Frank Miller Talks About Superman’s Penis and His Plans for a Children’s Book

Photo: Vera Anderson/Getty Images

There are no figures in the comics world more controversial than Frank Miller. But you'd also be hard-pressed to find one who's more influential. The 58-year-old writer and artist has been pushing buttons and boundaries since his groundbreaking run on Marvel Comics' Daredevil in the 1980s — a run that is the single biggest influence on the hit Daredevil Netflix series. Then, in 1986, he published his most monumental work: The Dark Knight Returns, a reimagining of Batman set in a dystopian future. He's had hits since then, many of which have made it onto the silver screen: Sin City and 300, most notably. But Dark Knight still towers above them all, setting the tone for nearly every Batman movie ever since (for better or worse).

Now, against all odds, Miller is penning the Caped Crusader once again. Fourteen years after a poorly received (but underrated!) sequel in 2001, DC Entertainment is about to publish the eyebrow-raisingly titled Dark Knight III: The Master Race. The first issue hits stands on November 25, and it's a far more collaborative effort than the previous entries: Miller is co-writing the story with veteran comics scribe Brian Azzarello, and the art duties go to Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson. And, as it turns out, he told us he wants to do a fourth entry in the saga! We caught up with Miller by phone, and he lived up to his reputation as a provocateur. We talked about his libertarian politics (though he's pro-Hillary), his desire to write a children's book, and whether Superman has a large penis.

What, in your mind, is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about The Dark Knight Returns?
Oh, I'm very glad you asked that question, because it's one I've been dying to answer. What I feel was misinterpreted most was that people thought I'd cast Batman as an anti-hero, when, in fact, I'd intended him as the purest of heroes. The idea was that he was, like Robin Hood, a character introduced in a time when the established order was wrong and had to be overturned. So he is, politically, a radical and a revolutionary out to overthrow a corrupt police state. It's a very patriotic and loyal-to-the-law kind of story, but the established authorities were doing the wrong thing, so it took an outlaw to bring justice.

People often think it’s a conservative screed. But Ronald Reagan is literally a villain in the story! That interpretation has never made sense to me.
Especially since I'm not a conservative. I'm a libertarian.

Are you anti-gun?
Well, I'm a hunter, so I'm not anti-gun in that sense. But I am anti-gun when it comes to actually using them on people. You've gotta keep in mind that I voted for Hillary Clinton for president, so I can't be too pro-gun.

Did you really vote for Hillary Clinton?
I have. And I will again, when she gets the nomination next time.

Do you ever reread The Dark Knight Returns?
I did read Brian [Azzarello]'s version. I've got mine memorized.

You really haven’t reread the original?
Of course I have. I won't pretend to be modest. Everybody reads their old work. A lot of authors lie about that. But if I'm gonna touch the material again, I'll certainly reread everything I've done before.

What surprises you most when you reread it?
The main thing that surprises me, personally, is just how pissed off I was when I wrote it. I was extremely angry, I was immersed in Dirty Harry movies, and I made Batman as angry as he could conceivably be. It's fun to revisit because I'm still really angry, and I'll see where that takes me now.

So what has you angry these days?
Don't get me started.

Promotional artwork for Dark Knight III: The Master Race. Photo: Frank Miller and Alex Sinclair, Courtesy of DC Entertainment

Why go back and do another Dark Knight installment? What led you to do Dark Knight III: The Master Race?
Well, the origin story is that all of these characters, and Batman in particular, are such versatile, fun toys. There are many different ways to play with them. They're irresistible. We all come along with new ideas and places to take them. So why not have another go-around? This is the third, and I intend to do a fourth. There's endless fun to be had with them. Batman and Superman and the rest are such good ideas that they've lasted for generations and will last for many generations more.

But how did you pitch The Master Race to DC??
That was not my call! That was generated by them. But my call is the fourth one. It's got me all excited again, so I wanna get back to it.

How did DC’s publishers react when you told them you wanted to do a fourth installment?
"Absolutely not," they said. They said it wouldn't sell. ... Of course they were up for it!

There are characters in the book called the “Master Race,” but man, that’s an intense thing to put in the title of your story. Why do that?
Well, part of my job is to provoke. That means I'm getting your interest. And what else would you call a race of thousands of people with the power of Superman? If they were unleashed on the world, what would you call them? They certainly wouldn't be a bunch of loyal servants.

Reading the first issue, I was a little confused about the timeline of the story in relation to the previous installments. How many years have passed since each of them? When is the story taking place?
Right. Now. The first Dark Knight and the second were set exactly when they came out. The third is set exactly when it's coming out. And the fourth one will be set exactly when it's coming out.

It was reported last year that you were having some health problems. How are you feeling these days?
Oh yeah, I'm doing fine.

What have you been reading lately?
Oh, all sorts of things. Mostly, as always, I love to read about ancient history, and I love detective stories. I've taken to reading a lot of children's books lately because I want to write and illustrate one.

You want to make a children’s book? What would it be about?
It would probably be mythological. I'm not quite certain yet. I don't have the guts to take on anything about King Arthur because Arthur Rackham's already done him to perfection. But I think I might do something on ancient Greek myths. But before that, there's a children's book I've really wanted to do more than anything. I want to do a — this is a weird combination, because it features my version of Robin [from the Dark Knight series], Carrie Kelley, but it'd be her cast as a Nancy Drew character in an illustrated mystery novel for children.

A few weeks ago, DC released your first official drawing from the DKIII project, and it had Superman fighting the Atom. It raised some eyebrows for its depiction of male genitalia.
Oh yeah! [Laughs.]

Promotional artwork for Dark Knight III: The Master Race. Photo: Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, Courtesy of DC Entertainmen

It prominently featured, ah, how should I put this … Atom’s and Superman’s Little Atom and Little Superman, respectively.
Well, Superman's wasn't so little. The idea was simply, what if Superman and the Atom had a fight? I think it'd be a very short one.

Sure, but I don’t think people were fixating on the fight. They were looking at the packages.
Part of my job is drawing figures. Look at Michelangelo. Look at anything. If I pretended something wasn't there, I wouldn't really be doing a very good job. I'd hate to think that all my heroes had been castrated.