Killing Your Idols by Jordan Ferguson
A few years ago a water-cooler journalist named Jason Hartley put out a book called The Advanced Genius Theory as a means to explain why formerly great artists seem to drop in quality so severely the longer their careers progress. The idea is that these artists are actually geniuses whose aesthetics have "advanced" past what we simpletons can hope to understand. Whether or not you think this theory is nothing more than a means for apologists to validate the shitty decisions of artists who once were not shitty, is less important than the fact that once you're aware of this theory you immediately start applying it to any and all of your personal favourites it might apply to. Therefore, it wins.
Originally posited as a means of explaining the bizarre later stages of musicians like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, the criteria are applicable to practitioners of any art. In order to be considered 'Advanced':
1. You must have done great work for more than fifteen years.
2. You must have alienated your original fans.
3. You must be completely unironic.
4. You must be unpredictable.
5. You must "lose it." Spectacularly.
Which brings us to Frank Miller. Let's start checking them off, shall we.
1. Daredevil run starts in 1978. Greek war epic 300 comes out in 1998. Within those 20 years you have Batman Year One, Daredevil Born Again, Dark Knight Returns, Ronin, and Sin City. I'd say those qualify.
2. Dark Knight Strikes Again. Batman/Spawn. All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. Holy Terror. Am I wrong on any of these?
3. The man wears a fedora at all times. I don't think Frank Miller could physically put his tongue in his cheek if you asked him to.
4. Blasted the work-for-hire system, Marvel and DC at the Eisner Awards. Withdrew from the big two to start his own imprint with Dark Horse. Brought 'The God-Damned Batman' to the lexicon of nerdery.
5. He almost didn't make this one. Then this happened.
Advanced or not, there's no denying Miller's brain has travelled to a space us mere mortals will never hope to follow him to. It's probably better if we don't.
I mean, I was ready to give him a pass on Holy Terror. Utterly gross to look at [I tried to think of a better word for half an hour, but I don't know that there is one. That book is just....gross], I could swallow Miller's explanation that the book was a blatant piece of 'America, Fuck Yeah!'-level propaganda. I mean, Captain America, did punch out Hitler on the cover of his first issue, after all. Comics and propaganda have a rich tradition traceable back to Will Eisner and Dr. Seuss for god's sake. So I didn't dismiss it out of hand. Originally conceived as a Batman graphic novel, the Dark Knight's corporate master were never going to let their franchise property skulk around punching out suicide bombers, certainly not with another movie on the schedule. So Frank erased the ears from the cowl, renamed the character The Fixer [cause he, y'know, fixes things, ugh] and put the book out himself, free from any editorial responsibility to a human being besides himself. Which is probably the last thing a guy like Frank Miller needs, but there you have it.
What Miller's tirade at the Wall Street Occupiers earlier this month serves to illustrate is that while we were all having a hearty chuckle at the throwback, John Wayne aspirational ideal of masculinity he's been parading throughout his book, Miller actually became the person we thought he was lampooning. After the outburst was posted, it wasn't long before bloggers started appropriating his words onto old Miller Batman comics, and damn if you had to squint to spot the differences. It had the same cadences and rhythms as any miller-scripted rant from Bruce Wayne [who, lest we forget, is himself a 1%'er who utilizes his vast wealth to serve the less fortunate. Imjussayin].
Look, Miller seems frozen in place after 9/11, and now lives in the constant fear Islamicists are going to attack America. We can look down our noses at that opinion, and many have, but you know what? I wasn't there on that day. Most of you weren't either. Miller was. Events like that will change a person, and Miller's entitled to the same freedoms of expression the Occupiers are making use of. While I'm not some 'death to the author,' New Criticism theorist, I do try to appreciate the art in and of itself, keep the art and the artists separate. I'd rather have art that compels me by someone I disagree with than lame art by someone with whom I'm philosophically aligned. I can still like Batman Year One and Sin City without agreeing with Miller's opinions, his opinions aren't what bother me here, neither are the gaping holes in logic on display [scroll to the first comment on Miller's entry to see those gutted and filleted]. You know what does bother me?
How poorly written Miller's post is. Go back and read it again: "putrid false righteousness"; "Some 'movement,' except if the word 'bowel' is attached"; "Wake up, pond scum"; "Schmucks." Is this the best the wrathful indignation of one of the best minds in the history of the medium can summon? Pond scum?! At best, the thing reads like the drivel a 15-year-old would fill a Moleskine cahier high on Rorschach after getting through Watchmen the first time (just the comic, not the supplemental stuff. And skimming the pirate comic). At worst, it's the impotent fist-shaking of an old crank who's become too attached to the way the world was when he still knew who to punch.
There are legitimate reasons to criticize the Occupy movements. Miller might have even illuminated some of them, if he hadn't buried them under the clunky, clumsy, childish and fearfully masculine prose being Frank Miller in 2011 demands.