Dark Horse Comics Dave Gibbons Features Frank Miller Games Marc Sobel

Give Me Liberty | The Comics Journal

Give Me Liberty | The Comics Journal


Following the conclusion of Batman: Yr One and Elektra: Murderer in 1987, Frank Miller, like Alan Moore, left the Huge Two and dropped off the radar. He was on no account idle – he drew covers and wrote introductions for First Comics’ Lone Wolf and Cub (the basic manga by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima was being reprinted in the identical status format as The Darkish Knight Returns) and did numerous pin-ups and brief items – however his subsequent main work, Give Me Liberty illustrated by Dave Gibbons, wasn’t launched till 1990.[i]

Regardless of its lengthy gestation interval, Give Me Liberty was truly conceived in the summertime of 1988 on the peak of the Watchmen and Darkish Knight hysteria. As Miller defined, “Dave and I were at the San Diego convention, walking around the San Diego Zoo, and we started talking about working together. He had just finished Watchmen, I had just finished Dark Knight—I suspect we were both taking our press awfully seriously and had yet to calm down.”

However regardless of their preliminary enthusiasm, the collection was shelved for a pair years. Miller recalled that he was “just writing scenes at random” with no clear concept of what he needed to say and, ultimately “Dave quit.” “It was originally going to be a huge portentous series of 150-page graphic novels, the first of which I scripted (but) the wind just went right out of our sails. We lost interest.”  

Finally, with Lynn Varley’s encouragement (“It took Lynn to straighten my brain out”), Miller resurrected the collection, however he determined to “reconfigure” it by “bring(ing) absurdity and sarcasm and adventure and joy to it.” In different phrases, he lightened up and tried to make it enjoyable by returning to his old flame: superheroes.



Nevertheless, even with Miller’s efforts to melt the story, its political roots push via. The title, in fact, is a reference to probably the most well-known quotes in U.S. historical past. In accordance with Wikipedia, “’Give me liberty, or give me death!’ is . . . attributed to Patrick Henry from a speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775 (which) swung the balance in convincing the convention to pass a resolution delivering Virginian troops for the Revolutionary War.” These seven phrases have been a rallying cry so stirring and highly effective, their sentiment so deeply resonant, that it has echoed down by way of generations. “Give me liberty” has turn out to be an iconic, immortal phrase within the lexicon of the American psyche, a concise expression of the nation’s spirit of independence.

But, in Miller’s cynical arms, this ideally suited of democracy has been corrupted past recognition. The world depicted within the story portrays a uniquely American fashion of capitalist fascism the place firms, moderately than dictators, rule the nation. President Lincoln’s imaginative and prescient of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has been corrupted by a ruling elite whose solely motivation is revenue, and the military-industrial complicated has grow to be the predominant drive in American politics. In a single telling instance, an enormous Fats Burger robotic, which Gibbons based mostly on the long-lasting Shoney’s Huge Boy restaurant mascot, unleashes an arsenal of high-tech weaponry within the Amazon rainforest. The scene is an absurd depiction of unchecked company greed.

Maybe probably the most highly effective instance of the story’s cynicism is the character, Howard Nissen (whose identify is a play on Richard Nixon), a liberal democrat thrust into the very best workplace after a terrorist assault incapacitated President Rexall (the endlessly smirking Reagan-esque conservative). Inexperienced and unprepared, Nissen however carried out a sweeping collection of populist reforms that have been so common, he was dubbed “the savior of the soul of America.” But, by the story’s finish, the corruption and pressures of the workplace have decreased him to an alcoholic paranoid shame, and he’s ultimately assassinated in a army coup. Nissen’s tragic rise and fall illustrates Miller’s deeply pessimistic view that America is past saving.

The gradual deterioration of democracy is illustrated in these recurring panels displaying President Rexall’s victory parades (time period limits have been abolished, in fact).  


Towards this bleak backdrop, we meet the story’s unlikely hero, Martha Washington. There’s a bitter, if considerably apparent irony in naming the protagonist after the nation’s unique First Woman, a privileged white lady. Miller’s model of Martha (whose character was impressed partially by Horatio Alger’s basic rags-to-riches tales) is a poor black lady born and raised in “the Green,” an abbreviation for Cabrini Inexperienced, Chicago’s notorious public housing venture.

Beginning together with her start, the primary concern and a half tells Martha’s coming-of-age story in the course of the collapse of American democracy, however by the center of the second problem, Martha’s origin story reaches its pure conclusion: after returning residence from the struggle within the Amazon, she is honored as a hero by the President after which reunited together with her household.

From that time ahead, the story takes a pointy flip. On the very subsequent web page, Martha is all of the sudden in the midst of an area battle (when and the way she turned an astronaut isn’t mentioned), and saves the world from being destroyed by an orbiting laser canon by single-handedly murdering a crew of homosexual Nazi terrorists with nothing however a sword.  

This transition is jarring, however, as Miller famous, the dramatic shift in Martha’s character was the plan. In his Introduction to The Life and Occasions of Martha Washington, he wrote that he had “mischronicled (Martha’s) first adventure as something too on-the-nose political, too self-consciously serious, and, in a word, dreary.” Relatively, with this acutely aware shift in focus, he needed Give Me Liberty “to be the story of a hero.”

Gibbons echoed comparable sentiments in his Introduction to The Life and Occasions of Martha Washington. “In some ways, Martha is an alternate-world version of the traditional patriotic comic book hero . . . Captain America.” Miller additionally likened Martha to Captain America, describing her as “someone who very fiercely protects certain democratic ideals,” nevertheless, in lots of respects she extra intently resembles his signature character, the Darkish Knight. Like Bruce Wayne, Martha isn’t super-powered, however has the identical bodily and psychological talents as Batman. In response to Miller, “With Martha, one of the things I tried to get across is that she has, across the series, an increasingly disciplined mind to the point where it’s almost superhuman.”

Not surprisingly, she additionally resembles Daredevil, notably in “Born Again.” Like Matt Murdock, Miller is excessively harsh in his remedy of Martha. All through the story, she is dropped into one sadistic state of affairs after one other. In simply 4 points, she is imprisoned, tortured, blinded, sexually assaulted, drugged, crushed, shot (a number of occasions), humiliated, experimented on, and memory-wiped. But regardless of the various indignities she suffers, she someway stays resilient and morally grounded. Like a real superhero, she will get up after each punch, however, once more like Batman, these countless brutal experiences flip her chilly and joyless. Within the ultimate scene, she sits calmly, with none trace of emotion, as her adversary hangs himself in entrance of her.

Sadly, reshaping Martha’s story right into a superhero narrative made it too formulaic. The wealthy portrait of a fallen America that Miller and Gibbons established within the first points fades to the background by the top. As an alternative, the second half of the story is a predictable over-the-top sci-fi journey full of comedian guide clichés like mind transfers, jungle adventures, false reminiscence implants, and so forth.[ii]



Given its creators, it’s no shock that Give Me Liberty reads like a mixture of Watchmen and The Darkish Knight Returns. For instance, Martha’s dispassionate and fragmented narration (in addition to Raggy Ann’s and the Surgeon Basic’s) provides the story a staccato rhythm harking back to Rorschach’s clipped, psychotic journals. Like each books, propaganda can also be central in constructing the dystopian setting. Miller, who describes himself as “a big news junkie,” used journal articles, newspaper headlines, and tv speak exhibits to painting the story’s political, social, and financial context.

But in contrast to Alan Moore’s densely plotted story, Miller’s comparatively sparse script let Gibbons’ artwork breathe, calling for bigger panels and full-page splashes. Miller additionally trusted Gibbons to deal with the storytelling in a number of prolonged silent scenes. Gibbons defined the distinction between the 2 writers’ approaches. “Alan is comparable to a classical composer—a Mozart, if you will—who seems to have every note of vast symphonies mapped out in his head. Frank, on the other hand, is like a jazz virtuoso, a Miles Davis, with impeccable technical skill but ready to leap off on a flight of fancy or an unexpected riff if the whim takes him.” 


In a 2017 New York Occasions interview, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Viet Thanh Nguyen, claimed that “(Give Me Liberty) long ago predicted presidents like Donald Trump.” There are definitely some intriguing parallels between the fiction of 1990 and the truth of 2018. In a single panel, for instance, President Nissen berates reporters, claiming that the media is making up lies about him. There’s additionally the requisite dystopian themes of poverty, racism, corruption, militarization, and environmental collapse (the Statue of Liberty is submerged as much as her robes because of the rising ocean ranges). However whether or not it’s truthful to label the collection as a visionary work is irrelevant.[iii] Whereas it by no means rises to the extent of Watchmen or The Darkish Knight Returns, Give Me Liberty’s final legacy is as a blistering indictment of recent politics. Miller and Gibbons so credibly envisioned Martha’s shattered world, the story nonetheless resonates almost three many years later.


Brayshaw, Chris. “The Frank Miller Interview.” The Comics Journal #209, December 1998.

Manning, Shaun. “Gibbons Discusses Martha Washington.” Comedian Guide Assets, March 23, 2010.

Miller, Frank and Dave Gibbons. The Life and Occasions of Martha Washington. Darkish Horse Books, July 2010.

“Viet Thanh Nguyen: By the Book.” The New York Occasions, January 30, 2017.

[i] Given Miller’s protracted absence from mainstream comics, and the truth that he was working with Dave Gibbons, the preferred comedian artist on the planet on the time, the anticipation for this new collection was large (Give Me Liberty was additionally Gibbons’ first main post-Watchmen undertaking). It additionally appeared like a assured house run for his or her new writer, Darkish Horse Comics, who had lured the 2 superstars by providing full artistic possession. Darkish Horse would stay Miller’s writer for the subsequent decade, which included Sin Metropolis, his chiaroscuro masterpiece of hard-boiled crime noir (which made its debut in Darkish Horse Presents #51 in 1991), in addition to Onerous Boiled (1990-92) and Massive Man and Rusty the Boy Robotic (1995), each outsized mini-series illustrated by Geof Darrow.

[ii] Miller and Gibbons reunited for a number of extra mini-series and one-shot specials through the years which dialed Martha Washington’s adventures as much as 11. By comparability, Give Me Liberty is comparatively tame on reflection.

[iii] Gibbons was skeptical: “I don’t know that we were particularly prophetic, but I think that Frank was very acute about trends that he could see unfolding”).