I was never a comic book kid. I grew up with Star Wars and cartoons, and the ones that really stuck were Battle of the Planets, Transformers, and the 1967 Spiderman (thanks to the theme song). (Robotech would come later, but it was on another plane of existence.) I knew about superheroes because of the Christopher Reeve movie and the Adam West Batman and, of course, lunch boxes. Comics existed, but they weren’t my bread and butter. They seemed kind of childish and incomprehensible, an attitude that got reinforced when I got a stack of mid-80s Marvel books to help tide over our first family trip to New Zealand. There were some Transformers books, GI Joe, and an X-Men that was too weird for twelve-year-old me to handle (New York is encased in a magical force field, and everyone reverts to a pseudo-feudalistic version of themselves). Even the arrival of the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles trade paperbacks didn’t help.
That all changed my sophomore year of college when my roommate took a class whose required reading included Alan Moore (Watchmen), Neil Gaiman (Sandman: Season of Mists), and Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns). After I had consumed them and tried to patch my blown mind back together, one of the guys down the hall let me attack his collection, which included Miller’s epic Daredevil story Born Again. If Watchmen is the deconstruction of superheroics, Born Again is the distillation of them: Matt Murdock’s life is torn apart by his archenemy, and he spends most of the book out of his tights and trying to keep from going insane. David Mazzucchelli’s art is clean and realistic, and Miller’s writing is economic and sharp. It is a fabulous book, and it was the reason that I dove into everything Miller wrote or drew, including Give Me Liberty and Sin City.
Which brings me to today, and the eighteen pounds of Frank Miller books that I’m putting up on eBay.
This whole thing started after Frank Miller posted his anti-Occupy screed on his website (Google it; I’d rather not give him the traffic). I read it, and couldn’t believe it came from the man whose heroes were solidly in the 99% (minus Batman, of course, who might defend the 99% but isn’t about to give up his 0.00001% trappings). Matt Murdock was the son of a prizefighter (and mafia enforcer) who worked his way out of pre-gentrification Hell’s Kitchen to become a lawyer who worked pro-bono for poor clients (and a superhero who fights the Kingpin, who’s as 1% as they get). Martha Washington from Give Me Liberty was born in the Cabrini Green housing projects, worked her way up through the ranks of the army and saved the world at least three times, including putting down a coup led by the rich traitor who assassinated a President. Marv, Dwight, and the other schlubs in Sin City are down in the gutter, scraping up a living, and always battling the wealthy and powerful.
According to Frank Miller, the people camping in Zuccotti Park were “nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.” The same people who were regularly fucked over by the real-life analogues of the Kingpin, the Roarks, and Lieutenant Morretti were doing harm to America? Really? The Iraqistan vets who couldn’t get a job, the senior citizens whose retirement funds had been looted, the students in debt up to their eyeballs with no job prospects? These were the people who were hurting America?
The OWS rant was the kicker in the one-two punch that started with the publication of Holy Terror, Miller’s comic about a Batman stand-in who beats up al-Qaeda. I haven’t read it, and I don’t want to read it, because the sample pages look ugly and disjointed (and that’s just the art), and the reviews don’t make it sound like things improve with reading. The more reviews I read, the more Holy Terror sounded sad and pathetic, the cries of a scared, rich man who feels the walls he’s built around him closing in.
And I helped make him rich.
Well, the movie of Sin City probably did that, but I helped lay in the foundation by buying his comics. I was one of those slobbering Miller fanboys who convinced the Hollywood money that Miller’s work would sell. Even though a part of my brain kept saying they weren’t that great (“Look at the art! Look at the way he plays with light and shadow!” “What about the one-dimensional tough guys and the Ninja Fetish Whore Assassin Swastika Girls?” “ART, DAMMIT!”) I kept buying the damn things, until The Dark Knight Strikes Again came out, and I couldn’t even defend the art any more. Frank Miller was now a rich creator of shitty comics.
Which brings me to the eighteen-pound pile in the dining room.
For the past two years, I’ve been home with our daughter. I think way too much about gender stereotypes, about princesses and Pepto-Bismol pink, about bikes and tools and what kind of life I’d like her to have. I want her to be smart and strong and kind. I want her to stand up to bullies and stick up for outcasts. I want her to be a hero, to make the world a better place.
So I take tiny steps. I make sure she’s gentle with the other kids at the playground, that she understands hitting is not allowed, that she sees both Mommy and Daddy use tools to fix things. She sees Anne gear up for a bike ride with her friends, and she sees me cook and sew and fold laundry (and, sweet mother of God, is there a lot of laundry). And I make sure the books she reads have all kinds of people doing all kinds of things, and that the occasional princess that gets into the house is the kind who defeats the dragon and tells the clueless prince she just rescued to get stuffed when he tells her she isn’t pretty. And I look at the hardcover of Sin City that’s on the bookshelf, and I think about what that says about me, and I wonder what she’ll think when she’s old enough to pull it down and look at it.
Is she going to wonder why all of the women are naked at some point in the book?
Is she going to wonder why there’s all this violence toward women in the book?
Is she going to wonder her father thinks it’s okay to have a book where the women are all sex objects?
And is she doing to wonder why there are so many more books like it in the milk crates in the garage? Is she going to start analyzing them the way I have and realize: holy crap, women don’t come out well in these books at all? Even in my beloved Born Again, the whole story is kicked off because Matt Murdock’s old girlfriend has become a porn star with a heroin habit who sells out Murdock’s secret identity for a fix. It’s all WHORES WHORES WHORES, and that isn’t the kind of stuff I want my kid to read or to think that I think it’s all okay. Because it isn’t. Not by a long shot.
I don’t want her to think that protesting corruption is wrong. I don’t want her to judge people based on their faith (or lack thereof). And I sure as hell don’t want my daughter to be anyone’s victim or to think it’s okay for men to treat her like trash.
I don’t want to throw away these books in disgust. I don’t want to burn them, or trash them, or give them away. I don’t want to lock them in a box and bury them in the garage. I want to take Frank Miller’s xenophobia, his misogyny, his I’ve-Got-Mine-Fuck-You-If-You-Want-Yours attitude, and I want to do something positive with them. I’m going to pack up these books, and I’m going to put them on eBay, and I’m going to send the proceeds to charity. Half will go to Islamic Relief USA, and the other to Children of the Night. I figure if Miller wants to put down Muslims and glorify prostitution, I should make the money help Muslims and aid people trying to get out of prostitution. In addition, I’m going to donate money of my own to Girls Inc. of Orange County, where my mom volunteers.
I don’t think I’m going to get much for these books; the Miller stuff on eBay isn’t moving at all right now. But who knows?
In the meantime, I’m turning off comments and the contact form for my site for a bit. I doubt this post and the auction will kick up any dust, but, if the comments on Miller’s site are any indication, the possible response isn’t going to be pretty, and I don’t have the time to moderate or respond.
Bye, bye, Born Again. So long, Sin City. Good luck, Martha Washington. I hope to replace you with better works by better people.
EDITED TO ADD: Richard Pace really said this much better than I could. And in comic form, too.