I was nineteen. I’d just finished my freshman year of college. My mom and had sold my childhood home and moved to Zionsville, and my dad’s drinking problem was very much still a problem, so I decided I’d stay with him in his condo in downtown Indianapolis. Keeping an eye on your alcoholic dad is tough work. It breeds escapist tendencies. So one sweaty day that summer, something compelled me to walk to the downtown comics store. I’d decided to “get back into comic books,” a hobby I hadn’t kept in five years.
I bought a few solo issues, maybe Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and Daredevil. I picked-up the first volume of Preacher.
And The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller.
I’d never read The Dark Knight Returns. I had vague memories of my old buddy Nate preaching its virtues. I know he had a copy, and that I’d flipped through it once. I don’t remember why I knew it was “a comic book I was supposed to read”. I probably read about it on a TheForce.net or something.
I was captivated.
I remember Lynn Varley’s dark, inky art. The ugly faces. The shadows. The way the layout of the frames coded different meanings if you viewed each page as a single unit. And Frank’s words. God, his words. Electric and economical, vicious jabs of language. When I collected comic books in elementary school, I was into story arcs and character costumes and the visual imagination of the thing. But Frank Miller wrote comics in Frank Miller’s voice.
Over the next few years I read more of Miller’s work. Sin City. Batman Year One. His brilliant run on Daredevil, still my all-time favorite series of comic books. He was nothing short of a creative god to me, someone who wrote and drew with singular vision, who elevated childish comic books into serious critiques of… of something. I didn’t know what. I wasn’t very emotionally mature.
I met Frank once. I got to go to a media-only pre-screening of ten minutes of clips from 300, hosted by Frank Miller and Zack Snyder. I just said “Hi, I love your comics” and went to nibble on some cheese and crackers.
I remember really loving the film based on 300. I knew it was ridiculous. I knew it was hyper-masculine. (Nevermind the historical inaccuracies in the comic betray creative license with the intent to propagate a world view.) And gosh, um, those dark-skinned Persians aren’t really treated so well, but it was just a movie, right? The visuals, the promise of a future of expresisonistic fanboy films made in green boxes, thrilled me. I also deeply suspected Zack Snyder’s film subverted the source material the same way the Starship Troopers film savages the fascist ideas lovingly propagated in Heinlein’s novel. Snyder wasn’t making Persians out to be monsters, he was showing how the Spartans viewed the Persians, and look how far it got them in the end! A pile of dead bodies! Take that, Frank Miller’s beliefs! So it’s, like, totally okay to be titillated by this!
Over time, my devotion to Frank Miller was worn-down by his critics on internet messageboards. When you’re 25, it’s really easy to insist that you can appreciate a creative work without subscribing to its ethos. You listen to sexist music because, look man, I’m not identifying with the nasty bits, I just know the feeling described. Yeah, sure thing bub.
Over time, I didn’t view the women in Sin City as a sly tribute to sexist tropes of the past, but as simple sexist tropes.
Over time, I’ve come to question if I can separate the style and craft of a creative work from its thematic content. Is it right for me to love the 300 film in spite of its questionable racist tone? Can I still adore Frank Miller’s Daredevil run, even if it is another version of “an aging warrior seeking redemption and the Madonna-whore he’s trying to save from a disfigured monster”. (Daredevil/Elektra/Kingpin. Leonidas/Gorgo/Xerxes. Marv/Goldie/Roark. Hartigan/Nancy/Yellow Bastard. Jim Gordon/Sarah/Mutants, and Batman/Robin/Mutants.)
I’ve been wresting with this moral dilemma, generally, over the last year. And then, Frank Miller decided to voice his opinion about Occupy Wall Street.
Regardless of how Occupy Wall Street makes you feel, what Frank Miller thinks of them is hateful bile.
It makes me sick and sad. If there was any illusion left, that maybe Frank Miller had a sense of humor and satirized himself in his work, it’s an illusion shattered. So now I have a new question…
Nevermind “Can I separate the style and craft of a creative work from its thematic content?” I am now asking myself “Can I separate the creatives works of an entertainer from his or her beliefs at all?”
Increasingly, for me, the answer is “No”.
Does this retroactively affect my love of The Dark Knight Returns and Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil?
Time is so limited, so precious. In the digital age, I have relative infinite content for entertainment at my disposal. Those two truths taken in sum, how can I select something so potentially poisonous for consumption? Why grant Frank Miller any real estate in my mind? Why chance it? There is infinite content available, I lose relatively nothing at all to cast Frank Miller outside of my castle walls.
This moral dilemma becomes more grave when I take stock of my life, peer into my future not five years away, and see perhaps a daughter. Nevermind the real estate in my own mind, its ground water is already contaminated, much of its foliage already stripped away. But the real estate in her mind, the mind of a daughter I one day hope to have, is rising in value before she’s ever born, and keeping that property from depreciating will become my primary task upon her earthly arrival.
I’ll hold on to my Daredevil trades and copy of The Dark Knight Returns, for now. Until further review. I think I have to toss out the Sin City collection, though.
Increasingly, decisions like this get easier.
I’m not interested at all what Frank Miller has to say.
These days, in light of his views, I’m not too interested in his funnybooks, either.