The legends behind this book cast shadows long and inky, both the impetus for the story and the man executing it. This was initially composed as a Batman tale where he would battle Al-Queda. It almost makes sense when one assembles the Frank Miller tome of Bat-lore that has come before, this would be the next logical step. For various reasons, Miller eventually took his story away from DC and changed the characters, slightly. Here, we have the Fixer reacting in superheroic fashion to the terrorist attacks on Empire City, his city.
It will be hard for anyone to read this comic and not spend most of the time finding the parallels to Batman. The hero looks familiar enough, his foe/love interest is a cat burglar with claws, the mustached police officer, and the city of darkness and water towers all sing familiar tunes. You can see where this story started and then how it so easily shifted. The problem is, we transfer to completely new characters and yet Miller spends little effort in making them feel unique and independent. The short hand of other characters’ histories is mostly used to inform these people and that isn’t entirely fair. In fact, it might just be a bit lazy. There are some hints dropped about the Fixer’s past but mostly he operates as an ersatz Batman, and the rest of the stage and crew merely reflect what they were once supposed to be. You can’t let another universe lay your foundations and they try to build higher.
The opening pages of this book are gorgeous, of that there is no doubt. Of the following scores of pages you again are treated to such stylistic brilliance on occasion. Miller knows how to use negative space and silhouette effectively to build the static illusion of movement and impact. He captures a moment in time, seemingly random in selection and thus beautiful for its truth. These pages feel like the new “300” artist casting an eye back over his “Dark Knight Returns” days and trying to find a future. The composition of certain pages (when Natalie Stack, the cat burglar, jumps onto the Fixer and forces a violent kiss) show a master who still understands how to take control of the reader’s eye and show them the beauty in this medium.
However, for every good page there are a handful of sequences that are far too muddled to be considered effective. The dashes of ink (from what seem like brushes, thumbs, and maybe even boots) work on the open splash pages because there’s room to tell a story around them. During the action scenes, Miller loses cohesion to the point where one can’t find the Fixer’s face from the burglar’s arm without studying far too hard. The kinetic quality is perhaps rendered too faithfully as the inelegance of a dramatic rooftop ballet confuses the reader, loses momentum, and simply does not work. Miller is working for innovation and far too often finds himself treading into the territory of confusion.
The story itself is surprisingly thin. Dirty bombs explode across the Empire City skyline throughout a night of terror. The Fixer takes it upon himself to find the root of this evil and punish it before the crescendo of pain can be executed. There are some decent moments thrown in, the violence and gritty voices are on full display, and Miller even manages to sneak in a few (now trademark) ‘goddamns’ to raise a smile. The writing is reminiscent of the “Sin City” series; Miller uses repetition, brevity, and a staccato style to invoke gritted teeth and hard streets.
Miller certainly has a lot to say in this book. Well, at least he’s got a lot of thoughts and feelings to promote. What he doesn’t always have is a lot of story to entertain with. This book is as much an art portfolio of personal responses to terrorism through superheroism as they are a sequential set of moments that tell a tale. There is a set piece of dynamic action in the middle where the Fixer takes out his guns and fixes some terrorists and those pages are gorgeous. The lines are clear, the destruction gleefully nasty, and the shadows smear intent perfectly. Moments like these impress but are later undercut by what many will take as quite racist and rude remarks out of this hero’s mouth.
Is this a bad comic? I don’t think so. I didn’t enjoy it thoroughly and will doubtfully read it again anytime soon. There is an emotional core missing from this book that stems from using borrowed outlines for new characters as well as aiming to preach ideals rather than commit to a story first. However, “Holy Terror” does enough good to justify its existence. The peaks of creative nirvana, though few, are to be relished.
I also can’t understand when Miller started drawing such hideous shoes and boots.
This is an unrepentant Frank Miller book. Some will lambaste it for its crude attempts at prescience that come off as aggressively uninformed and demeaning while others will laud this for its stark depiction of superheroism and the attempt to finally force the medium to grow up in a world currently dealing with villains made of whole cloth and deadly fiber. There is no doubt there are moments of artistic genius buried within this document. Certain pages are unbreakably stunning. There is also little doubt this will halve the audience; personal opinions will strongly come into play with final thoughts. Personally, this book spent too much energy on style and impact compared to its efforts with narrative cohesion and world building. “Holy Terror” wants to be a piece of propaganda and there it succeeds, it is made from art and is at times of the highest degree, but as a comic it doesn’t hit all the bases.