Frank Miller’s ‘Holy Terror’ leaves Gotham: ‘I’ve taken Batman as far as he can go’

July 29, 2010 | 3:18 p.m.

Frank Miller

For years, Frank Miller spoke of a Gotham City graphic novel that would be like no other — for the 120 bone-crunching pages of “Holy Terror, Batman!” Miller — arguably the most important comic book artist of the last 30 years — envisioned a story in which the Caped Crusader went on a blood quest against Al Qaeda.

Earlier this week, sitting over coffee at the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego, Miller said the elusive project is finally close to completion but that the name and central character have changed and that DC Comics won’t be the publisher. Miller frames all of this as a decision that was driven by the work itself and not dictated by a DC leadership that, according to insiders, has long been leery of the politically charged concept.

Frank Miller Dark Knight “It’s almost done; I should be finished within a month,” Miller said. “It’s no longer a DC book. I decided partway through it that it was not a Batman story. The hero is much closer to ‘Dirty Harry’ than Batman. It’s a new hero that I’ve made up that fights Al Qaeda.”

Miller, best known as the writer and artist of The Dark Knight Returns,” 300 and Sin City,” said the story will be set in a place called Empire City that, as the name suggests, evokes New York. The landscape and people are fictional but the real-life Al Qaeda will be transferred to this universe with its name, history and mission intact.

The book’s title will be shortened to “Holy Terror.” And what of the protagonist?

“The character is called The Fixer and he’s very much an adventurer who’s been essentially searching for a mission,” Miller said. “He’s been trained as special ops and when his city is attacked all of a sudden all the pieces fall into place and all this training comes into play. He’s been out there fighting crime without really having his heart in it — he does it to keep in shape. He’s very different than Batman in that he’s not a tortured soul. He’s a much more well-adjusted creature even though he happens to shoot 100 people in the course of the story.”

In the 1980s, Miller was permitted to take the iconic Batman character through an unprecedented reinvention with “The Dark Knight Returns,” which showed the embittered hero in his twilight years when Gotham has collapsed into near-anarchy and the Caped Crusader finds himself being hunted down by Superman and engaging the Joker in a battle to the death. “The Dark Knight Returns” became a publishing sensation and, along with “Watchmen,” ushered in a new era of ambition in the comic book medium that led directly to the contemporary boom in superhero cinema.

Despite that history, DC executives were reportedly leery of Miller’s plan to drop their globally recognized property inside an Al Qaeda vendetta fantasy. Miller, though, says he is the one who decided to leave the familiar hero in the Batcave for this particular mission.

Frank Miller Sept 11“I had a talk with [former DC president and publisher] Paul Levitz and I said, ‘Look, this isn’t your Batman,'” Miller said. “I pushed Batman as far as he can go and after a while he stops being Batman. My guy carries a couple of guns and is up against an existential threat. He’s not just up against a goofy villain. Ignoring an enemy that’s committed to our annihilation is kind of silly, It just seems that chasing the Riddler around seems silly compared to what’s going on out there. I’ve taken Batman as far as he can go.”

Miller said he will complete the book before he signs with a publisher. “I’m talking to a number of people,” says Miller, who has often worked with Dark Horse Comics in the past. Miller said the book will come out “next year, certainly,” and he likes the idea of a hardcover, horizontal format, not unlike the Dark Horse deluxe version of the Spartan epic “300.”

Miller became part of the Hollywood boom in superhero and comics adaptations as the director of “The Spirit” and the co-director (with Robert Rodriguez) of “Sin City.” Miller is working right now on a 12-part Dark Horse comics series entitled “Xerxes,” which returns to the battlefields of “300,” another illustrated adventure that will likely stir political debate. Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, who wrote the screenplay for the 2007 hit film ($456 million in worldwide box office), are already at work on a script for a film adaptation and Snyder will almost certainly direct it, although a final deal with Warner Bros. is not in place.

“Holy Terror” has been a long journey, but Miller said he views it as a project that has arrived at its final destination right on time, creatively speaking.

“It began as my reaction to 9/11 and it was an extremely angry piece of work and as the years have passed by I’ve done movies and I’ve done other things and time has provided some good distance, so it becomes more of a cohesive story as it progresses,” Miller said. “The Fixer has also become his own character in a way I’ve really enjoyed. No one will read this and think, ‘Where’s Batman?‘”

– Geoff Boucher

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Photos, from top: Frank Miller in 2008. (Credit: Robert Durrell / Los Angeles Times); Miller’s version of Batman (DC Comics); a post-9/11 illustration by Miller (Frank Miller); an early look at “Xerses” image (Frank Miller/Dark Horse Comics).


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Comments


23 Responses to Frank Miller’s ‘Holy Terror’ leaves Gotham: ‘I’ve taken Batman as far as he can go’

  1. Can't wait to see the enemy get it, Miller style.

  2. Fleiter says:

    Isn't it insane that DC would be against fighting al-Qaeda? Political correctness will be the death of us all.

  3. Rusty says:

    I'm so happy that an artist as smart, gifted and talented as Frank Miller is tackling this project. I respect the left/socialist-leaning L.A. Times for even doing a story on this. I grew up reading Miller and he is an incredible talent in the genre.

  4. Steve the Creep says:

    Fleiter, I don't think it's so much about Political Correctness as much as appropriateness. Al-Qaeda is a real world threat. Batman, though I love the character, is a fictional man who dresses up in a costume to fight other people who dress up in costumes. An adolescent fantasy.
    I know that Captian America, Superman, and other comic heroes fought Hitler and the Nazis during WWII, but this is a different kind of war, and pop culture propoganda seems inappropriate.

  5. Then you'll love my stuff, Steve.

  6. Then you'll love my stuff, "Steve the Creep"

  7. Brett says:

    Miller's writing and artistic style have devolved so much over the years that I find myself glad that this al-Quaeda nonsense doesn't involve Batman. "Dark Knight Returns" was a classic, but every Batman story he's written since has been poorly plotted and heavily laden with ridiculous and inappropriate dialogue. His artwork on the "Dark Knight Returns" sequel, which I'm sure he likes to think of as "stylized," came off as either incredibly lazy or the doodlings of a 6 year old. While I enjoyed "Sin City" both in graphic and cinematic formats, his effort to remake Eisner's "The Spirit" as a cartoon in the "Sin City" style was practically the equivalent of spitting in Will Eisner's face.

  8. Nathan says:

    It is amazing that we had to wait a decade since 9-11 for a comic book that has Al Qaeda as the enemy. Perhaps there are some independent comics that have done so, but I am an avid collector and haven't seen it once. I am so tired of seeing the white Eastern European surrogates (guess the Slavs don't have PR agents as good as Al Qaeda) and, of course, the endless "America is the real enemy" books.
    The comic industry has found it appropriate to do anything they can think of to demonize American corporations, government, military, religion, and essentially anyone who would disagree with the American left.
    As such, I think it is more than appropriate for Batman or even (gasp!) Captain America – to fight the one real enemy that has vowed to destroy us.
    Bravo Frank Miller. I just hope you can survive the onslaught once the leftist media turns on you. They think you are one of them now (and you are on so many levels — i.e. the ones that matter). But once they see what you actually are fighting Al Qaeda, don't expect outfits like the L.A. Times to continue printing objective pieces like this one.

  9. midnightz says:

    Ooh; a reactionary story based on a one-sided propaganda war! Miller, if you really want to commentate then how about doing some research on the other side of the story? 9/11 happens pretty much every year in American-led campaigns. Now do a story on that.

  10. orangeworld3 says:

    I wonder what you all would think of my online comic book ORANGE PEEL 3. It doesn't follow the rules of the industry either. If you want to be creatively free, you gotta go independent.

  11. […] The content got too extreme, and a brand new superhero popped into my head." Later in the year, he explained that Batman had been replaced in it by a new character called The Fixer, and that it wouldn't be […]

  12. Ali_Almezal says:

    Bin Laden's dead. How is this book going to happen now.

  13. IRS Attorney says:

    I am against these tax cuts that the Canadian government is giving to the corporatocracy. They need to pay their fair share of what it takes to make a society work. Roads, Schools, hospitals, public utilities and the cost of raising the next generation of workers. I would not allow them to sell one product in the country if this is how they want to operate. Patriotism it seems is a sucker’s game used con our youth to serve as cannon fodder abroad or prisoners at home-all in the service of capitalism. Competition is NOT what has allowed us to evolve as a species-adaptation and cooperation are the cornerstones of civilization. It is about time we stopped listening to this garbage about the “free enterprise” system. It has nothing to do with democracy or freedom and everything to do with wage slavery crimes against humanity and the outright destruction of mother earth. The lies about our system of production have been repeated so often for so long that they have become true-not materially but ideologically and have in turn become a material force in that it keeps people bound up into a system that is diametrically opposed to their own interests. Many other countries in the world have experienced the ugly underbelly of capitalism that has has come to hit home in American-it is a sy stem that has long overstayed its welcome in the history of humankind-if this sounds like rhetoric of old well so be it. At 56 years of age I have witnessed the complete destruction of our values reduced our citizens to mothing more than a commodity whose only worth is what their labour power can bring them in the marketplace. Time after time we describe the other as less than-a good look in the mirror will tell us that the other is exactly what we have become-less than human indeed barbaric. Socialism is the only system that can recind this history as it is the only system that takes capitalism head on. From South America to Norway people know better-you will learn the easy way or the hard way but Americans will learn and that time is fast approaching. The sooner the better.Yours,RR

  14. […] character’s essential identity? And at what point is a character different enough to deserve its own title rather than simply being yet another in a long line of […]

  15. […] spoke about the project in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last […]

  16. […] City has been a primary part of the Batman mythology. Frank Miller has referred to Gotham City as New York City after dark, which makes sense considering that Gotham had already been a well-known nickname for the city […]

  17. […] City has been a primary part of the Batman mythology. Frank Miller has referred to Gotham City as New York City after dark, which makes sense considering that Gotham had already been a well-known nickname for the city […]

  18. […] City has been a primary part of the Batman mythology. Frank Miller has referred to Gotham City as New York City after dark, which makes sense considering that Gotham had already been a well-known nickname for the city […]

  19. sophie says:

    Riiiight. DC was not gung ho about this and it's Miller who decided to walk away? Nice spin dude. This sounds like Fox News in comics. No thanks.

  20. dan says:

    Sorry, Boucher, but you got it wrong. Miller did NOT put Batman through an "unprecedented reinvention." Miller was simply a continuation of what Neal Adams started 15 years before (in Brave and the Bold). And Adams's portrayal of Batman as dark was continuing what Bob Kane originally did in the late 1930s (but strayed into camp in the 50s and 60s).

    And while Dark Knight Returns was a good series, Miller simply brought to DC what he was doing at Marvel with Daredevil. Now THAT was an unprecedented reinvention of a character.

    Plus, Miller stopped being so important in the 1990s. Sin City was good for what it was, but Miller was out of touch with the industry soon after. By 2001, Miller had gone off the deep end into righwing extremism and is now more of a crank than an influence.

    • Geoff Boucher says:

      Thanks for the comments Dan…believe me I’m well aware of the work of Neal Adams. In fact he wrote a piece for Hero Complex just the other day (http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2012/07/18/dark-knight-rises-a-guest-review-by-neal-adams/) and, well, look at the first sentence I chose for the story I wrote about Neal when I met him in 2008 (http://herocomplex.latimes.com/2008/07/26/neal-adams-on-t/).

      Neal’s Batman is the Batman I have the most emotional attachment with and certainly it took the character in the direction you say. But that doesn’t make Miller’s “DKR” any less of a landmark and moment of reinvention. In storytelling, visual, tone, and general audacity and visual statement, “DKR” was a thunderclap — no DC or Marvel release had ever been presented an icon-level character in a story that took so many chances. Whatever Miller did (or didn’t do) after “DKR” has nothing to do with the impact of that one moment. I adore Miller’s “Daredevil” run and I consider it one of the 3 or 4 best runs of any series ever (I’d put it up there with Moore’s “Swamp Thing,” Lee-Ditko’s “Spider-Man,” Gaiman’s “Sandman,” Byrne’s “Fantastic Four,” etc) but think about the difference between his Daredevil and Gene Colan’s DD. Then think about the difference between “DKR” and, say, Jim Aparo’s Batman and the Outsiders.

      Miller created a whole new future for the character, took the Superman-Batman relationship to totally new place, adding new core imagery to the Wayne murder, and an air of self-destruction and rage to the Bruce Wayne character. It changed the way the character could be (and would be) portrayed. Some of that innovation is harder to see now because it has been echoed again and again in Batman interpretations not just in comics but in animation and the Nolan films.

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