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Revenge of the Dark Knight

Hard-edged comics guru Frank Miller is hot in Hollywood. Now for the graphic details.

April 29, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

FRANK MILLER, his pale hands wrapped around a cane and the smoke from his cigarette swirling beneath the brim of his Homburg, sat at the poolside bar at the W Hotel in Westwood and watched the swimsuits saunter by. "I'm married to New York," he said between sips of a fizzy Red Bull cocktail. "But there's something to be said about Los Angeles too."

Miller arrived at the W a month and a half ago with a one-week reservation, but the L.A. fling is still going and he's still living out of a suitcase filled with black clothes. The reason is that Miller, the most important comic book artist of the last 25 years, is enjoying his moment in the Hollywood sun. There was, of course, the record-breaking March box office of "300," a lovingly faithful adaptation of Miller's bloody 1998 graphic novel, but there's also the two sequels to "Sin City" now in the pipeline and the Batman project now being filmed in London that borrows its title from Miller's 1986 masterpiece, "The Dark Knight Returns." "They finally got the title right," Miller said with a pretend sneer. "I was wondering when that would happen."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 02, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Alan Moore book: An article in Sunday's Calendar section about comic-book artist Frank Miller referred to the graphic novel "The Watchman" by Alan Moore. The title is "The Watchmen."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 06, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Alan Moore book: An article last Sunday about comic book artist Frank Miller incorrectly referred to the graphic novel "The Watchman" by Alan Moore. The title is "Watchmen."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 06, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Alan Moore book: An April 29 article in the Calendar section about comic-book artist Frank Miller referred to the graphic novel "The Watchman" by Alan Moore. The title is "The Watchmen."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 08, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Alan Moore book: An article in the April 29 Calendar section and a subsequent For the Record referred to the title of an Alan Moore graphic novel as "The Watchman" and "The Watchmen." It is simply "Watchmen."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 13, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Alan Moore book: An article in the April 29 Calendar section and a subsequent For the Record referred to the title of an Alan Moore graphic novel as "The Watchman" and "The Watchmen." It is simply "Watchmen."

Miller fancies himself a curmudgeon, and on talk shows he's proven to be a firebrand with his political views challenging modern-day Islam. But it's hard to stay grumpy when everything is going your way. Like most stars of the comic-book community (where he is the rare artist who became equally celebrated as a writer), he had become accustomed to be treated like a valet by Hollywood -- Hey, kid, thanks for the keys and the vehicle, here's a couple of bucks -- and then forced to watch the studios wreck everything on screen. The 1990s Batman movies, for instance, would not have happened without Miller's work, but they often ignored or trampled his contributions to the character. On two "RoboCop" films, meanwhile, Miller was hired as a screenwriter, but the efforts fell flat. Then Elektra, a beloved character he created, tanked badly on the screen in the hands of others.

Now there's a sweet satisfaction in the fact that the new Hollywood approach is to hire fan-boy directors and show fawning respect for the source material. "Sin City's" Robert Rodriguez even insisted on sharing director credits with Miller on those films (a maverick stand that cost Rodriguez his membership in the Directors Guild), and that led directly to a somewhat shocking development: Miller has now been tapped to write and direct his own film based on Will Eisner's classic noir hero "The Spirit."

One of the producers, Michael Uslan, also the producer of "Constantine" and executive producer of "Batman Begins," said the filming will start this year and that there already is intense interest from distributors given the splashy success of "300," which grossed $70 million in just its first weekend. Uslan was an executive producer on more than half a dozen superhero movies, including the Tim Burton "Batman" films, and he said Miller's relative newcomer role to Hollywood is not a problem.

"Honestly, to me, there's nobody else that could do this film. I saw him at Will Eisner's memorial service last year and I told him that I'd been turning comic books into movies for years, but that with 'Sin City' he's doing something better: He was making movies into comic books. I told him he had to make 'The Spirit.' He said there was no way he could do it. Then after three minutes he said, 'There's no way I can let anybody else do it.' "

Asked about the change of heart in town, Miller smiled like the Catwoman who ate the canary. "It's gone from being an abusive relationship to a torrid affair. And it is very satisfying. I think I have everybody fooled now."

Miller, who is 50, was given a hero's welcome at the premiere of "300" in early March and arrived at the glitzy after-party to find movie stars eager to shake his hand. He lingered in town to talk to actors (including one notable "Sin City" star) about key roles in "The Spirit" and found that the hotel bar was a great place to write the screenplay. He's been soaking in the L.A. scene and taking meetings, among them a giddy visit to the office of Richard Donner, director of the 1978 "Superman" as well as the "Lethal Weapon" films, where Miller tried to soak in some lessons about directing. Donner, though, came from a moviemaking era when Hollywood took an amused and parental approach to comics fare, and while Miller reveres the veteran filmmaker, he also said he will be making movies that are as wild and fire-breathing as the modern graphic novel.

He made his name with grisly and highly sophisticated revenge fantasies drawn in an alternately brash and shadowy style that seems like "Escape From New York" as reimagined by Akira Kurosawa. He prides himself on approaching his easel with a tough-guy swagger. "I am going to do things my way. It's the only way I know how, and it's how I got here. They finally realized that my vision is the way to do it. And I couldn't agree more."

Speaking out

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