I had somehow missed that fact that we’re at the 30 year anniversary of The Dark Knight Returns, a comic story by Frank Miller that told of a dystopian future Gotham City where various events cause Batman to come out of retirement. It was a big deal, everyone who had any interest in comics read it. There were rave reviews. And it changed the course of Batman comics for years afterward.
I was 25 years old when The Dark Knight Returns miniseries came out, and although my comic reading had entered the long decline from the days when I would visit a comic book store as regular as clock work to pick up my weekly latest issues, I read the series and generally loved it. Generally. There were things about it that bothered me. But then, there had been things about Frank Miller’s writing and artwork that both compelled me and repulsed me for years.
He revived Daredevil, taking over as penciller and writer in 1979. By the time he left the series in 1983, he had definitively transformed a character that had been a B-list hero at best in Marvel’s pantheon, into a top tier character. But he had transformed the character through one of the most brutal acts of senseless murder of a female character apparently created for the sole purpose of becoming the hero’s mysterious love interest to be then brutally murdered to imbue the hero with the necessary man-pain to justify a lot more brutal gore-splattered comic frames later.
I could go on, but Susanna Polo has a great article about this whole thing up at Polygon.com, and you really ought to go read it: THE WRITER WHO MADE ME LOVE COMICS TAUGHT ME TO HATE THEM.
I found the article thanks to a tweet that came through my timeline, which included the tag line, “TW: misogyny, racism, Frank Miller.” Even before I clicked on the link to read the article, I thought, “But you repeat yourself. ‘Trigger Warning: Frank Miller’ already tells us about the misogyny and racism. And you left out the homophobia!”
I mean, Miller is the guy who told the story of the Spartans by completely removing every hint of their well-documented homosexuality—it wasn’t just that such relationships were tolerated, it was considered tactically vital that soldiers be lovers! And Miller turned their enemy into a sissy villain straight out of a bad 1950s story!
And don’t get me started on what he did to the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns! It makes the portrayal of Baron Harkonnen in Lynch’s Dune look like a nuanced macho, misunderstood anti-hero!
As the final panel in Ty Templeton’s comic about Frank from a few years ago notes: I used to love his work. In my case, when I was still closeted and so deeply in denial about myself that I had no clue about just how deeply messed up and hateful some of those recurring tropes that Miller used again and again were.