Frank Miller Owns Batman: “it’s better that way.”

July 13th, 2011 by | Tags: ,

Superheroes are better, or maybe just bigger, than we are. Their motivations are more pure, their actions are more sure, and their confidence is incredible. Everything is larger than life, even their momentary lapses of faith. They deal with situations that would make normal humans crack under the pressure once a month, and still wake up every morning to go to work.

They love better, too. There’s none of the insecurity and mindgames that orbit our relationships. Superheroes have impossibly beautiful and interesting love interests and have pure and incredible relationships. How can you love anybody the way Superman loves Lois Lane? Does anyone love you as much as Wally West loves Linda Park? Even their breakups are apocalyptic. We break up and spend weeks on the couch, depressed out of our heads. Superheroes fly off into space, change their whole identity, or break up in the middle of apocalypses.

The sex, too, is similarly bigger than sex is in real life.

Thirty-some years ago, Chris Claremont did a really, really good job of mainstreaming BDSM themes or tropes in cape comics. The Hellfire Club was a barely disguised sex club, where the queens wore corsets and capes and sipped wine out of goblets while casually ordering around the help and inflicting pain or receiving at their leisure. Claremont’s stunningly fond of mind control stories, sometimes including body modification (a loss of control for some, a taking of control for others) and sometimes simply being about someone being told what to do or being helpless.

It’s all more than we can manage in real life, and people bounce back from emotional trauma like it was nothing. Superheroes can do that. Superheroes do everything big. They don’t do halfway or normal. They go all the way in. Maximum drama. Maximum excitement.

“We keep our masks on. It’s better that way.”

Without the mask, Bruce Wayne is just a man. He’s rich enough to throw some wild sex parties, the type with dozens of guests, representation for every fetish, and all the cocaine you can fit up your nose, but he’s still just a man. With the mask, he’s Batman, the Dark Knight, avenger of the innocent, savior of the world, and secret weapon of the JLA. The same goes for Black Canary, to an extent. She went from bartender to superheroine, and all it took was a short temper and a costume. A semantic change, perhaps, but a change nonetheless.

Throw some furry handcuffs, role playing, or a blindfold into your normal human sexy times and look what happens. Now, imagine that magnified times a million, amped all the way up to superheroic proportions. The constant threat of violence, the hyper-emotional states you flash through over the course of an issue, and the sheer fact that you’re two people wearing more or less skintight, fetish-y crimefighting gear all add up to something more than we can ever get in real life. Everything is heightened for the story. The mask is the gateway to greatness. Normal relationships are out of the question. Superheroes are too big of an idea to bother with the mundane.

The masks represent their superheroic nature. Batman and Canary are in a comic book. That’s why they can have sex on the docks after fighting off a couple dozen gun-toting thugs, causing some medium-level property damage, and setting the docks on fire with weaponized bleach. That’s what superheroes do, not what humans do. Humans do it with the lights off and under the covers. Superheroes do it while lightning strikes and the earth moves.

What Miller did here was just put what we’ve already learned, or picked up on unconsciously, onto the page as plain as day. We already know that superheroes have mind-blowing love lives. We’ve seen Black Cat fall into a thrill-seeking relationship with Spider-Man, only to utterly reject him when he revealed that he was a normal guy. Clark Kent pined after Lois Lane for years, but she only had eyes for Superman. The Flash is so in love with Linda Park that he came back from being lost in time. Daredevil has tripped over supermodels, sexy assassins, and regular old hot women every single time he falls into a relationship. Spider-Man dated the girl next door and the unattainable party girl turned supermodel.

We’ve accepted the idea that it’s better with the masks on already. This just took the subtext and made it text.

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14 comments to “Frank Miller Owns Batman: “it’s better that way.””

  1. David, you fucking suck. Now I actually want to reread All-Star Batman and Robin.

    I always enjoy reading your opinions even if I seem to mostly disagree. That’s the mark of a good writer if anything.

  2. I really wonder how come so many people read this comic all wrong, when much of what you are saying in this series of essays is actually explicitly exposed in the text itself(which nicely expand upon). It might not be the most subtle of stories, but the image it creates of those characters and of the world they inhabit is raw, fresh and quite veritable. I think it is a bit satirical, but in a celebratory way(even though I’m not sure it was intended from the start).

    I wonder if it was illustrated by a more restrained artist, the reception would have been better.

    And, what I don’t really get is that the violence and sex and everything else is not really worse that that in most recent Batman books(even Morrison’s), not mentioning some other vile stuff that DC produces. In a way it is much better and not as pointless.

  3. Thank you for this.

    When I first caught wind of this series, my first reaction to the snippets that have been plastered all over the internet was, “WHAT THE FUCK? IS MILLER OUT HIS GODDAMN MIND?!” But then again, you can take a small snippet of pretty much ANYTHING and think that someone is out of their mind just on the basis of that small snippet. It’s weird that it would take years for someone to point out that there was indeed a method to the madness. It seems like too many people have gotten their information about Frank Miller from Shortpacked and have become too ignorant to actually READ his stuff and realize he’s more than just WHORESWHORESWHORES.

    The one constant as far as my opinion of it goes is that at least it looked good. I know that according the the internet, we are all supposed to HATE Jim Lee simply because he’s from THE EVIL 90’S (even though he had his start in the late 80’s). Whatever. I’ve been a fan of Jim Lee since his Punisher days, and he’s still one of my favorites (although I wish he would keep a monthly schedule again).

  4. @Engineered: Nah, Lee is the only artist for this story. He’s up there with Jack Kirby as far as being the definitive superhero artist goes. His X-Men is essential reading.

    @Phil Watts, Jr.: Lee’s dope, man. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, and there’s something very nice about his style. He drew superheroes like they should look in the ’90s/’00s, basically. It’s early, and I don’t have the vocab for it yet, but I think he’s one of the best ever, even now.

  5. @Nawid A: Exactly what I thought…David’s opinions on ASB&R are diametrically opposed to mine, but he certainly expresses them well.

  6. No, no. That’s not really what I meant. For what this story is, he is perfect, I agree. But I think that his art style and Miller’s story might have been a little too much for some people. Or just fuel others needed to mud it as they did. Then again, if he was missing, then this comic wouldn’t have packed such a punch.

  7. Aw man, you’re just so consistently good. It seems you’re very close to mastering the art of the last line lately.

    Thanks for the thought you put into your posts.

  8. Offtopic to a degree what your thoughts on how DC and MK reboot their series around the same time? Can I blame raiden for this?

  9. @Some Random Guy: could care less, honestly

    @Morgan Jeske: thanks mayne

  10. You’ve put more thought into your reviews than Miller put into his All-Star scripts … and it’s by far the better read. Even with the strong case you make for All-Star, I disagree with the depth or dimension you ascribe to the books, I think Miller has gone off the boil for a long time and I found All-Star unreadable after numerous attempts to jump on. I wonder if the books had a writer byline by Chuck Austin or Todd MacFarlane if there’d be much disagreement re: how badly they were written and how far off the mark the characters were to the determent of the story. His treatment of women is not empowering, like Robert E. Howard they are only powerful insofar as they remain subordinate to the male lead. As it is, he seems to be getting a free pass for accidentally writing satire, a la “Showgirls.” Frank Miller is a strong brand that generates interest and critical consideration, and maybe we’ll see the guy who wrote “Elektra Lives Again,” but I still don’t think there’s any there “there” in All-Star.

  11. @Kevin Patterson:

    But Frank Miller isn’t Austin or MacFarlane, he is FRANK MILLER the guy who wrote 3-4 of the best American comics of the 80s most of which he drew as well.

    It is much easier to say that it is intentional based on previous work than to say it is a great creator going off the deep end.

  12. Scanning the second paragraph, I momentarily though you were saying “Does anyone love you as much as Wally West loves Linkin Park?” Which would be an entirely different story.

  13. Again, this is well argued to the point of almost convincing me. Now if you can explain Deadpool MAX, we’ll really be in business.

  14. Not to undermine your own (excellent) points about super-sex, David, but here’s an alternate theory on what the lightning on that last page might signify.

    I remain convinced; in a comic where a single car journey spanned multiple issues, it seems unlikely that scene-length is arbitrary. It’s also probably worth comparing this love scene with the (literally Earth-moving) one between Superman and Wonder Woman in DK2, which is seven pages long.