Tuesday, March 06, 2007


When A Miller's Tale Is A Political One

If there is anything close to a demi-god in the world of comic books (as opposed to a living legend like Stan Lee), it's Frank Miller. The man who resuscitated both Daredevil and Batman in the 1980s explored the limits of the graphic novel format in the 1990s.

One of those was the Sin City series which produced a very well received film two years ago (co-directed by Miller). Another such venture comes to theatres this week -- The 300.

Unlike Sin City, this one has
spawned a political debate:
“Is George Bush Leonidas or Xerxes?” one of them asked.
The questioner, by [director Zack] Snyder’s recollection, insisted that Mr. Bush was Xerxes, the Persian emperor who led his force against Greek’s city states in 480 B.C., unleashing an army on a small country guarded by fanatical guerilla fighters so he could finish a job his father had left undone. More likely, another reporter chimed in, Mr. Bush was Leonidas, the Spartan king who would defend freedom at any cost.
Mr. Snyder, who said he intended neither analogy when he set out to adapt the graphic novel created by Frank Miller with Lynn Varley in 1998, suddenly knew he had the contemporary version of a water-cooler movie on his hands. And it has turned out to be one that could be construed as a thinly veiled polemic against the Bush administration, or be seen by others as slyly supporting it.
While the Times story ultimately dismisses the "debate" as a false one -- a marketing ploy for the movie -- one counsel not sought is Miller's. While it is true that the graphic novel was originally created in 1998, the movie has been brought into reality in a decidedly post-9/11 world.

At last year's New York Comic Con, Miller was one of the star attractions. In addition to discussing the making of The 300, he declared that his next project would be "Batman vs. Al Qaeda." He made no bones about the fact that he saw al Qaeda as pure evil and that a la the comics of the 1940s, today's popular culture had a duty to "take sides" against the threat to the American way of life. He noted how, in World War II, many super-heroes (not just Captain America) battled the Nazis as much as they did common criminals.

After Bush's annual address in January, Miller was one of several creative individuals asked by NPR
to assess the state of the union through their unique lens (Miller's segment begins around the 30:50 mark). He decried the failure of Bush to get the entire country (not just the military) to buy into the reality that our civilization is at war with an enemy wanting to destroy us. This wasn't a simple recitation of neoconservative talking points. Miller, politically, is probably more liberal in his basic beliefs.

Frank Miller of 1998 might not have seen The 300 through a political lens, but the one of 2007 certainly does. That doesn't mean he sees Bush as Leonidas; but he sure as hell doesn't see him as Xerxes either.

Miller is a Manichean: He believes that democracy -- whether that of the Greek city-states or that of the United States is a good, in and of itself -- and it is responsible for much more good in the world than evil.

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