“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.”
-The Joker, The Killing Joke by Alan Moore.
I quote the words of one legend in the business prior to examining the behavior of another as a reminder to us all that no one is immune to the effects of “one bad day.” Though it is not meant to excuse bad behavior by any means, it does warrant a pause before passing final judgement on the fallibility of another. Before delving into “one bad day” in the life of Frank Miller, let us briefly visit highlights of the legacy that preceded it.
Not only did Miller’s run on the Marvel Comics series keep the character from being shelved completely, but elevated Daredevil to a household name that is still lauded today! Frank’s gritty art and storytelling style continues to greatly influence contemporary interpretations in the books and on screen like the highly successful Netflix series.
Bringing that same grit to DC Comics, Miller introduced an edgier Caped Crusader in “The Dark Knight Returns” and reinvigorated the franchise. Following up with “Batman: Year One” he cemented himself as one of the most influential creatives behind the character to date! Both film and print reflect heavily of the impact that the storyteller had on the series and the direction it took since his initial outings.
With Dark Horse Comics, Frank Miller would also create successful independent franchises in works like “Sin City” and “300” that also made box office splashes in their respective movie adaptations. It would almost seem as if he could do no wrong! Almost.
“The god-king has betrayed a fatal flaw: hubris.”
-Dilios '300’ by Frank Miller.
2001 in America was the year that giants fell. On 9/11 a nation was brought to its knees in horror and confusion. And a storyteller took a sharp turn from contrarianism to outright and bitter ignorance. An attitude that would leak into his stories for years to come.
Pic 6: DK2 credit DC Comics
“The Dark Knight Strikes Again,” “All-Star Batman and Robin” and “Holy Terror” was a slow burn of a train wreck that never seemed to end! From a lack of effort in art (excluding “All-Star Batman and Robin” thanks to the legendary Jim Lee of course) to purposefully offensive scripts, it felt more like an affront to his fans than against any perceivable adversary. Adding insult to injury would be Miller’s inflammatory statements in defense of his works. It was as if the public backlash and criticism were adding fuel to his unapologetic spite.
How long is one afforded to process traumatic experiences? By no reasonable measure was this a “flash in the pan” as it spanned the better part of a decade. This was seemingly Frank Miller’s “new norm” for quite some time. Was it his way of mourning that tragic day? Was it the tumult he was experiencing in his private life that was spilling into the streets? Did he succumb to “hubris” after what seemed to be a lifetime of acclaim and success?
I don’t know if he held this bias and prejudice prior to 9/11/01. I do not believe that the events that transpired on that day warrants or excuses it. Nor do I believe that the great things he had done in the past exalts him beyond reproach.
This piece is not to argue one way or another, for or against. I am not looking to demonize or defend a personal hero. I do hope that with a little perspective, anyone who reads this would take a moment to think of what success to the degree that Frank Miller enjoyed would do us if we were in his shoes? Likewise, if we faced personal and health battles like he did at the pinnacle of it all, would we hold up any better?
For me, stories are more than pastimes and entertainment. They help me disconnect from what I get wrapped up in with my day to day. They oversimplify what I overcomplicate so I can wind up somewhere in the middle and start the process all over again the next day. The people who create these stories are no different. Flesh and blood and just as frail as you or I.
Even the strongest heroes have weaknesses. And in the noblest of crusades against monsters, there is always the risk of becoming one. May we seek more understanding and offer more acceptance to those we encounter in whatever quest we venture. Should we take a wrong turn along the way, may we be swift to course correct. Lest we let “one bad day” infect far more than it is warranted. Let us hold strong to the good.
Mahalo for reading,