Frank Miller has had one of the most successful careers in modern comics. Credited with changing the way superheroes could be written with his groundbreaking run on Daredevil and the dystopian DC Universe future of The Dark Knight Returns, he’s lauded for bringing a new level of gritty realism and dark sensibilities to classics characters. Miller’s work is also credited with touching off a a trend toward darker heroes that some say has gone too far. His later work has faced criticism as well, particularly books like 300 and Sin City, which have been labeled misogynist, homophobic, and/or fascist in their themes. But that controversy hasn’t stopped Marvel and DC alike from mining his past work for inspiration when it comes to new movies and TV series.
Recently, the reclusive writer weighed in on several of the new productions inspired by his work and how he’s moved on from characters like Batman and Daredevil.
Miller gained acclaim in comics for his reworking of Daredevil in the 1980s, where he gave the character and his supporting cast a neo-noir makeover and created Elektra — which caused a rift between the creator and Marvel when the publisher had her brought back to life against his wishes. When asked by THR if Marvel (who, because of how contracts were written at the time, owns all characters created in that era regardless of who invented them) has offered to credit him during the character’s upcoming appearance in Daredevil season 2, Miller explains:
“No. I don’t know if they quite know I exist. Let’s see if they credit me for creating Elektra.”
Miller has also made a play for work in Hollywood, writing the screenplay for Robocop 2 and participating in the production of the two Robert Rodriguez movies based on his Sin City comics along with directing the infamous 2008 bomb The Spirit — based on the comics by Will Eisner. But his most asked about project was a collaboration with director Darren Aronofsky on a planned Batman: Year One feature (loosely inspired by his comic of the same name) that Warner Bros. ultimately passed on in favor of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Speaking on the project, Miller elaborated:
“It was the first time I worked on a Batman project with somebody whose vision of Batman was darker than mine. My Batman was too nice for him. We would argue about it, and I’d say, “Batman wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t torture anybody,” and so on. We hashed out a screenplay, and we were wonderfully compensated, but then Warner Bros. read it and said, “We don’t want to make this movie.” The executive wanted to do a Batman he could take his kids to. And this wasn’t that. It didn’t have the toys in it. The Batmobile was just a tricked-out car. And Batman turned his back on his fortune to live a street life so he could know what people were going through. He built his own Batcave in an abandoned part of the subway. And he created Batman out of whole cloth to fight crime and a corrupt police force.”
The Miller/Aronofsky project has been among the most infamous unmade screenplays for years. Featuring a homeless young Batman who’s grown up not knowing that his parents were the Waynes, a garage mechanic named “Big Al” in place of Alfred, a bat-symbol derived from bruises left by a Wayne family signet-ring and sex-worker Catwoman among other variations on the traditional origin. While elements of the Year One comics were later adapted into Begins and Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice appears to have lifted its main story point directly from The Dark Knight Returns, Miller says he has little interest in seeing how they turned out:
“No. I didn’t make up Batman, I didn’t make up Daredevil, I have no right to be possessive, but once I’ve worked on a character, it’s hard to see any other way than my way. By and large, most of what they do, I’ll just get grouchy if I see it. So I tend not to look at it, except for few exceptions.”