Frank Miller’s 10 Superhero Commandments

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Well, we’re about halfway through another summer of superhero blockbusters and once again the topics/themes presented are now the “water-cooler by the pool” talk we’ll debate about, for better or worse. Superhero moral fiber seemed to be the topic this summer, emphasizing on how many of them were just getting physically and emotionally tormented while having to make some difficult choices  – offsetting some audiences. I for one enjoyed the lineup. (Iron Man 3: 3 out of 5, Star Trek 4 out of 5, Man of Steel 4 out of 5).

Anyway, It reminded me of the 10 Superhero Commandments that Frank Miller created and had published in a Maxim interview with him years ago, I believe when Sin City first came out. Searching for it online I found only 404 dead ends and broken links. Digging into some fan forums, I managed to find a re-posting of the list and his reasons behind them. A bit more gritty (overall justified) set of guidelines – some points you may not necessarily expect but it’s quite a recipe for an ultimate badass. If you can appreciate the translation from his comics to the films, you can clearly see these commandments in play. If you’ve ever learned anything about him, he is as much a mysterious character as the hundreds he has drawn. Enjoy.

1. The hero sacrifices everything.

Miller’s origin story goes like this: Born in 1957, he grows up in Maryland and Vermont with three brothers and three sisters as a self-described “maladjusted child,” obsessed with comics. At age six he meets his destiny. Instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider, he goes to the movies and gets bitten by the old B-film The 300 Spartans. “It changed the way I looked at heroes entirely,” remembers Miller, who decided then and there to pursue a life in ink. “It stopped being the fresh-faced guys who get medals on their chests at the end of Star Wars. It became people who were willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good.” The lesson stuck with him: “One of the most heroic movies I ever saw was Rocky, a guy who lasts 15 rounds before he loses a fight.”

2. The hero is fearless.

At age 20, fresh out of art school and dreaming of the great comic book houses of New York, Miller moves to the Big Apple. He stalks editors, begs for critiques, and bangs out work-for-hire at $25 a page. Within two years, writing and drawing such projects as the Twilight Zone and Spider-Man, he’s a rising star, pleading for a shot at his own series. Marvel gives him a chance, and he responds by reinventing a 15-year-old comic series about a blind lawyer who moonlights as a vigilante. The tag line for Daredevil is “The man without fear!”—and Miller roots his hero’s power in our universal fear: the dark. “What little kid, five or six years old, hasn’t gone around the house with his eyes closed and hands out?” Miller asks. “That’s the Daredevil fantasy.” Before long Miller is slaughtering sacred cows as a matter of course, reinventing Wolverine, Batman, and, with Sin City and 300, entire genres. Miller was becoming a comic book hero in his own right.

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3. The hero does nothing small.

Miller grew up in small towns dreaming of Gotham, Metropolis, and planet-hopping superheroes. “It’s all got to happen on a grand scale,” explains Miller, who first became famous for his crime-fiction influences and later his wild style of slashing lines, abstract action, and Jackson Pollock–like splatter. “C’mon, Superman is ridiculous—he has blue hair, he can fly. It can’t just be, ‘This guy’s having a bad day.’ If Daredevil has a nervous breakdown, people are going to get hit.”

4. The hero loves women of all kinds: Blondes, brunettes, redheads, dominatrices, strippers, hookers…

From his earliest strips to the strippers of Sin City, Miller’s heroes have been surrounded by beautiful, often nude, women. Why? Because, like many school-age outcasts, Miller has always loved to draw hot girls. “When you have a brush in your hand, inking a beautiful woman is a lot like running your hands over her,” Miller says. “It turns me on, OK?” Over the years Miller has caught some flak for drawing so many hookers and lookers, but the actresses who have worked with him, from Rosario Dawson to Jessica Alba, all defend him. “Frank is a gentleman, and his women are badass,” says Jaime King. A close friend of Miller’s, she says he was “incredibly protective” on the sets of both Sin City and The Spirit. “In Sin City, they may be hookers, but they’re not just being fucked and left for dead. They’re the law of the town, keeping shit together.”

5. The hero fights dirty and looks ugly.

A Frank Miller man is nasty when he needs to be: He fights dirty, uses his fists, and knows how to take a beating. He’s not the clean-cut Captain America type. He’s almost always some nasty-looking, hulking freak who’s half-human, half-rhino. Miller’s Batman is a pink-fleshed Hulk. Sin City’s brutish Marv is Miller’s take on a modern-day barbarian. “If I go for a strong guy” he says, “I want him to be ugly.”Miller likes the rough image for himself too. He’s earned a reputation within the industry for being ferociously demanding, a quality mirrored in his heroes. “Frank talks about his characters as if they won’t let him go until they’ve told him their stories,” says 300 director Zack Snyder. “The only characters that survive are the ones who are tough enough to fight back. Maybe that’s why he ends up with the hardest and scariest.”

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6. The hero has a reason, but he doesn’t need therapy.

“When I first got going on what became The Dark Knight, I just thought about him a lot, what kind of guy would do this stuff,” he says of his endlessly influential 1986 reinvention of Batman. That said, Miller says he’s sick of “therapy culture” and hand-wringing heroes like Spider-Man who go around whining all the time about the burden of great power. In 300 Sparta’s King Leonidas didn’t have to ponder the Persian Empire’s diplomacy—he kicked Xerxes’ diplomat down a well.

7. The hero is chivalrous. But he doesn’t talk about it.

Miller didn’t revive the “Dark Knight” moniker by accident; he believes fiercely in old-school chivalry. And he created the debauched borough of Sin City in 1991 to show that old-fashioned values endure, no matter how corrupt the environment. “Without vice there is no virtue,” he says. “I like to refer to a hard-boiled hero as a knight in blood-caked armor.”

8. The hero is the ultimate romantic.

Miller grew up loving Alfred Hitchcock nearly as much as comic book legend Jack Kirby—and he tried to make it in Hollywood in the late 1980s. He even scripted RoboCop 2 and 3, but the experience soured him, until Robert Rodriguez offered him a co-directing credit on Sin City a decade later. “One of my favorite lines is when Marv is about to kill the priest,” says Snyder. “The priest [played by Miller] says, ‘You’d better ask yourself if this whore is worth dying for.’ Marv says, ‘Worth killing for, worth dying for. Worth going to hell for.’ While he’s shooting him.”

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9. The hero is hated and misunderstood.

Miller has always been a controversial figure. The more popular he becomes, the more he seems to piss off colleagues, infuriate fans, and confound expectations–because he’s always restlessly pursuing some new direction. In Miller’s universe, superheroes are outlawed and ostracized—there are no trophies. “Community approval isn’t the motive for a hero anyway,” he says. “It’s the motive for a politician. A hero does the right thing because it’s the right thing.”

10. The hero believes in good and evil.

Miller’s 300 became a lightning rod for criticism since many read it as an endorsement of the war on terror, the West versus the Middle East. “I did this comic in the 1990s, so I never could have expected that it would get this reaction from hawks,” says Miller, laughing. “I did 300 years before 9/11, but you don’t have to read much between the lines to see that I believe there is good and there is evil. As the great cartoonist Wallace Wood said, it’s the job of the good guys to kill the bad guys.”

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