Holy Terror – Frank Miller


The subject here is Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, a work which reflects on the incidents of 9/11, as such it may not be suitable for casual reading.

Reviews, yeah reviews: I gotta confess I have problems with them, for a number of reasons. I suppose the first of these would be the implicit notion that criticism has parity with creative work, you see this a lot lately, you know the kind of thing: some internet bod mouthing off, sometimes quite eloquently it has to said, about some work, usually one that’s a suitable target to exercise a talent for ridicule, er, yeah, not really interested thanks. Then there’s the appalling lack of insight perpetrated by folk whose eagerness to foster associations with high profile names and works is so acute they neglect to research their subject in any depth, for the love of Christ If you’re gonna review I am Legend, the Will Smith vehicle, at least read Matherson’s original work first — please! My biggest gripe though, is probably the lack of appreciation and sometime total lack of recognition of the phenomenon of barriers. Barriers are those things which prevent someone from gaining any appreciation or understanding of a work, they can be cultural, it might be a work that accesses symbolism outside your cognizance. They’re most often questions of attitude and preference, you know, I like thrillers so maybe Catherine Cookson wouldn’t be top of my reading list, why the hell would I write a review?

So why am I reviewing Holly Terror, well my excuse is that, I’m not. if I had a couple of decades experience in the professional comic publishing world, I might consider myself qualified to opine with some  degree of authority. As it stands I’m just another guy mulling over the works of a man who’s work in that field can be described as truly seminal without any fear of lapsing into sycophancy or hyperbole.

There are a lot of opinions about Holy Terror floating around, they generally fall under the: how dare he category of cometary, of course nearly all these come from sources that haven’t examined the work. So what’s it really like? Let’s start by trying to describe my visceral reaction to what is an extremely visceral work. It’s no exaggeration to say that it made me feel sick, truly sick, I didn’t lose my breakfast or anything but it engendered a palpable nausea that lingered uncomfortably. That’s a pretty astonishing achievement for any work I can say. Holly Terror is literally unlike any comic I’ve ever read and I wasn’t prepared for it, superficially the notion of merging real world threats with the superhero genre has historical precedents, Captain America and Wonder Woman are examples that spring to mind. Holy Terror couldn’t be more different from these predecessors, they were exercises in reassurance, cosy fantasies to send the kids to bed with dreams of the omnipotence granted through supernatural powers. There are no such assurances granted in Holy Terror. There’s nothing super about The Fixer, the costumed protagonist, no invulnerability, no cute sidekicks to alleviate the drama, just The Cat Burglar both garbed in crumpled customs in a world bereft of figure hugging one piece suits, unfeasible stilettos and physiques enhanced beyond the abilities of any worldly pharmacist.

Miller’s drawing style has always had more chiaroscuro than normal for the super hero genre of American comics. His work is sometimes reminiscent of the old Battle Picture Library in that way, although he’s always demonstrated great spontaneity. In Holy Terror he’s pushed back the boundaries of what can be achieved with such an approach much further than I can ever have imagined, both in the use of expansive blacks and the spontaneity with which it is executed. It is a truly astonishing piece of work and Miller conveys more than is comfortable through the strident vigour of the line work. It’s executed almost entirely in black and white with some colour, reproduced in what look to be spot colour but at a much higher degree of fidelity than normal for such, so that every tiny speck and splatter is faithfully reproduced. The starkly contrasting black and white makes reading it slightly uncomfortable, there’s no moderating of the blacks or easing of the whites which a gently yellowing pulp would give. What little colour there is, is applied with a calculated crudity that does nothing to ease your eyes’ journey across the pages either.

The reaction to 9/11 in the US, aside from the war on terror, has been to seek a restoration in the faith of the good of human nature. This reaction has seen atrocities censored from public view, reality is too insane, too hard to comprehend or stomach. Miller deliberately references such atrocities both graphically and subliminally, not something most people read comics for and not something that has been reflected in other media. To appreciate the significance of Holy Terror you need to examine how 9/11 has been portrayed in other Media, things like the films World Trade Center or Flight 93. These examples epitomize the desperate need to see the nobility of humanity. How accurate the nobility and heroism  they depict is questionable but irrelevant because they represent a flight from the horror and terror. With Holy Terror, Miller has refused to acquiesce to this need and it’s something for which he deserves recognition, terror is on the last page.

Holy Terror is never going garner great approval from many quarters, it offends too many sensibilities, rubs too many noses in the soil and what’s true of the hypocrites who’ve condemned it is also true of me to a degree. It was just too much for me take take in, In a way I loath it, it really appalls me and makes me shudder. It’s the same loathing you experience the first time you read Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est and I suspect it was borne from the same frustration and disgust that inspired Owen to condemn the hypocrisy that ennobled senseless slaughter. I’m not qualified to comment on the state of humanity but if there is nobility within man it lies within our ability to confront the truth. So…

…is it any good then? Yes.

Do I want to read it again in a hurry? No.

Is it worth reading? Yes.

~ by deadspidereye on January 20, 2013.

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