Will Eisner and Frank Miller: two great tastes that taste awful together?
A couple of decades ago, maybe. In the late 1980s, when comic-book giant Miller's groundbreaking graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns was rocking the world of comic book fandom, I had the privilege as a cartooning student of studying under the legendary Eisner, creator of the seminal The Spirit series. In those days, there were no greater luminaries in my pantheon of cartooning heroes—The Spirit was Citizen Kane, The Dark Knight Returns was The Godfather—even though Eisner didn't share the Miller love, and could be merciless to a cartooning student who submitted pages displaying a Miller influence (as I learned the hard way).
But the lousy taste of Miller's solo directing debut The Spirit isn't simply a collision of conflicting aesthetic visions. The lousiness is all Miller's—and it's been evident in his own comic-book work for some time now, which has increasingly degenerated into debased self-parody.
Miller reinvigorated comics in the 1980s with an approach influenced by film noir and martial-arts cinema, among other things. Over time, though, that aesthetic metastasized into the increasingly stereotyped, sadistic and/or sleazy worlds of Hard Boiled, 300, Sin City, and dreadful sequel/prequel extensions of his classic Dark Knight Returns.
These days, everything Miller touches becomes an extension of the Frank Miller Universe, a dark, gritty, rain-soaked, blood-drenched, camp satire of a film noir world populated with one-dimensional character types—musclebound toughs, brutal villains, exotic whores, venal authority figures, lethal femmes fatales—who speak in tough-talking clichés, have rough sex and kill and die ...1