“it’s way past time you learnt — what it means to be a man”

23 04 2007

“This would be a good death…”

A common theme of Frank Miller’s work is a man’s mission to ‘die right’. 300 is an extended last stand, full of talk of dying with honour and glory. Sin City is full of flawed heroes going unwaveringly to their seemingly inevitable doom. In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman chooses the time and place of his death – to the second (although he claims his timing is a bit off, but I like to think that’s a deliberate mistake – Bruce letting Clark know that he trusts him, always trusted him to come through in the end… but also getting one up on the Kryptonian yet again. A wink, and a reminder.)

Miller’s heroes represent absolute moral justice made flesh – yet more than flesh, their rock-hard moral convictions reflected in the hyperreal, granite-like physicality of Marv, the Dark Knight, or Leonidas. Maybe this explains Miller’s attraction to Robocop, the male body rendered literally impenetrable, metallic.

For Robocop, doing the right thing is programmed into him, even overriding the
programming imposed upon him by society. It’s the same with Bruce Wayne scorning the committee that bans superheroes, Leonidas killing the messenger. They’re not interested in what lesser men might do.

Doing the right thing despite the cost means that death is near-inevitable. So while conviction means death, life means compromise. Society compromises; so the uncompromising hero is a loner. We see this in 300, when Leonidas questions the Arcadians’ professions. Be a part of society, but lack agency, or be in control of one’s own destiny and conviction but be apart from society.

This is why there’s such a clear separation between the warrior class of Sparta and the others, the chattering classes of Gotham and the Dark Knight (“Batman? I’m plain tired of hearing about him. Him and how he doesn’t let things stop him or just let things go the way us humans do.). It’s the same as the distinction between the normal folk of the American West and the gunfighter who rides into town to commit righteous violence on behalf of society, yet can never be part of that society and must always ride on into the sunset.

To attempt to be part of society is irreconcilable with the way of the warrior. Love always means trouble in Sin City. This construction of hypermasculinity precludes relationships. Relationships lead to death. And it’s not always the man that’s punished.

“The world only makes sense when you force it to…”

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