Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27, in May of 1939. He wasn’t quite the Batman we know today–he carried a gun, he had no backstory to speak of (it wouldn’t come until November)–but the seeds were there. It’s a significant moment in comics history and, thanks to animated and live action interpretations, in pop culture history. You might have noticed. Batman is kind of a thing.
After seventy-four years of uninterrupted publication and 883 issues, ‘Tec was renumbered in 2011 as part of DC’s more or less line wide reboot, the new 52. Two years in, we’re rapidly approaching a new #27. What a great publicity and marketing opportunity! DC has seized the moment and is putting out a giant-sized anthology with stories from some of the hottest creators they employ. And to keep the chattering classes chattering they’re slapping a Frank Miller cover on it. A new cover from the legendary creator of Batman: Holy Terror and All Star Batman and Robin–how shall I contain my excitement and/or rage. Gear up, Tumblr and Twitter. The flame wars are calling. DC wants some attention.
What is there left to say about Frank Miller? Talented, sure. Frank Miller gave us Sin City, an energizing run on Daredevil, and some other ok stuff. But he’s always been sexist, and he’s long nurtured racist and fascist fantasies. 300 is a panoply of hard-bodied, cranked up authoritarianism. The Dark Knight Returns is a downward spiral into meanness and tautology (he does what he must cause he must do what he does). Despite the thrills of his early work there’s a consistent thread of defensive dick-swinging: men under threat from women; men under threat from liberal society; men acting out because men.
These days, Miller emerges from his sweaty bolthole to occasionally grace us with incoherent rants about women, kids these days, and Al Qaeda. The difference in his work isn’t so much of kind as it is of quality and restraint. There was a time when you could criticize his ideology while appreciating his skill. Now there are times when you can criticize his ideology…if you can manage around your horrified giggles.
This isn’t a controversial cover. It’s a bullshit cover.
Catwoman’s tail is baseball bat thick, strangely rigid, and apparently emerging from her rectum. Vulva? Her ultra low-cut panties cling to her ass. Her back is arched and her teeth are gritted (can you blame her? That tail tho). Her hands have been reduced to animal claws–no opposable thumbs, just fetish gear. And what is that spray of black? Failed Kirby dots? Dirt kicked up by a passing truck? Her lips though, are plump and sultry. Likewise, her bedroom eyes and perky nipples try to draw you in. Her face, miraculously, is dead center on the front cover (her ass dominates the back cover–ha ha, do you get it?), but it sits below hunched shoulders and just above a falling-out bosom and raptor limbs. There’s nothing to look at but Catwoman, because the background is MIA.
Catwoman’s face is lovingly rendered. The arc of her spine is elegant. The rest of her is a dashed off mess–generic leather and lingerie. The cover is a menagerie of almost-body parts and effusive text. The new 52! A special MEGA-SIZED anniversary issue about nipples and claws! Featuring an ALL-STAR ROSTER of creators, including this old ASBAR cover we never got a chance to use! Read it FRONT to BACK. Could this book be about…Batman? Covers lie (about everything but the raging sexism of DC’s editorial vision), so maybe. Who knows. I could rattle off all the reasons the cover is a bad marketing decision, but you already know them. And why spill the digital ink?
Let’s follow DC’s lead and be lazy. Let’s simply see the cover for what it is: a publicity stunt from an increasingly desperate and small-minded team, promoting an issue that should be able to sell itself.
DC started 2013 with another dustup over talent–they hired famously homophobic writer Orson Scott Card to write an issue of Adventures of Superman (lest you get the impression that Marvel is more enlightened, they tapped Card to write Ultimate Iron Man, back in 2005), a decision that lead to controversy well past the narrow comics blogosphere. Card is famous, even legendary in some circles, for writing Ender’s Game. Later in his career, he turned to writing violently homophobic newspaper editorials. Ender’s Game was adapted for the big screen this year. It went nowhere, but there’s no way DC could have predicted such a complete box office derailment when they brought him on. His Superman issue was eventually cancelled–no sales, but plenty of publicity.
Frank Miller’s work has been more successfully adapted. Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City was stylish and fresh, despite the universally overheated, cornball dialogue its female characters were saddled with. And as soul-destroyingly awful as Zack Snyder’s 300 was, it continues to be a cultural force (this is Sparta, that is Sparta, all the things are Sparta). In the new year, Hollywood will try to recreate Miller’s mid-2000s success with sequels to both Sin City and 300. Miller is, by the smart numbers, “hot” right now. Or he will be soon enough. Naturally DC had to capitalize on its history with him.
And as 2013 draws to a close, its all about legendary Frank Miller, whose sales record seemingly grants him immunity from editorial oversight, or sustained censure from old guard critics and fans.
It’s bold, this cover. A bold statement that DC will happily chase: a little reflected movie glamor; a return to past glories; its own tail; a rapidly dwindling demographic for whom Frank Miller is the guy who rescued Daredevil, and not the embarrassing crank who delights in Batman punching Islamic fundamentalists in the name of a fascist, nightmare America.