3 Formative Works: 300

August 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s 300 was probably the first comic that I really dug into and absorbed. I’d read and reread several comics before, most notably a couple of Akira softcovers I’d inherited (remember those? I ended up trading for a few) and the last chapter of Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, but I’d never really dug into them. Comics blogging didn’t exist when I was a kid, all we did was talk about how cool it was that people had guns and argue over how many copies of Brigade 1 X-Men 25 was worth.

But 300–I picked it up because I recognized Miller’s name, and didn’t care that it was in Spanish because the art was dope. Poring over it and rereading it actually helped me learn Spanish, and I ended up quizzing my teacher over words I didn’t know. “Hace apenas un año,” a caption early in the book, threw me off at first, for example, but once I got it, other words and phrases began to fall into place.

I read and reread 300. I absorbed it, and that’s corny, but really the only way to put it. If you’ve ever fallen into a book like I fell into 300, you’ll understand.

What’s weird is that I’ve been writing about comics for the past five years, slowly getting better at critical analysis, and I’ve only ever written about 300 once, and that was as part of a review of the (in hindsight) crappy movie. Everything else, every other time I’ve mentioned it, has just been in passing, or relating the story above. I haven’t been avoiding it, but I haven’t exactly felt led to write about it, either.

It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. The last time Miller made a comic that wasn’t worth examining in detail was probably his early work on Daredevil. There’s always something to look at and pull apart, whether that thing is how Miller’s changed approach to superheroes intersected with 9/11 and brought Batman kicking and screaming into realpolitik or how 21st Century Frank Miller’s biggest enemy is 20th Century Frank Miller.

(Digression: Miller’s rep in the blogosphere has been boiled down to “WHORESWHORESWHORES” due to the fact that people can’t separate jokes from actual criticism/examination. The image of Miller as a leering, super-serious sexist monster only tracks if you’re ignorant of his body of work–the Martha Washington books, Hard Boiled, Ronin, etc. He’s got a wider range and better sense of humor than most people seem to give him credit for, though he can be awfully self-indulgent at the same time. What I’m saying, I guess, is step your game up, internet. This is basic stuff.)

I think part of it is that 300 is just a very straightforward book. I’m not saying it has no depth, but it isn’t tough to suss out what Miller’s playing with in the story. If you pull 300 apart, what you’re left with is Miller’s entire career. It’s not an end point, obviously, but it is something that he had to make at some point. Just look at the chapter titles: Honor, Duty, Glory, Combat, and Victory.

300 is everything. There’s the hard Dirty Harry morality, the strength tempered with love, quiet and graceful violence, ugly violence, brotherhood, casual male and female nudity, the rejection of cowardice, some obscenely good one-liners, self-sacrifice, corrupt politicians and priests, and hey, look, what’s that at the end of chapter 4?


Miller has said that he started Sin City because he wanted to draw manly men, sexy women, and old cars. Daredevil and Ronin had ninjas and samurai because Miller was into manga and martial arts flicks. Miller did covers for the First Comics editions of Lone Wolf & Cub, a series all about duty and honor and the proper application of violence. 300 has its roots in an old movie he saw as a kid. Frank Miller draws what he’s interested in at the time, and you can track those interests in his work. There’s even a 300 tease in the last chapter of The Big Fat Kill. This is clearly a story he’s been interested in forever.

While I don’t think I ever really consciously realized this while reading and rereading, 300 is where close reading began for me. I studied it closer than you usually study comics, due entirely to the fact that it was in another language. It’s not my favorite of his books, though I do like it a whole lot, but it’s kind of interesting to look back at it and everything I learned from it without being conscious of that education. I started picking up on his magic tricks (the last chapter goes first person as Leonidas surveys his enemies for a few pages, and then pulls out to show the full Spartan might) and tics (repetition of dialogue and captions for emphasis and pacing) and interests via, what, osmosis? By accident?

My relationship with 300 is weird. It never quite feels right to read it in English, the movie was several orders of magnitude less subtle than the book (“This is Sparta” was a sentence, not a scream), and the tone is strangely subdued in certain scenes. I think that, craft-wise, this is Miller’s strongest and tightest work, with very little fat worth trimming. It lacks the manic intensity of his more recent Batman work, but it also feels more grown-up. And the ending is dope–Leonidas simply saying “Stelios,” the leap that’s something of a callback to Stelios’s nickname “Stumblios,” all of it.

I’m glad I read it where and when I did.

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April 21st, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Booze, Broads, & Bullets was not going to be a week at first. It wasn’t going to have posts by other people, either. No, I had the great idea of reading Frank Miller’s entire collected body of work and doing a post on every single book over the period of– well, I don’t know how long. I know I own almost all of his trade paperbacks, save for things like Bad Boy and his ’80s charity/one-off stuff, and that’s like 19 or 23 books. At that point, writing that much over a short period of time, essentially doing with Tim Callahan did with Grant Morrison: The Early Years, would leave me dead, depressed, or worse. I think a book on Miller’s work like Tim’s book would be fantastic, but not writing it myself over a short period of time. So, instead, I drafted some friends, turned it into a week, and we went at it. Booze, Broads, & Bullets speaks for itself, I think. What you see is what you get. We had a team-up. You were great.

About three weeks before BB&B, I began the process of rereading every Miller book I owned. I put my already sizable to-read stack on pause, making occasional breaks particularly enticing new purchases, and breathed Frank Miller for a few weeks. At some point during this process, I think during the first week, Tucker Stone emailed me and told me that I absolutely had to read James Ellroy’s American Tabloid trilogy. I quote: “This was made for your brain.” He was right. Tucker is a guy who knows good books. He takes bad ones to task, yes, but when it comes to recommending books, Tucker doesn’t steer you wrong. And he didn’t this time, not even close.

My days were Frank Miller. Lunch breaks at work, that week I had to ride the bus because it was raining too hard to bike, and a bit of the evenings were dedicated to reading about hard men and harder women. That hour I usually spend in bed staring at the ceiling before I fall asleep was given over to James Ellroy, Kemper Boyd, Ward Littell, the Beard, and Jack Kennedy. I knocked out American Tabloid in two weeks, longer than I usually take for real books, and moved on to The Cold Six Thousand. I’m about halfway through it right now.

I’m addicted to Amazon. I’ve got Prime and I make an obscene number of orders a year. I made an order during BB&B, round about halfway through the week. I pick up One Piece 24-27 (four for three? shoot, I’ll take advantage of that all day), the beginning of the Skypiea arc, and Usagi Yojimbo volumes one through three. It wasn’t until I got them and looked at them that I’d realized what I’d done. I’d ordered four violent children’s books and three violent rabbit samurai books, but ones with an all-ages kind of violence.

I needed a break from crime, bastards, and brutality, apparently. And those are pretty much my favorite ingredients in fiction.

The same kind of thing happened last year. I was doing regular reviews of Lone Wolf & Cub from spring to summer. I made it almost exactly two months in, writing up six volumes of Lone Wolf & Cub, one of Path of the Assassin, and then a few miscellaneous posts that weren’t focused on anyone book, before quitting. I own at least nine of these books, and I was burning through a book a week or so, so I know I read several I didn’t write about.

The thing about Lone Wolf & Cub is that it is very… dry. It’s fairly formulaic, you can guess story beats once you make it to volume three or so, and it is just a miserable read. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but absorbing all of that in a short period of time? It’s not very pleasant. By the end, I didn’t even want to think about the series again. Ogami Itto was too perfect, and his setting too horrible. It was a Debbie Downer, is what I’m saying. So, I took a break. I found something else to do. I took a few days off and came back talking about Asterios Polyp.

I was actually talking about detoxing from comics to Esther the other day. She’s frustrated with the direction of DC in general, with a specific focus on the Green Arrow family. DC has several books that have been piling misery upon misery for years at this point. The Teen Titans franchise, whether Teen Titans proper or the grown-up and trashy Titans, has been toxic since long before Geoff Johns left in 2007. The Green Arrow titles have been tripping from tragedy to tragedy ever since Green Arrow and Black Canary got married.

It gets old. At some point, you’ve got to have some kind of a release for all the misery and pain. I’ve read that Ian Sattler and Dan Didio have been saying that Cry For Justice “worked” because people are upset about the book. And well, no, it didn’t work. People are mad at the book and what happened in it, but not because it’s sad. They’re mad because it’s just another body on the pile. Ted Kord’s death was sad. Lian Harper’s death was pointless, cheap theatrics meant to shock you, rather than make you actually feel anything. But hey, yell “BOO!” at someone often enough and they stop caring.

Why did one straw break the camel’s back? Here’s the secret: the several dozen dead or maimed bodies underneath it. Lian’s chilling with Gehenna, the girl who was tortured and killed so that Black Firestorm could live in White Firestorm’s head in a bunch of comics I’m not going to ever read.

Daredevil’s life has sucked for years. Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil helped draw me into reading monthly comics again, but I quit the series sometimes during Brubaker’s run. I got tired of watching Daredevil’s life spiral into misery, over and over and over again. I’m tired of that story. I’m numb to it. No, that’s not right. I don’t care. Spider-Man’s life sucks. The writers throw him curveballs every couple of months to shake things up. But, there are issues where he hangs out with his friends. There are horribly sad issues. There are happy issues. There are bittersweet issues. There is a mixture of content, which makes sure that each punch to the gut actually feels like a punch to the gut.

I got my first tattoo back in March. I was asking about how much it’d hurt, and the guy told me that after a certain amount of time (or trauma), the body goes into a kind of shock and you barely feel anything. That didn’t happen with the tattoo, but it absolutely happens with comics.

I’m supposed to feel bad for Roy Harper when he’s imagining his daughter screaming and crawling and dying slowly in the rubble of her house. But hey, guess what! I don’t. I don’t care at all. I’m more amazed/offended/appalled at how blatantly emotionally manipulative and inept all of it is, like the comics had been written by and for people who only had superhero comics as a reference point and had never seen a good movie or read an actual book. Hysterical melodrama-infused superhero decadence in the worst way. It’s a sob story, only the person telling it doesn’t know when to pull back and stop layering in unnecessary details.

But hey, wack writers tell wack stories.

Storytelling is essentially lying. It’s making up a new truth and hoping people believe it. The trick to being a good liar is to keep it simple and effective. When Crossed, Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows’s incredibly violent and obscene zombie miniseries, treats the death of a child in a more reasonable and mature way than a DC Comics-branded comic book, you’ve got a problem. Your emperor has no clothes. We don’t believe in you or your stupid stories.

You want to know my review of Cry For Justice and Blackest Night and all these other comics that keep banging that one drum and then go “GOTCHA!” when you go “Ew, what is this?”

“Who cares.”

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Every 4th Quarter He Likes To Mike Jordan Them

April 18th, 2010 Posted by guest article

I got an email from José de Leon toward the middle of last week’s orgy of a commentary on violence. He had noticed a pretty funny, and fun, comparison between Frank Miller and Michael Jordan. I thought it was funny enough to post, and José gave me his permission, so here we are! I laughed a couple times reading this. You should, too. Index for Booze, Broads, & Bullets here.

I thought I’d trot this out again, seeing your blogging series “Booze, Broads ad Bullets”…

I actually noted this duality back in the mid-1990s (I posted this to a long-dead message-board many years ago) and have been updating it to match current events in both men’s careers… They both stand out to me as the pre-eminent “populist icons” of their respective fields, probably their fields most prominent and socially-influential modern-era practitioner — these are the men who inspired Air Jordan shoes and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, expensive “prestige format” sneakers and expensive “prestige format” comics. There is also to my mind a singular intensity to their work (some would say that intensity borders on the pathological), and tracing the arc of their careers, and the quite-evident passion that both men brought to their stage has influenced my own notions of how to achieve success in life, after seeing it duplicated at the highest level — more than once.

Next spring is the 25th anniversary of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and Frank Miller is back next spring doing Batman comics titled “THE DARK KNIGHT” (continuing the All-Star Batman series with Jim Lee). Things come full-circle.

In celebration of the Hall Of Fame induction of The One And Only Frank Miller Of Basketball…


I’ve been calling Miller “The Michael Jordan of Comics” in conversation for many years now, and I believe with good justification. Looking at both of their careers closely to this point, the similarities are uncanny …

Both are tremendous successes at their chosen professions, and are considered by many the very best of all time at what they do:

MJ: comics
FM: basketball

Both are considered among the greatest ever at the essentials of their profession. On a fundamental level they are impeccable and exemplary — you can find little wrong in what they do, and moreover almost everything is done perfectly right. And because of their strength in the fundamentals of their craft, they are able to be spectacular at times, almost at will:

MJ: scoring and defense
FM: drawing and writing

Both combine in their work a rare mix — an intense ferocity over-reaching his peers, reminiscent of:

MJ: basketball’s greatest winner, Bill Russell
FM: comics essential storyteller, Will Eisner

And a sublime elegance, beauty, power and spectacle, reminiscent of:

MJ: Wilt Chamberlain, a legendary, larger-than-life figure in basketball history, and owner of basketball’s gaudiest numbers (100 points in a single game is most notable)
FM: Jack Kirby, a legendary, larger-than-life figure in comics history, and owner of comics’ gaudiest artistic achievements (100 issues of Fantastic Four is most notable)

And both have acknowledged the influence of the two men in their work.

Each cut his teeth and refined his “chops” early in his career during the early 1980s:

MJ: at the University of North Carolina
FM: drawing, then writing, Daredevil

Both shortly after moved onto a different stage in an unorthodox setting:

MJ: at the 1984 Olympics, showing his stuff against international competition
FM: moving to DC, to create the creator-owned project RONIN, showing the influence of international artists Moebius and Goseki Kojima

Fans still rave about things he did in the spring of 1986:

MJ: scoring 63 points against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs

He began a breathtaking, show-stopping creative assault on his profession at large shortly after this work:

MJ: winning two slam-dunk competitions, winning Defensive Player of the Year, showing his all-around talent, and setting the highest season scoring average by someone other than Wilt Chamberlain (37.1, also the best of his career) between 1987-1990, becoming probably the most prominent star in basketball.

FM: puting out a varied body of work ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, DAREDEVIL LOVE AND WAR, ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN (personally I think this is his high point yet as an artist), mostly as a writer, showing his all around talent, between 1987-1990, becoming probably the most prominent star in comics.

Both have had a significant effect on the larger economy:

MJ: thru his success as a commercial spokesperson. Fortune magazine once estimated the contribution of Jordan to the success of the businesses he was involved in as $10 billion US.

FM: thru his success at revitalizing Batman as a haracter, he revitalized the Batman merchandising franchise, leading to movies and TV series that owed more to DARK KNIGHT rather than Adam West. He also inspired the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (largely a parody of his series RONIN), indirectly building one of the most successful line of toys and merchandise from the ’90s.

Both have been under the long-time commercial association of a company located in Oregon:

MJ: Nike of Beaverton, OR
FM: Dark Horse of Milwaukie, OR

Major color schemes:

Chicago Bulls: Red, White, and Black
Sin City: Black, White and Red

Both took major break at the height of their career and power from their chosen profession:

MJ: to try and play major league baseball (1993-94)
FM: to try and become a Hollywood screenwriter (1989-90)

And did not do as well as they did away from the profession that brought them fame:

MJ: barely breaking a .200 batting average in double-A level baseball
FM: Robocop 2 and 3

Both returned from that break and sucked originally coming out of the gate, with one really spectacular moment:

MJ: that whole #45 jersey thing, and getting knocked out the playoffs for the only time in the ’90s; 55 points against the New York Knicks
FM: that whole Martha Washington thing, Spawn/Batman; HARD BOILED

And after the bumpy restart, got down to business and came out with a more efficient, yet still devastating style:

MJ: developing a fadeaway jumper, posting a record 72-10 won-lost record for a season, and winning three more NBA championships for a total of six over the decade
FM: developing the stark black-and-white SIN CITY style, producing 300, and producing a total of nine SIN CITY graphic novels over the decade

Entered the 21st century making a controversial return to DC, which many critics branded as a spectacular failure:

MJ: as director of basketball operations and ultimately as a player for the Washington, DC, Wizards.
FM: returning to DC Comics to produce (work-for-hire) a sequel to BATMAN:THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

Introduced yet a THIRD evolutionary stylistic change far, far from their original overpowering style in their latest comeback:

MJ: as a coach-on-the-floor jump shooter
FM: admitting to using a more cartoony style in his later SIN CITY work and DARK KNIGHT 2

They have had one very significant collaborator through the bulk of their career:

MJ: Scottie Pippen
FM: Lynn Varley

And worked with a strong individual performer during their abortive comeback to DC:

MJ: Richard Hamilton
FM: Jim Lee

Other significant collaborators:

MJ: Dean Smith (college coach), Phil Jackson (pro coach, championship era), Horace Grant (workhorse power forward, pre-baseball), Dennis Rodman (gonzo power forward, post-baseball), Doug Collins (coach from waaayy back, coach in latest comeback)
FM: Denny O’Neil (editor at Marvel and DC), Diana Schutz (editor at Dark Horse, SIN CITY era), Klaus Janson (workhorse inker, pre-Hollywood), Geof Darrow (gonzo artist, post-Hollywood), Bob Schreck (editor from waaayy back, editor on latest comeback)

And really stretching it… both played themselves in a movie:

FM: Jugular Wine: A Vampire Odyssey (1994 — you can find it on the IMDB)

Both have had visually overwhelming feature films produced with their heavy involvement chronicling their incredible runs of success during the 1990s:

MJ: the IMAX feature, “Michael Jordan TO THE MAX”
FM: Robert Rodriguez’s virtual transcription of the SIN CITY comic books to a feature-film version

Both have also had features directed by the director Zack Snyder:

MJ: Come Fly With Me (NBA Home Video, 1990)
FM: 300 (feature film, 2007)

Both had films presenting in stunning fashion their last great stand in 1998, when it has been argued by critics that they had reached the storybook pinnacle of their respective careers — if it was the last image of them, how magnificent was it:

MJ: Michael Jordan TO THE MAX, presenting Jordan’s last championship run and final title-winning shot with the Chicago Bulls in 1998
FM: 300, the film adapting the comic book portraying the last heroic stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae, produced as a comic by Miller in 1998

In 2007, both separated from their long-time spouse:
MJ: Juanita Vanoy
FM: Lynn Varley

Both men made a bit of an unintended splash with their controversial comments in front of the national media:

MJ: With his pathologically-competitive “acceptance speech”, broadcast on ESPN, at his induction into the Basketball Hall Of Fame

FM: With his out-of-left-field assertion that Iraq declared war on the United States, broadcast on NPR, during his 2007 interview after the State of the Union

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder

April 17th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Chad wants to talk about Booze, Broads, & Bullets. Sean wants to talk about Daredevil: Love and War and Dark Knight Strikes Again. Me? I’ve just got an index and some words about Miller’s second-most hated.

Behold, I teach you the Batman.

Batman’s story is fundamentally about revenge. He was wronged as a child and dedicates his life to the get-back. Joe Chill, for various reasons, is beyond his grasp. He can never have his actual revenge. Either Chill is dead, too old, or simply doesn’t exist. So, instead of having an explicit goal for his revenge, something he can point to when finished and have some sense of accomplishment or closure, he’s left with a phantom, something he’ll never be able to grasp. The object of his hatred is transferred to “crime” itself, and thus begins his never-ending quest to get back at the world for the death of his parents.

Batman would not be a pleasant person to be around. He’s been training to fight crime since he was a teenager, at the latest, and that kind of focus does not lend itself to being a particularly good friend. He has focused his life on figuring out ways to solve mysteries, memorizing facts about decomposition, learning ways to hurt people, and make them fear him.

Now imagine if, after being brutalized on his first night out fighting crime, he found a lens to focus his vengeance. A variation on the last happy moment from before his life was ruined. Zorro re-imagined in a blood-soaked haze. “Yes. Father. I shall become a bat.” He is rich enough to do anything, save for overcome the heartache that infected him as a child. So, he lashes out.

A child’s fantasy becomes corrupted due to unimaginable pain. The moment his parents died, Bruce Wayne’s childhood stopped and the seed that would grow to be the Batman began, nourished by blood and anger. He’s going to become a force of nature, something that strikes from the darkness and has no more substance than a shadow. But, not the swashbuckler with a sense of humor from the movies. No, when the Batman laughs, it is a bad thing. That just means the pain is coming. And he’s going to hurt you because he was hurt as a child. This is the Batman.

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is the story of how Batman learned to be human. Follow along.

One thing I haven’t seen anyone address is how Batman is treated in the text. The Batman of the early ’00s, who alienated his friends and allies simply because he could, was still treated as a hero and morally correct. The Batman of ASBAR, on the other hand, is actively disliked by everyone he interacts with. In the first conversation he has with Dick Grayson, age twelve, Dick realizes that Batman is putting on a voice. “It’s like he’s doing some lameass Clint Eastwood impression. That’s not his real voice. He’s faking it.” Later, when Batman tells him that the car is called “the Batmobile,” Dick rolls his eyes and says, “That is totally queer. :rolleyes:”

Alfred, after being ordered to let the boy eat rats, declares that he is not Batman’s slave. He vehemently objects to Batman’s treatment of the child. Jim Gordon, the closest thing Batman has to a friend, mocks him after doing him a favor and receiving no thanks in return. “Of COURSE not,” he thinks. “That’s hardly be GRIM AND GRITTY, would it?” An inexplicably Irish Black Canary echoes Dick’s opinion of the name “Batmobile,” and even goes so far as to say that maybe, just maybe, Batman “could find some wee benefit from speaking to a person or two, now and then– of course not while you’re so busy punching somebody senseless?”

Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, gives him the treatment on behalf of the Justice League. Wonder Woman wants Batman dead and shown as an example of the cape community policing their own. Superman, showing signs of the ending of Dark Knight Strikes Again decades ahead of time, declares that “this is my world. These are my people. These are my rules.” He overrules her. The only person in the JLA who likes Batman is Plastic Man, who is insane.

The dislike, or grudging acceptance, is nearly unanimous. Vicki Vale dodges a direct meeting with Batman, but calls him a “flying rat.” The only person in the entire book who meets Batman and is anything less than completely unimpressed with him is a woman he rescues from rapist muggers in an alley. She says, “Thank you. I love you,” as Batman is leaving. His monologue: “Nobody loves anybody, my darling. We just survive.”

Think it through. No one in the book likes him. He’s playing a role that is so obvious a recently-traumatized twelve-year old can see through it. He has flashes of darkness, where thoughts of his parents come unbidden to his mind. He repeatedly calls grief the enemy, because grief leads to acceptance and forgiveness. “Grief forgives what can never be forgiven.”

Issue nine. He unleashes Robin on Green Lantern because it’ll be a laugh and he needs to show the JLA he means business. The anger and grief inside Robin spills over and he nearly kills Green Lantern. Batman is suddenly forced to realize that he’s been going about his quest wrong. He was forcing the boy into the steps he followed to become Batman, not realizing that grief and closure are vital to growth. The issue ends with them weeping over the graves of Dick’s parents.

That is the first step toward Batman becoming an actual hero. ASBAR is the story of why Batman needs a Robin. It brings him back down to Earth and forces him to acknowledge his own flaws and humanity. It shows him that you can be young and adjusted, and that crime fighting doesn’t have to be about revenge. The mean one-liners and Eastwood fade. The fun of crime fighting doesn’t. “Striking terror. Best part of the job.”

Of course, the tragedy of ASBAR is that Dark Knight Strikes Again lies in its future. After being fired, Dick Grayson went bad. Batman has to kill him, and while he mocks him, he still marks his passing with a sad, “So long, Boy Wonder.”

Make no mistake: the Batman is a child’s fantasy. Batman’s defining moment is tragedy, and it has effected his adulthood in a way that, say, Spider-Man’s tragedy didn’t. Uncle Ben’s death taught Spider-Man that heroism is a requirement, not an option. The death of Thomas and Martha Wayne taught Bruce that the world is a cruel place. He took Zorro, a character his father enjoyed, and stepped into his boots. It is telling that Miller revises Robin’s origin to include the fact that Dick’s father was a Robin Hood fan and often took Dick to see the movie. Dick chooses his name in honor of his father. Batman does, too. But the difference in the two of them is astounding.

But, for now, ASBAR is the last lesson of the Batman. He’s mastered ways to hurt, maim, kill, investigate, deduce, and solve. This is where he learns to feel. I assume that next year’s Dark Knight: Boy Wonder will wrap the story and show us how Batman and Robin work together in their first bout against the Joker.

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is grotesque and exaggerated. It’s not a satire, and there’s definitely a point to all of the glorious excess.

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: I’m sick of flags.

April 16th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Chad’s talking about Family Values while Sean is over here making connections between That Yellow Bastard and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Booze, Broads, & Bullets: we got it covered from all angles. Start at the index, work your way down.

Page 63 of 9-11: Artists Respond features a story by Layla Lawlor. It’s a one page story about the impermanence of things, but also about the way things live on and on in new forms. It’s a hopeful piece, about the way life ebbs and flows and then becomes great again. Pages 66 and 67 are about Peter Pachoumis’s memories of 9-11. Frantic phone calls, live television broadcasts, a slow return to normalcy. It has the iconography of most 9-11 related tales– firemen, cops, flags, and dust. It’s about shock, rather than Lawlor’s hope. And then you have pages 64 and 65.

An atom bomb of anger and cynicism dropped into the middle of a book filled with stories about unity and tolerance and sadness. The rest of the book is your mother comforting you and putting ice on your black eye, while Miller’s two pages are your father asking you if you gave as good as you got, and if not, you better do better next time. It’s a mood-killer, a bug crawling across your dinner plate on the night you want to propose to your lady.

It’s cynical and ugly and I don’t know that he was wrong for doing it. Something about the sparse art and jagged lettering makes me think that this is just as personal and honest as the rest of the stories in the book. Miller is a big fan of New York City, whether it was the mythical one in his Daredevil run or the city he moved to with a portfolio full of art in an attempt to make it big.

There’s anger and hurt in these two pages, these fourteen words, but there’s also a love. Most of all, though, there’s hurt feelings. Miller’s reaction is short, curt, and mean. It’s a slap in the face. Miller uses a star and a cross, specifically American symbols of church and state, to symbolize the ideas that he’s disgusted with. It’s a very pointed choice, and feels like a backlash against the reactionary patriotism that swept the country in the wake of 9-11. “They weren’t right, but we aren’t right, either.”

His views have changed in the years since. 2006 saw him deliver an impassioned essay on the subject of how his belief in the flag turned around. He’s a supporter of the war on terror, and considers it to be vitally important to the survival of the country. Holy Terror, Batman! was going to be a “piece of propaganda” that will “offend just about everybody” before it changed into something else entirely.

I don’t know enough about Miller’s political views to accurately judge him. He’s libertarian, I’m not. He supported the War in Iraq, I don’t. But this quick blast of anger, this “Get real!” in the middle of “It’ll be all right!”, is fascinating to me. You can see where he was coming from and exactly how he felt, and it’s all in three panels and fourteen words.

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Sin City: The Big Fat Kill

April 15th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

You should probably go and read Chad Nevett on That Yellow Bastard and then make your way back here. Peep the index. This one is about the book and about me and my relationship to the book, so, y’know, pull up a chair.

My first comics were Amazing Spider-Man 316, 317, 321 and 322. The first two were the return of Venom, while the latter two were part of the Assassin Nation Plot, with art by Todd McFarlane and words by David Michelinie. I read them til they fell apart, and up until getting screwed over in a move a few years back, they were the oldest comics I owned. I think the first I bought with my own money, or traded for or whatever, was X-Men 1. That set the tone for my comics habits for the next few years. I was reading Marvel, mostly out of the X-office, almost exclusively. I picked up the odd books via trading– Warriors of Plasm, Spawn, Shadowhawk, Robin–but my world was fairly limited. Until Sin City: The Big Fat Kill.

I only ever had chapter five of The Big Fat Kill when I was younger, but I read it dozens, if not hundreds, of times. It’d be years, and I’d be grown, before I read the full story. I’d read plenty of comic books before it, but none like it. The cover alone was different. There was an explosion, a guy jumping, and then some striking text: “Sin City.” More text: “We gotta kill every rat-bastard one of them.” Still more, off to the lower left: “The Big Fat Kill.” This book was different. This was designed. It wasn’t just disparate cover elements tossed onto a gaudy, garish pinup.

Inside was a revelation. Comics come in black and white? And I mean literal black and white. There were no shades of grey, like in flashbacks. People cursed, people died, guns went off, and it was all rendered in two colors. Architecture flip-flopped colors and appeared only in contour. People didn’t have figures so much as vague outlines, and their shadows were all weird. Some pages were half empty, there were panel dedicated to sound effects, and the lettering was uneven and weird. I didn’t know back then, but I now recognize that Miller was playing with negative space, pacing, and contrast. It was just striking. It was amazing.

And the ending– it was murder. “We gotta kill them because we need them dead.” No nobility, no heroism, no moral, and no cause. These people gotta die because Dwight and the girls need to prove a point. Quite a difference from Wolverine pulling his claws or Bishop shooting people with energy bullets.

Past the ending was a letters page. “Keynote Speech by Frank Miller To Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar.” It was a speech about something entirely new to me. I didn’t know about Jack Kirby, or William Gaines, or the Comics Code Authority. Royalties? What? Creator-ownership? Making fun of Marvel? Past the letters page were pinups. Sergio Aragones, who I knew from Mad. Walt Simonson, who I didn’t know at all.

I would’ve been twelve, but more likely eleven, when I first read it. I don’t think I even really got that the girls were hookers when I first read this. I knew they had actual nudity, rather than the fake nudity of superheroines. It just never clicked. I was out of my depth. The Big Fat Kill was bigger than anything I’d read before, from front to back. It left my brains on the wall.

I didn’t see it at the time, but The Big Fat Kill came along at the right time. I already liked mystery/adventure books. I dug Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and Sherlock Holmes more than the Hardy Boys, and I blazed through Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kids books. But, reading and re-reading and absorbing The Big Fat Kill was like the end of The Usual Suspects. Tumblers clicked into place, and I was introduced to what would later become my favorite thing. This hard-boiled, ugly, jarring, nasty bastard of a book was a virus. It rewrote my brain.

It was that last scene that did it for me. The calculated murder, the callous way they went about it, and the pithy line Dwight drops when the killing starts (“Where to fight. It counts for a lot. But there’s nothing like having your friends show up with lots of guns.”), all of that had a huge effect on me. Now, I love crime fiction more than anything else, couldn’t really care less about sci-fi/fantasy if I tried, and old movies where women grip cigarette holders, breathe out clouds of stylish death, and send men off to die with a glance and a false smile are some of my favorites. The only thing that even comes close to my attraction to crime stories are stories about feudal Japan, and guess what Frank Miller flirted with in Ronin?

The Big Fat Kill is one of those books I can’t accurately judge. I’m too close to it, it’s too entwined in my DNA. If I had to pretend to be objective, I’d say that Chad has it down pretty well. It’s a short story, not trying to do a whole lot beyond show some manly men, violent women, and dangly earrings. There’s nothing righteous or noble about it. It warps a young mind.

“We gotta kill every last rat-bastard one of them.”

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: MoCCA

April 14th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Why should you read the transcript of this panel with Frank Miller, Paul Pope, Kyle Baker, Jaime Hernandez, and Dean Haspiel from MoCCA last weekend?

MILLER: Let’s get to my central gripe about superhero costumes: Shoes. Why do these people go out in loafers while they‘re running across rooftops? What would you wear? I’d wear something with some tread. At least wear a pair of Converse All-Stars, or Air Jordans. Combat boots are my favorite.

Yes. I need a Teen Titan or Young Avenger in some Jordan XIIs as soon as possible. Maybe put Danny Rand in some Air Yeezys. If I can color coordinate, so can some of these heroes.

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Booze, Broads, and Bullets: Spawn-Batman

April 14th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Sean Witzke on Ronin? Please and thank you! Chad Nevett on The Big Fat Kill, my favorite yarn? Yeah, I’ll read that! Booze, Broads, & Bullets week continues apace! Dig into the index if you’re new around here and need to get caught up.

With Dark Knight Returns and Year One, Frank Miller left what turned out to be an indelible mark on the character. He made Batman his own in a way that, say, Neal Adams or Jim Aparo, both incredible artists, didn’t. Two short works injected his vision of what Batman is, was, and how he came to be into the minds of comics fans, and that’s been his corner of the universe ever since. He’s only gone back to that well precious few times, with a cover for Batman: Black & White, a brief entry in Evan Dorkin’s World’s Funnest one-shot, a pinup in an anniversary issue or two, and All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder. Save for the latter book, there is nothing of length, nothing of note. With one exception: Spawn-Batman, a 1994 collaboration with Todd McFarlane.

It’s easy to organize the Miller universe. Year One kicks it off, ASBAR is the tale of Batman becoming a human being, Dark Knight Returns is his return to form, and Dark Knight Strikes Again is his settling into a brand new role in a new world. Spawn-Batman fits comfortably between Year One and ASBAR, with a Batman that’s good at what he does, but insufferable while he does it. He hasn’t gone through the humanizing process that Dick Grayson is going to push him through, so he’s cold, arrogant, and a blowhard.

This is about as good as McFarlane’s art has ever looked. It’s cartoonier than I remember his early Spawn work being, with a Batman that’s all shadow and angles and a Spawn that’s all cape. It’s a fairly standard early Image book for the most part, with pages that lean more toward pinups than, y’know, actual storytelling. It’s plenty entertaining, though, and McFarlane fits the bill.

Miller’s story is where all the fun is, though. He’s coming on Claremont-wordy this time, with Tom Orzechowski stuffing captions, sound effects, arrows, and word balloons all over the page. The captions begin as your usual omniscient third-person narrator, but then partway through the book they shift to Jeph Loeb-style dueling thought captions. He’s got a lot to say.

Which is fitting, considering that this book is all the way turned up. The first page has nineteen captions, most with 2-3 words, setting the stage for the book. At first glance, this is Miller at his worst– overly serious, hammering the point home again and again, and aping the wordiest man in comics. But, no, keep reading and you’ll find that isn’t true. It’s wordy, wordier than any comic has a right to be, really, but Miller is having fun here.

His Batman is impossibly gruff. At one point, he orders Alfred to patch up his shoulder because “the blood’s getting in my way.” Alfred spends the scene urging Batman to drink some chamomile tea. He says that it “is sure to prevent nightmares. Even the self-inflictedvariety.” Batman’s response? “I don’t get nightmares. I give them.”

The rest of the story is enjoyably over the top. He and Spawn get into the traditional meet-and-fight that forms the crux of 90% of these crossovers, and Batman takes genuine pleasure in the violence. When he realizes that Spawn is superhuman, he thinks “No reason to be nice” and turns up the violence again. Every third word out of his mouth is punk, and while he tells Spawn to “count your blessings I let you off so easy,” it’s clear that Batman was severely out of his league. He only gets away after dosing Spawn with nerve gas, causing him to vomit.

This isn’t the hyper-competent Grant Morrison Batman, the one with plans for plans and a hairy chest. No, this is your picture perfect Frank Miller Hero: Beaten bloody and senseless, completely out of his league, but with guts for days. A few bandages, a couple splints, and he’s ready to get into it with Spawn again. Having a power glove helps, of course– he lays into Spawn with renewed vigor in their rematch, and the dialogue goes monosyllabic on both parts.

“Idiot. You’re an idiot. I’ll tear you apart.” “In your dreams.” “Break you in half. I’ll break you in half.” “Sloppy. Stupid fighter. No discipline.” “Talking trash. You’re talking trash. It won’t help you.” “No discipline. Stupid fighter. Stupid punk.” “Had it. You’ve had it. You’re done.” “Just warming up you stupid punk.”

It turns into an orgy of sound effects, Orzechowski laying them out Adam West-style, until they trade five (five!) sound effects at once and collapse. They pause to catch their breath and continue their repartee.

“Give it up, punk. You’re finished. Just look at you. You’re finished.” “Look at you. You can’t even get up. You’re the one who’s finished. khoff.” “I’ll rip you to pieces Undisciplined slob. khagg” “Catch my breath. Just catch my breath and I’ll break you in half. kheff

And then robots come and beat Batman basically to death, forcing Spawn to save his life with a little hellfire. While bleeding to death, shaking in the grime of an alley, Batman is still going. “Magic tricks. No way to fight. No discipline. hukkk” Spawn saves his life again, forcing a bit of a mind-meld, and Batman’s response? “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a dead punk that won’t shut up. We’ve got work to do. Let’s go.”

For about ten or fifteen years, Batman was a douchebag. He was rude to his friends, mean to his family, and everyone sat there and took it because he was Batman and Batman was right. This book, and ASBAR, show you what it looks like when Batman is a douchebag to people who won’t take any of his crap. Batman and Spawn fight like cats and dogs even when infiltrating the stronghold of the bad guy. At one point, Batman says that Spawn is even dumber than Clark. “Who’s Clark?” Spawn asks. “None of your business.” Later still: “Just smash cyborgs and shut up. I’ll do the thinking here.”

There’s your Alpha Male Plus.

(For the record, the villain is Margaret Love, a mad scientist who Al Simmons knows of old. She’s gone completely genocidal and appears on seven pages of the book. She’s alive for five of them, looking death in the eye on the sixth, and launching a missile on the seventh. She isn’t the point of the book. She’s just there to facilitate the fight-and-team-up formula of crossover books.)

Spawn-Batman isn’t an essential piece of the Dark Knight Universe, but it is a fascinating one. It reads like a rough draft for ASBAR, with its sense of scale all thrown out of whack and pumped full of testosterone. I remember reading in an interview, one that I of course cannot find right now, that Frank Miller has said that you wouldn’t want to be Batman’s friend. It makes sense- considering his mission, his trauma, and the way he’s basically a pulp character gone superheroic, I don’t think that he should ever be Mr. Sunshine and Light. He has to play a role, a role that Alfred sees right through, by the way. Batman has to be the guy lurking in the darkness, laying in wait to pop a mugger’s spine entirely out of place. He’s mean, and he has to be mean, because that’s what his city requires.

At least, until Robin arrives. We’ll talk that out on Saturday, though. Miller’s doing something interesting with Batman, and it only really became clear in ASBAR.

Spawn-Batman, though? It takes itself just seriously enough that both characters are recognizable, but not so seriously that you’re beaten over the head with the import of the situation. It’s stupid. It’s very entertaining.

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Dark Knightrolude

April 13th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Tucker Stone threw this up on Twitter, and I’ve gotta share it. It’s the Bushwick Book Club on Dark Knight Returns and it is fantastic.

One of the cats, Breez Evahflowin, is a guy I’ve dug ever since I used to go around calling myself a def jukie and was backpacking hard. He’s down with Cannibal Ox, Stronghold, etc etc. He’s nice on the mic device, is what I’m saying. Here’s his extended piece:

I’m new to Susan Hwang, but her joint ruled, too.

“Batman! He won’t go out for ice cream, has no time for movies, isn’t good at having fun!”

I love that this exists. I wish I could’ve gone.

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Man Without Fear

April 13th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Booze, Broads, and Bullets continues! Tim O’Neil takes on the Tao of Miller! Tim Callahan posts a scan of Tales of the New Gods: Nativity by Frank Miller and then analyzes it in When Words Collide: Frank Miller’s New Gods! Chad Nevett looks at A Dame to Kill For! Check the index for the full slate of posts!

Frank Miller’s Batman doesn’t kill. He decided to, he wanted to, in Dark Knight Returns, but chose mercy for the Joker instead at the last possible moment. In Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman condones killing, and is happy when Lex Luthor gets maced by Hawkboy, but the only life he actually takes is Dick Grayson, and he regrets that choice. The heroes of Sin City are something else entirely. Marv, Dwight, Gail, the girls of Old Town, Miho, and almost every character has a body count by the end of their run. Life is cheap, and their bullets are nameless. Miho is especially brutal, not being averse to toying with a man before he dies. Miller’s got no problem writing people who think that killing is as easy as breathing.

Daredevil, though, is something different. In the classic final issue of his run on Daredevil, “Roulette,” Miller has Daredevil place a gun to a helpless Bullseye’s head. He thinks over their past, and eventually proclaims that, when it comes to killing Bullseye, his “gun has no bullets.” He can’t murder him in his bed, no matter how much he wants to deep down inside.

Frank Miller’s Daredevil has two aspects that make him so entertaining. One is his intense sense of morality. He believes in the law and the rules, and works in his day job to prove the supremacy of those rules. The other is his flawed nature. His nighttime gig allows him to make shortcuts to, or circumvent, the law as he likes, dispensing justice at the end of a baton or his fist. This causes him no end of internal strife, and the crux of “Roulette” is that his morality is greater than his weakness.

Man Without Fear, Miller’s 1993 retelling of Daredevil’s origin with John Romita Jr, shows the kinds of situation where Daredevil will kill. The last action scene in the book is a chase, with a pre-Daredevil Matt Murdock fighting to rescue a young girl who has been kidnapped by a goon. One man dies by accident at the beginning of the fight, and Matt’s forced to stab another with his own knife while fighting underwater. What’s key is what he thinks as he’s killing the man: “A knife– no choice– give it back to him.”

Murdock is practical. When there’s no other choice to be found, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. He leaves the rest of the men unconscious or broken. There is a very controlled application of force to be found in Murdock’s style of crime fighting. While he occasionally loses it, or gets wrapped up in his own arrogance and goes too far, Daredevil generally knows exactly how to walk the thin line of being a vigilante.

Later in the book, Murdock intentionally kills a man. He’s put in a situation where he dies, the girl dies, or the villain dies. He begs the villain to stand down, saying, “I don’t want to kill you. Let her go.” The villain pops a shot off, winging Murdock’s arm. Murdock repeats his plea. The man fires again, and again, and Murdock swats the last bullet back at him, hitting him square between the eyes.

Mere moments before their encounter, the man kills a cabbie. He tells the horrified little girl he’s kidnapped that “It was nothing.” Four pages later, he’s dead and the contrast couldn’t be clearer. He killed because it was convenient. He took the path of least resistance. Murdock, on the other hand, only did it when there was no other option. It isn’t a habit, it isn’t something he’s proud of, it’s simply something that has to be done.

Miller’s Murdock is the hero who will make the hard choice, who will weigh his options, who knows his limits, and will not hesitate when it comes to doing a bad thing in order to do the right thing. It’s a refreshing change from most of the hardline “heroes don’t kill!” interpretations you see in comics. When given a choice between a child and a murderer, he chose the child. He didn’t waffle when faced with the choice. He told the man what would happen, he gave the man a choice, and the man chose poorly.

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