Given how crude and ugly Frank Miller’s politics have become, I was already deeply uneasy about the prospects for his superhero-beats-al-Qaeda comic Holy Terror, slated for release right around the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11. Hero Complex’s interview with Miller doesn’t make me feel one whit better. Really, it’s this one line: “We’re living in a terrifying time and it’s changed us.”
This, to me, has always been the defining difference between progressive and conservative responses to Sept. 11. For (some) conservatives, Sept. 11 revealed that we were profoundly vulnerable, but also that we had the fortitude and the power to respond to new threats, that we were unafraid neither of outside threats nor of our own dark capacities. For progressives, Sept. 11 was a successful al Qaeda operation precisely because it opened up American values to question and lured us into a response that’s been a financial and moral drain on the country. It’s not that the murder of thousands of Americans didn’t demand a response, but Osama bin Laden would have been even more defeated than he is today if that response had been keeping with the American national character.
And that’s part of what makes Miller comparing his inspiration for Holy Terror to Jack Kirby’s creation of Captain America so irritating:
I’m a comic book artist first and foremost; as I got into this I felt probably something close to what Jack Kirby felt when he created Captain America. There’s a gut-level intensity to the work but there’s also levels where it needs to be entertainment. And this is propaganda. I think it’s a much abused word. I think most things I read on the Internet and in newspapers is propaganda. Everyone from the New York Times to Rupert Murdoch has a point of view and is putting forth their own propaganda. They’re stuck with the facts as they are but the way they interpret and frame them is wildly different.
There’s no question the United States made decisions during World War II that were injurious to the national character, most shamefully the internment of Japanese-American civilians. But there was a sense in everything from propaganda, to efforts like Liberty Gardens, to the movement of women into the workforce, that the response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the rise of Nazi Germany needed to be a reaffirmation of American strengths, not about entirely reevaluating what they were. Captain America embodies that spirit, an art student who cares so much about defending his country that he’s willing to go through a dangerous experiment to do it, who both fights on the ground himself and supports the troops through USO shows, and in an interesting parallel to the use of drones in our current conflicts, is frozen and loses his sidekick in an effort to shut down a dangerous experimental drone plane. The only thing I can imagine Miller’s new effort and Captain America having in common is that they’ll fulfill a deep desire to see someone KO Hitler or bin Laden. The thing is, we don’t really need a superhero to do that to bin Laden. Americans got him already, and for real.