Legendary comic book creator Frank Miller has continued to defy expectation and industry norms for decades, from a groundbreaking run on Daredevil to the postmodern masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns and its revisionist counterpart Batman: Year One. Reuniting with acclaimed collaborator John Romita, Jr., Miller has defined another iconic DC Comics superhero from his earliest years in the DC Black Label miniseries Superman: Year One, providing a bold, new vision of the Man of Steel as he becomes the hero he was always destined to be.
In an exclusive interview with CBR at New York Comic C0n 2019, Miller discussed the origins of the series, how he sees Batman and Superman differently, what DC Comics superhero he'd like to write next and the appeal of crafting gritty, neo-noir stories.
CBR: You've been working with John Romita, Jr. on Superman: Year One; you've got two issues out now. The last time you worked with John was Daredevil: Man Without Fear, right? How was it reuniting after all these years later?
Frank Miller: It's grand, in some ways, it's like no time has passed except we've both gotten better at our jobs and are much more at ease and much more in communication with each other. We see each other a lot and I'd say it's more fun this time.
As someone who really cut their teeth as an artist as well as a writer, how is it writing for somebody else and entrusting them with your vision on the printed page?
Well, the way I approach it is that I don't approach as if I don't have this singular vision that is to be followed [but] that I'm forging something with somebody else. And so I'm responding very much to what they do and to who they are. When I did Daredevil with David Mazzucchelli, I wound up writing a very different kind of story than I did when I was drawing it myself because David Mazzucchelli brought a level of naturalism and personal emotion that was very different than the melodramatic, operatic approach that I took. So with John Romita, Jr., it's two things: It's the character -- the characters are extremely different -- but also, it's where we're at and now, this time, we're approaching the seminal, primary superhero and trying to approach it with very fresh hands.
You had mentioned Daredevil and you also worked with Mazzuchelli on Batman: Year One but is writing Superman the most idealistic, hopeful comic book writing you've ever done?
Yeah, it probably is. But I would say that the writing in 300 is extraordinarily idealistic; people who were up against impossible odds essentially charting the course of Western civilization is pretty darn idealistic but nothing beats Moses; this lone child [that survived]! The big question that always hangs over Superman is what if he wasn't such a nice guy? What he hadn't had those angelic parents raising him? What if all these things hadn't come together to create the perfect hero?
Is that why you wanted to put him in the military for issue #2?
I don't think that was so much character-forging as character-testing. He needed that rite of passage where he had to start making decisions because he was an adult.
What made you want to revisit a Silver Age element like Lori Lemaris in issue #2?
Atlantis gave us two big things: One, it's part of his discovery of Earth as a place with as many wonders as Krypton ever had and as a planet he's falling in love with. Because he's much more in love with Earth than he ever was with Krypton. The other is that I see Superman as a profoundly romantic character. I don't think he ever was until that marvelous Richard Donner movie where we saw Superman fly Lois Lane over the city. And that transformed the character forever in my eyes -- I think, in everybody's eyes.
I think that Superman, unlike Batman, is very much a lover. He's in love with the planet and he's probably broken many a heart.
How do you see Batman in contrast to Superman?
Superman is the nobler character and Batman is in eternal torment of the childhood trauma of having his parents murdered. Superman lost an entire species, he lived through armageddon...and he got better! He's not a bitter man, he's not an angry man, because his foster parents were such good, sweet people and because his essential nature was so positive. He can fly and lift railroad cars. He's a sun god like Apollo.
To expand on a previous question, you've done gritty and you've done cyberpunk in books like Ronin. Do you have to use a different muscle creatively when writing Superman?
Absolutely! That's the joy of doing it! I try to do that with each project that I do. Bob Dylan once referred to himself as a musical expeditionary and I like to think of myself as a comic book expeditionary. You've got keep yourself alive, keep yourself interested.
In Dark Knight III: The Master Race, you got to do these mini-comics focused on different members of the Justice League. Is there any character in the wider DC Universe you would love to crack at?
There's a bunch! They have such an amazing pantheon and so many of them surface in Dark Knight. One character I loved using in Strikes Again was the Question. There's so many and some are so goofy like the unforgivable 60s ones like Brother Power the Geek. I think everyone wants their crack at Wonder Woman because she's one of those great characters who has been done right so rarely. She's been drawn right but rarely been written right.
Between Elektra and 300, I'm surprised you haven't taken a crack at her yet.
Yeah, only in Dark Knight. When it comes to DC Comics, there's so many and they cover such a broad range of time. In particular, their sunburst was in the 1940s, which is a period of history I'm obsessed with. Everything that happened during World War II changed the course of the world in every way just as important as the Persian Wars were whereas the 60s, by comparison, was like an adolescent tantrum.
But that was my youth! A lot of good things came from that time. My two favorite singers in the whole world are Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan and they're both total 60s cats.
What is it about the pulp and the hardboiled era that you find fascinating? You see a lot of neo-noir influences in your work.
The whole hard boiled era was a post-World War II reaction of soldiers coming home and finding out the world wasn't the utopia they had fought for. I enjoy the idea of a knight in dirty armor and that's what the heroes of Sin City are.
Is Superman the one shining knight?
Oh yeah, he's Lancelot! So I wanted my crack at that.
You had always told Superman from Batman's perspective. Was it a surprise to everyone that you wanted to play the role reversal from Superman's perspective?
When [DC Comics co-publisher] Dan Didio came over to my place and said 'You're working with us again, is there anything in particular you want to do?' and I said 'I thought, you'd never ask! I want to do Superman!' and you could've knocked him over with a feather! Everybody thinks I hate Superman because of Dark Knight, which is understandable because it's Batman's book.
Before you got a crack at them, they always got along; they were the World's Finest! Did it just not make sense to you that they would have that dynamic?
That was basically it. I figured that they had completely different views on the world. Superman was a farm boy, he was raised by nice parents and thought the world was a well-ordered place. Batman was a city kid and his parents were blown away when he was five years old. Also, Superman could do anything he wanted to. Batman had to make himself and create Batman.
To put a button on it all, what are you most excited about with Superman: Year One?
Working with John Romita, Jr. It's an absolute joy. He's a powerhouse that just keeps getting more powerful. And with [inker] Danny Miki and [colorist] Alex Sinclair, it's a superb team all around.
Superman: Year One #3 is written by Frank Miller and illustrated by John Romita, Jr. and Danny Miki. The issue is scheduled to go on sale on October 16 from DC Comics.