by Frank Miller
Where’s Batman, wonders James.
It’s so good to be holding a Frank Miller comic, and this double-sized landscape format hardcover somehow has already, in my mind, garnered some distinct taboo element about itself.
Originally, when I, like many, heard of the project nearly six years ago, the comic was being billed as ‘Comic book hero takes on al-Qaeda: The latest Batman adventure will see the Caped Crusader take on al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’ (BBC). It sounded a little darker, yet also tantalisingly up-to-date and potentially reflective of our societal situation, I was like many, eager but then, this was from the author of The Dark Knight Returns and DC had started their DMZ comic, which was a metaphor in many ways for the ongoing wars at the time in Iraq and Afghanistan and that just made it all seem better.
And then three years ago, we had the situation where DC are asking comic shops to pulp issue ten of All-Star Batman as the black bars on ‘fuck’ and cunt’ are not solid enough, leaving the words visible. Not that these comics are aimed at children, or bought by them, or that such language is not allowed in films, comics and books, but just because DC has that sort of policy.
So, is it any wonder that then Miller announced last year that “It’s no longer a DC book. I decided partway through it that it was not a Batman story. The hero is much closer to ‘Dirty Harry’ than Batman. It’s a new hero that I’ve made up that fights Al Qaeda.”
And so as I read these beautifully drawn pages, and even though I know it’s not Catwoman and Batman, it feels like it is, except this interpretation is better. It’s evolved, as our masked man chases the beclawed burglar through the upper reaches of a city.
In their violence there is something else, something darker, a love of sorts and Miller allows himself much latitude with ‘The Fixer’s’ relationship with this thieving foe. The artwork is stunning, black and white, almost etched in places, but also vividly able to portray movement beautifully.
As the love-hate relationship develops, an attack on the city, Empire City occurs, and so our regular good comic vs bad comic foe turns into a mission to thwart the activities of Al Qaeda, who set off nail and razor blade bombs, and destroy the Statue of Justice, an obvious stand-in for the Statue of Liberty.
The Cat and the Fixer follow a lead and soon track down an Al Qaeda squad. The Fixer has no qualms about killing terrorists and uses guns with gusto. He also uses an interesting torture technique to gain information from one of them, which is actually more gruesome than gory.
The team cemented, The Fixer and the Cat Burglar meet other unusual types, a man too malicious for Mossad, called David, with a blue six-sided star on his face, and twins, and soon they have their mission. The Cat Burglar infiltrates a Saudi-built mosque, and gets caught, and the international element to the plan opens as we find an Irishman with a massive gas bomb, built from Russian parts. The insults fly; as she refers to him as a Mick in her mind, he refers to the Al-Qaeda men all round him as camel jockeys, and the fighting is hard and grim.
It’s brilliant. Miller described it as ‘propaganda’ and it must be taken with that sort of caveat in mind; this is crass, hard-hitting, pretty offensive stuff, but it’s only a comic book story.
There is a wonderful moment when the Cat Burglar asks the Fixer ‘Murdered parents? An exploded planet?’ And he laconically replies, ‘Don’t be silly’
On the Fixer, Miller said, “He’s been trained as special ops and when his city is attacked all of a sudden all the pieces fall into place and all this training comes into play. He’s been out there fighting crime without really having his heart in it — he does it to keep in shape. He’s very different than Batman in that he’s not a tortured soul. He’s a much more well-adjusted creature even though he happens to shoot 100 people in the course of the story.”
I am not so sure about that element; I am pretty sure that I felt like it was potentially Batman, and yeah, secretly deep down, I wish that DC had actively attempted to keep Miller on the job and keep it as a Batman story.
The story doesn’t necessarily make me feel one way or another about terrorism, or freedom fighting, although I admit that the way Miller uses panels to show the dead is clever, and also mixing in political figures and imagery that is provocative is clever and allows the reader to make assumptions or dare I say actually think about the prospect of how the real world deals with these things.
We didn’t have a fixer in the days after the 11th of September, in actual fact one could argue we had a couple balls-uppers in charge of things, in two countries who currently have men and women who were eight-year-olds at the time, fighting and spilling blood now. Fixed?
Miller has given insight into his motivations. “It began as my reaction to 9/11 and it was an extremely angry piece of work and as the years have passed by I’ve done movies and I’ve done other things and time has provided some good distance, so it becomes more of a cohesive story as it progresses,” he said. “The Fixer has also become his own character in a way I’ve really enjoyed. No one will read this and think, ‘Where’s Batman?’”
Well, I do ask, in that fan way, about Batman, as I am afraid that Miller cannot escape the shadow of that character and this comic is so much a mature nod to Batman, leaving him to chase around after Penguins, Crocodiles and Sacks of Mud, but undoubtedly this comic stands on its own right.
As a starting place for legendary comics, as their inaugural production, it somewhat hits the ground running, and with US direct orders via Diamond being around the 10,000 mark, that’s a lot of books sold, just in the first month, making it the top-selling graphic novel.
It’s so good to have read a Miller comic, and for me, this one was worth every penny, and tells a story, and goes to a place that all too many have been reluctant to go.