Monday, December 29, 2008
There's a point, it may be in Eisner/Miller or The Comics Journal Library: Frank Miller, in which Frank Miller rather casually dismisses Jack Kirby's belief in himself as a writer.
Look, I know that Kirby's work as a writer is difficult and will never be for everyone, but for another creator to casually dismiss it seemed to me to only show a lack of comprehension of some kind on his part. It was a chink in his armor for me.
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus: Vol. 3 by Van Jensen, quotes from the introduction by Glen David Gold, in which he compares Kirby to Henry James, and ultimately concludes, "As I’ve written before, Kirby’s biggest mistake when jumping to DC was hiring himself as an editor. Even the greatest writers and artists need the aid of others to help organize their visions."
There is truth in this, but I'm less than convinced there was an editor in comics at that time who was up to the task of bringing out the best in Kirby's writing without taking something essential out. That's not to say such a person doesn't or hasn't existed in the world, just that I suspect with those comics, we may have gotten the best of the reasonable possibilities with what we got.
So here we come to Miller's rather notorious new movie, The Spirit, which I may have to see, if only to have an informed opinion when I leap to write posts like this.
In The Spirit - (Insert Quotes Around Spirit), Fatboy Roberts wrote, "Frank Miller is creatively bankrupt and artistically empty. This is a work so bad it calls all his previous good work into question. That’s not an overstatement, or fanboy overreaction."
I'm not sure I buy that, but honestly I think there's something there.
Frank Miller is a great artist.
Frank Miller is a great comic book creator.
Is Frank Miller a great writer?
He wrote Batman: Year One with art by David Mazzucchelli and it's definitely great.
He wrote a couple of runs on Daredevil that were certainly leaps forward of some kind. He did the Martha Washington series with Dave Gibbons that has moments of greatness.
Are those flashes of greatness, especially in collaboration with other great artists, enough to qualify him as a great writer?
I know, here's where I need to Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, 300, etc.
Or do I? Those are indeed great works of comic book creation. They are complete works of graphic storytelling, but take the writing and separate it from the art. Are they brilliantly written? I'm not sure they are. As it goes, I think Watchmen would have still been brilliant with a merely competent artist interpreting the words and story, but I'm not sure the same is true of "The Dark Knight Returns".
Miller and fans have long complained that Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 were failures of Hollywood's treatment, and Sin City, on some level, seemed to prove the point...
(I haven't read Frank Miller's Robocop yet, but the word on the street has that it fails to fully prove it.)
... but then it had Robert Rodriguez to work with the challenges of the medium. How much of the translation of the brilliant works of comic book creation into a successful cinematic creation was because of Rodriguez's skill as a cinema creator? The buzz coming from The Spirit would suggest the majority. Possibly the vast majority.
"... We expect our comic books to believe in their own integrity, now that we’re all agreed that comics are our modern mythology. But The Spirit does not believe in itself. It thinks comics are a joke -- and it appears to thinks that movies are a joke, too", says The Spirit (review) by MaryAnn Johanson.
"The screenplay [is] disjointed and awkward, this is a story that has several threads going on, but they aren't woven together in a way to create a story worth watching", wrote Bill Cunningham in The Spirit of Christmas is Dead.
I'm not necessarily convinced that anyone should have their entire moviemaking potential judged off what amounts to their first time directing, and perhaps Miller has surprises in store for everyone who is seeing this with disappointment. However I don't think this speaks well to writing being Miller's strength.
UPDATE: Maybe I'm wrong and the growing number of posts, such as My Box Office Sucks by Marty Langford, are right and Miller "just doesn't seem to matter anymore, at the comic book store or at the cineplex." I certainly hope not, though. I know he'll have some work to do to prove otherwise for a while, though.