Once upon a time, Frank Miller was an American comics superstar on par with Brits like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. His early work on Daredevil, Wolverine, Ronin and his revitalization of Batman with The Dark Knight Returns are the stuff of comics legend. But nowadays, ol’ Frank seems to have lost his way. Maybe it was the whole mess with the Robocop 2 screenplay. Maybe the success of films of his works like 300 and Sin City just went to his head. But thanks to comics like All-Star Batman and Robin and films like The Spirit, many fans are beginning to wonder whether Miller’s sanity (or at least his artistic credibility) has gone gently into that dark night.
Chief among our concerns is women–dames–broads. Frank likes to write “gritty” comics, and that mainly means women who will have sex at the drop of a hat for money, power, or an unhealthy attraction to a sociopath (or any combination therein). Frankly, women don’t fare very well in Miller’s works…almost as if he has some kind of deep-seated issues with the fairer sex. Can this possibly be true? Hold onto your Miller-brand fedora, because we’ve discovered six amazing clues that it might just be.
6) Catwoman in The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most important graphic novels since the creation of the genre. With its “mature” take on Batman and alongside Alan Moore’s Watchmen, it sent shockwaves through the industry and signaled that superheroes weren’t just kid stuff anymore.
In Returns, Frank Miller made Batman an antisocial fanatic, Superman a resigned government tool, and Robin a dysfunctional misfit teen. Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, only makes a few brief appearances, but they’re certainly memorable: she’s depicted as running an escort service and is savagely beaten, tied up and dressed as Wonder Woman by the Joker. This is one of the earlier instances of the world’s oldest profession popping up in the works of Mr. Miller. It won’t be the last.
5) All the Women in The Spirit
Will Eisner’s original Spirit comics often featured voluptuous femme fatales in eyebrow-raising outfits. These sorts of sexy, dangerous dames were already a convention of noir fiction at the time, both in books and in films, so it’s not surprising they played a role in the story of Eisner’s crimefighting hero. However, they were just one small part of the world of the Spirit.
Judging from the above feature about the Miller-directed film adaptation of The Spirit, which failed spectacularly in December, Miller believes they are the only part of the world of the Spirit. Every single woman in the movie is falling all over themselves to play tonsil-hockey with Denny Colt. Must be the domino mask–talk about sexy! (Incidentally, does anyone else think Miller kind of looks like a pre-barbeque Freddy Krueger with that hat?)
4) All the Women in Sin City Where to start? It would probably be easier to name the women who aren’t prostitutes in Sin City. Let’s see, there’s the lesbian cop, Lucille; Nancy Callahan, who’s a stripper, but not a prostitute; and Shellie, Dwight’s girlfriend…who’s also a stripper. Of course, though these women aren’t hookers, they are — in addition to the prostitutes — almost always depicted in various states of undress, and are always framed by the perspective of their male observers, who mostly see them as sexual objects.There are exceptions, but for women in the Sin City universe, life is defined by who you’re sleeping with or who wants to sleep with you.
3) This Picture of Wonder Woman in All-Star Batman and Robin
Here’s Miller’s cover for All-Star Batman and Robin #5 of Wonder Woman, a character intended to spearhead a progressive new conception of the feminine role in society and served as a pop culture icon of female empowerment for over half a century: Really gets at the essence of the character, doesn’t it?
2) Black Canary in All-Star Batman and Robin
Admittedly, this one isn’t entirely Miller’s fault. Black Canary has been drawn wearing clothing reminiscent of a standard if rather uncreative prostitute for decades. Miller also drew a lascivious cover featuring Black Canary for All-Star Batman & Robin #3, but unlike Wonder Woman, this wasn’t quite as sleazy, since the cheesecake factor has always been a big part of her character. But then along comes All-Star Batman and Robin #7, where Miller’s sociopathic Batman and Black Canary have sex on a filthy, burning dock right after meeting for the first time. At least he drives her home afterward.
1) Catwoman in Batman: Year One
In the pre-crisis DC Universe, Selina Kyle — a.k.a. Catwoman — was known as a playful foil for Batman: a beautiful cat burglar who often escaped Batman’s clutches by rending him speechless with a kiss. When he got his hands on her in Batman: Year One, Frank Miller made her into — you’ll never guess! — a prostitute. A prostitute/dominatrix, to be exact. This new origin proved so popular most writers have ignored it entirely or attempted to retcon it by claiming Selina was just pretending to be a prostitute to scam lonely men and rob them. Still, making Selina a former hooker didn’t do nearly as much damage to the character’s reputation as the Halle Berry movie. But we can’t blame Frank for that one.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.