Sunday, April 13, 2014

Frank Miller: 300, Sin City & Moore

Frank Miller was writing and penciling Daredevil when I started reading him. It was a cross-over issue featuring the appearance of The Incredible Hulk. I had heard a lot of good things about this Miller guy and the appearance of the Hulk would guarantee a higher price later on the collector’s market if the book was actually a dud.

Miller was rumored and heralded to be a writer of a rare skill and talent. It was said his writing was gritty, dark and misanthropic. Miller’s perception of society was one of disheveled anarchy. He was constantly opening doors previously unknown; taking the risky dark alley to get to that undiscovered yet coveted pay off. He was an original but he loved and respected the medium as he expanded the mythology. He was neither a deconstructionist nor post-modernist. Miller; as it turned out was indeed the “Real Deal.” The rumors were darkly; gloriously true.
Frank Miller is responsible for expanding the world of the super hero and that of the graphic novel as well. Great pieces including hits and classics that remain current: The Dark Knight Returns, Electra Assassin, Daredevil: Love and Money, Ronin, Sin City and 300 are part of the Miller canon.  Miller has changed along with a few other extraordinary talents; including and especially writers Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman  evolved the comic book into it’s contemporary form while expanded the readership beyond all previous boundaries. Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore’s Watch Men were mini-series released within the same year and were powerful and intricate enough to become best sellers and are currently required reading in literature classes.  Neil Gaiman’s  Sandman released a few years later would be equally transformative.    

The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of a dystopian future in which a retired and embittered Batman returns to battle evil. 

The future dark world the Batman re-enters has grown increasingly violent and devoid of humanity as Batman has grown older, physically weaker and aggressively slower. This sadder, older hero with his skills much in decline possesses a deeper sense of revenge and purpose along with an enhanced arsenal of Bat-Tools. Miller takes many risks with his writing as he questions a world that would accept a costumed vigilante, governmental miss-use of powers and the psychology of mad men both good and evil.

300 is another of Miller’s best known pieces. Well written and concise it is best known for the film adaptation by director Zack Snyder that Miller producer himself.

Miller was inspired to create his 300 from an earlier film 300 Spartans released in the nineteen sixties. The graphic novel is most memorable for the illustrations created by Miller with his then wife Lynn Varley doing a remarkable water-color embellishment. The over-size hard-cover version is a lush pleasure to be studied, relished and absorbed. Democracy, nationalism and the notion of personal sacrifice for the greater good prevail in this work. 

Sin City
Sin City is a series of seven books that Miller wrote and illustrated. The drawings are almost exclusively black and white which add to the drama and starkness of the works.  It exists in a strangely isolated purely imagined city inhabited exclusively by thugs, cops, hookers, serial killers, corrupt authorities and assorted losers. It is probably the darkest of Miller’s works, his most ambitious, original and successful. Miller was definitely influenced by film noir and the pulps but it is film noir on some kind of hyper-drug. Sin City is Frank Miller!
The  Sin City series is another example of  Miller’s work translated to film. Movie makers including Alfred Hitchcock and Ridley Scott have long used story boards as preliminary studies and aids for their photographic telling of stories and as a plotting device. When Robert Rodriguez decided to film Sin City he shot directly from the books images and dialogue. Why do new story boards the books already existed as such? Rodriguez using few re-writes successfully and faithfully recreated Millers graphic masterpiece into a seminal work. The film was extraordinarily faithful to the original piece; a thing to awe. Miller was along as co-director and even appeared in a cameo.

Frank Miller

The sequel to Sin City is scheduled for released in a few months and it looks to be very good. Miller continues to create as he continues to expand his reputation, to entertain and to thrill!

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