Episode 143, “Honor”

Wolverine #4, December 1982
Written by Chris Claremont, Pencils by Frank Miller, Inks by Josef Rubinstein, Lettered by Tom Orzechowski, Colors by Lynn Varley, Edited by Louise Jones, Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter.

Holy Xenophobia, Miller!

In Which We Learn That When You Care To Send The Very Best Send A Bloody Ninja Hood, That Yukio Shares The Same Weakness For Netting As Crustaceans, And That Mariko Should Have Skipped Out On Lord Shingen’s “Take Your Daughter To Work Day!”

Places not to be sword stabbed, in order of brutality: love handles, soft faces, neck ties, and finally neck ties that are metaphorically not neck ties at all, if you know what I mean.

In 2001, Frank Miller returned to the world of his paradigm shifting masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns, with the hotly anticipated The Dark Knight Strikes Again. However, Miller’s art style had changed a lot in the intervening 15 years, becoming less naturalistic and more cartoony. Combined with the Varley’s garish digital color, more shocking sexualization, an increase in splash pages, and less seeming effort placed into layout and panel flow, the critical response was overwhelmingly disappointed. Frank Miller’s intent, however, had been to do something very different than TKDR, a fun poke at superhero comics while “celebrat[ing] their delicious absurdity.”

The tragedy of 9-11 hit Frank Miller very hard and clearly altered the final issue of DK2. Gone was the fun romp of the previous two issues, replaced by scenes of twisted metal and heroes standing in clouds of ash and filth, all starkly reminiscent of the remains of the Twin Towers and Ground Zero.

This Metropolis skyline immediately evokes the images of New York City from September 11. Lynn Varley talks about how everyone in New York was a walking case of post-traumatic stress disorder, but that while most got better, Frank Miller did not. It permeated this issue of DK2, seemingly infecting its macabre Robin/Joker ending with extra venom and anger. For the next decade, this would become a pattern for Frank Miller. Trauma of destruction of the trade towers coming out as anger and viciousness in his comic works.

In 2005, Miller returned to Batman again, this time as part of DC’s All Star series, where they attempted to team up legendary writers and artists on stories told out of mainstream continuity. Miller teamed up with Jim Lee on All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, a book that retold the origin of Robin. By issue 2, it became immediately apparent that this was a new Batman, generally known as the “Goddamn Batman” after Miller’s Batman began repeatedly referring to himself that way.

The Goddamned Batman was particularly vicious, cruel, sadistic, and downright crazy, cackling with glee as he did things like barrel through squads of police cars. This new comic seemed to enjoy shocking just for shock value alone, like one scene where The Joker strangles a barely clad woman to death before sauntering off to the salute of a topless Nazi woman with swastikas covering her breasts. The story also endlessly meandered, introducing new characters without any closure on the old ones. Perhaps Miller had a larger plan, but the publication delays (only 10 issues over 3.5 years) eventually drove DC to shelve the project.

In the meantime, Frank Miller was working on a Batman vs. Terrorists project, called Holy Terror, Batman. Eventually, Frank Miller came to see that what he wanted to do — an anti-Islamic piece of propaganda — could not be done within the confines of DC’s Batman and he changed the hero to The Fixer and published the work as just Holy Terror in 2011. The comic makes it clear Miller is still working through his 9-11 trauma, with some really artful and moving scenes of nailed-filled terrorist attacks and fading victims.

It is also equally clear that Frank Miller is working though some extreme hatred and need for revenge, essentially targeting all of Islam with his ire. A typical example is this scene portrayed above, where he tortures a Muslim man while mocking the name Mohammed. The comic world was shocked and horrified, with this comment from Spencer Ackerman of Wired being representative: “[Miller’s Holy Terror was] one of the most appalling, offensive and vindictive comics of all time… “

The next time we see comic work from Frank Miller is 2015, with his third return to the world of the Dark Knight. Publicly, Miller is apologetic of his behavior over the past decade or so, intimating that he had some personal demons (and likely some substance abuse) to work through. Dark Knight III: The Master Race is different in many ways from his last go around. He collaborates with both another artist, Andy Kubert, and another writer, Brian Azzarello. Lynn Varley is gone (they split up in 2006). Instead of trying to shake up the entire genre, this time Miller is just trying to tell a story. There is also an innovative mini-comic within the comic, that Miller uses to tell smaller tales taking place at the same time. While not breaking any new ground, as TDKR did, it at least delivers a coherent, visually appealing story (as opposed to DK2). Most importantly, it seems to signal that Miller has finally gotten past some of his demons and is ready to get back to making comics.

Do you think I should take something for these varicose veins?
Wolverine prided himself on how fast he could tip a baggage handler.
Nope, I can’t fit any more phalluses on this page.
Mariko was distraught, but even the Queen of England envied her hat.
My chiropractor is a bit rough, but man do I feel better after.
Red – the blood of angry men!
Blue – the dark of ages past!
Green – Hand corpses on your lawn!
Blue- the ninjas that end at last!
Aaiiiiii, don’t come at me with those torpedos.
Am I worthy or am I Spidey?
Be sure to wash your hands after grabbing a stranger’s kitana, otherwise you risk catching pink eye.

Hirohito may have overseen the transition of Japan from militaristic colonial empire to modern, democratic nation state, but he apparently missed the fact that you can’t RSVP for an event when the invitation contains neither location, date, nor time!

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