Good Morning, Mister Miller
I absolutely have no hesitation whenever I say that Frank Miller is one of the most pivotal creators in all of comics. Or, at least he’s left an indelible mark on mainstream comics from the United States of America, although whether it’s a good or bad one is entirely up to you. I, however, feel strongly about the man belonging to the former.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: how could an insignificant speck in the vast sweaty nerd kingdom of comics even have the slightest idea as blasphemous as saying that Frank Miller being a bad influence on comics? Well, the long and short of it is that the guy is partly responsible (along with luminaries such as Neal Adams and Chris Claremont, among others) for opening the floodgates to mature storytelling, which would be grossly misinterpreted by the extreme era of 90s mainstream comics. Then again, it’s not Frank’s, or his contemporaries’, fault that their successors will end up thinking that “mature” is equivalent to “needlessly grim and gritty,” so I may have to retract that earlier statement. But if we’re being completely fair, they did set things in motion. Regardless, though, I am always in awe of Frank Miller’s work, even his latter output that’s been nearly universally panned by critics.
You see, when I look at Frank Miller as a creator, I always end up divvying him up into three categories where you’re looking at the man as an artist, a writer, or both – which is rare nowadays, if I might add. And this is perhaps why I always find something great in his work: there’s always that redeeming quality to them. Simply put, he could fail at one of those categories at any given time, but he never can fail at them simultaneously.
Here’s a perfect example for you: some years ago, Frank Miller repurposed a scrapped Batman graphic novel he was doing and turned into the now much derided book entitled “Holy Terror”. Now, this book was downright slammed by readers and critics alike, mainly for its rather anti-Muslim overtones. But I would be lying if I didn’t say it had some real stellar artwork. Again, I’m just praising its artwork, not the story, so ride your high horse somewhere else.
Looking at the man solely as an artist, I don’t think I’d have to say anything more. Just look at his catalogue from the 80s from superhero geek bible The Dark Knight Returns right down to perhaps one of his greatest achievements in visual storytelling, Ronin. And come on, Sin City? It’s a Clinique in black and white comic art. And you might have heard some news about that cover he did of Superman for DKIII, but that simply means you’re not looking deep enough: it’s a case of capturing the character and not just pandering to audiences.
All in all, Frank Miller more often than not succeeds in his efforts. And if you think otherwise, that his missteps bar him from being one of the greats or, god forbid, he’s not at his prime anymore, then you have some very unrealistic standards right there.