Frank Miller - "Holy Terror" [Book Review - Clay N. Ferno of LeaguePodcast]

As a followup to my previous post, I received Holy Terror in the mail this morning. Here is my review.

Frank Miller’s most recent, and somewhat anticipated Holy Terror surprised me with its form factor immediately. Landscape comics are decidedly uncommon, but a clever way to have books stick out on the shelf. Miller has been working on this conceptually since 9/11. Partly a tribute to the Cap punching Hitler days, this work pits a superhero against a real world terrorist threat. Unfortunately, the master cartoonist, storyteller, and artist has missed the target.

Storytelling was awkward, abstractions were obtuse, and politically the story was tough to swallow. Also, make no mistake, this is a Batman story. Co-starring Catwoman. And Jim Gordon. Originally slated for a pre-relaunch “Dark Knight Returns” continuity DC Comics release entitled “Holy Terror, Batman”, we miss out on all of the good stuff in this release from Legendary Comics. 


Legendary Comics is a subsidiary of Legendary Pictures. The studio dropping such great comic book movies from directors Nolan, Snyder, & Singer drops Holy Terror as its inaugural title. Safe bet there, with Miller being a true master of the genre. We look forward to books from other Batman creators Paul Pope (Batman Year 100), Matt Wagner and Simon Bisley. Editor-in-Chief Bob Schreck was installed in late 2010.  The personable Schreck is perfect for the job with over 30 years in comics. As a writer and editor he’s worked at Dark Horse, Oni Press, DC, and most recently at IDW. Will Legendary be the new ‘boutique’ publisher for high-end graphic novels and creator owned work? That answer has yet to reveal itself, with only three titles announced. 


All the pretending and dancing around that this is not a Batman book is most certainly a copyright and intellectual property issue, and not the truth.  DC Comics would never back this up. Seventy years of establishing this important Bat-brand, only to be sullied by an attention grabbing pro-American graphic novel would not be good business. I estimate The Fixer to be sitting comfortably in the timeline of Bruce after his retirement, and roughly five years before putting the cowl back on in Dark Night Returns


There’s minimal dialogue, and no lettering credit. It’s safe to assume Miller lettered the book himself. Cool lettering and sound effects, too. His voice and his penstrokes are definitive. I’d love to watch him ink a page of rain coming down on a character! Ever since Sin City I’ve been in awe of his black and white Sumi-e brush strokes, the balance of the page, his chunky flat spotted blacks, wide eyes, and dynamic action. Dave Stewart provides masterful, well-directed, minimalist coloring (with a palette of no more than three colors).

I’ll drool over Frank Miller’s art any time, but this was more late-period Sin City than it was of earlier works of personal favorite cross hatch inkgasm, Ronin


The biggest failure here is that the work is painfully aware of itself. This is a comic book. There are comic book tropes such as callbacks to other Miller comics, and a rather awesome play on the nine panel grid structure. Is this book for comic book fans or the general public? I had trouble figuring that out, and still have no answer.

The Fixer is murderously acting out a revenge fantasy that most Americans dreamed of post our nation’s greatest tragedy (and many still do). Is there much of an audience for that, even ten years on? Or have we all grown from those feelings, focused on our families, regretted our wars, and decided to live our lives? I have buyer’s remorse after reading this. I feel like this was a cash grab from both fans of Frank Miller and from über-Patriots who would read abour this book in USA Today and relive a hatred never to be forgotten. 

The story was compelling, but not surprising. I had known the plot from the original title, and internet rumors. The location change to  Al-Queda’s Subterranea parallel was interesting, but by that point I was just wanting the whole thing to be over. I kept struggling to imagine that this was a young independent creator, speaking volumes on our social troubles. But this book was not the product of that. I was reading the work of an elder statesman of comicdoms’ elite who had nothing to say that wasn’t hateful, short-sighted, and frankly a bit empty. 


Is Miller’s intention of this book being “bound to offend just about everybody” justified? By that, am I to be offended and just walk away feeling offended and say he did his job? That would be irresponsible and dishonest. Since when are critics to listen to an artist’s intention? The public is to digest and make their own opinions on ‘the work’. My strong relationship with Ronin and Dark Knight Returns are based on my formative years as a comic book fan wanting to read more of Miller’s work, and emulate it. Now I’ve got sour grapes because he’s telling me how to react to it. No way dude. You put out Dark Knight and I heard about it in 1987 because it was an amazing story. Not because you said it was. I’m not detecting an homage to old comics or irony at all in Holy Terror. Why is that, Frank? Hey, I stuck with you through that Spirit movie…is this how you’re going to leave us?

I’ll remain a Frank Miller fan, and I’ll be cuious as to what he comes up with for a next move. I’d love to see an apology, an explaination, or for Miller to go back to making great films and comics. I stand by Sin City as being as close to perfect a translation of comic book page to film as you can get. Hate speech, hate actions, hate anything will keep me away for good. If we continue to get more of this, you can be sure I’ll stay far from it.