Didn’t I already talk about Frank Miller? Why am I returning to the battlefield after already taking such a bruising from my encounter with his spirited and vile 300? After all, Holy Terror is, by its author’s own admission, naked propaganda, and in every way oozes with the spirit of the “enlightened” defenders of Western democracy who remind us that our every breath is valuable, our every footstep haunted by the surge of Islamofascism. For them, any concessions to Muslims is like throwing damsels to dragons, and believe me when I say that such casual misogyny (deployed, of course in defense of those poor oppressed Muslim women) is part and parcel to Miller’s schemes as well.
Holy Terror is dedicated to Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker murdered by an Islamic extremist in Amsterdam. Van Gogh was known for the same kind of “artistic” agitation and propaganda that Miller offers here, so the dedication is perfectly appropriate. His killer was Mohammed Bouyeri, born in the Netherlands to Moroccan parents. Bouyeri was a radicalized Islamist, and attempted to decapitate van Gogh with a knife after shooting and stabbing him repeatedly. Van Gogh’s death was the culmination of a long series of provocations and controversies which he created and was a part of, including his infamous film Submission, about which you can learn more here. His death dramatized and highlighted the tensions in the normally placid Netherlands over immigration and the wider European failure to accommodate or assimilate its recent and not-so-recent waves of Muslim immigration. Suffice to say that the social and economic standing of young Muslims in Europe is far from enviable, all the more so because their presence has sparked a strong racist and reactionary movement against them in their adoptive or (in many cases) native countries.
Miller’s immediate context, however, is the American one, the falling towers the event to which he is faithful. Holy Terror is a relatively plotless comic, drawn mainly in stark black-and-white, whose main concern is twofold. 1.) To show that the threat to Western society is tightly organized, discipled, and well-supplied as well as spontaneous and unpredictable. 2.) Those who fight against such an organization have no recourse but to violence and their own steely resolve. I could go on to criticize the shallow characters, the exploitation of an overtly sexualized female protagonist, its lead hero who stands, like Miller’s Batman (recall that Holy Terror was begun as a Batman project), a crude but distressingly familiar caricature of burly masculinity. We’ve seen these biceps, splayed legs, and harsh lines before, and despite the beauty of many of Miller’s cityscapes, he still can’t quite manage to make his characters look striking rather than merely ugly.
I have no more rage left in me for Frank Miller, especially for a comic as forthrightly brutal and vile as this one. Drained of that, I can only comment on its sheer absurdity. One problem with Holy Terror’s approach is that the picture of America it offers is rarely more appealing that his depiction of the Spartan ethos in 300. What is there worth protecting in a city whose protective heroes are so forlorn, barely more than criminals themselves? Miller paints such an unflattering and stormy picture of America itself that his violent indulgences throughout feel aimless. The confusing tangle of events, which no doubt was intended to reflect the actual chaos of a terrorist attack and its aftermath, do not help.
The best parts of this book are blank, conveying the sheer number of unknown and faceless victims the terrorists are killing. Unfortunately, the book sentimentalizes too much for these pages to maintain much weight throughout the story. This might seem like a curious statement, given the bleak portrait Miller paints here. However, sentimentality can run in both directions, with the nihilistic and stark every bit as susceptible to oversimplification and romanticism as flowery excess. Here, the terrorists, super”heroes” and landscapes are so flattened and divorced from a realistic context that they take on a nightmarish quality, which is unbecoming even of propaganda. Propaganda can be effective and moving art, but this is not an example of good propaganda. Its sentimentality is warped beyond recognition by hatred, yet still persistent enough to drain all realism and relatability from it.
I would recommend reading Holy Terror if you have the chance and it doesn’t require you to enrich either Miller or the publisher. It’s mercifully short, like 300, and will certainly sharpen your resolve either for or against Miller’s politics. I would hope that we can use Holy Terror as an example of why it’s a good idea not to make idols out of creators, since it is a sorry piece of work, strident and furious but lacking in almost everything but raw anger. That, unfortunately, makes for neither good propaganda nor good art.
Miller is right in understanding that there are significant tensions at work in our society, and that our current way of accounting for differences between cultural groups only serves to prop up an undesirable status quo. Unfortunately, the books he produces, both this and 300, appear to offer mere cathartic and violent fantasies rather than a vision of a new society. His work, I would argue, is as much the product of despair and envy as much as arrogance or an imperialistic attitude toward “our” enlightenment. His depictions of Muslim terrorists as organized and disciplined are full of admiration as well as disgust, similar to his portrayal of Xerxes in 300. Where imperialism is at work here is more in a lateen fear of being overrun, of civilization, identified solely with the West, as in danger of being submerged in chaos and the dictatorial rule of alien elements. Here, the freedom of the “non-Western” peoples is the source of fear, the sense that these people, these ideologues and terrorists, have no idea what they’re doing. And yet they seem to be winning, using our own weapons against us.