Alan Moore vs. Frank Miller

Comic book authors Alan Moore and Frank Miller are mentioned so often in a single breath, one may be tempted to forget how far away they are from each other aesthetically, politically, and intellectually. Both are frequently credited jointly for their ‘deconstruction’ of the superhero genre, with fans and critics citing Moore’s Watchmen and Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as key works that established the viability of the adult-themed graphic novel and the politicized superhero figure. But while Moore’s work from that era continues to bear up under repeat visits, Miller’s visceral and formally brilliant Dark Knight Returns tends to show its reactionary right-wing politics more clearly as time goes by, its infatuation with semi-fascist mythologies of violence growing even more pronounced in Miller’s later work.

At this point, both authors seem increasingly removed from contemporary politics and comics, Moore’s latest project Neonomicon having been received with bewildered indifference, and Miller’s atrocious Holy Terror being discussed only in terms of its beyond-offensive islamophobia. But while Moore’s anti-corporate politics seem to gain relevance as well as credence over the years, Miller’s raging homophobia, misogyny and general insanity cast an increasingly negative light over his back catalogue. In what seems like a somewhat delusional attempt to either get some public attention or vent some built-up rage over the universal panning of his latest book, Miller recently wrote a short piece decrying the Occupy movement. Coolly demonstrating his total awesomeness, Moore responded to Miller’s piece in this recent interview:

I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way, which is probably another reason whyFrank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favour of it. We would definitely have to agree to differ on that one.

In this short interview segment from a few years back, Moore (predictably) shows us how far ahead of the curve he usually is, although he talks about the “0.000001%” rather than the single percentile that has now become the standard term to indicate the ruling capitalist elite.

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2 Responses to Alan Moore vs. Frank Miller

  1. And yet, Year One has that famous panel of Batman warning what we might take as the 1% with the line “Gentlemen you’ve eaten well…”. I agree that strains of Miller’s politics can be detected in TDKRs, but we also see a poor mother on a train who can hardly scrape together enough money to buy her son a paint set, and who can’t afford health insurance for her varicose veins, ending up getting blown up by the mutant gang. I accept that these examples hardly represent a undetected liberal strain in Miller’s work, but they do suggest something of a social conscience that might be lacking from his later work.

    Also, this is more of a personal opinion, but I find the first-person narration of Batman that accompanies the over-cranked and schizophrenic panel-to-panel work cleverly suggestive of someone who is batsh*t crazy. Part of me roots for the character as he takes on the Joker, or the mutant gang leader, or Superman, but I don’t admire the character, or think he’s a great advertisement for right wing libertarianism, or cod-Nietzschean fascism in the way that 300 is (especially the film adaptation). The character of Bruce Wayne/Batman in TDKRs is clearly damaged goods. (Bill Sienkiewicz did a good job of writing a more ‘moral’ Batman in his Black and White entry, ‘Bent Twigs’.)

    I don’t disagree that strains of Miller’s politics can be seen in Miller’s early work, but at the time, even Alan Moore wasn’t too offended (he wrote a rather gushing intro to TDKRs which can be found online). In addition, Moore himself has used the odd cliche that feminists have found questionable (for example, Sally Jupiter being raped but then falling in love with her rapist).

    Anyway, an interesting article, and excuse my over-long ramblings!

    • Thanks for this. I’m still an admirer of Miller’s late-1980s work, not only TDKR and Year One, but also his very stimulating Elektra: Assassin, Ronin, and -in a way- several of the Sin City volumes. My impression is that his politics were never really thought through, and offered a weird mix of anti-conservatism and a huge reactionary streak that sometimes comes dangerously close to fascism. But in spite of the obvious (indeed: fascinating) contradictions apparent in the contents of his work, there is a strong and passionate intelligence to them, especially in their exceptional aesthetic sense and formalist innovations. At some point since then, perhaps between the Sin City movie and the disastrous (but also hilarious) adaptation of The Spirit, Miller seems to have completely lost his mind, and now his interviews, his writings, and his comic books are no longer able to maintain that delicate balancing act he was able to achieve before.

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