"Jihad!" screams the suicide bomber, hitting his detonator.
"Gesundheit," the Fixer replies, kicking him off the roof of the skyscraper. The terrorist explodes in midair.
"Leave one of them alive to talk," the Fixer says to his sidekick, "... We'll have to torture him."
If there was ever any doubt, Superman is obsolete.
Holy Terror is the latest costumed-hero graphic novel by writer and artist Frank Miller, the man who gave us 300, Sin City and numerous other projects. Grit, blood, and hardboiled realism have been Miller's calling cards since the mid-1980s, when he reintroduced the world to a bitter and aging Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. Unflinching in his vision of heroism, Miller took flak from academics everywhere - and even Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself - for his portrayal of the Persians in 300.
Miller's newest project has just pushed the envelope right off the table. It is actually dedicated to Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by an Islamic extremist.
Holy Terror is Frank Miller's long-pent-up response to the 9/11 terror attacks, one he guarantees will "really piss people off." In it, al-Qaeda is attacking Empire City.
Countless suicide bombs explode, a medical helicopter is shot down by missiles, and Lady Justice -- Empire's City's Statue of Liberty - is destroyed by hijacked fighter jets.
The first bomb is carried by a modern exchange student named Amina. "What's in your coat?" a teenage boy asks her moments before she blows apart dozens of other youths.
"Paradise," her lipsticked mouth whispers back.
Most of Holy Terror is about two costumed vigilantes trying to prevent the ultimate attack--a weapon of mass destruction hidden in a mosque sub-basement. Holy Terror was originally supposed to be a Batman title (Holy Terror, Batman!), but Miller removed the DC character in 2008. The resulting hero, The Fixer, resembles Batman nonetheless, and his sidekick is clearly analogous to Catwoman. In many of the drawings, it seems as if their ears have simply been erased, making one wonder if DC axed the association themselves.
Though it is likely his weakest project to date, Holy Terror confirms Miller's status as one of the most provocative minds in comics and heroism today. He is also one of the only conservatives.
"Patriotism, I now believe, isn't some sentimental, old conceit," Miller told National Public Radio on Sept. 11, 2006. "It's self-preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation's survival."
Critics are already lambasting Miller for this project. Some have argued the content hits too close to home - that it's disrespectful to put on tights and capes wherever real lives have been lost. It's not the first time comic heroes have walked that ground. Captain America has his origins fighting Hitler, and Iron Man in Vietnam. X-Men routinely refers to the Holocaust, and the Punisher once broke up a pedophile ring. Wolverine is a veteran of the First World War. The most popular superhero comics address real-world issues and politics, often tastelessly.
Miller has declared that Holy Terror "is a reminder that we're in the midst of a long war." It is propaganda, proud and deliberate. And it is a gut check all the way through.