Who Needs Killing?:

Frank Miller and Blanket Morality

Each day we get closer to having to admit that some of our heroes have views we disagree with. Some views we might even call nuts.

Sure, we might love our heroes to be a little egocentric, to be the mouthpiece for what we feel but never say. But what happens when a famous creator like Frank Miller creates a work that he himself describes as “propaganda” (his book Holy Terror) and then goes on a tirade against the Occupy Wall Street protestors?

It seems a mountain of response was triggered by Miller’s book and rant: from cyber vitriol to full on calls for boycotts, Miller’s tirade has been nothing but affective. Even Mark Millar went online, not to defend Miller but rather to quell the mobs gathering for Frank Miller’s downfall.

Mark Millar’s main caveat against this tsunami of disgust from the comics community is that it is a mob mentality. When you take it apart, what we are seeing is quite hypocritical. We do not have to, by any means, enjoy the perspectives of our favorite, even canonical, creators. We don’t have to agree with Dave Sim about religion or women. We can ignore that Orson Scott Card is a bit of a bigot now. We can still enjoy the work, but not the creator.

After all, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (who many will proclaim as one of the most brilliant minds to ever live) was a Nazi. Heidegger never colluded directly with the Nazis, but he did take up several academic positions because of his affiliation (including becoming the head of Freiburg which at the time was one of the most prestigious universities). Despite this, his work to this day reverberates through much of philosophy, literature, and even theology.

To put it bluntly: it sucks to have someone make compelling, amazing works but otherwise be a shithead. But we can certainly still enjoy their works. It does not change the feelings we had when reading works like The Dark Knight Returns or Cerebus.

While political / philosophical affiliations can temper our love of creators and their works, we should be careful down this road. It is a bit more slippery than first thought. Wholesale condemning a body of works for one bad sentence is a bit too much of a blanket statement.

There are aspects of even Watchmen that make me groan a bit, but does that mean the whole thing is broken from the start? Hell, no.

Now, if the work makes you have that groan-inducing feeling throughout much of it, then it might just be a bad work or have a lot of faults, more than can be ignored.

Then there is the case of Holy Terror. Stated by Miller himself as propaganda, it reads a bit more like enemy porn than anything. In fact, the book itself is far worse in its philosophy and implications than even then entirety of Miller’s Occupy Wall Street rant.

“Empire City is in peril… and a whole lot of folks need killing.”

That’s one of the tag lines from the back of Holy Terror, the obtuse story about killing terrorists that hate ‘Merica.

Being that this is propaganda in some form makes that tag line feel crass at best, if not inhumane.

This is not the cute, coy comics of the ’40s with Captain America chasing around Nazis and trying to stop the Axis Powers. Superman wasn’t on the cover of Action Comics going: “Nazis need killing!!”

After all, asking for the blanket death of a sect of people based on political affiliation is like asking for the death of any group of people based on one item, be it race, gender, or religion.

This is why the tag line, and much of the book, is inhumane in what it is saying. To say some people need to be killed implies a morality. One that allows Group A to demonize and murder Group B based on difference in myths and philosophy. Group A is really just asserting its dominance over Group B, but cannot claim any real moral dominance or prove such claims.

What we are dealing with is a blanket morality and this is always more than a bit solipsistic.

Saying that a person needs killing implies that they are flawed on some level, but this perception is never objective. This is relativistic morality being touted as the Morality of humanity. Miller is putting forth, perhaps accidentally, a highly contentious philosophy that the “enemy” needs to be killed because they are against us.

After all, it is not white male Americans that the Fixer, the main murderer, of Holy Terror is killing. In truth, Miller is not creating a type of therapy to deal with all the emotions around 9/11. He is creating enemy porn. Something for all American’s to read and then pump our fist shouting: “Fuck Yeah! Git ‘R Done!”

This is where “need” becomes a tricky word. Propaganda is always one side of a multi-perspective argument. One that most would never agree with the terrorists’ side of.

While his remarks — and Holy Terror itself — are largely just silly and dismissible, this type of rhetoric is not. His blanket statement changes morality. Frank Miller is actually saying that some people can be murdered, and that it is totally reasonable, because they were against us.

Anything opposed to our morality and values is wrong and therefore flawed. Not simply just flawed, but so emphatically wrong that the person holding this idea should be murdered.

It is absurd to base a philosophy, not to mention a plot, around the idea that those holding an idea should die. While Miller’s protagonist, the Fixer, mainly murders terrorists, it is not hard to see the xenophobia Miller is facing with this work.

In fact, on NPR, before the book was fully created, Miller was recorded as saying:

For the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden, I realize what my parents were talking about all those years. Patriotism, I now believe, isn’t some sentimental, old conceit. It’s self-preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation’s survival. Ben Franklin said it: if we don’t all hang together, we all hang separately.

It is easy to conclude that 9/11 left an indelible scar on Frank Miller. Perhaps one that will never heal, but a wound nonetheless that Miller seems to use for inspiration now.

But what about the other side of the table? What about those that see America as the enemy and likewise seek to only kill or inculcate us? Who is right then?

Obviously, these are a bit more nuanced questions than Mr. Miller is dealing with above. But this begs the question of why? Why isn’t Frank Miller thinking this through more?

Because he is afraid and wants someone held responsible for the shape of the world.

There is none of who can say his fear is right or wrong, but we can point out that it is bankrupt morally, intellectually, and humanely. What Miller is missing is that we cannot kill an idea. We cannot destroy that kernel of a philosophical / religious idea that ushers men to crash planes into buildings. It also doesn’t destroy the idea that those of color, especially Arabic, are the enemy and should be murdered.

We cannot give a blanket morality to the world as Frank Miller so clearly wants to.

We no longer live in a black and white world.

Tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Thurman is a writer based in Chicago. He blogs about comics, life, and music at errantghost.tumblr.com.

See more, including free online content, on .

Also by Kevin Thurman:

co-author

co-author

contributor

Essays exploring the whole of Daredevil's history.

contributor

contributor

Not pictured:

14 Comments

  1. Miguel Rosa says:

    “We do not have to, by any means, enjoy the perspectives of our favorite, canonical, creators. We don’t have to agree with Dave Sim about religion or women. We can ignore that Orson Scott Card is a bit of a bigot now. But, we can still enjoy the work, but not the creator.”

    I agree. But a writer who is a great writer and a morally upstanding person is even better, don’t you think?

    • MIguel,
      Trust me when I say I wish they all were morally upstanding. But, even when the person makes poor choices morally, they can still produce outstanding work.

      • Miguel Rosa says:

        Yes, I don’t dispute that. It’s interesting that I don’t care about the horrible details of many writers’ lives – Eliot’s presumed anti-semitism, Pound writing fascist speeches, Burroughs killing his wife hopped on drugs – and yet Miller’s words fill me with revulsion. I’m trying to understand what’s the difference, but I can’t find it. I can give these people a pass, but Miller just annoys the hell out of me.

  2. Sam Keeper says:

    I hate to make this my first comment here at sequart, but I really can’t stay silent.

    This article is horrifying in its implications. You are equating the calling for a boycott with a call for the murder of a whole religious and ethnic group. I’m really at a loss for words here. I feel like this is so basic that I shouldn’t even have to explain it, but calling someone on being a bigoted fascist does not make you a bigoted fascist, it makes you an intellectually honest and socially honorable person. Have we really sunk so far into apathy as a society that even the calling for a boycott is too politically disruptive an action? That simply caring about where our money is going is equal to an act of violence?

    Because I cannot, despite your claims, enjoy the works of a man or woman that holds a truly repugnant ideology. Can I enjoy them if I downloaded them for free illegally online? Oh, absolutely! There’s nothing inherent in the work that would turn me away (although… the idea that I can enjoy a work that does openly proclaim odious beliefs is also highly problematic and smacks of a sort of hedonistic ignorant bliss). But consider your example of Orson Scott Card. If I buy a new copy of Ender’s Game, that’s money in his pocket. A certain percent of that both bankrolls his more recent openly anti-gay work and supports “charities” that work for the suppression of gay rights. So, by buying this book, I am indirectly bankrolling my own oppression in society.

    That’s just plain stupid.

    But what really infuriates me is that you would dare to call this kind of conscientiousness hypocritical. You behave as though anyone who refuses to fund Miller’s monstrous viewpoints is the same as Miller. Congratulations, sir, you’ve managed to redefine the act of opposing fascism as fascism itself. Under your scheme, no matter what we do the monsters of the world win–either we accept and fund them, or by challenging them we become them.

    You seem to think that moral relativism is somehow the key to ridding the world of the kind of ideologies Miller expresses. You are wrong. We are intellectuals here. It is our responsibility as intellectuals to oppose evil wherever we see it. And, ultimately, it is our right to say, “What you are saying is not just wrong but unconscionable, and I refuse to spend my money funding your ideology.”

    If that makes us hypocrites, so be it.

    But personally, I have a hard time seeing how it does.

    • Miles Prower says:

      Sam – “Congratulations, sir, you’ve managed to redefine the act of opposing fascism as fascism itself.” I think you’re being a little quick to call Miller a “fascist.” He may be xenophobic, and his OWS comments may be a little extreme, but he isn’t a fascist. Let’s not hyperbolize the situation.

      That being said, I don’t necessarily agree with Mr. Thurman either. Let’s just break things down to their simplest parts and cut through the bullshit:

      - Frank Miller has a right to his freedom of speech.

      - Fans have a right to disagree with Miller and they further have the right to not buy his books if they don’t feel comfortable with his particular ideologies.

      - It is probably unfair to condemn an ENTIRE body of work based off of one ideological disagreement and it is further unfair to do so simply because other people are doing it too.

      Personally, I was shocked that people were so shocked and offended at Holy Terror. Obviously, it has a very strong message that many should be in opposition to, but it is just so obvious that it doesn’t seem worth picking apart. Anyone following the progression of this project since 2006 shouldn’t be surprised by it. Furthermore, anyone who has read Miller’s work close enough shouldn’t be shocked because Holy Terror is about par for the course.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s weird to be so offended by this comic when it is along the same lines as his other work.

      I’m afraid I may have muddied the waters more.

      • Miles,
        I don’t think you muddied the waters at all. In fact you re-iterate many of the points I was trying to make.

        I am in no way defending Miller as I am saying that maybe before we jump on him for saying X, we should be careful cause over here he at Y he is implying something potentially dangerous.

      • Sam Keeper says:

        I can agree with this, and yeah, I honestly don’t see this as particularly shocking, either. 300 alone has enough Unfortunate Implications to crash TV Tropes. It’s too bad, because the man is a structural genius.

        As far as my assessment that he’s a fascist… my metric for this sort of thing comes from Umberto Eco’s essay on Ur-Fascism and it’s characteristics. I really think, based on what we’ve seen, that Miller fits the ideology surprisingly well. One can even see elements of it dating back to DKR, if one does as you suggest and read it closely. Honestly, these two most recent monstrosities from Miller just confirmed what I had already been seeing for quite a while.

    • Sam
      You make some interesting points, but they are not speaking about what I wrote about above.
      I am, in no way, equating a boycott with genocide. Frank Miller never committed genocide. So, I believe that is a leap you are making yourself Sam.

      Now, as for enjoying things but not paying for them, well, there are certainly friends and libraries we can get these books from without buying them, are there not?

      Now, personally, I most likely will not be purchasing anything Frank Miller makes from here on out because I disagree with him.

      Also, Frank Miller has as much a right to Freedom of Speech as anyone does. We cannot stifle his right for then he shall have the same right to stifle our own.

      Thanks for your comments Sam.

      • Sam Keeper says:

        Kevin, if this is the case, and you are totally ok with the idea of a boycott, then why exactly do you call those calling for a boycott hypocrites? The whole article seems to be structured in a way that argues that the real problem here is a black and white morality, and that those who oppose Miller are just as guilty of that as he is, and therefore to criticize him is to fall into hypocrisy.

        This is a hugely different argument from what you describe in your reply to Miles above, and I hate to say it but I don’t think I’m just interpreting your writing in a daft way. It simply is not clear from the structure of the essay what exactly you’re trying to argue. And it seems, from the other comments, that I’m not the only person who missed the fact that the argument was, “maybe before we jump on him for saying X, we should be careful cause over here he at Y he is implying something potentially dangerous.”

        I hope this isn’t coming across as condescending, since I honestly have enjoyed your other work here, and I certainly am not anyone with any sort of credibility around here, but I don’t think this essay is communicating your ideas well at all.

      • Sam,
        I have to respectfully disagree that I don’t make the case well. This paragraph alone is more than enough connective tissue between the ideas.
        While political / philosophical affiliations can temper our love of creators and their works, we should be careful down this road. It is a bit more slippery than first thought. Wholesale condemning a body of works for one bad sentence is a bit too much of a blanket statement.

        Right there is how it is, to me, hypocritical to condemn a man’s work for some outlandish thing he said. Especially when there are far worse things he is saying/creating.
        But, that comes with the caveat that one bad work does not spoil his oeuvre.
        Even though Holy Terror exists, it does not mean that his run on Daredevil is somehow worse.
        Thank you for the compliment and keeping me on my toes. I appreciate good, heart felt rebuttals!
        Thanks Sam!

  3. First off, I feel I should point out I have yet to read Miller’s latest offering. Based on the reviews, however, do feel fairly comfortable making a few comments here.

    What we see in Miller’s “Holy Terror” is, as mentioned before, not too different from much of his past work. It’s gritty, in-your-face violence. In this regard, is there much room for shock? This *is* Frank Miller we’re talking about here. The problem, as I see it, is that we’re getting some of the same stuff rehashed in a less thoughtful manner. Take your pick from any of Miller’s work on Daredevil, the canonical Wolverine mini-series, let alone his monumental re-imagining of Batman. Sex and violence were easy to find, and yet, I’d challenge anyone that there isn’t a certain amount of thoughtfulness and intelligence behind the choices he made in telling those stories. In later works, however, (I’ll point the drek that is All-Star Batman and Robin, but feel free to include Holy Terror) we see his work as a simple shadow of the past efforts–all the violence and grit without the story to provide a backbone.

    Now, ASBR just came off as poor writing to me (though I did find Jim Lee was still solid as can be with his part of the work). Holy Terror is a bit more disturbing when one considers the political climate into which this book is being read and the demographics which Miller addresses. Not that there was ever really a time for broad brushstrokes to stereotype others, but I would think the post-9/11 world would give one pause before haphazardly calling for the need to kill certain groups of people, regardless of how we might justify it. There are some real world implications when works like these come out. Ask that Dutch cartoonist who had a fatwa placed on his head and caused riots in the Middle East about 5 years or so ago.

    Miller most certainly has the right to say and believe what he likes. His past works have enabled him the ability to publish what he likes as well, regardless of the politically correctness of that work. But we also have a right to vote with out dollars. I rather suspect that if Mr. Miller’s publishers take a major hit on the (lack of) sales from this book, they’ll be less likely to offer him as great a print run the next time he wants to produce something like this. Again, it’s fine to express different ideas, but I do think we need to be a little smarter about how we do it. Miller seems to have failed in this, and I suspect that’s a fair enough reason for him to feel a little backlash from the critics and fans.

    And for what it’s worth, I am planning to read the book all the same–though I will not be buying it. After all, it’s good to know both a creator’s masterpieces and their failures.

  4. Miguel Rosa says:

    This matter caused such a controversy in the comics community, and yet I think it was blown out of proportions. As much as I dislike Miller’s words, I keep thinking it’d have been a lot more effective to have ignored them. It must have been a slow news day, or maybe the community is just so small anything is newsworthy. But really, apart from immediate revulsion, I don’t see what’s the point of reacting so strongly to him. Let’s be honest, if Frank Miller weren’t a comics writer/artist, we wouldn’t have cared. Are we really that obsessed about every word this medium’s heroes spout? I mean, most of the time I didn’t even remember Frank Miller exists, and now I have to read his name everywhere several times a day. No one cared about Miller until one week ago and now he’s the only topic in forums and blogs.

    You know what?

    Frank Miller won.

Leave a Reply