DATE November 14, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Frank Miller discusses his Batman: The Dark Knight
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.
(Reading) `It's been 10 years since Batman was last sighted on the streets of
Gotham City. Crime runs rampant in the streets, and Bruce Wayne is still
tortured by the memories of his parents' murders. As the city suffers through
a heat and violent crime wave, the nation at large wages war against its
neighbors. Civil society is crumbling, and deep in the Batcave, the aging,
bitter caped crusader decides to let loose his pent-up rage.'
So begins comic book writer and artist Frank Miller's 1985 graphic crime
novel, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, about the comeback of one of the
comic book genres oldest and most popular superheroes. One Rolling Stone
critic says of the book, `In Miller's hands, Batman is bigger than a comic's
icon; he's a violent symbol of American disillusion and American idealism.'
Miller has worked with DC Comics, where Batman originated, throughout his
career. He was also the writer and artist from the Marvel Comic series
Daredevil and is the author of the crime story series Sin City. Now Miller
has a sequel to his first Batman novel called Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes
When you first returned to the idea of making a new Batman, what kinds of
questions did you ask yourself about how to make Batman relevant to what's
going on in the world now? And was that the challenge you did set for
Mr. FRANK MILLER (Author, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again): That was
part of it. I've never found this sort of material irrelevant. It lends
itself so much, especially to political humor, that I'm amazed at how little
it's used that way. The first "Dark Knight" was a response to the Reagan era
in the '80s with its excesses. And now we are in such a strange period that
having this mythic figure waltzing through out crazy politics just seemed
BOGAEV: So what kinds of questions did you ask yourself? For instance, what
kind of a world would be scary enough that you'd need a Batman?
Mr. MILLER: I've never really had to ask myself that question. All I had to
do was read the newspaper...
Mr. MILLER: ...because it's a scary world getting scarier. But I guess the
biggest question I have to ask myself is why these characters were ever
created in the first place. And for that, you have to go back to the late
'30s and wonder why two Jewish kids in Ohio created Superman, which was the
start of all this superhero stuff. And if you look at it, it was a time of
rabid anti-Semitism not just abroad, but domestically. And it's kind of
amazing. It was a bit of creative jujitsu that these kids, Jerry Siegel and
Joe Shuster, took the term `superman,' which was obviously adored by Hitler,
and used it to represent a golem that worked against corrupt landlords and was
was very much an anti-war figure in his early incarnations. It wasn't until
the '40s when war fever hit that he became a flag-waver. Up until then, he
was much more of a superman working for the common man. So from the
beginning, these characters were political in their nature. And so that...
BOGAEV: Is this the Batman that you knew, reading the original series?
Mr. MILLER: No, not exactly. No. I kind of remade him to make him more
interesting. See, I had this terrible thing happen when I was 29 years old.
I realized I was about to turn 30 and Batman was 29. And that meant that I'd
be older than Batman. And I just couldn't stand that thought. So I had to
make him older, and everything else kind of sprang from that.
BOGAEV: Just so people listening who weren't into comics as a kid and don't
know the whole Batman story, could you fill us in?
Mr. MILLER: Oh, the beginning of Batman is the best and the simplest to tell.
He was a six-year-old boy coming home with his parents, and a mugger shot them
both to death. And he happened to be a very wealthy man, so as time went by,
he trained himself to fight crime and became the best guy at weapons and
science and everything else, and took on the image of a bat as his emblem
BOGAEV: So he wasn't like a lot of the other Marvel Comic superheroes, who
were--you know, Spider-Man was bitten by a spider, a radioactive spider.
Mr. MILLER: Yes.
BOGAEV: He simply had this psychological origin.
Mr. MILLER: That's right. He's the one major character--he's almost the
self-help hero in that he simply made himself into something superior and went
after all the bad guys.
BOGAEV: You know, as a kid, when you read about this guy, this superhero
dressed like a bat, you just really swallow it whole.
Mr. MILLER: Mm-hmm.
BOGAEV: You think, `Oh, sure, he gets to be a superhero and dress up. Cool.'
Mr. MILLER: Yeah.
BOGAEV: But when you think about it, what kind of guy would dress up like a
bat, you know? You've got to be a weirdo.
Mr. MILLER: But what you just said, Barbara, is a lot of where I come from.
When I handle these superheroes, I like to step back and take a look at them
and go, `What kind of a person would really do this? What kind of a person
would dress up like a bat and throw people through windows?' And I looked at
what they'd done with the character, and he spent so much time being deputized
and being this nice guy and, you know, God forbid, a role model for kids, and
I realized, `No, this would be a very, very strange man, and I don't think
he'd be a particularly nice person to be around.' So he'd be the guy you'd
want to have when you're threatened by a criminal, but you probably wouldn't
want to have dinner with him.
BOGAEV: Now part of what's depressing Batman--he's haunted by the loss of
Robin in "The Dark Knight."
Mr. MILLER: Yeah.
BOGAEV: What happened to Robin? And then you can tell us who your new Robin
Mr. MILLER: Well, in the first "Dark Knight," the most recent Robin had died
in combat under circumstances that are never explained. So Batman was
Robin-less all these years. But when he goes back into action, a young girl
named Carrie Kelly is inspired by him coming back into action to announce to
the world that she is Robin, and goes out into action and learns on the road
and eventually hooks up with Batman. She's a fun character. I feel in love
with her writing her.
BOGAEV: Yeah, why a girl? What were you going for with that?
Mr. MILLER: Why not?
Mr. MILLER: It's such a boy's club in superhero land, and the women, when
they show up, are bunnies. I mean, they're pale imitations of the heroes, but
they're really busty. And I thought the idea especially of a Robin who's a
13-year-old girl was just adorable, and especially her being a gymnast. It
all fit together really well.
BOGAEV: One thing about your writing, the dialogue; there's a lot of really
hard-boiled crime novel-type lines in these books, and in all your series.
And I'm thinking specifically of "The Dark Knight," when Batman's kicking
around a thug he's trying to get information out of.
Mr. MILLER: Mm-hmm.
BOGAEV: The guy's already all beaten up, and Batman throws him through a
window, and the thug is screaming, `I got rights!' And Batman says, `You've
got rights, lots of rights. Sometimes I count them just to make myself feel
crazy.' That is great stuff.
Mr. MILLER: Thanks.
BOGAEV: What are your models for that kind of noir?
Mr. MILLER: I don't know, I was probably channeling Clint Eastwood with that
particular rant. But when I was about 12 years old, I stopped reading comic
books and started reading things like Mickey Spillane and later Raymond
Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Crime fiction's my favorite stuff. I love the
hard-boiled stuff, and most of what I've done in the past 10 years has been
hard-boiled crime stuff. And what I like to do is bring it to the superhero.
When I first came to New York, when I was 19 years old and trying to break
into comics, I showed up with a whole bunch of samples of my artwork. Being
an idiot, I hadn't looked at a comic book in years, but I had all these comics
that I wanted to do, and they were all about tough guys in trench coats and
vintage cars and great-looking women and guns. And I was just told that they
didn't do that sort of thing; they only did guys in tights. So I had to learn
how to draw guys in tights. And as soon as I got to do it on a regular basis,
and write my own stuff, I made the guys in tights function just like Mike
Hammer. But I just wanted to bring a more urban edge to what was going on
that had been missing for a while. It's not like I brought it in for the
first time. All the way back to Steve Ditko and Spider-Man there was a very
New York urban edge, especially to Marvel Comics.
BOGAEV: Now speaking of urban edge, two gang members, characters in "Dark
Knight," Rob and Don...
Mr. MILLER: Yes.
BOGAEV: ...they speak this amazing slang.
Mr. MILLER: Yeah.
BOGAEV: I don't even know how to describe it. Maybe it's hip-hop, kind of.
I don't know what they're saying half the time. They say things like, `My
man, lickin' chegs. All lines are busy. Chegs, can my nasty
(unintelligible).' I'm literally reading this from your book. `Ears only,
spud, as in members.' What is this? I mean, what are they--I can't even
Mr. MILLER: My man, lickin' chegs. Yeah, my man, lickin' chegs. Yeah, the
whole thing actually comes by way of Lynn Varley and her brothers.
BOGAEV: Lynn Varley is your colorist...
Mr. MILLER: Yes.
BOGAEV: ...and also your wife. Right?
Mr. MILLER: That's right, yes. It was a way that they spoke in their
neighborhood in Livonia, Michigan. I mean, I know it sounds kind of hip-hop,
but the source is so Anglo it's ridiculous. But it's simply a reverse way of
speaking in pattern that I combined with some of the other stuff that's been
going on more recently. And--I mean, I wanted to create that sense of
unfamiliarity that people have with youth speak, in general. And since it was
a story set in the future, it seemed like a natural to use this, you know,
speech pattern that I was hearing.
BOGAEV: So it's kind of a pidgin. I mean, it doesn't really make sense.
Mr. MILLER: Oh, it does make sense.
BOGAEV: It does?
Mr. MILLER: It's got its own grammar, as a matter of fact. As if--it's
almost all in reversals. You know, `figure I won't,' means `I will.'
BOGAEV: OK. Uh-huh.
Mr. MILLER: Figure is always a negative.
BOGAEV: And `Ears only spud'?
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. `Spud' is basically a put-down and `ears only, as in
members,' means only members can hear it.
Mr. MILLER: It's pretty twisted, but it does make some sense.
BOGAEV: My guest is Frank Miller. His remakes of the Batman comics, "The
Dark Knight Returns" and "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," are now available in
hardback. We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, I'm talking with writer and artist Frank
Miller. His recreation of the Batman comics are called "The Dark Knight
Returns" and "The Dark Knight Strikes Again."
I read a really interesting comment that you made about the challenge of
drawing comics and that is that you said a lot of your job is to slow the
reader's eye down...
Mr. MILLER: Yeah.
BOGAEV: ...in order to make you linger. What do you mean by that?
Mr. MILLER: Yeah. I really do believe that my biggest enemy with my job is
time because technically, I could hand you one of my comics and you could
absorb the entire thing, or at least go through the entire thing, go through
the action of reading it in an extremely short amount of time and--in 10
minutes. And I want you to take a half an hour or so.
And so a lot of the tricks in my bag are ways to slow that act down. There
are obvious and clumsy ones, like putting a lot of words in, which generally
bores somebody to tears, or putting so many images in that it just takes that
long to get through it. But the best ways are to make, first off, the story
so compelling that you don't want to miss anything. I'm obsessed with pacing,
so I'll often try to jockey, you know, large images against small ones and
fairly dense blocks of text against light ones because I don't have the
advantage of a filmmaker. A filmmaker can--he can leave the camera there for
as long as he wants and unless you want to leave the theater, you're pretty
much stuck with his pacing. In my case, I've got a reader to fight all the
BOGAEV: You know, there's something very sexy about how you draw, again...
Mr. MILLER: Thank you.
BOGAEV: ...these superheroes, especially in the fight scenes. They have
these, you know, extended limbs, the leaping, the classic--but yet something
is different about the movement in your drawing.
Mr. MILLER: Uh-huh. Mm-hmm.
BOGAEV: It really has a feeling of movement and a modern feeling of movement.
I mean, do you watch people dance? Do you draw from life in some way to
inspire you in the art?
Mr. MILLER: I look a lot at what's going on in pop culture, especially now
because it's a really fun time for it. The fashion scene, you know,
especially the young fashion scene, is exploding with all kinds of interesting
photography and clothing styles and just out outrageous stuff in places like
Tank magazine, for instance. When it comes to the dance stuff--no, I'm not a
big dance fan. I learned a lot from martial arts movies and I ended up
studying Bruce Lee movies and all of that and ended up studying an awful lot
of samurai and--you know, the Japanese and Chinese martial arts movies, and
there's a real ballet to the way they do the combat.
BOGAEV: When did you start drawing comics? How young were you?
Mr. MILLER: I really don't remember that far back. I was probably between
five and six. I just always wanted to do it.
BOGAEV: And how did you learn the basics? Did you get any formal artistic
Mr. MILLER: Some people would argue I never did. I never had any formal
training. I started visiting New York when I was 16 or 17, and an established
artist, who's still in the field, Neal Adams, would let me come into his
studio and show him my portfolio and he would always explain to me why I
didn't have a chance and why my stuff was terrible. And then he'd give me
some more lessons and I'd go back home and work off those. So mostly, I
learned by finding the right books to study and taking a couple stray life
drawing classes, but it was mostly school of hard knocks.
BOGAEV: Often, when people are self-taught, there's a huge gap somewhere that
they get caught--a gap in their knowledge.
Mr. MILLER: Uh-huh.
BOGAEV: Did you ever experience that once you did get a job writing at
Mr. MILLER: Gap in what sense?
BOGAEV: In that you just never learned, like, to draw hands or...
Mr. MILLER: Oh, all the time. All the time. I mean, it's--when I start a
new series, I often have to figure out, `OK, how am I going to figure out how
to draw this now? I've dodged this for years.' When I started by Sin City
series, I went, `There's no dodging anymore. I've gotta learn how to draw
cars,' because I'd been drawing boxes--I'd been drawing, like, little lunch
boxes with wheels on them for everything up until then. And so I got advice
from an artist friend, Jeff Darrow, who led me to the die-cast metal cars you
can buy. That way I could draw them three-dimensionally. I'd draw it any
angle I wanted. It's like having the power of a god or something, you know.
And the more I drew them the more I realized that they were as much characters
as the people were. I eventually fell in love with drawing cars.
Part of what makes my job so fun is that these stopping points where I run
into something I've never drawn before, or I rediscover how to draw it. You
can spend a long time drawing comic books and never really know what a shoe is
and then comes the day when you take your shoe off and put it on your drawing
board and really discover what a weird thing a shoe is. Normal things look
much more strange than we remember them.
BOGAEV: Really simple question: Do you write first and then draw...
Mr. MILLER: Mm-hmm.
BOGAEV: ...since you do both?
Mr. MILLER: That's not such a simple question. It's a good question 'cause
it's different from artist to artist. I plot first. Obviously, it's sort of
like I draw in pencil before I draw in ink. You have to have your story
together. And what I tend to do is I have Post-it notes up against my wall
blocking out a story, and when it's in good enough shape, I have my scenario
ready. After that, I often simply start laying out the pages and drawing them
in pencil. And as I do that, as I lay it out and as I draw it on the boards
themselves, I tend to write an awful lot down the borders just as I'm drawing;
lines occur to me, new scenes occur to me and so on. But I usually have the
entire thing laid out before there's a formal script done and then I produce a
script and then I letter it on the boards.
BOGAEV: We're facing a war with Iraq now, we're facing terrorist threats.
Are you dealing with those kinds of issues in the projects you're developing
Mr. MILLER: Right now it's my subject. I don't know how long that's going to
be the case, but I feel a little bit like some of my predecessors must have
felt after Pearl Harbor. For me, the timing was very peculiar because I was
halfway through the second chapter of "Dark Knight 2," which means I was right
in the middle of the series, and I had just had Batman crash a flying
Batmobile into a skyscraper and also had a giant bomb go off in Metropolis
when 9/11 came around. So I was stuck midway through my series with something
that was a little beyond resonant and downright creepy.
And I talked it over with DC. They left it up to me, and I said, `Let's leave
it as it is and I'll write through this.' But it was then that I knew that I
really had to find my own way as a pop fiction guy to respond to what had
happened and to the new world that had been revealed. So, yeah, I mean,
stories are going to either directly or metaphorically have something to do
with the war on terror for a long time to come, I think.
BOGAEV: 9/11 must have been so strange for you having had this apocalyptic
vision and used the image of the twin towers in your comics and then to have
this come true.
Mr. MILLER: It was very strange to wake up in the morning and realize for the
first time in my career that I didn't know what my next book was going to be,
because all the plans I had seemed--well, not just trivial, but irrelevant,
because these fantasies don't exist in their own little dimension. Everything
is metaphor for something that's real. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," that
old science-fiction movie, was a pop culture reaction to the Communist threat.
But this is how pop culture works, is that we process things and then turn
them into a product that is at once more palatable, but deeply resonant. And
I think it's going to be a while before pop culture does that with 9/11 and
what seems to amount to World War III.
So I was at sea for awhile, and the first works I'm going to do are going to
be very abrupt, directly addressing the terrorist thing in pulpy terms, in
adventure terms. After that, I don't know where I'm going to go. It's a
fascinating and terrifying time in more ways than one.
BOGAEV: Frank Miller, it was really fun to talk with you. Thank you.
Mr. MILLER: Oh, well, my pleasure.
BOGAEV: Frank Miller's remakes of the Batman comics, "The Dark Knight
Returns" and "The Dark Knight Strikes Again," have just come out in hardback.
Miller's now working on the screenplay for the new "Batman" movie. The
illustration style of his book "The Dark Knight Returns" was the inspiration
for Tim Burton's "Batman."
I'm Barbara Bogaev. This is FRESH AIR. And here's a song from the film.
This is Prince.
(Soundbite of "The Future")
PRINCE: (Singing) I've seen the future as it will be. I've seen the future
as it works. If there's life after, we will see, so I can't go like a jerk.
Systemic overthrow of the underclass. Hollywood conjures images of the past.
New world needs spirituality that will last. I've seen the future and it will
be. I've seen the future and it will be.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Coming up, really good bad movie making. We talk with B-movie actor
Bruce Campbell. He starred in Sam Raimi's mock-horror cult film "The Evil
Dead" and "Army of Darkness." The two met in high school. Campbell's memoir
is now out in paperback. Also, David Edelstein reviews "Far From Heaven," the
new movie by Todd Haynes.
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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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Review: Todd Haynes' new film "Far from Heaven"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
"Far from Heaven" is the new film written and directed by Todd Haynes, whose
other films include "Safe," "Poison" and "Velvet Goldmine." Set in the '50,
"Far from Heaven" stars Julianne Moore as an upper middle-class housewife,
Dennis Quaid as her husband, and Dennis Haysbert as the black gardener Moore
turns to when her marriage is in trouble. Film critic David Edelstein has a
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
It's no big news that soap operas have historically peddled complacency with
the social order, especially when it comes to the role of women. But in the
'50s, when German emigre Douglas Sirk made a series of so-called women's
pictures, like "Magnificent Obsession" and "All That Heaven Allows," he
managed to deliver three hankie weepers that hinted subversively at the ways
in which many women's lives were circumscribed. A lot of gay men related to
the heroines of those movies, whose love dared not speak its name, and they
liked the lush decor, too.
Still, when I heard that the next project of the great gay semiotics-oriented
writer-director Todd Haynes would be a Sirk-style soap opera called "Far from
Heaven," it sounded like a recipe for camp. And Haynes had already been over
this terrain. In his brilliant 1995 film "Safe," Julianne Moore played a
pretty housewife who was like a canary in the coal mines of the '80s, poisoned
by the era's sterile conformity and other toxins. What more did Haynes have
to say? The answer is not much, but in "Far from Heaven," he says it more
passionately, and the upshot is a movie that makes everything else on our
screens look anemic.
The setting his Hartford, Connecticut, in 1956, when it was a Waspy enclave of
insurance companies and modern corporations like Magnatech. That's where
Frank Whitaker, played by Dennis Quaid, is an executive. He and his model
wife, Cathy, played by Julianne Moore, are even known as Mr. and Mrs.
Magnatech. Appearances deceive, though. Frank carries a dark secret. He's a
homosexual. When Cathy eventually finds him in a lip lock with another man,
she doesn't know how to process it. It's not something one speaks of openly,
and the marriage threatens to implode. Here's a scene from a cocktail party
at the Whitaker's. Frank is drunk. Cathy is desperate to keep him from
drinking more. And things appear on the verge of getting ugly.
(Soundbite of "Far from Heaven")
Unidentified Actor #1 ("Stan"): Well, by golly, there she is now, the
prettiest gal in the room.
Ms. JULIANNE MOORE (Cathy Whitaker): Oh, Stan, liquor brings out the
Texan in you. I hope Eleanor isn't ...(unintelligible)
Unidentified Actor #1: So what if she is. I still say Frank is the luckiest
guy in town.
Unidentified Actor #2: Hear! Hear!
Mr. DENNIS QUAID (Frank Whitaker): It's all smoke and mirrors, fellas.
That's all it is. You should see her without her face on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Actor #3: Frank!
Ms. MOORE: No, he's absolutely right. We ladies are never what we appear,
and every girl has her secrets.
Unidentified Actor #4: I'll say.
Mr. QUAID: How about this girl going and getting her husband another drink.
Ms. MOORE: Darling, don't you think you've already had...
Mr. QUAID: No, I don't think I've had enough.
Unidentified Actor #4: I'd just like to take a moment to raise a glass to our
marvelous host and hostess, and another glorious annual party at the
Whitaker's. To Frank and Cathy, truly Mr. and Mrs. Magnatech.
Group of People: Hear! Hear!
EDELSTEIN: It says something about Haynes' inner world that he doesn't really
emphasize with a closeted homosexual of his parents' generation. The movie's
only heart-felt relationship is between Cathy and the family's Negro lawn and
garden tender, Raymond Deagan, played by Dennis Haysbert, who in 2002, can be
the president of the US in the TV series "24." Julianne Moore is uncanny.
She gets the externals right; the wardrobe, the makeup, all the cheerful '50s
artifice. But she also shows you how Cathy chose them. You see a woman
playing a part, playing it with determination and almost military precision.
Then you see how Cathy is imprisoned by that role and chafes under it and
can't transcend it. The '60s, as we think of them, wouldn't be for another
decade, and there is no other design for living, not then, not with kids, not
in Hartford. In the end, we're still in a '50s women's picture.
The genius of "Far from Heaven" is how it hits you viscerally. The romance
and the dread are all mixed up. Through composition, camera movement and
color, Haynes communicates how culturally shackled these people are. I don't
think there's an image in this entire wide-screen movie that hasn't been worked
out--the colors of each autumn leaf, the swishes of Cathy's skirt, the
maraschino cherries and the daiquiris the ladies drink over lunch, when
everyone but Cathy confesses to their husband's sexual appetites. The movie
is engineered to within an inch of its life, but that inch is bursting with
feeling. It never seems over control, mostly because you can always sense the
helplessness of the characters beneath their costumes and poses.
Haynes hasn't just reproduced the conventions of Sirk movies. He maintains an
almost erotic fixation on the textures of '50s middle-brow culture. He has
gone so deep into his own attraction to these films that he has fettishized
them. It's hard to think of a movie so ironic and at the same time so
emotionally overflowing. What could have been a post-modern exercise for film
students expands in your head and becomes a lament for all our cultural
shackles. And something else, it's a hell of a good soap opera.
BOGAEV: David Edelstein is the film critic for the online magazine Slate.
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Another notable member of the '50s music scene passed this month, Billy
Mitchell. He died on November 5th at the age of 71 of cancer. Mitchell was
one of the founding members of the doo-wap group The Clovers. We'll close now
with The Clovers' 1959 hit "Love Potion No. 9."
(Soundbite of "Love Potion No. 9")
THE CLOVERS: (Singing) I took my troubles down to Madame Rue, you know that
gypsy with the gold-capped tooth. She's got a pad on 34th and Vine, selling
little bottles of love potion number nine. I told her that I was a flop with
chicks. I've been this way since 1956. She looked at my palm and she made a
magic sign, she said, `What you need is love potion number nine.' She bent
down and turned around and gave me a wink. She said, `I'm gonna mix it up
right here in the sink.' It smelled like turpentine and looked like India
ink. I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink. I didn't know if it
was day or night. I started kissing everything in sight. But when I kissed a
cop at 34th and Vine, he broke my little bottle of love potion number nine.
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