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The global ramifications of the killing of Osama bin Laden on Sunday by U.S. Navy SEALs will be pondered by intelligence experts, media pundits, politicians and historians for weeks, months and years to come. On a much, much smaller scale, and one germane to comics readers, it also raises an immediate question:
How will the death of Al Qaeda’s leader affect Frank Miller’s long-gestating graphic novel Holy Terror?
Announced in 2006 as a Batman project, the book was described by the artist at the time “as a piece of propaganda” that would pit the Dark Knight against the terrorist organization. “Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That’s one of the things they’re there for,” Miller said.
The revenge-fantasy concept drew more criticism and bewilderment than praise, with Grant Morrison firing perhaps the most widely reported shot across Miller’s bow: “Batman vs. Al Qaeda! It might as well be Bin Laden vs. King Kong! Or how about the sinister Al Qaeda mastermind up against a hungry Hannibal Lecter! For all the good it’s likely to do. Cheering on a fictional character as he beats up fictionalized terrorists seems like a decadent indulgence when real terrorists are killing real people in the real world. I’d be so much more impressed if Frank Miller gave up all this graphic novel nonsense, joined the Army and, with a howl of undying hate, rushed headlong onto the front lines with the young soldiers who are actually risking life and limb ‘vs’ Al Qaeda.”
But Miller stuck to his guns, periodically offering updates as the idea, and the page count, grew. Then, last April, he revealed “the content got too extreme,” leading him to replace the Caped Crusader with The Fixer, “a much more well-adjusted” character trained as special ops who “happens to shoot 100 people in the course of the story.”
He also parted company with DC and began searching for another publisher — perhaps 300 publisher Dark Horse — with an eye toward releasing Holy Terror sometime this year.
“I had a talk with [former DC president and publisher] Paul Levitz and I said, ‘Look, this isn’t your Batman,’” Miller told Hero Complex in July. “I pushed Batman as far as he can go and after a while he stops being Batman. My guy carries a couple of guns and is up against an existential threat. He’s not just up against a goofy villain. Ignoring an enemy that’s committed to our annihilation is kind of silly. It just seems that chasing the Riddler around seems silly compared to what’s going on out there. I’ve taken Batman as far as he can go.”
Although Miller frequently referenced the World War II-era comics in which superheroes went toe to toe with Hitler, Holy Terror apparently won’t be as literal — an approach that may allow the graphic novel to remain timely, no matter when it’s published.
“It’s going to be a very 21st century version of Superman punching out Hitler,” Miller told Graphic NYC late last year. “Osama bin Laden is not mentioned, and I attribute one line, and it’s not as obvious as that. It’s definitely my story about a crusade on terror.”