Holy Terror, the self-proclaimed “piece of propaganda” from comic-book-legend-turned-punchline Frank Miller, is a difficult work: difficult to like, difficult to look away from, difficult to assess. The story is laughably slight, the characters cardboard cut-outs of standard Miller tropes, and the politics positively repugnant. Yet the book is also gripping in its own brutal way. Ultimately, Holy Terror is something that interested readers will just have to experience for themselves, which is not necessarily a good thing.
The plot goes something like this: a Batman knock-off named “The Fixer” is chasing a Catwoman knock-off across some rooftops. He catches up to her, they beat each other up, they make out, they beat each other up, they have sex. They are interrupted, however, when a series of terrorist bombs go off, so they decide to go hunt down, torture, and kill the terrorists. Who are all stereotypical Muslims.
That’s about as far as the story goes, which isn’t to say that there’s not some worthwhile stuff along the way. Miller’s art is all scratchy black-and-white, similar to but looser than his iconic work on Sin City. Its presentation in this double-wide hardcover is striking, pushing the story along with an undeniable force. The action is dramatic and there are a couple movements that are genuinely moving, such as an entire page of portraits of the victims of terrorism fading into a two-page spread of tiny blank panels.
The writing however reads as a parody of the hard boiled tone he developed in his early work. Instead of tough-guy characters, all there is here is repetitive staccato nonsense, which I guess Miller now thinks is the same thing. Then there are the disgusting generalizations made about Muslims, since Miller never bothers to separate these extremists from followers of Islam. He’s said in interviews that this book will offend everyone, and he’s probably right.
Holy Terror was nearly ten years in the making, though originally it was going to be a Batman book (titled Holy Terror, Batman! which I admit is pretty funny). Somewhere along the way though, Miller decided that it shouldn’t be a Batman book, insisting that he’d “taken Batman as far as he can go.” As near as I can tell, what Miller really meant by this comment is that he didn’t want to be bothered with Batman’s moral code. I don’t just mean Batman doesn’t kill, though that’s certainly one difference between him and The Fixer. It’s more than that.
Batman fights for justice. The Fixer may be interested in saving lives, but the pleasure he takes in torture and murder swings right into sadism. The penultimate page describes at length and with gleeful specificity the effects of chemical weapons on a terrorist’s body. There’s no justice here, just angry wish-fulfillment. And that’s too bad. A story about a comic book hero’s struggle trying to maintain his moral compass while confronting a staggering real-world threat of such proportions could have been very interesting. Instead, we get 120 pages of Frank Miller’s reheated bile.