Night falls on Empire City. While all its citizens are sleeping peacefully, rain is crackling on blind Justice. The statue stands in stony silence, where the Statue of Liberty is doing her duty in real New York. The exposition of Frank Miller’s long anticipated graphic novel Holy Terror (publication date: 09/28/11) looks like the typical introduction of any gloomy Batman comic. The only thing missing is the Dark Knight himself, who protects his city and its citizens, and of course a worthy villain.
Like two shadows in the night the longed for figures appear on the skyline of Empire City. But instead of Catwoman, we find the agile thief Natalie Stack being chased not by Batman but by a masked hero, who is introduced as The Fixer. Slightly disturbed, we accept this change of heroes and enjoy the brilliantly drawn chase. Miller connects the comic’s aesthetic almost seamlessly with his Sin City comics: Internal monologues, black full-page layout and white lines, which seems to be dynamically applied with a painter’s brush, yet, with such a precision.
Typically for Miller’s graphic style is the change of color: Sometimes he uses white for accentuating and black as a background color, in the next moment they change places. The vivid effect is a crackling rain, which follows the dynamic duo over the skyline of Empire City. Miller subdivides the page in same-sized panels. He consciously leaves black fingerprints to show his mastership in the craft.
The timing of the lofty chase is matchless. The bodies are doing pirouettes in midair, nearly weightless, until they crash hard onto a roof-top. The never-ending battle between good and evil can begin, again. The dazzling aesthetic of the lofty pursuit has to give way to a hard and fast-paced fist-fight. The Fixer and Natalie deal and take damage in turns. Blood is spluttering. Smaller panels are added to the layout to accentuate a bloody lip or an additional secondary movement.
The fight looks more like they are chasing each other’s tail, like a mating dance. Their love-hate relationship has to be read like a direct reference to Catwoman and Batman, the hero originally planned for Miller’s project Holy Terror, Batman! The dark knight was tought to give Osama bin Laden an upper cut. Although Miller explained that such heroes in tights expired their usefulness, Natalie and The Fixer are perfect Doppelgängers of the real DC Heroes. Their skirmish does not end in an arrest, but in a wild-romantic foreplay on some rooftop. But they will not be able to enjoy their “slow night” properly.
Without any warning all hell breaks loose. Nails and razorblades are cutting through the night sky. What looked like the absence of gravity one seond ago, is now turned into its opposite. Explosion after explosion tosses the heroes around and against walls. The only thing they can hold on to is each other. They cower on a roof-top, breathing becomes difficult.
This is the catastrophe of the 9/11 attacks, the holy terror, Miller wanted to display. An event which shook his foundation. His black-and-white-contrasts capture the terror and shock perfectly.
Only after the smoke slowly abated, both heroes are finally able to breathe freely and witness the real proportions of the catastrophe. Their gaze turns into the reader’s gaze: Many small panels display anonymous faces of the victims. They fade slowly into a white nothingness. In the end we see a page plastered with white panels, like tiny white tombstones filling the page. Again, the perspective changes and we see the shocked faces of Natalie and The Fixer. Ten years ago, most superhero-narratives would have ended exactly at this point.
But sadly, Frank Miller’s story goes on. His heroes are shocked but they won’t be awed, they will fight to the bitter end.
Without giving the events any second thought—there is no room for thinking in Holy Terror—they strike back. The perfect enemy is presented immediately: The promiscous Muslima Amina. She tells her date that where she is from they do not drink alcohol. But according to Miller, every Muslim in New York is equipped with a suicide bomb belt. His radical-conservative attitude does not only affect his „beliefs“ but also his drawing style: From the middle of the comic the perfectly adjusted balance between black and white collapses. Crude drawings surface and with them even cruder fantasies of revenge.
Miller legitimates these thoughts by displaying a collage of grotesque portraits of political leaders George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, Ariel Sharon, Donald Rumsfeld und Barack Obama, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Muammar Gaddafi und Kim Jong-il, but also Micheal Moore and the picture of a public stoning. Although the collage is quite ambigious, Miller offers no real explanation for the drastic measures of The Fixer that will follow.
Like a small child with some action-figures in his hands, Miller enacts his graphic Jihad against the supposed evil. The bigger the guns and the higher the body count, the cruder becomes the graphic distortion. The massacre against the terrorists is annoted only by with childish jokes comparable to Capitan America’s fight against the Nazis back in the 40s: Before The Fixer kicks a Muslim screaming „Jihad“ from the roof, he throws him a sarcastic „Gesundheit“. A captured Islamic terrorist is tortured for information, before he will be blown up, eventually, with his own suicide belt. Without any civil causalties, of course. Instead of debating, The Fixer gives only one explanation for his actions: „We engage in postmodern diplomacy“.
How to evaluate a comic book, which displays in the first half a master in the graphic craft in all its precision, but which uncovers in his second half hateful revengeful fantasies against Islam per se? In comics like Sin City, Ronin and Daredevil Miller already showed a knack for a teeth-grinding realism and for a brutality, which often breaches the borders of good taste. But he always left a grey zone of morality. There is no middleground in Holy Terror anymore. There is only us and them: Every Muslim is a terrorist and every mosque is a secret base of al-Qaida. Under these conditions Frank Miller’s most recent work reminds one of the films of Leni Riefenstahl. Presumably, he finally came to peace with Holy Terror, or to phrase it in the words of The Fixer: „I am at peace and at war.“
Graphic Propaganda by a great comic-artist
Text and Drawings: Frank Miller
120 pages, color, hardcover
Price: 29,99 US-Dollar
Preview pages (PDF)
Copyrights © Frank Miller, Legendary Comics LCC