LJ Talks to Comics Legend Frank Miller

In 1986, Frank Miller (Ronin; 300; Sin City; Batman: Year One) made comics history with the release of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, about the 55-year-old superhero coming out of retirement to battle villains in Gotham City. Fifteen years later, he presented that book’s sequel, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and in September of this year, released the third installment, Batman: The Dark Knight; Master Race (starred review, Xpress Reviews 8/18/17).

Miller recently talked to LJ reviewer Jason Steagall via phone, opening up about his love for the character of Batman, the hero’s enduring fan appeal, evolution of sidekick Carrie Kelley, and the work’s history as a whole.

LJ: What originally made you interested and invested in Batman?
I really fell in love with him because he was the hero who had to work the hardest. He couldn’t fly or lift cars over his head or anything like that. He had to do combat and everything else the old-fashioned way. I liked him because he was an effort character.

Batman is a timeless character (originally created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in the 1930s) who resonates strongly with fans. Why do you think that is the case?
I’ve changed my mind over time for the reason. At first, I thought it was because he was scary and angry, and I’m sure that’s part of it. But now I think it’s because he works the hardest. The notion of Batman is that [you can succeed] if you work hard enough, if you’re smart enough. Everything he’s achieved, somebody could do, conceivably. For most of us, though, it’s easier to imagine dressing up in the costume and running across rooftops than it is simply to jump off the building and stay up in the air and actually fly.

At the end of Master Race, when Batman realizes that Superman has been “holding back” his abilities all these years, are you implying that Batman could never really beat Superman if both were at their best?
Oh yeah, there’s no contest there. I mean, in the first Dark Knight book, I had Batman win a bout with Superman. But, Superman was holding back without question… [and] Batman wound up having a heart attack. Without a doubt, Batman is smarter, but Superman is stronger.

The character of Carrie Kelley has evolved into a dangerous crime fighter and sidekick to Batman. Does she serve as his conscience and moral compass as he grows older?
Carrie is the next generation. She offers a view into an evolving world. [Batman] is getting older, and she can see things he can’t see. Her purpose, though, is to represent youth. She is youth.

Master Race features several other crucial female characters such as Wonder Woman, her daughter Lara, and Police Commissioner Yindel. Why is it important to include strong females in this story?
Well, look at my work history and you’ll see it throughout. The first professional writing job I did was an issue of Daredevil, in which I introduced ­Elektra [in 1981]. It’s something that had been absent from comics. I’ve known the right women throughout my life.

Superman plays an important role in your Batman stories. Do you feel he and Batman are inexorably linked as superheroes?
I think you could take them separately; you could take them together. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are what I regard as the triumvirate of the basic [mythology] of DC Comics. If you break it down to gods and heroes, they are the Gods.

Due to the popularity of this series, should readers expect a Dark Knight Book 4?
Oh, yeah. I can’t wait.

You incorporate many pop culture and political references in these Batman stories. How do you feel that impacts the story?
In literature in general, there is something called the Greek Chorus, which is talking and giving you a sense of what’s going on, narrating events, and commenting on them. That’s what all the TV screens are doing speckled throughout Dark Knight. They also present an opportunity for political parody, which is abundant in all the Dark Knight books. And as politics get sillier and sillier, there’s more and more of these kinds of treatment.

Throughout the three Dark Knight volumes, there’s a story arc about Batman’s concerns over Superman’s unchecked powers. Does this mirror a situation in the current or past socioeconomic/political environment?
These things spring from the characters. It’s way too easy to get confident and attach all kinds of psychological stuff to the stories. I like to tell a good yarn, and I’ll leave it at that.

Most of the best superheroes have a memorable antagonist. Who is your favorite Batman villain?
Without question, it is and always has been the Joker. Batman has spent his whole life since his parents were murdered trying to hold onto his sanity, and the Joker relishes in insanity. So, he is Batman’s worst nightmare in every sense.

How do you feel about the interpretation of your famous fight scene from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice?
It was a good translation. That sort of thing is very easy to draw on the page. Actually, working it on the movie screen is murder. Translating a comic book fight scene into a movie fight scene is very difficult. They did a very good job.

Is there a superhero or historical figure you have not yet written about but would like to in the future?
I have a book on Xerxes that I want to complete, and I’m eager to forge on to research Alexander the Great. Beyond that, I’m aching for my crack at Superman—as the good guy this time.

What are you working on currently?
Superman: Year One and Xerxes. [There are no specified release dates for these two publications.—Ed.]—Jason Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

This article was published in Library Journal's October 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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