Frank Miller’s Holy Terror

14 Mar

I’ve always said that I prefer a crazy comic to a boring one, but Terror is certainly testing this assertion. It’s certainly not good.

Frankly, I skimmed the thing. I’ve gonna make piecemeal observations but I’m not gonna read every word this jerk wrote, and if a scene is confusing I’m moving on. I hate this, I owe like half of whatever talent I may have to the fact that I obsessively reread Ronin and Dark Knight Returns as a kid. The little tiny panels, the minimalism, the splashes of black, the pacing: God, Frank Miller’s books TAUGHT you how to be a cartoonist. I really hate this.

The good stuff in this book comes in moments. The terrorists blowing up the Statue of Liberty was dumb (and why does a xenophobic idiot like Miller care about a French statue, anyway), but it was visually astonishing. Big black planes, and the statue was all robes. Very cool.

When a terrorist is killed, he says “aargh” and I’ve never seen strike-thru text as a way to show someone dying. That’s like Dave Sim-level word balloon brilliance right there. So at least I found something to steal ;).

The dumb stuff overwhelms the good stuff. I’m all for splattery artwork, but Miller overdoes it. There are almost no backgrounds except for the very beginning and the very end. If this had been combined with his usual crisp, clean artwork, that could give the whole thing a surreal feel, but all the splattered whiteout just reminds us that there’s nothing underneath the surface.

All the macho language really makes me understand why Grant Morrison told Frank to just join the army already. The Fixer (Batman without ears) talks like John Cena. I’m serious. Like if John Cena was kicking an Arab guy around the ring and saying “You like that, Mohammed?” and a bunch of kids in Tapout shirts were cheering that would be a lot like this comic.

I went into this comic knowing what it was gonna be, and I judge things by their own merits. I’ve written before about how much I like Doug Tennapel, and that guy isn’t exactly a progressive thinker. Holy Terror is supposed to be an offensive slap to the face of liberals who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that’s fine. Comics are there to express things, and that is one possible thing that a person could choose to express. But it fails, even by its own standards.

Look, here’s how you draw THAT comic. First of all, show how the terrorists think about what they’re doing. Alan Moore gave his fascist villain a really scary little monologue in V for Vendetta, and in doing so made him more than a cardboard cutout (the guy still got killed real good, though). Dinesh D’souza’s What’s So Great About America gives a Republican-friendly description of terrorist motivations. COPY AND PASTE HIS ARGUMENTS!! Secondly, the heroes have to show a little vulnerability. Look at a Mel Gibson movie. He always wants to be a pacifist, and then bad stuff happens, and by the time he becomes a killing machine you’re rooting for him. The Fixer seems like he was born hating Arabs, probably because they don’t like hot dogs or baseball.

The book finally goes crazy enough to be interesting in the last ten pages or so. Al Qaeda’s hideout is a tech-savvy underground lair with pink floors that reminded me a little of the birdmens’ cave from the old 1940’s Superman cartoons. The Fixer kills the last of the terrorists with a horrible disease bomb “that was meant for us”, and the villain’s vicious and prolonged death scene is a guilty pleasure, hateful and satisfying. And as other reviewers have said, the last page is AMAZING (and effective).

I recommend that you do what I did. Go into a bookstore and skim it. Look at the kool artwork and ignore most of the dialogue. Just make sure that you read the ending. It’s the only time Miller’s story becomes the scary and challenging right-wing fantasy that he thinks it is. The rest of the time it’s a Dolph Lundgren movie, splattered with way too much whiteout.


Posted by on March 14, 2012 in I Review Other Stuff


8 responses to “Frank Miller’s Holy Terror

  1. nicksedillos

    March 15, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Wow, good review. I didn’t think there’d be that much to say about this book. The strikethough deathtext is a genuinely cool idea.

    • robertbrudos

      March 15, 2012 at 1:46 am

      Thanks! It really is worth spending 7 minutes and zero dollars on if you have the chance.

      • Nick Sedillos

        March 15, 2012 at 1:50 am

        Sounds like my kind of book!

  2. doug TenNapel

    March 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    THanks for the kind words about me (I’m always grateful for that and don’t take it for granted given the way most other people act), and I somewhat agree about Frank Miller here, though I suspect something else could be going on that I can relate to.

    This work is great on the usual level that indie comics are great. It’s usually clunky, uneven with a level of madness working across the board. This is not trying to be great literature, it’s a screed, and it reads the way screeds are supposed to read.

    Part of what I love about your reviews is the empathy you show to others. You really try to get into other people’s heads, and even offer Miller some good alternatives. But HOLY TERROR reads identical to how I see Republicans or Christians depicted in just about every comic I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean obscure indie books. I mean mainstream comics. Conservatives are given the dumbest motivations that are designed to demonize them, not give them the conviction of their creed.

    So I think Miller understands this about the tippy toeing that has been going on in entertainment regarding Islamic Radicals. I think he’s proving TO HIMSELF that he will not nuance them like this industry demands he do. It has to blunt, and sound stupid, because though nuance ought to be used in great literature, it oughtn’t on a bumper sticker or picket sign. Holy Terror is a picket sign and I think the name can’t be mistaken as a spin on the sayings of Batman’s Robin.

    I’ve done this in books like Black Cherry, which I don’t recommend anyone else do, but they are offensive on purpose to test an audience. I can only say that if Holy Terror is guilty of being bad when it comes to ideology, then I would use that same standard to judge just about every other comic industry person on their handling of ideology they consider “the enemy.”

    This book is no different than 90% of my comic friends posting about Santorum as a homophobe. Frank Miller writes the equivalent in a comic but most of Frank’s critics LIVE IT.

    • robertbrudos

      March 22, 2012 at 2:23 am

      @doug TenNapel If comics are bumper stickers, then Black Cherry was “HOW’S THAT HOPE AND CHANGE THING WORKING OUT FOR YOU?” and Holy Terror was “DON’T RE-NIG IN 2012” (I actually think Black Cherry was trying to do a lot more than just offend readers: Ratfist might be a better example of an in-your-face, “bumper sticker”-style comic.) Point taken about conservative portrayals in mainstream comics, you do see it far too often and it’s lazy writing wherever it occurs. I wince whenever I see Grant Morrison try to write a Republican character’s dialogue, and he’s a smart guy!

      Fair or not, Frank Miller gets held to a different standard, because he’s SO GOOD. I don’t care if some rinky-dink self-publisher puts out a moronic book, because who cares? I wouldn’t care if Rob Liefeld wrote an offensive and racist book because even though he would probably reach a big audience, there’s no reason to expect him to do anything worthwhile. But this is Frank Miller. He’s like the Steve Jobs of comics. I’d be disappointed if Apple put out a shoddy computer that was only programmed to insult Muslims, too. 🙂

      I appreciate your reading my reviews! If you’re in the mood, I’d be honored if you gave my comic book a read. It’s a bit esoteric but it’s kind of an “I like the artform of comics” comic. I’d feel like that sick child that baseball player hit a home run for if you did!

  3. TenNapel

    March 23, 2012 at 12:29 am

    I like your comic! Looks good, you need to work on your style and art just a little bit though.

    On Frank Miller, he’s barely even noticeably odd in Holy Terror. I’m serious, it’s about as offensive as most sit coms I see. The fact that it’s seen as some unhinged, out of this world, outrage only goes to show how tender our ears about certain messages, and how completely offensive and disgusting we are about others.

    If Miller is bad, then everyone is bad. That doesn’t make him good, or a gentleman, or appropriate, but it means it’s a form of bigotry to hold him to a higher standard than we would hold our own ideology. People who are offended by Miller who practice the identical vitriol or worse are in no place to judge him and ought to work on themselves. But they won’t. It’s always just easier to appeal to the mainstream of comic culture and make fun of whoever they demand that you make fun of.

    This demonization of Miller is where we’re at in culture, and it’s pathetic. Doesn’t an American comic at least have an obligation to criticize terrorists and name names before we go after Miller? I’m amazed at the selective offense. I’m a bit desensitized to the deep offense against Miller because I’ve been trained by the comics community that this is exactly how we speak of the opposition. I’m called far worse than what Miller calls terrorists and I didn’t even behead anybody.

    Step out of your culture, and take another look at this.

  4. robertbrudos

    March 24, 2012 at 2:01 am

    First of all and most importantly, I really appreciate your reading! My art ain’t quite as polished as I’d like it to be, but I’m working on it (more by drawing as many comics as I can than by like exercises or whatever: maybe formal practice would be better, but that’s not what I’ve been doing).

    Secondly, let me most emphatically state, for the record, that terrorists are even worse than Republicans. 😉 Al Qaeda intentionally killed thousands of Americans, and I am lucky not to have personally known any of the people who died (and didn’t deserve to).

    How. Ev. Er.

    Frank Miller wants us to associate all of the followers of one of the world’s largest religions with terrorism, and make no distinctions. If his comic is a bumper sticker, it’s one that reads “Muslims are terrorists, show no mercy”. The media’s efforts at making that all-important distinction may be cheesy and “politically correct”, but they’re made for a good reason. We HAVE thrown large groups of American citizens into internment camps in our nation’s not-too-distant past. That was a real betrayal of who we’re supposed to be, and I don’t want that to happen again. I’ve had Muslim students, so it’s not a totally intellectual issue for me: I don’t want them to get shot by people who think they’re being patriots, like Raiz Bhuiyan did. There’s nothing wrong with distinguishing the two: George W. Bush, the Weekly Standard and even DAVID HOROWITZ believe in noticing and pointing out the difference. (Hitchens and Dawkins don’t, and since they’re waging an intellectual war on the foundations of religion, you might want to examine why you’re siding with them on this issue.)

    Most Mormons don’t believe black people are inherently “bad”. Most Jews and Christians don’t believe in executing adulteresses. Most Buddhists still go to work. Most PEOPLE just want to live their lives, and if everybody lived out the worst possible ramifications of their philosophies, I’d be a lot more worried about living in a Judeo-Christian country than I am.

    Finally, the problem isn’t that the comic is offensive. Everything Miller has done is a little offensive, and that’s not a bad thing (DKR was equally offensive to both sides, and was very brilliantly done). The problem is that it’s ONLY offensive. If he did it to prove something to himself, then I can’t judge whether he succeeded or not. All I can judge is the book I read, and I just don’t think it did what it wanted to do.

    I am perfectly willing to step outside of my culture and look at the other side of this. I just don’t agree with it, not because I’m a slave to political correctness but because it goes against my principles. I don’t want to treat good guys like bad guys. I think that would make me a bad guy.

    Last word is yours, if you want it. Whatever comment you leave, I promise to think carefully about it and not dismiss it. Miller, however, is an artist that I am just about done thinking about.

  5. TenNapel

    March 24, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Miller’s point of view is interesting. It may not be true, but it’s not shocking by any means in today’s culture of argument. It’s right up the middle. Feigning outrage is just another fraudulent part of our culture, so I’m not going to join that stage show against him.

    If you read Miller’s response to 9/11 in that Darkhorse book (I did a story too) he basically slandered all forms of religious belief together with his rage against 9/11… that includes my belief. So at least he got the right religion that took down the towers this time.

    I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that he’s going after Islam, I would bet that Miller would have no problem with moderate Muslims. That book is not about moderates. It’s just one of 3 entertainment pieces I count that show Islamic Radicals as the bad guy. Think about every major movie today, comic book villain and they’re either Catholics, corporate presidents or Catholic corporate presidents who drill for oil. That is supreme cowardice on the side of entertainment and I won’t waste a pixel against Miller for at least hitting the right neighborhood with his bad guys.

    It reminds of us being a nation that regularly burns Bibles, then one lunatic church burns a Koran and all of the people who usually cheer at burning Christian iconography have a cow. It feels more like political correctness than correctness when I see it happen. People who criticize Miller don’t really care about offending religion, demonizing opposition, or not being charitable with world views that think different than they do. Sorry, not buying it.

    But thanks for this exchange. You sir, are thoughtful.


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