Decided it was time to share some favorite comic books of mine. So I decided to start with a very divisive, yet legendary creator, Frank Miller.
I discovered Frank Miller through my uncle who got me Batman: Year One and Drak Knight Returns trades when I was young, around 9 or 10. I read these works before I knew who Miller was and why he was so important to American comics. Through Wizard magazine I learned more about him and when I was older I started picking up trade collections of his work. So, I guess you could say Frank Miller is one of my favorite creators even though I wouldn’t necessarily say it. I will say bad Frank Miller has more style than most creators good work.
Of late, some newer comic fans are removed from his star status. They are aware that he is a legend but they do not truly understand why. Frank Miller had been bouncing around comics for a little while until he landed at Marvel, and after tackling a Spider-Man story guesting Daredevil he asked to get on that title. He debuted as the artist but was very soon unhappy with the writing and wanted off. Editor and Chief Jim Shooter wanted him to stay on and incoming Daredevil editor Denny O’Neil made him the writer of the book. The sales of the low selling DD shot up so fast Marvel put the book on a monthly schedule. Miller’s Daredevil was more of a urban crime comic, which were the types of comics that Frank Miller originally wanted to do. His DD was also partly inspired by legend Will Eisner’s strip the Spirit. Within Daredevil run he created one of the original bad girl’s in Elektra, re-introduced the Kingpin as DD’s primary arch-nemisis, and made ninja’s and the Hand an important aspect to DD’s cannon. The work here cast a long shadow over DD and set the standard for superhero based crime comics to come.
One famous run does not make a legend. Luckily for Miller he had much more ahead of him. He penciled the first Wolverine mini-series which became a success for Marvel. From there he moved over to DC comics and was given unprecedented amount freedom from the publisher which led to Ronin. A post-apocalyptic science fiction/fantasy about a samurai whose resurrected in the future to once again do battle with the demon who killed his master. The mini-series was inspired by non-American art styles such as Manga and Bande Dessinée. Miller here was doing what he wanted for a major company and was creating work unlike anything else at the time.
Miller from there set off to do two character defining works. Batman: Year One with David Mazzucchelli and The Dark Knight Returns. DKR was about a 55 year old Batman who returns to fight crime and is one of DC’s top selling graphic novels of all time. It’s acclaim has put it on countless best Graphic Novels/comics lists. It’s the kind of book that gets referenced by critics whenever creators do “the old superhero returns” type stories. Year One, showcasing Bruce’s return to Gotham and rise as Batman as well as James Gordon first year in Gotham PD, has become for many the gold standard of origin re-tellings.
Moving forward Miller did a lot of independent work including Sin City and 300, among much more. His occasional return to mainstream comics have sold well even if they are badly reviewed. Frank Miller is also a screenwriter, director and movie producer. One of the all time successful comic book creators.
Now my picks.
#3. The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty First Century
Written by Frank Miller, Art by Dave Gibbons w/Colors by various
What Is It: Martha Washington is a dystopian scifi series of mini-series’ and one shots. It follows a girl from poverty who experiences much pain and hardship, and eventually joins the PAX peace force and becomes a hero. She fights against a corrupt Colonel, crazed white supremacists, an evil separatists known as the Surgeon General, an artificial intelligence known as Venus, and more.
What It Is For Me: I admit, I only read this once in its complete omnibus edition. It’s been a long white and the details have sort of escaped me but I remember when I read it I was floored. It was intense, it was epic, and it was disturbing. The first thing that struck me-and may also be the reason Hollywood has not actively sought this work out-is the female protagonist is black. As a black man, I always love seeing strong black characters in the lead of major action stories. Especially when done well. Most of Miller’s writing strikes me as almost shallow. More designed to be style over substance. I like Sin City, its fun, but its the visual that make it what it is more than the story. With Martha, I felt so much more emotion in the work than a lot of his indy material that I’ve read. Her struggles, her strength, her resolve. Artist Dave Gibbons is one of the legends of comics, much because of his work on the Watchman but I prefer Martha Washinton. Watchman is done to a system of mostly 9 grid panel pages. It’s easy to follow and reads well but with Martha Washington it felt more daring. More stylized. Just visually more fun. I’m probably not speaking about this work as well as I should-sometimes we read works (or see movies and TV) that hit us hard but we don’t go back to it because its almost exhausting. When I first read this I opened it and finished it that day and its a massive collection I have. Talking about it now, I’m putting it on my “to read list” because I need to do it again.
By Frank Miller, Colors by Lynn Varley
What Is It: As I explained above Ronin follows the battle between a samurai and a demon that jumps from Feudal Japan into a dystopian scifi New York. The Ronin’s return is through a handicap telepath and advanced technology. The battle invovles a major corporation making advances in cybernetics and a security officer named Casey McKenna whose looking for the mysterious Ronin and the demon Agat.
What It Is For Me: Ronin is the third Miller series I read, I got it from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club. It is an amazing visual treat. Millers work, especially now, is hit or miss with audiences. He’s moved into a more simple minimalist style but here you can see influences from the famed Lone Wolf & Club manga as well as the European influences. It still could be a turn off to some readers but for me its so unlike anything now or then in comics. Ronin is a shift from his Marvel comics superhero work and you can see it influence his style in Dark Knight Returns. The story itself is strong. Not deep as in complex but as strong in the scenes and sequences. A lot of it has to do with seeing the situations from the eyes of either the Ronin or Casey. The Ronin’s search to defeat Agat, but also the way he deals with the new world. Dealing with the strange gangs and people. I love Ronin.
#1. Batman: Year One
Written by Frank Miller, Art by David Mazzucchelli, Colors by Richmond Lewis
What It Is: It is the re-telling/update of Batmans origin. The one countless writers use or reference. It follows Bruce Waynes return to Gotham and his search of an identity, becoming that identity, and his war on the crime families of Gotham. It is James Gordon transferring tot he city and dealing with the corruption of the GCPD, the rise of the Bat, and an affair.
What It Is For Me: It’s fucking Batman. Seriously-I love Batman but when it comes to his actual comics I have a hard time getting into them. I prefer the TV, the cartoons, and the movies. Year One is the first real Batman story I read and still my favorite Batman comic. I’m not even much into crime fiction-there is stuff I like but its not a genre I really seek out and most time Batman delves into that style within comics I get bored. This story, it just never gets dull. I always love going back and reading it. Miller’s Batman here is the best. The voice, the attitude, everything. The James Gordon stuff might even be the best parts in the book. Batman: Year One for me is so much more satisfying than the more acclaimed Dark Knight Returns. It’s, for me, the purest vision of Frank Millers writing. David Mazzucchelli’s art and Richmond Lewis’ colors bring about such a beautiful mood. It’s essential reading.