The term “heavyweight” gets thrown around a lot, and only once in a while does someone live up to the title, making such an impact that everyone else in his field takes notice. In the case of comics, one of the few heavyweights is Frank Miller. Whether it’s with household names like Batman or smaller projects like Ronin, Miller—the creator of the source material and co-director for this week’s new film Sin City—has been changing the graphic-lit landscape for more than 20 years. And with every new project, he leaves another round of satisfied customers.
Back in 1979, Frank Miller began drawing a little Marvel comic called Daredevil as some of his first professional work. When the writing job became available, Miller was given a chance, and began a whole new era for the character. He brought the title back from the brink of cancellation, and his is now considered to be the definitive run on the character. When Daredevil was made into a feature film, fans saw how important Miller’s work was as entire sequences of the comic were turned into scenes in the film.
After his time on Daredevil, Miller was given the opportunity to help redefine another fan favorite. DC’s Batman had been in a bit of a slump, and was in need of fresh blood and a new direction. Frank Miller gave everyone just that with The Dark Knight Returns. The world was introduced to a tougher, darker vigilante than longtime fans were used to in his four-part story of a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to save the streets of Gotham City. Miller’s new down-and-dirty style set off a trend throughout the industry as many books tried to cash in on the popularity of Dark Knight. The tone Miller set with the book still echoes through all the Bat-titles, and appears to be an influence on this summer’s new film Batman Begins.
Dark Knight’s release year of 1986 was a huge year for comics in general. It was the same year that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen hit big, and Art Spiegelman released his Pulitzer Prize-winning, Holocaust-themed Maus. At that time, comics were still considered mostly “kids stuff,” and received very little mainstream credibility. Those three titles marked the first time that anyone had dared to aim comics at an older audience and succeeded. With the release of all of these in the same year, heads began to turn and people of all ages began to give comics another look. People that had outgrown comics slowly began returning to the fold and seeing comics as legitimate literature. It’s the year that Miller, along with Moore and Spiegelman, changed the future of the “graphic novel.”
Feeling it was time to move past men in tights, Miller eventually set out to create a comic like no other—a book with all the darkness of the crime fiction he grew up on, and the old film noir movies that he loved. He wanted to prove to the world again that comics weren’t just for kids, and from that, the world was introduced to the harsh back alleys and anti-heroes of Sin City. He released several miniseries over the years that have grown into fan favorites, three of which became the basis for the movie.
With the Sin City movie about to hit big and a new Batman movie in June, Miller is still very much in the eye of the comic industry. To coincide with the release of Batman Begins, DC has announced that Miller and Jim Lee will launch All-Star Batman & Robin. The All-Star line—which will feature Superman later in the year—is designed to attract new readers, and let creators tell stories without the hang-ups of years of continuity. This should keep Miller busy for a while—at least until he’s beckoned back to the director’s chair for Sin City 2.