I read this because a friend asked me to (and bought me a copy). Let me just say that if I could give it zero stars, I would. One star is too many. Plot summary: nasty muslims kill lots of obviously innocent Americans and so our hero and heroine go on an Islamophobic rampage because there’s killing to be done. The end. This was originally intended as a Batman story, and one can see clear signs of that: the heroine is clearly Catwoman, and there’s a clear reference to Commissioner Gordon. But, my, I can see why DC Comics refused to have anything to do with it. This book is vile and stands directly counter to everything Batman stands for.
I could only read the book a few pages at a time. It’s not just that it made me angry, but the manic scrapings and scribblings in the art just make it too hard to read for any length of time. So let’s start with the art. The art is so over-drawn I can hardly tell what’s going on. However, when Miller calms down and stops drawing ugly people and sticks to cityscapes, the art can be breathtaking, like the moon growing from the top of a skyscraper, and the long views across the city at night. When he forgets to be ‘edgy’ and draws planes or buildings with simple blocks of colour and clear lines, Miller’s art is really rather impressive. It’s such a shame that he insists on messing it up with his dreadful action scenes, which are incoherent.
It could be argued that Miller is trying to imitate Jack Kirby‘s action scenes, but, as you can see from this example, Kirby’s art is dynamic, it’s chaotic, but everything is clear, precise, you can see every tiny detail. It has a raw immediacy. Miller’s, on the other hand, is just a mess.
I thought a nice example of the problem with this art was the scene of the jet flying into the statue: the jet itself was menacing and powerful, but the face of the statue looked like crap. Why not draw a face with the same clean grandeur? Or does he correlate good art with ‘them’? Who knows? Certainly the only person in the book who’s remotely well drawn is the evil female suicide bomber; all the ‘good’ Americans look incredibly ugly.
Which leads nicely into the plot. In the scene of evil foreign muslim woman suicide-bomber seduces good American boy into taking her into the club so she can commit mass murder, the good American boy is such a perfect example of the Ugly American, who can’t imagine that there might be cultural norms other than his, and who is utterly intolerant of them, that I found it hard to feel very sad at his immanent demise. And that’s the problem with the story. According to Miller, it’s bad to kill Americans because you hate their culture, and I wouldn’t disagree. But then he goes on to tell us that torturing and then killing Muslims just because they’re Muslims is perfectly acceptable. But what he seems to see as good about Americans is their worst feature, and what he sees as bad about Muslims is about as representative of Islam as the Ugly American is of the US.
The idea that mosques are all just centres of armed preparation for attack is laughable as is the idea that an individual suicide bomber would know of Al Qaida’s wider plans. Not to mention that Miller doesn’t seem to realise that ‘The Cell’ is not a reference to biology, but to the standard structure of revolutionary movements. I suppose that kind of knowledge is un-American. The truth of the matter is that, with the exception of the Jihadist Q’tubist Wahabist Salafist Sunni, that is a sect within a sect within a sect within a sect within a sect, a vanishingly small number of people, Islam is principally quietist, about living your life in peace and the way of God. Al Qaida represent Islam as accurately as Rick Perry represents Christianity.
And the most loathsome thing about this loathsome book is that Miller misuses the whole ‘hero saves the girl’ theme from standard fiction, so, albeit very briefly, one almost wants the hero to kill all the evil Muslims who are threatening the heroine. Or, to put it another way, he manages to find the little bit of monster within each of us and presses its buttons, so we’re co-opted to agree with him. And because of that I feel truly unclean.