Comics at War: Holy Terror, Batman!

Art by Frank Miller

[ Holy Terror, Batman! – “A Piece of Propaganda.” Art by Frank Miller. ]

Comic books have left an indelible mark on American culture, from the Pop artists of the 1960’s to the silver screens of Hollywood. Now, American comics go to war – again. Frank Miller, who reinvented Batman in the Reagan years with his gloomy The Dark Knight Returns, is working on a new Batman adventure graphic novel. While addressing a mob of dedicated fans at the recent San Francisco WonderCon comic book convention, Miller revealed that his new Batman comic titled Holy Terror, Batman!, will pit the Dark Knight against none other than the al-Qaida terror network. Miller promised that in his new graphic novel, “Batman kicks al-Qaida’s ass,” a feat the mighty Pentagon has yet been able to accomplish.

Miller said of his latest work, “Not to put too fine a point on it – it’s a piece of propaganda,” and went on to mention that “I just think it’s silly to have Batman out chasing the Riddler when you’ve got al-Qaida out there.” The comic book author told his audience that during World War II, “Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That’s one of the things they’re there for.” Taking a swipe at opponents of Bush’s so-called war on terror, Miller added, “I wish the entertainers of our time had the spine and the focus of the ones who faced down Hitler.” Since Miller takes his inspiration from “patriotic” WWII era comic books, it might be instructive to re-examine those books. The cover of one classic Superman comic from that period exhorted America’s youth to “Slap a Jap,” and a quick survey of popular comics from those days reveal a venomous racism aimed at the Japanese. One must remember that while the Man of Steel was urging young Americans to “Slap a Jap,” Japanese Americans were being spat upon, rounded up, deprived of their rights and properties, and thrown into “internment camps.”

I suspect Holy Terror, Batman! will be filled with cruel and nasty looking “towel heads” bent on destroying Western Civilization, however, demonizing and dehumanizing Arabs in a popular comic book will do nothing to destroy the al-Qaida network – although it will do much to shore up the anti-Arab bigotry now rampant in the US. In its article on the new Batman comic, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted cartoonist Larry Gonick, who worries about Miller’s portrayal of al-Qaida, “A standard-issue treatment would show them as another crew of generic swarthy bad guys, and there will, of course have to be a ‘good Arab’ or two to prove the comic isn’t prejudiced. I’m guessing an Iraqi commando on our side. But if Miller gives them the real characteristics of al-Qaida, that is, really depicts the details of their religiosity, he could get into trouble.”

In September of 2001, president Bush described his war on terror as a “crusade,” angering Arabs who recall the Christian Crusaders as a conquering army in the Middle Ages. Bush received so much criticism over his choice of words that he wisely removed “crusade” from his vocabulary – though Arab resentment persists. Around the same time, Miller was outlining Jesus! , a comic book version of the life of Christ to be published by Dark Horse Maverick. Apparently sidetracked from that project, Miller has instead unleashed Batman to do battle with the evil doers, and ironically the Dark Knight is also known as – the Caped Crusader.

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