always be a Frank Miller apologist — I believe you can separate the art from the artist. Frank Miller is single-handedly responsible for my comics obsession of the 90s and continued love of the art form in general.

Here comes my pro-Miller screed (and screed it is):

For some reason I found myself in a comic book store in Madison, WI around 1989-90. Again for no reason I can recall, I bought the trade paperback of The Dark Knight Returns, despite not having read comics for at least 10 years (and at that point I was just reading Archie in the drug store — that still seriously happened in the early 80s).

I thought I knew who Batman was — he of the campy 60s TV show — but this book was a revelation to me, one that revealed itself slowly. It took a good 3 or 4 readings before I even began to understand what was going on.

First, I had to learn how to read it at all; it had sophisticated panel layouts, custom lettering for different characters, massively stylized illustrations, and it was essentially set in the near future, meaning the world was both familiar and foreign all at the same time. I also struggled a bit with some of the pacing and panel transitions, struggles I understood when I read the seminal Understanding Comics — Miller had been using some of the same techniques found in Japanese/Asian comics, and I had never been exposed to them before.

Second, I had to parse this Batman universe that, as it turned out, I knew nothing about. I didn't know that there had been multiple Robins. I didn't know Batman's origin story at all, or that he doesn't kill. I didn't know that the Joker (and pretty much all the villains) was in actuality a serial killer who was deemed too insane to execute. The Joker plays a non-trivial role in the story, but it was weeks before I understood when he even entered the story... and the Joker's end? It's incredibly dramatic, but impossible to appreciate without the backstory of these two characters, which is a fairly demented little love story.

Third, and this was crucial, I finally caught on to the fact that The Dark Knight Returns is not real; that is to say, it's not canon. If comic books are accurate depictions of the worlds they show us, this book is a fantasy among documentaries. I think it may have even been the release of DC's own Elseworlds line that finally helped me understand this — it's not that I had a problem understanding that The Dark Knight Returns was just a story, it's that I didn't understand that every other Batman book (and every other title on the shelf) held to a "reality" that this book was taking liberties with. This meant that I had to parse the universe of Frank Miller's book yet again, digging out those moments where it nodded to the conventions of the canon, but created its own reality.

This is when things really started to fall in to place for me. Superman as a governmental drone? Pre-pubescent killer gang members roaming with impunity? The Batmobile is a tank? With rubber bullets?

Fourth, I could finally turn my attention to the art. When I try to figure out just why I bought it in the first place, my imagined inner monologue goes something like this:
The Dark Knight Returns. Where did he go?

(picks up book; sees the art)

Whoa.
This was before computer coloring and lettering, and some of the pages still have the same power they did when I first saw them. (Many of them can be seen here; this panel of a manically triumphant Batman entering the fray again is a personal favorite — or, cricky, this one of Batman and his new Robin effortlessly soaring through the page.)

Anyway.

From that auspicious beginning came a dedicated collector. For about 10 years I was an ardent DC fan, and continued to collect and read anything that Frank Miller put out. Sin City may be cliche now, but in the early days it was a breath of fresh, pulpy air; Batman: Year One is a masterwork of storytelling.

I may not be a fan of his politics, or of some of his more recent work (I did not care for The Dark Knight Strikes Again), but that doesn't make what I loved any less worthy of love, and it doesn't change the experience I had with That Thing in That Moment.

And that is all I have to say about that.
posted by crickets at 3:12 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


IIRC The first part of the B:TAS in the "influencial" link may have a giant typewriter in it.

BRING BACK THE SCHUMACHER NEON BATMAN!

Oh, and it has a dig at Schumacher.
posted by Artw at 3:13 PM on December 6, 2010


That's because you're a Brit, and therefore out to destroy comics!

Heh. Remember Peter David whinging back in the day about how Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman were so popular due to totally unfair faddish anglophilia and how a poor hard-working American writer just couldn't catch a break?

Wozzers, I'd forgotten just how much of dick John Byrne is/was

I'm willing to give him style points for dickishness for retconning Jim Shooter's super-Mary Sue character, Star Brand, into a royal jerk who accidentally destroyed everything he loved.

But not for taking the opportunity of Jack Kirby's death to nominate himself as the new King.
posted by Zed at 3:15 PM on December 6, 2010


I'm willing to give him style points for dickishness

Back when I lurked on his board with a horrified rictus on my face I remember him doing a commission piece for some poor fan where he drew Sue Storm with six fingers on one hand and when this was politely pointed out to him a) not apologising or being contrite in any way b) not offering to do it again and c) making the guy cough up in full. That's an almost heroic level of dickishness.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:27 PM on December 6, 2010


I really enjoyed Byrne's run on the Fantastic Four through most of the eighties.

I can think of nothing I've ever enjoyed that I'm so hesitant to revisit.
posted by Zed at 3:40 PM on December 6, 2010


BTW, this sort-of related AskMe, where I first posted the the Neal Adams link, is throwing up links to all kinds of cool stuff.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on December 6, 2010


Reading this thread, I'm struck by the fact that comic professionals seems to age spectacularly poorly. When they fall, they fall hard, descending into a realm equal parts self-parody, crotchety bitterness, and laziness. Miller, Byrne, Bendis. (I think Warren Ellis is an egregious example of this.)

Their recent work is so unbelievably shitty that it retroactively convinces me not just that all their work has always been shit, but that they are physically incapable of not creating shit. I was like, "Holy shit! Frank Miller did write Hard Boiled! That's one of my favorite comics, how could I have forgotten he wrote it?" It's like their shit retcons my brain.
posted by fryman at 3:42 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think Warren Ellis is an egregious example of this.

I'm not a comics fanboi, so I'm really not familiar with his earlier work, but I actually really like FreakAngels
posted by fatbird at 3:59 PM on December 6, 2010


I sunno, Warren Ellis is still capable of choosing to be really good, it's just that he's a lazy fuck who pisses about on the internet most of the time.

Oh, and if he managed to come up with a character that didn't sound like all his other characters from time to time that would go a long way.
posted by Artw at 4:01 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Frank Miller has joined Neal Adams in sheer anviliciousness, so I'm not really surprised that he's into Adams' latest trainwreck. But, dude, seriously, Martha Washington is "one of the best female comic characters of all time"? Martha Washington reads like Frank Miller responded to criticism that he didn't write particularly good female or black characters by creating a black, female character who not only doesn't have any internal life to speak of, but doesn't seem particularly African-American or female in any way (aside from setting her childhood in Cabrini Green); he could have made her an Irish-American guy named Marty O'Shaughnessy from South Boston with very few alterations in the script.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:16 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


In terms of "fuck yeah" moments in comics, Miller did write one of the great ones:

There are seven working defenses from this position. Three of them disarm with minimal contact. Three of them kill. The other HURTS.


It was this point that I knew I was dealing with the Batman I always wanted to see.
posted by Ber at 4:45 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


> I'd forgotten just how much of dick John Byrne is/was

Not to urinate on anyone's parade, but John Byrne's Next Men is returning this Wednesday, December 8th 2010, after a 15 year hiatus.

I have no idea whether it'll be any good, only that it's coming and IDW is publishing.
posted by vhsiv at 5:58 PM on December 6, 2010


Reading this thread, I'm struck by the fact that comic professionals seems to age spectacularly poorly. When they fall, they fall hard, descending into a realm equal parts self-parody, crotchety bitterness, and laziness.

They stumble because their feet have become heavy with age, yes. It is this phenomenon specifically against which we see Rob Liefeld striving in his work.
posted by cortex at 6:15 PM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


You had to bring out the Liefeld...
posted by P.o.B. at 6:16 PM on December 6, 2010


It is this phenomenon specifically against which we see Rob Liefeld striving in his work.

I saw a recent Liefeld cover (Deadpool Corps #8). It features:

- Pouches
- Improbable ass physics
- No feet

There's something fascinating about Liefeld's existence. He'll certainly never get any better, but he never seems to get any worse. Against all odds, he's actually reached Absolute Shit (-273° K on the Kirby scale, -459° D on the Ditko scale).
posted by fryman at 7:13 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ditko would complete a royal flush of comics crazy.
posted by Artw at 7:24 PM on December 6, 2010


Eisner was doing good work past 85, though, and never went crazy that I know of.
posted by Zed at 7:45 PM on December 6, 2010


Ronin fan over here. Oh, and Electra.
posted by newdaddy at 7:53 PM on December 6, 2010


You'd go crazy too if you worked in the comics business for too long past about 1976 or so. After that it became next to impossible to make a decent wage doing it - and I'm including the insane 90s in that. "Management," to use the term generously, has gone seriously downhill in comics for a few decades now. There's some decent, professional people in there, but you need to look pretty hard to find them. It's an industry in terminal decline, really any creative person (non-management) who's still in it is probably certifiable.

Neal Adams looked at my stuff about 12 years ago. He flipped thru the book for 5 seconds and then just handed it back to me, stared me in the eye and shook his head grimly. Clearly he's gotten more succinct since his Miller critique! :)

Wacky or not, Adams is still one of the very best of the best in comic art. Period.

(thankfully I've gotten a lot better. however, I can't do comics because they just can't pay enough)
posted by zoogleplex at 8:18 PM on December 6, 2010


I saw a recent Liefeld cover (Deadpool Corps #8)

Gah, the perspective on the hilt of the sword versus the perspective of the blade is making my eyes hurt. Why does Liefeld always do that with swords and guns? That's way more annoying to me than ballerina feet. It's like he can only see the parts of an item he's drawn without connecting them in a single gestalt. Next issue's cover: Deadpool wields a Devil's Fork.
posted by painquale at 8:44 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's probably a good thing that Liefeld has never drawn Dredd.
posted by Artw at 9:21 PM on December 6, 2010


Anyone who thinks Miller's nuttiness is a relatively new development has not read Elektra: Assassin. While TDKR predates it and they share a lot of devices E:A's pretty much the matrix/crucible for every crazy tic he has, where he pretty much turned it up to 11 and ripped off the knob and ate it and it was good.

I really pity John Byrne. Comics is a viciously fickle business, yeah, but rarely has someone reached such highs commercially and occasionally artistically, only to end up so undeniably irrelevant in every way that truly matters.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:07 AM on December 7, 2010


AstroZombie, I too want to mention the Lone Wolf and Cub issues that Miller did. When I saw them, not long into a short span of comics-buying, I grabbed them -- and they're still around somewhere. (Is it a Minnesota thing...?)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:20 AM on December 7, 2010


See, Alvy, when Elektra: Assassin came out, I and some others thought that it was just Miller goofing off, the way that a lot of serious writers do occasionally. (Anyone who thinks that Alan Moore is this terminally serious wizard-writer should look up the D.R. and Quinch series that he did for 2000 AD; Warren Ellis has done Nextwave; etc.) I think that a Comics Journal reviewer compared E:A to Bugs Bunny. The problem is that Miller has continued on that curve up to and through ASBAR, which makes E:A look positively restrained.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my Alan Moore completism, I recently bought used copies of D.R. and Quinch and Skizz, though I'd already read them and count them as minor works. But I'm a big fan of the Bojeffries Saga, one of his least serious works, and I genuinely enjoyed his Image and Wildstorm work in the '90's (and still want the 1963 annual.)
posted by Zed at 9:30 AM on December 7, 2010


You know, if you're a fan of DR and Quinch but want something modern in the same vein it's worth checking out Zombo, by Henry Flint and Al Ewing, who i keep telling people is going to be the new Alan Moore.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on December 7, 2010


Honestly, the list of never-finished or never-done Alan Moore projects--the 1963 annual, Big Numbers, Twilight of the Gods--would have been career highlights for almost any other writer.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2010


Even in outline form, Twilight of the Gods has one of my favorite John Constantine moments, and one of my favorite time travel story moments.
posted by Zed at 2:27 PM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Someday he will finish his big novel about his corner of Northampton, and I can fail to read that too.
posted by Artw at 2:31 PM on December 7, 2010


Batman: Year One - The bread and butter of modern Batman tales.
posted by Artw at 3:26 PM on December 8, 2010


Frank Miller Part 2: On Pastiche, Directing and the Future
posted by Artw at 1:47 PM on December 15, 2010


Man, that one is really about Bad Miller as much as the first one was about Good.
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on December 15, 2010


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