Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spotlight On: Frank Miller

Doug: Hi, and welcome to the inaugural installment of a new ongoing series of posts. This series was inspired by a post a few weeks back on the Blog Into Mystery. Our friend Jared ran a review of Nova #18, and a discussion ensued on the merits of the Marvel work of Carmine Infantino. So I thought we'd hopefully move some of that spirit over here for an examination of the work of today's spotlight creator, Frank Miller.

Doug: Miller is of course best remembered at Marvel for his re-imagining of the Man Without Fear and the creation of Elektra. Along the way he did some other spot projects and graphic novels. His best work, for my money, was at DC on the Dark Knight Returns, although I'll stand by my assessment that this created an immediacy for companies to rush out "grim and gritty" material -- which only sunk to new "grim and gritty" depths as everyone tried to out-do the other guys! And the Sin City material of course bears mentioning here.

Doug: So the ball's really in your court -- feel free to open up about your opinions, attitudes, musings, et al. of Miller's career. His work in comics at both of the Big Two as well as his Dark Horse stuff, and even his efforts in the film industry are all fair-game topics. Have fun with this, stir the pot a bit, and pay a little homage to one of the gems of the Bronze Age (and beyond).


dbutler16 said...

I agree that Miller's DKR is great, but I actually prefer his Daredevil run(s). I've never read Sin City or 300.
The thing with Miller is, while I like his writing (though the "dark & gritty" thing does wear thin for me after a while) I've always HATED his art. His style is just not to my liking at all. Way too sketchy for me. The one good thing I will say about it, though, is that his artistic style does suit most of his stories. That style works for things like Ronin (good work), DKR, and Daredevil though, while I've not read it, it doesn't seem like it would work for 300 very well.

david_b said...

Frank Miller was an extraordinary creative force in the '80s, much like Kirby, Ditko, later Starlin and Steranko. Building on his 'film noir' reimaging of Daredevil back in '79, DC green-lighted his ground-breaking 'Dark Knight' in '86, changing both characters (and most of comicdom) forever.

Arguably, it was a necessary thrust of creative energy into a blander-and-blander universe (for both companies), but for me it got a bit too cliche-ish very quickly with all the grittiness, suddenly-armored superheroes poppin' up(Cap, Bats, Thor, Spidey?), like everyone had to jump on the bandwagon.

It certainly was the catalyst for enormous change in comic story-telling and artistry since then, so while I personally applaud the creative burst, I generally didn't like it's permeating influence across comicdom.

Doug said...

You both gave a nod to the noir-ish writing of Miller. Since that's how Bendis started in the field, and you can carry it forward to his over-use of ninjas in New Avengers, maybe this Miller fellow should be stoned rather than feted!


Agreed that Miller pumped new energy into the field, and I also agree that over the past 20 years or so, it's his influence we've felt in the industry as much as anyone's (perhaps since Kirby's).


Edo Bosnar said...

I kind of mentioned this on a previous thread, but since the topic's come up, I have to say that personally I think Miller's best work was his first run on Daredevil. For me, nothing he did afterward, good as it may be, reached the heights of that run, either in terms of storytelling or art.

dbutler16 said...

I agree that Miller's style spawned a monster, in much the same way that the success of something good (Contest of the Champions) can spawn something bad (constant "mega events", miniseries, and company-wide crossovers).

I do think that Miller is probably the most influential creator since Kirby. I know that Alan Moore is equally, if not more, acclaimed, but I don't think people are mimicking (or can) him the way they do Miller. Also, Miller's DKR and Batman: Year One have had a huge impact on the way Batman has been portrayed ever since. Speaking of Batman: Year One, now that I think of it, I believe it's my favorite Miller work. Mercifully, he didn't do the art on that.

By the way, if Miller is in any way responsible for Bendis, then he should indeed be flogged! When I got back a bit into new comics in 2008, I of course picked up both New and Mighty, but of all the titles I was collecting, those were the first two I dropped. Awful stuff! Miller at least can't be blamed for Bendis' lack of respect for (or knowledge of?) comics history and what came before him. But I digress...

J.A. Morris said...

Edo's right, 'Daredevil' was his peak.
I love Miller's early stuff, first DD issue I ever bought was this one:

I only bought it because Doc Ock was on the cover,but I remember reading and thinking of how different it looked than anything else at the time.

One of my favorite Miller-drawn issues was (the somewhat overlooked)'Amazing Spider-man Annaul #15:

Great story featuring the Punisher & Doc Ock, just re-read it the other day.

I agree with the comments on Miller's long term influence being a bad thing. From 1986 onward, everyone who writes Batman has been trying to "Out-Miller" Miller. In almost every story,the Batman delivers an internal monologue reminiscent of Travis Bickle's in 'Taxi Driver'. Talking about his mission to protect Gotham from "scum" or "filth" on the streets. From what I've seen, Batman's not doing a very good job at that, and he doesn't seem to get any sort of catharsis out of it.
Mini-rant/digression here:
Hey DC, you know it is possible to have a Batman that's somewhere in between "grim 'n gritty,rapist-infested Gotham" and "Silver Age Batman in an orange costume vs. Aliens",right?
But I don't blame Miller for those who try to ape his storytelling.

As for the present day, I'm not that interested in what Miller draws or writes. It's been a long time since the name "Frank Miller" prompted to by a comic or watch a movie. I read the first two 'Sin City' minis, thought they were okay but not great. And they were just too damn depressing for my taste. I thought the movie was borderline torture porn.

Last week I posted that Miller's pencils aren't that great without Klaus Janson's inks, so I'll say it again here. Check out his post-Janson art in 'Sin City' or 'Dark Knight Strikes Again'. Can't hold a candle to their work on 'Daredevil' & 'Dark Knight Returns'.

Speaking of 'DKR', did anyone here catch last week's episode of 'Brave And The Bold'. The fight at the end featured a reference/homage to the Batman/Superman fight that concludes 'DKR', here's a screencap:

Doug said...

DButler --

You mentioned Ronin. I have the tpb but have never read it. Tell me why I should... I've thought about it several times, but always found something "better" to do.

I am open to your suggestions.

Thanks in advance,


dbutler16 said...


Boy, that's a toughie. To be honest, it's been a long time since I've read it. There's an intermingling of a traditional Samurai story (cool) with a dystopian future story (also cool) which appealed to me when I read it. The plot isn't as good as the DKR, but it is still good, and the weirdness of it can make up for that. I've said I'm not the biggest fan of Miller's art, but I think it's better than usual here, and also interesting.

All in all, I guess if you consider yourself a Frank Miller fan, you should find the time to read it, and if you don't, then keep finding "something better to do".

Doug said...

Thank you, sir.

Say, speaking of Miller's art and DKR, is there anyone else out there who was put out by the metamorphosis of his style from #1 (where it was pretty straightforward superhero fare in terms of anatomy, presentation, etc.) through the end of the story where it became more like what we'd see later in Sin City, etc.?

I much preferred the way the first issue looked compared to the evolution of the story. Now, maybe that was his intent and I wouldn't deny him an artistic license, but I'm just saying...


Inkstained Wretch said...

A few quick thoughts on Miller:

1)One of my very first comics was a Miller issue of DD, the one just before the introduction of Electra. I liked the comic but had no inkling of what was to come and didn't buy any subsequent issues. Still kicking myself over that one.

2) As influential as The Dark Knight Returns was, it gets too much credit for reviving Batman. That argument ignores the work people like Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Doug Monech, Gene Colan, Steve Englehart and many others had done to rescue Batman from Silver-age silliness and make him a darker, more serious character. Miller gets the credit only because TDKR managed, unlike most comics, to penetrate the broader public conscious. That was an impressive feat, but Miller was building on what others had done before him.

3)I like Miller better as an artist than as a writer. His style went from being a very straight Marvel style to very bizarre quickly, but I dug it. I stopped folling him when he began to write more than he drew. Give Me Liberty was the breaking point for me. (Frank Miller! Dave Gibbons! It's gotta be awesome, right? Right?!Uhhh ...)

4) I like the Sin City stuff. The movie was a little too grim and gory, but on the printed page it is so wild it is hard not to take as a joke. The film, while good, can't quite maintain that tone.

5) Speaking of film, anybody see the Spirit? Just about the worst thing he has ever ben associated with, although interestingly it didn't strike me as being that different from TDKR. The same noir imagery, the same over-the-top violence, the same weird jokes and digressions. It just doesn't work at all. Context is everything, I guess.

lilbaggie said...

Interesting that you mention Frank Miller's stylistic change after DKR #1 as that's always bugged me about the series. I always thought it was some metaphysical transformation the character underwent from becoming Batman again— not Miller changing style midstream.

And i'm probably in the minority but i really don't care for Klaus Janson's inks (or pencils for that matter). It's not Vinnie Colletta level but i think everything he inked for Miller was lesser for it. Too sketchy and sloppy for my tastes. Give me Joe Rubinstein (Wolverine mini) or Terry Austin (DD 191, What If 35) any day.

Speaking of which, has anyone else heard of a Miller/Janson tiff or "disagreement" after Dark Knight Returns? Something to do with Miller taking issue with Janson's work in issue 3 or something to that effect. I'm not sure as i've only read passing mention of it but no details. Could just be an internet rumor but I don't think they've collaborated since DKR…

I recently bought up a complete set of Daredevil 158–178 (Being a DC guy, i only had 179–191 originally from the newsstand) and despite my aversion to Janson, I think the Daredevil stuff holds up very well.

jefsview said...


It's funny you should mention Klaus in connection to Miller.

Klaus used to be a fantastic inker; one of the best, in fact. Just about anyone he touched, from Gil Kane to a young and rough Keith Giffen, Klaus could make it look like art.

And then he meet Frank Miller, and Klaus was absorbed by Miller. They worked well as a team, complimenting each other, and eventually, Klaus was doing the artwork on Daredevil and no one really noticed.

I was there month in, month out for Miller's run on Daredevil and I loved every minute of it. But I also enjoyed his one-off's like Marvel Team up Annual and some of his covers. I was really anticipating his run on Doctor Strange that never came to be. DKR was his last great superhero work; DKSA was hideous.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hey Inkstained, since you brought it up, can you elaborate more on those Martha Washington books? I've always been curious about these, as I've never read any of it. I gather from your comments that you were less than impressed...
J.A. Morris: loved ASM Annual #15, but loved the previous year's, #14, also drawn by Miller, even more.

Inkstained Wretch said...


It's been a long time since I read them, but I remember being very underwhelmed by Give Me Liberty. I think I read the first two issues before giving up.

It's a dystopian future sci-fi story about a black girl who grows up to be a soldier. It was a lot like Howard Chaykin's American Flagg in that it used the futuristic setting to riff on all sorts of political and cultural stuff from the 80s.

It seemed profound until you thought about, then it seemed sophmoric (much like American Flagg, come to think of it). But Chaykin's title at least had better art and a certain sleazy energy.

The Miller/Gibbons story didn't seem to be going anywhere other than making jokes -- there is, if I recall correctly a gay Klan group she fights -- and Gibbons's art was a real turn-off. Some of his depictions of the black characters struck me as unnecessarily harsh.

But to be fair I haven't thought it in a while and my memory is vague. I just remember being disappointed.

(That's what she said! Rim shot!)

Fred W. Hill said...

I saw The Spirit flick, and I agree with Inkstained, it was horrid. Very similar in style to the Sin City, but while I enjoyed that movie (never read any of the comics), The Spirit just veered too far away from Will Eisner's rendition. I particularly hated that Denny Colt was given Wolverine-like powers of healing from hideous wounds. Miller just entirely missed the,ahem, spirit of the source material.

Anyhow, while The Dark Knight was the highlight of Miller's artistic career, I still prefered his initial run on Daredevil, as well as his 2nd run as author. Even with Daredevil, though, Miller was building on what previous writers had been doing on the series for at least a year or so before he came on board, making it into a darker, noirish title. Miller brought it all into tighter focus, while also bringing some humorous elements for some relief from the emotional tension.
Peculiarly, based on reviews of his more recent work in comics, Miller seems to have become ever more immature as he's gotten older and I haven't been inclined to it out for myself. Then again, maybe not so peculiarly, considering Stan Lee's work on Striperella.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Miller probably started to believe the starstruck fans and critics who kept telling him that he was a genius. His work has become the Emperor's New Clothes. And, BTW, the Spirit movie, despite its title, is not "Will Eisner's" Spirit. It's Sin City with a guy in a domino mask.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I have to agree with "anonymous". Miller believes his press. Being called a genius all the time must have affected his work. His "Dark Knight Strikes Back" sequel was terrible. I remember giving the series away to a Miller fan for a Birthday present. The books were $6 each. I didn't care. I didn't want to look at his work again after that. I dare say, I could draw better than Miller did in that book. The "Holy Terror" book was a joke. Comments Miller made about the Occupy Movement,just made me lose total respect for him.

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