Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you. And now for something… completely different. 


by Brad SunA quiet, unyielding anger” is how George W. Bush described it on the night of September 11, 2001. Like the thick clouds of dust and smoke and God-knows-what-else that engulfed Manhattan earlier that day, it was an emotion almost too immense to articulate. But that’s precisely what Frank Miller attempts to do in his 2010 graphic novel Holy Terror, an audacious and frustrating work filled with the same fears, contradictions, and rage that gripped the country on that fateful Tuesday morning.

Holy Terror is an ugly book in every sense of the word. Miller’s art has played with an increasing abstraction and deliberate sloppiness, and his inks have never been chunkier or cruder than they are here. His grotesquely proportioned characters contort like ragdolls across a stark city comprised of sharp geometric shapes and splatters of ink. The story begins with protagonists Natalie Stack and the Fixer engaged in a classic rooftop chase. The pair are obvious stand-ins for Batman and Catwoman, but there’s no caped crusade here, just two thrill-seekers in search of a high. Gone is the subtle cat-and-mouse flirtation and sublimated nods to bondage and sadomasochism, replaced by bloody boots to the face and sloppy lust-filled sex. It’s a fitting opening, presenting the adolescent power fantasy at its bluntest extreme. You could call it depraved, or you could call it honest.

But the evening’s festivities of fetishistic violence are soon interrupted by a series of brutal terrorist attacks and the Fixer and Natalie must team-up on a vengeful mission every bit as debauched as their recent moonlight tryst. We soon learn the Fixer isn’t just a blood-thirsty psycho killer; he’s also kind of a dick. Even as the body count rises and civilization teeters on the brink, he’s cracking racist jokes and checking out Natalie’s ass. Miller has enough taste to present him as kind of a creep, but not enough shame to prevent Natalie from kind of liking it. As with the rooftop chase that opened the book, Miller takes the masked vigilante archetype and peels off all the fatty layers of common decency, leaving only the pure raging id lurking beneath. Like much of his work, he deconstructs genre tropes by reveling in them.

It’s a method that can produce thrilling results, but can also leave the reader with a sense of ethical unease. Miller’s visceral style doesn’t leave space for the intellectual detachment of other deconstructionist books like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which dutifully keeps the seductive violence of its anti-hero Rorschach at a dispassionate distance. Nor are we meant to view the Fixer as a purely farcical figure of derision. Holy Terror is not a satire. Instead, Miller invites the reader to join along in his self-indulgent power fantasies, even as he acknowledges how base those desires can be. When coupled with real world subject matter that naturally intersects with religion, race, and politics, things can get messy.

Is Holy Terror racist? Xenophobic? Nihilistic? Merely recognizing the depravity of your impulses doesn’t absolve you from them, but Miller is attempting something more complicated here. In one sequence, he fills page after page with tiny portraits of innocent lives lost, an overwhelming number of panels that gradually fade to white, marking the innumerable dead. Later, as the Fixer gleefully guns down a group of terrorists, Miller adds their portraits to the tally. The Fixer may not value the lives of his enemies, but Miller does. Our ostensible hero has no moral calling, no lofty need to right the world of perceived injustice. When Natalie asks what caused him to take up crime fighting, he dismisses the concept of an origin story as “silly.” Indeed, the only ones here on a sacred mission are the terrorists.

At moments like these, Miller seems on the brink of something profound. This is not a story of good versus evil, and western politicians and ideologues are depicted as mute and ineffectual. Thus an amoral scumbag like the Fixer becomes our savior by default, the only hope against an onslaught of zealots and patriots on a moral crusade. “I’m sick of flags. I’m sick of God,” Miller wrote soon after 9/11. “I’ve seen the power of faith.”

Unfortunately, these intriguing ideas never quite reach their full potential in a rushed final act that lacks the raw vigor of the rest of the book. Miller can’t quite stick the landing on his metafictional commentary, primarily because he seems to be having too much damn fun thinking of new and cartoonishly gruesome ways to dispatch his many faceless terrorists. Ultimately, Holy Terror is still just a mean-spirited revenge fantasy, albeit a smart one. But along with its spiritual companion The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it nevertheless remains a fascinating artifact of a turbulent moment in American history from one of comics’ most important — and divisive — voices.

Legendary Comics / $29.95

Story and art by Frank Miller.

Edited by Bob Schreck.