Since the 1980s, Frank Miller has been one of comics’ reigning superstars. Back then, he redefined some of comics’ most famous characters, like Daredevil, Wolverine, and Batman (whom he helped redefine twice, first inThe Dark Knight Returns and then in Batman: Year One). He then moved on to further his signature style in gritty, violent works like Sin City and 300.
His latest, Holy Terror, began life as a Batman tale in 2006, but when DC got skittish about printing a Batman story fraught with so much potential controversy, Miller reworked it and now has published it with Legendary Comics—an offshoot of film company Legendary Pictures.
In Batman’s place stands The Fixer, who busts a cat burglar (standing in for Catwoman) after she’s swiped a diamond bracelet. They swing all over Empire City’s rooftops, fighting brutally, and by the time they reach a construction site, their passion has resulted in unbridled lust. That’s when the first bomb explodes, sending nails, then razor blades, flying through the air. It’s an act of terror committed by Al-Qaeda, and neither The Fixer nor his female cat burgling comrade are going to stand for it. They go after the perpetrators guns drawn (it’s odd to see even a Batman stand-in killing so wantonly and cheerfully while muttering lines like “Leave one of them alive. To talk….We’ll have to torture him.”). Meanwhile, the terrorists send a squadron of airplanes to blow up the Empire City statue Blind Justice (standing in for the Statue of Liberty).
The story may have originated as a Batman vehicle, but Miller goes out of his way to make it clear that’s no longer the case. Still, it’s not quite clear what commentary Miller is trying to make with Holy Terror. There are political-cartoon caricatures of world leaders and American politicians strewn throughout the book, and The Fixer is far more violent and bloodthirsty than Batman ever conceived of being. But whatever statements he’s trying to make become too muddled to decipher easily. By the time the story moves to its final act—taking place in a gorgeously ornate underground city beneath Empire City (!) where Al-Qaeda has set up a base—the politics are hardly clear.
Still, it’s the action scenes that Miller is known for, and here he is in the same fine form as always. Miller loves to play around with black and white (with spots of color interspersed throughout), and with it he makes by far his most interesting impressions in the book. The artwork builds some almost-3D-like effects and, as usual, Miller excels at creating brutal violence and fighting scenes.
Holy Terror is definitely a book for adults, what with its widespread bloodbath scenes and coarse language. Sadly, its oversimplified politics and worldview spoil some of the best opportunities the book creates for telling a good story. But it’s nice to see that Miller’s pencils and artistic skills remain strong.
Reviewed by John Hogan on October 11, 2011