Frank Miller brings ‘Holy Terror’ to 9/11 anniversary: ‘I hope it shakes people up’

June 30, 2011 | 8:01 a.m.
holyterror p063 latimes Frank Miller brings Holy Terror to 9/11 anniversary: I hope it shakes people up

"Holy Terror" (Frank Miller/Legendary Comics)

For the better part of a decade, Frank Miller has been talking about a graphic novel on terrorism called “Holy Terror,” but it was only this week that he could say the one sentence everyone was waiting to hear. “I’m done,” Miller said. “It was eight years in the making, but I’m done.”

The 120-page book will hit the shelves right after the 1oth anniversary of 9/11 and Miller — the 54-year-old creator of “”The Dark Knight Returns,” “”300” and “Sin City” — promises that the tale and imagery will be “pretty rough,” which is saying something given his history of scorching political rhetoric and ultra-violent artwork.

For many followers of Miller’s career, though, the biggest shock of “Holy Terror” is the fact that it’s actually reaching stores. Miller is arguably the most important comic book artist of the last three decades  but in recent years he has been a figure of absence and uncertainty following his Hollywood misadventure as the writer-director of the 2008 film “The Spirit.”

frank miller spirit Frank Miller brings Holy Terror to 9/11 anniversary: I hope it shakes people up

Frank Miller on the set of "The Spirit" (Lews Jacobs/Lionsgate/Odd Lot)

More than that, “Holy Terror” looked like damaged goods from a distance. In 2006, Miller had talked publicly about the project as a Batman epic titled “Holy Terror, Batman!” with the Caped Crusader undertaking a blood quest against the Taliban after a terrorist attack on his beloved Gotham City. The subject matter, the sneering title and Miller’s own history of give-’em-hell politics promised a book that would land in pop culture like a Molotov cocktail.

But, as the seasons went by, the endeavor lost momentum and changed dramatically. Most notably, it was no longer a Batman story — whether that decision was made by Miller or by hand-wringing executives at DC depends on who you ask. By last year, the project had morphed into a tale of a para-military avenger nicknamed The Fixer and the setting of New York City. But there were also signs that “Xerxes,” a follow-up to “300,” was the real front-burner project for Miller and, with its aura of Hollywood interest, wouldn’t look like a total retreat from Tinseltown endeavors.

The script flipped this week, however,  when a new company called Legendary Comics put out a press release promising that “Holy Terror” will arrive in stores in September in a hardcover that “seizes the political zeitgeist by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page.” The images released so far suggest that, at least visually, The Fixer looks a lot like Bruce Wayne’s brutal alter ego and his fishnet female friend looks a lot like Catwoman — it seems fair to assume that Miller was able to revamp the pages from his early labors without too much heavy lifting.

holyterror p003 latimes Frank Miller brings Holy Terror to 9/11 anniversary: I hope it shakes people up

"Holy Terror" (Frank Miller/Legendary Comics)

Legendary Comics is the latest venture by Thomas Tull, who arrived in Hollywood with a passion for comics, a desire to make movies and considerable resources as the founder of Legendary Pictures, which has hedge-fund investors and Wall Street credibility. Legendary has produced more than two dozen films with Warner Bros., starting with  “Batman Begins” in 2005. The list includes “The Dark Knight,” “Watchmen,” “Clash of the Titans,” “The Hangover” films and “300,” the  Zack Snyder-directed  hit that adapted Miller’s landmark comics mini-series of grim Spartan honor.

Snyder and Tull have talked with passion about a “300” follow-up called “Xerxes” that would be based on Miller’s in-the-works comics series but that’s on hold while the two Hollywood collaborators turn their attentions to next year’s Superman movie. Tull in the meantime is launching a comic-book company with “Holy Terror,” but Miller said this is more than a moonlighting publishing project or collaborative stopgap.

“He carries his own credentials obviously and that brings its own excitement,” Miller said of Tull. “It was great just to sit across the table from him and show him my paintings and get his reaction of shock and of thrill at the same time. Some of these images are pretty rough.”

frank miller red Frank Miller brings Holy Terror to 9/11 anniversary: I hope it shakes people up

Frank Miller in 2007 (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Asked for an example of the roughness, Miller said: “Well, out of nowhere, needles start flying through the air and it’s a very resonant image. Suicide bombers pack themselves with nails and ball bearings and razor blades and all kinds of things like that. When my hero finds a nail in [a victim’s] knee it sort of brings the whole thing home emotionally.”

Miller said “Holy Terror” and its Manhattan menace are now as far from Gotham as “Sin City.”

“I took Batman as far as anyone, and this guy is just not him.  He’s been playing the crime fighter to stay in shape. What he really wants to do is fight terrorism. He knew the day would come. The story is essentially New York under attack by suicide bombers and our hero is out to find out their greater scheme. He’s much more a man of action than a detective. He’s a two-fisted Dirty Harry type, really.”

thomas tull Frank Miller brings Holy Terror to 9/11 anniversary: I hope it shakes people up

Thomas Tull (Legendary Pictures)

The story began as a fresh-wound response to the terrorist attacks of 2001 but that too has changed through the years. Miller says 9/11 sent him to his art table with rage in the earliest days of the project, but that over time there were shifts and twists in his emotions.

“At the beginning this project torqued me up even more; the first batch of pages screamed with how New York tasted and how it felt,” he said. “Gradually the story became more linear and less emotional. It’s not me screaming for 109 pages. There’s a balance there. There had to be. What surprised me is that were touches of humor in the course of the story. I never would have predicted that early on. It began utterly humorless.”

Miller has said in a way he is going back to the FDR era of comics when heroes and creators amped up their stories with patriotic anger and didn’t mute the color of their work with political correctness.

“I’m a comic book artist first and foremost; as I got into this I felt probably something close to what Jack Kirby felt when he created Captain America,” Miller said. “There’s a gut-level intensity to the work but there’s also levels where it needs to be entertainment. And this is propaganda. I think it’s a much abused word. I think most things I read on the Internet and in newspapers is propaganda. Everyone from the New York Times to Rupert Murdoch has a point of view and is putting forth their own propaganda. They’re stuck with the facts as they are but the way  they interpret and frame them is wildly different.”

dark knight frank miller Frank Miller brings Holy Terror to 9/11 anniversary: I hope it shakes people up

Frank Miller's Batman (DC Comics)

The art of Miller has changed dramatically through the decades. Early on, during his landmark run on “Daredevil,” his covers showed a gift for audacious composition and a flair for fierce melodrama and violence, but many of the panels inside were guided by the work of his mentor Neal Adams. Miller has said he could never compete with supple illustrator gifts of contemporaries such as John Byrne, so he went deeper into a sort of kinetic impressionism and stark use of line, void and shadow.  That led to a disdain for realism and naturalistic tendencies in comics; the storytelling and style of “Sin City” and “The Dark Knight Strikes Again” show a creator going off the grid of traditional superhero comics both literally and figuratively. “Holy Terror” is the next step in that artistic odyssey.

holy terror Frank Miller brings Holy Terror to 9/11 anniversary: I hope it shakes people up“It is more raw and unfettered and I’m more likely going into something you could call extreme cartooning,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of that in the course of ‘Holy Terror.’  There are interludes where there are pictures — cartoon pictures — of modern figures and they are all wordless. It’s up to readers to put the words in.”

Miller is a provocative figure and he delights in a return to the battlefields of cultural debate. During the ramp-up to “300” — the film that so faithfully adapted the Miller comic book mini-series of the same name — Miller was a bit of a talk-show sensation with his scorching sound bytes regarding Islam and Persian history. Miller is clearly ready to get back in the mix. Asked if “Holy Terror” will rile people up, he chuckled before answering.

“I sure hope so,” Miller said. “I hope it shakes people up. I’m not around to mollify. We’re living in a terrifying time and it’s changed us. Look, my decision to make this not a Batman project was part of that. Do I really want to draw a guy chasing the Riddler around town? No. The stakes are higher now.”

— Geoff Boucher


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28 Responses to Frank Miller brings ‘Holy Terror’ to 9/11 anniversary: ‘I hope it shakes people up’

  1. Mike says:

    Man, this is tough. I love Frank Miller's work but 'm not sure I agree with his reasons fro creating this. Warren Ellis wrote the 12 issue Global Frequency series partially as a response to the 9/11 attacks. The central theme of that work was that no one will save us except us. If we want a better world we have to do it ourseleves. As emotionally charged as Miller's "Holy Terror" will be, I wonder if a story about a guy in a mask saving us from terrorists is what we need? Seal Team Six just got bin Laden and those guys are us. They are the pinnacle of what professional soldiers can be and what they can do. It turns out we're pretty impressive when we want to be. This is the first Frank Miller book that has come out that really doesn't trip my trigger.

    • Joe H says:

      What's wrong with having a different approach than Ellis took? I mean, if Ellis already did it that way, then why should Miller do it too? Maybe Ellis's approach is better and more relevant, but we'll never know until we see.

    • Bruce Kim says:

      I really don't think Global Frequency was an effective response to 9/11. It's message in the end was pretty much the message repeated every single Warren Ellis book: "Screw the authority."

      The problem with Ellis' political message in all his work (Transmetropolitan, Authority) is that it is so simplistic. It is easy to say "screw the authority" by portraying the authority as a utterly currpt entity, but it lacks any depth.

      Global Frequecy's ending was another classic Ellis preaching: Think for yourself, qeustion authority. All good messages, but… Ellis' take is always so one dimensional that it eventually becomes a struggle between good and evil.

      Among, all the comic book writers, Frank Miller always tried to see the problem in both spectrums of political ideology. DKR, Martha Washington, Elecktra: Assasin would be good examples. For this reason, I am really interested in his take on 9/11

      • AJA says:

        I would disagree that Frank Miller has tried seeing the problem on both political spectrums. What you might be seeing is his gift for characterization, but ultimately, characterization is not looking at the problem objectively. Miller's Batman is a violent authoritarian and his 300 is completely a one-sided look into the Battle of Thermopylae. I mean did anyone, after watching or reading 300, think that the Persians were victims and that Leonidas was wrong to go after them. I'm guessing not. I wouldn't call that looking at both spectrums of political ideaology.

    • Tmiller says:

      You have to look at Miller's work as simply escapist entertainment. I enjoyed most of the "Sin City" books and the two big Batmans, but I wouldn't really want anything that happened in those books to take place in the real world. I also have to second Joe H's comment about why do it again if Ellis already did.

  2. The mere fact that it's actually coming out seems to be shaking people up, as if they're bracing themselves from an attack. Can't wait to get my hands on it.

  3. PMMDJ says:

    Miller hasn't done a good comic since 300, which was 13 years ago. I don't see Holy Terror changing that streak. His earlier works displayed a lot of talent, but since then he's fallen back on simply going for shock value.

  4. 9/11 truth says:

    I hope (and suspect, actually) that you're getting lots of comments from those of us who know that the official version of 9/11 is no more reality-based than Miller's comic book.

  5. Felicity says:

    Based on the two scans shown above, it looks like the artwork in /Holy Terror/ is less cartoony than the artwork in /The Dark Knight Strikes Again/. That’s good.

    I liked how his artwork went back to a more realistic, /Sin City/-like style in the short story he did in /Dark Horse Presents/ #1. Maybe black and white is Frank Miller’s best medium.

  6. DMG says:

    "Miller is arguably the most important comic book artist of the last three decades"? In his own absurd fantasies, maybe. Twenty years ago, he might have had a legitimate claim to be one of the most important creators at that time, but he dropped the ball a long time ago.

  7. Sophie says:

    Frank Miller thinks the Arabs are an inferior culture because they didn't invent microphones (I'm paraphrasing, but it's not that far off actually – look it up). I think someone said it best in the comments. It's best to take what FM as escapism. However, he himself seems to think he's some modern cutting edge political commenter a la George Orwell by his last quote up there.

    It's like the neo-cons decided to make graphic novels. I'm sure DC Comics told him there was no way he was going to drag Batman into the middle of this political BS.

    • AJA says:

      I remember the quote. It is quite ignorant since Arab culture gave the world Algebra (Does it look like an Arabic word to anyone, if not put a dash between Al and Gebra) and many of the slaves that eventually came up with Blues (One of the few purely American art forms) were Muslims. I think that Frank Miller is just blind to the Arab culture because of 9/11. Personally, I can't wait to read this, even though I'll probably be offended by some of the things.

      • Ruben says:

        You_ are_ so_ full _of_ crap.

      • AJA says:

        What do you mean?

      • AJA says:

        Both of those things my college history teacher told me. He spent sixteen years in college and was a blues musician on the side. I trusted him enough not to look up the information. Just looked it up and while the Arabs didn't invent/create Algebra, they developed it(the word comes from an Arabic word meaning restoration). The part about black slaves was explained by saying that the slaves sang and walked counterclockwise around a fire(not remembering if it was a fire) and that they called it a shawt. In Islam, a shawt is one time around the Kaabah, while Muslims need to go seven times around. I looked around google but can't find where my teacher knew the information of the slaves. But, he was more interested in the Blues than I was, so I don't doubt his information. He probably read it in a book about Blues or something like that. He was a pretty intelligent man. I don't see the need for you to say I'm full of crap. I don't see where it gets anyone lying about something like this.

      • j.Bickford says:

        further more… In 1952, the record collector Harry Smith released “Anthology of American Folk Music,” a highly regarded compilation (and, later, a source for Bob Dylan), which showed that white “country” performers and black “blues” artists had recorded similar material in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, singing about common legends, such as “Stackalee,” over similar chord progressions. Even the call-and-response singing that is integral to many African-American church services may have been brought to America by illiterate Scottish immigrants who learned Scripture by singing it back to the pastor as he read it to them.

      • J.Bickford says:

        As a fan of both truth and music history I had to call you out here-
        In the case of many popular genres, the respective contributions of white and black musical traditions are nearly impossible to measure. In the nineteen-twenties, folk music was being recorded for the first time, and it was not always clear where the songs—passed from generation to generation and place to place—had come from. The cadence of African slave hollers shaped the rising and falling patterns of blues singing, but there is still debate about the origins of the genre’s basic chord structure—I-IV-V—and how that progression became associated with a singing style on plantations and in Southern prisons.

  8. joe35 says:

    I'm glad this is finally coming out, but I wished it had stayed a Batman title. I just really wanted to see Batman kicking terrorist ass.

  9. Stoze says:

    I'm just glad he took Batman out of this crap. We'll always owe Miller for "The Dark Knight Returns", but outside of that the guy's a total !@#*!#******.
    Most real world problems can't be punched. His understanding of 9/11 and "terrorism" is akin to his understanding of quantum physics.
    I don't remember who but there was some dude who said: "Everyone's always talking about how to stop terrorism. Well, there'e a really easy way. Stop taking part in it."

  10. Jef says:

    This must really upset the lefty intellectual crowd. A man as smart and creative as Miller showing the Carter/Obama set how wrong they are about everything.

  11. Sean says:

    The "Carter/Obama set"? Ohhhkay…Let's not forget Frank Miller had plenty to say about Ronald Reagan in Dark Knight Returns. He's mocked both liberals and conservatives in his work; he calls them like he sees them.

    By the way, Xerxes from Dark Horse looks pretty good. It's actually a prequel to 300 rather than a sequel and seems to focus more on the Athenian role in the Persian Wars, in the days when Darius, Xerxes's father, was the Persian ruler.

  12. Janet Napolitano says:

    unless Miller is going to show Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the other NeoCons of PNAC/CFR getting throttled, I have no interest in this.

  13. kingmarc says:

    Frank Miller is another victim of the 9/11 attacks, he writes jigoistic garbage now – look how fast Martha Washington turned to crap!

  14. J.Bickford says:

    Miller's never really impressed me as a writer, it's always been the style. Now so more than ever. I used to be his biggest fan in late eighties/early nineties, now I cannot stand his bandwagon cult fans. ugghh.

  15. Dan says:

    Frank Miller hasn't been the most important/influential/whatever since 1986 when Dark Knight Returns ended. Since then, he's been just another used-to-be. Sin City was a successful indy during a boom when EVERYTHING was selling gangbusters. It propably wouldn't sell squat today.

    What Miller built his career on was to fall back on the styles and interpretations of the past. His Daredevil seemed innovative, but largely borrowed from Will Eisner. His Dark Knight was simply a revisit of the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams run 15 years before. His writing was directly derived from the pulps. Not that that's bad, but it's not like he invented some new kind of vision.

    Ever since Sin City, Miller has been off the deep end in fascist thuggery. In Miller's mind, the Punisher is a pansy. His heroes are psychopaths. Blood thirsty slaughterers who justify their slaughter by killing criminals. But they only look heroic in juxtaposition to their victims. When viewed on their own merits, they aren't much different. Which is why his comparison to Captain America is so very wrong and offensive. Captain America never used Red Skull's tactics to beat him. Cap did not sink to that level. Miller revels in that level. It's as if he enjoys the bloodiness just as much as his villains.

    None of Jack Kirby's heroes sank to the level of his villains. And that is why Miller will NEVER be comparable to anything related to the great Jack Kirby.

  16. artprimedlm says:

    I absolutely love Frank Miller's Sin City; both book and movie; best ever in the style of sharp black-white colors;
    Look forward to see full size movie of "Holy Terror", great piece of Art.
    Some of above comments put grades and compare Frank Miller with other comics artist, these comments smell by political engagement of writers. I put both "Holy Terror" and "300" as best in expression power in our modern art.

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