- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

One man took responsibility for the death of Daredevil’s girlfriend, chronicled the plight of King Leonidas and even dared turn Batman into an old curmudgeon who enjoyed beating up the Man of Steel.

That man is Frank Miller. At 48, he is considered one of the great innovators of the sequential-art industry for helping redefine the superhero and usher in a modern era in which the comic book is no longer just for children.

“Sin City,” a dark and demented new CGI/live action hybrid adapted from a series of Mr. Miller’s comic books by director Robert Rodriguez, opens today in area theaters. The movie compilation is a blood-soaked, corpse-littered revenge-a-thon. It is rated R, and — consider yourself warned — it earns it.

Born in Olney and raised in Montpelier, Vt., Mr. Miller began drawing at age 6 after declaring to his mother that he wanted to “do this for the rest of my life.” He moved to New York City in his late teens and officially entered the comic-book business with a two-issue story on Spectacular Spider-Man back in 1979 for Marvel Comics.

He soon went on to an extended stint on the same publisher’s monthly comic book Daredevil, giving readers a fresh look at the blind hero also known as the Man Without Fear and creating the ninja assassin Elektra Natchios.

In 1986, Mr. Miller electrified the world of comics with the DC Comics miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which helped redefine the flawed superhero for mature audiences.

The artist took a break from comics during the late 1980s to try his hand at screenwriting in Hollywood. He likens the collaborative screenplay process to “a fire hydrant with dogs lined up around the block.”

The stories surrounding the fictional Basin City — the source material for the new movie — began to take shape in 1991 after an exhausting round in Tinseltown writing “RoboCop 2.”

“I had just been working on the movie and had not been drawing for two years, which is not like me,” Mr Miller says. “I decided that after working with so many different people on such a complex project, I needed to return to my roots.”

His fascination with crime fiction would come to fruition as a simple black-and-white multipage story appearing in nine issues of the monthly Dark Horse Presents comic-book anthology series.

Mr. Miller cared little whether it would sell or not. He even offered the project to the Oregon-based Dark Horse Comics on a profit-or-loss basis, meaning if it lost money, he would pay for it.

Far from losing him money, Sin City brought Mr. Miller industry awards and an expanded fan base consumed by his pitiless world of tough guys, eye-poppingly curvaceous women and fast cars.

The first tale featured a big bruiser named Marv exacting revenge on those who dared murder a woman who offered him one night of tenderness. Exploring the complex nature of the hero, it pulled no punches in depicting the extremes to which Marv would go for retribution — down to vivisection, decapitation and extreme torture.

Subsequent Sin City stories, packaged as multiple-issue miniseries, followed throughout the 1990s, introducing characters such as Detective Hartigan, ex-photojournalist Dwight and prostitute leader Gail in aptly named adventures that included The Big Fat Kill, A Dame to Kill For, and Booze, Broads and Bullets.

Each story exhibits the Miller hallmarks — graphic content, hard-bitten 1940s-style wiseguy dialogue and heavy-handed black-and-white illustrations punctuated with an occasional streak of color.

“There is as much Jack Kirby as there is Will Eisner in Sin City,” says Mr. Miller, who sees his Sin City protagonists in terms of mythical and fictional prototypes: Hartigan as Galahad, Marv as Conan the Barbarian and Dwight as an outcast version of Philip Marlowe.

Mr. Miller says he never pandered to his readers, concentrating instead on being faithful to the world he created.

“I like to play with my audience, and I like to trick them and throw stuff their way that they won’t expect, and I like to make them fall in love with characters, but I will never be a one man focus group hoping to gauge reaction to my work,” he says.

The artist is happy to promote “Sin City,” which he credits for his new perspective on the filmmaking process he once loathed. Though he initially was reluctant to turn Sin City over to Hollywood, his resistance softened after a tour of Mr. Rodriguez’s Austin, Texas-based Troublemaker Studios.

“Hollywood tweaks with a jackhammer, and I was very aware of that,” Mr. Miller says, “but this movie was entirely filmed away from the culture of Hollywood, and I felt at home after the first shot.”

Indeed, Mr. Miller was so involved in translating his vision to the screen that he earned a co-director credit.

“I am very close to the character Miho, and I worked the young actress [Devon Aoki] who played her very hard,” he says. “Robert [Rodriguez] kept calling me a soccer dad because I was always so mean to her and then proud when she got a move right.”

Mr. Miller has a new Batman story in the pipeline and is working on getting another one of his books, “300” (a pivotal battle in the Persian-Greco war), turned into a film.

He also is working on new Sin City stories that eventually will make their way to print — unless Mr. Rodriguez interrupts him again.

“It takes a long time to develop the material because Sin City is so very personal to me,” he says, “but if they offer me ‘Sin City 2,’ I will leap at the chance.”

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