By Steve Rosenstein
I’ll be the first to say that I used to really enjoy Frank Miller’s writing. I still enjoy Daredevil: Born Again and the original Dark Knight Returns and I love Batman: Year One. I think that Sin City is a great read; in short I certainly have not always thought that Frank Miller was a wanker; but certainly his more recent attempts have shown us that he is becoming more and more incapable of keeping his abhorrent politics out of his stories. I won’t argue for or against how Miller’s take on Batman has colored the character’s current portrayal in television, film and comics; that is a rant for a different time. I will confine this review to his current project.
In The Dark Knight Returns III, we start in a Gotham that has many of the same issues that we see in the contemporary USA: black children are being harassed by the police, Wall Street is out of control, and politicians are corrupt…very familiar territory. And Carrie “Batman” Kelly is on the front lines as a true defender of the people. “How did we let our distractions become our focus,” is how Commissioner Ellen Yindel describes the current situation where she is forced once again to focus on what should be an ally as opposed to the real problems faced by Gotamites. Was Frank Miller prepared to give us a realistic look at where his Batman fits in the world? It took until the obligatory TV montage to set things straight. In the Frank Miller court of public opinion, while both the right and the left are lampooned, the right comes off looking less so. While the Meghan Kelly and Bill O’Reilly stand-ins sounded somewhat reasonable, if not stereotyped, the Keith Olberman and Al Sharpton clones were made to look like buffoons; he even stuck Michael Strahan and Kelly Ripa in to stand in for the whitewashed morning show. It quickly goes downhill from there because the actual problems that Yindel and Carry Kelly are struggling over become the “distractions” as we find out why DKR III is subtitled “The Master Race.”
“Can you see what burns in my children? There are those amongst you that might call it a bomb–and they’d be right, but not righteous. They’d spread fear, but not the lending fire now bright within us. We will destroy ourselves to save you.”
These are the words of Quar of Krypton, the cult leader whose followers wiped out the entire population of the bottles city of Kandor by recruiting an emotionally damaged Lara, the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, to trick the Atom into restoring them to full size. Did I mention that Quar’s followers take a pill that turns them into mini-nukes? Yes, they are literally super suicide bombers. Let’s see…an alien religion with fanatical followers, recruiting disaffected youth, suicide bombers, duping well-meaning intelligentsia into aiding them…I just can’t place what Miller is trying to say here.
In Comic Book Resources (http://www.comicbookresources.com/comic-review/dark-knight-iii-the-master-race-3-dc-comics) review of the current issue, number 3, Greg McElhatton states, “Miller and Azzarello avoid any sort of balanced portrayal of the Kryptonians. They’re all reprehensible beings who follow their cult leader blindly and die as part of his cause. The end result is a book that has no shades of gray; it’s all black and white, a conflict between those who are bad and those who are good. It’s a stark setup that goes for a gut punch and staggers the reader even as it makes them yearn for something a little more nuanced.” The only ‘gut punch’ that one really comes across is how this one-sided propaganda piece is being touted as the great return of Miller to the character that he helped to destroy. It’s not a stark setup at all, there have been plenty of “stark” Batman stories published over the years; the Batman: Black and White series comes to mind, as does the work that Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb did as a follow-up to Miller’s own Year One, The Long Halloween & Dark Victory. Stark does not mean simple, and mature doesn’t mean gratuitous. It’s been said that comics are no longer a medium for children; that “mature readers” make up the current demographic. So why does Frank Miller treat his adult audience like kids? There is no subtlety, there is us and there is them, and that is all. There is no sympathy for any of the villains; Lara, who could at the very least be portrayed as conflicted beyond being hurt by her father, comes off as nothing more than a pantomime villain, a dupe incapable of thinking for herself. Any capital of subtlety built up in the first issue, is quickly squandered as all shades of gray come crashing down, suffocating my interest in the piece as it resolves into the familiar binary tone of Miller’s drab, paranoid world.
What bothers me most isn’t even the blatant anti-Muslim propaganda, it’s how the book is being bandied about as the triumphant return of Frank Miller. “As a whole, the book is designed to shock its readers and that’s exactly what it does. That said, there needs to be some more nuance to keep this from turning into either parody or a shrill polemic.” (From the same review) This book does not shock, it is just tired rhetoric. Frank Miller is a huge Islamophobe, we get it; if you are “shocked” by this story, then you obviously have not been paying attention to the kind of anti-Muslim propaganda that we are subjected to on a daily basis. Unfortunately, nuance would make this story come crashing down around its ears, because then Miller wouldn’t be able to tell this story because nuance is anathema to extremism.
Frank Miller’s place in comics history, much like Alan Moore’s is being eroded by his continued attempts at writing them in the first place. Nonsense like DKRIII and Holy Terror has made me want to reevaluate his early “classics” and where they should stand in the “must reads” of comicdom. Part of the blame rests in DC comics for continuing to try to profit from his name, just look at the press-releases and advertising blitz associated with DKRIII, and then read the actual thing. It’s garbage, pure anti-Muslim propaganda. I’d like to say that it’s going to get better. I’d like to, but I cannot. What I would like to see is a repeat of Miller’s run on All-Star Batman where he simply gave up. Do us all a favor Frank, make history repeat.