We see the middle-aged man crouching in pain, alone. His clothes are torn, and one eye is swelling shut, but his fists are clenched. He is a hero. He is the Batman, as drawn by Frank Miller, and he is on the T-shirt that Frank Miller is wearing.
Miller smiles. He's sitting in his studio in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. He has a red-flecked beard and gentle, watery eyes, and his longish hair peeks out from under a straw hat. He's got a bad cough from a lingering cold. But don't let his frail carriage fool you. Miller possesses a brutal, muscular worldview—of vigilantes pushed to the edge by a fallen society—that has resonated throughout popular culture over the past three decades. His 1986 breakthrough,Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, recast the squeaky-clean superhero as a gritty urban warrior and helped comic-book trade paperbacks storm bookstores for the first time. He created the indie comic Sin City, a black-and-white noir anthology series that he later turned into a big-budget movie with codirector Robert Rodriguez. The film of his graphic novel 300 made Zack Synder an A-list director and engendered a spate of imposters seeking to recapture its blockbuster success. His characters are fighters, loners fueled by an inner sense of justice starkly at odds with the reality around them. They are often bloodied but always uncompromising.
And Miller's blunt morality wasn't confined to the page or screen. He distinguished himself as one of the most vocal and courageous forces in the comics industry, fighting corporate exploitation and censorship. But, as if Miller were one of his own antiheroes, his stark individualist philosophy has also led him down some lonely corridors. He's written graphic novels that many of his fans recoil from—including one that WIRED called "one of the most appalling, offensive, and vindictive comics of all time." And he followed that up with ferocious online musings that provoked an outcry, even from some of his most stalwart supporters. In recent years, he's withdrawn from the public eye.
Until now. In late August, Miller will return to the limelight as writer and codirector of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the sequel to the 2005 blockbuster that represents his last artistic and commercial success. A repeat performance is by no means guaranteed. The screenplay—which was adapted from his comic series along with new material—has been in the works for years. Its original October 2013 release date was pushed back almost a year. Even at the time of this writing, no scenes from the film were ready to be shared with a reporter. It's hard to be too pessimistic about a film that once again pairs Miller with Rodriguez and supplements its initial star-studded cast (Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, and Mickey Rourke) with the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green—but the question is whether Miller can still marshal these forces to deliver a vision that enthralls rather than alienates.