By John Restuccia
More and more today we see musicians, artists, and entertainers shouting out ideas that we ourselves do not agree with. Some of these in fact we may find downright offensive. Take an example on the left. After Kanye West came out in support of Donald Trump, many of his fans felt betrayed by him, saying they were unable to listen to his music now due to the opinions he was voicing and statements he made. Kanye West’s music didn’t change at all except for him releasing one pro-Trump song. He’s still the critically acclaimed artist he was once; he’s still heralded as a rap genius with classic albums but many cannot support any of his work anymore, from his old to his new due to his personal opinions. An example on the right would be with Saturday Night Live. Despite the fact that SNL has always critiqued politics, more and more conservatives are refusing to watch any SNL, even the skits done years prior, because of the abundantly clear anti-Trump rhetoric from staff writers working on the show. This brings up the question: can one still like the content of an artist even if their values and opinions don’t line up with one’s own? This is a question that many people have different answers on, which is great. There is no right answer to this question. However, I will discuss my own standard of viewing art with the perfect example of the famous comic book writer, inker, penciler, and director Frank Miller.
For those people who are not avid comic book fans, Frank Miller is a legend among the community. He has written some of the grittiest, realistic takes in the superhero genre with some fantastic characters and dialogue. He created Sin City, one of the best noir comic books to date, with beautifully dark art and a grim dark story that never crossed the line of edgy and gritty realness. He worked on Marvel Comics’ Daredevil, giving life to the character with what is considered the greatest run of comics the Marvel hero has ever had. The Man Without Fear is, in my opinion, the greatest Daredevil story ever told and is essential to anyone wanting to read Daredevil. The writing is master-class, with gorgeous inking by Al Williamson, a legend and master of his craft, and John Romita Jr., a comic book heavyweight who did some of the greatest comic book art to grace the pages of paper. Miller also wrote what I consider to be his magnum opus, The Dark Knight Returns. The Dark Knight Returns is considered by many, including myself, to be the greatest Batman story ever told. I reread it every few months because of how amazing the story, characters, and the setting are. If you are a Batman fan and haven’t read this, go out and read it now. This story single-handedly reinvited the tone and setting for comic books on a mainstream character along with Watchmen that came out the same year. This was a industry changing book. So as you can see, I love a lot of Frank Miller’s work. I could sing the praises of his Daredevil run or his Dark Knight Returns for days on end.
Despite these amazing achievements, Frank Miller has had a number of blunders that I see as giant missteps and even some problematic work. When I first started reading comic books at the age of 11, All-Star Batman & Robin was my first introduction to Frank Miller and boy, that was an awful way to start out. To me All-Star Batman & Robin is the perfect example for my problems with Frank Miller. The series is garbage, mostly because of Frank Miller’s dialogue. There are some redeeming qualities in the book, such as the art and covers of the books, mostly from comic artist Jim Lee. Still, I could make a long list of the worst moments in the series. Some very “memorable” scenes include Batman calling Robin “retarded” (offensive and completely out of character for Batman). Another is when he locks Robin in the Batcave, who by the way is 12 years old, and makes him eat rats. This is regarded as one of the worst Frank Miller runs of all time as well as one of the worst Batman stories ever told. However, that pales in comparison to what is considered to be the worst Frank Miller work ever created, Holy Terror.
Holy Terror, for those who don’t know, was created and written by Frank Miller as a homage to propaganda comics created during what most call the Golden Age of comics (ranging from the 1930s to early 1950s). This period is called the Golden Age due to comics developing into the modern comic book. The propaganda comics during this time were created to bolster morale during World War 2, similar to the propaganda films featuring Disney characters fighting Nazis. These comics are a product of their times, featuring racial stereotypes of the Axis Powers. This is a controversial part of our history and for me is something that should be viewed as a product of its times, a time capsule to our past whose stereotypes should not be taken seriously at all. As you can guess, these propaganda comics are very controversial today so a homage to these pieces would have to be done with the utmost respect and understanding of the works. Frank Miller, however did not do this. It was quite the opposite, actually. He wrote one of the most vulgar, offensive graphic novels of all time.
Originally the book was supposed to be a Batman story but DC Comics said no due to the story not being “well fit” for Batman. (AKA they knew how bad this story is.) This becomes my first complaint with the book: one can clearly see each character as shells of their Batman counterparts. The Fixer is obviously Batman, the Cat Burglar is obviously Catwoman, and the Commissioner is obviously Commissioner Gordon. Instead of doing characters that are original for the story each is a dollar store rip off of their counterparts, coming off as extremely unoriginal. My second big problem is the art. Everything is in Black and White, similar to how Sin City was done, but instead of using some color for highlights like in Sin City, Holy Terror does the art in complete black and white, which makes some of Frank Miller’s great artwork muddled as well as confusing. The main problem, however, is with the main story. The story is about a character named the Fixer having to beat up, kill, and torture terrorists as they attack his city. The terrorists are racial stereotypes of Muslims everywhere. The Fixer at one point “jokingly” (I use that term loosely) assumes that a Muslim terrorists name is Muhammad because, according to the Fixer, most Muslims have the name Muhammad. Firstly, this makes no sense. Secondly, I cannot put into words how offensive that scene is. The words speak for themselves. The book is full of scenes like this that make you cringe intensely. This book was a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which is obvious, but misses the mark completely. Instead of being a touching story of the heroes who died that way or a story of how Muslims were treated after 9/11, the work became a offensive piece, that shows the fear around the 9/11 terror attacks.
That is how I see this book and how I seperate art from the artist. For me I view offensive content in art as a time capsule as well as a warning. Things we find offensive today could be a look to the past which can lead to good questions and lessons. Why did they say or produce these offensive materials? What can we do so this isn’t repeated? Some art, however, I see as offensive for just being offensive which is something they have every right to produce. For me I just avoid it and voice my opinion on the work RESPECTFULLY. I don’t tweet about it or scream about it online or protest it. I try to have a conversation to gather other opinions and maybe form a new one. Cliche, yes, but fair in my eyes. Art of all kind is supposed to provoke and give thought. Good art creates conversation and Frank Miller’s work does that for me despite how much I oppose some of his work. Frank Miller is, to me, still producing content that I love and sometimes I feel people get caught up too much in the new content and don’t realize that the things you once loved are still there. The old Kanye albums are still there. The old SNL skits can still be seen without any politics. The Frank Miller works I loved are still available to read. I may not like his newer works as much but I will still continue to read his new work to see where he goes with it. I’m eagerly await Superman Year One, a story he has been working on that I can’t wait to read.