Batman Takes Aim at Osama

Beware, terrorists! The Caped Crusader is targeting a villain more sinister than the Joker -- Osama bin Laden.

At the WonderCon 2006 comic-book convention in San Francisco last weekend, legendary comics writer and artist Frank Miller revealed that Batman would hunt down bin Laden and al Qaeda in his next DC Comics graphic novel.

In "Holy Terror, Batman!" the Caped Crusader goes after the terror leader and his organization after Gotham City is attacked by terrorists. Though the graphic novel's title is a take on Robin the Boy Wonder's catchphrase, Miller said there was nothing campy about the story.

Miller's reinvention of Batman in the 1987 graphic novel "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" is credited with reviving interest in the superhero and helping launch the series of Batman movies in the 1990s and 2005's "Batman Begins." He said his anger over both the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and subsequent acts of terror worldwide had inspired his latest work.

"Emotionally, it's really raw," Miller told the WonderCon audience. "Imagine the powerful rage when someone crosses the passion between a man and a woman or a man and his city."

A Propaganda Throwback

Miller called "Holy Terror, Batman!" a "piece of propaganda" where "Batman kicks al Qaeda's a--." He said his graphic novel channeled an era in the comic-book industry when writers and artists used heroes to spread a clear message and generate patriotism.

"Superman punched out Hitler. So did [Marvel Comics'] Captain America," he said. "That's one of the things they're there for. … These are our folk heroes. It just seems silly to chase around the Riddler when you've got al Qaeda out there."

Like any art form, comic books seem to have always reflected and drawn inspiration from their times.

World War II and the battle against the Nazis provided the backdrop when Superman rose to fame in the late 1930s and early 1940s and Marvel Comics' Captain America debuted in 1941. The cover of the first issue of Captain America shows the superhero punching Adolph Hitler in the face.

Both Superman and Captain America represented patriotism and in some ways, American wholesomeness, omnipotence, idealism and innocence. Besides battling the Red Skull and a slew of other super villains, Captain America battled the Nazis.

Propaganda Loses Its Punch

However, against the background of the civil rights movement, assassinations, and the Vietnam War, heroes -- along with the rest of the nation -- lost their innocence in the 1960s.

Marvel Comics' creator Stan Lee introduced characters such as The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and The Incredible Hulk, all of whom had very human problems and weaknesses. Spider-Man worried about paying the rent while The Fantastic Four's Invisible Girl worried about her marriage to a workaholic man.

The X-Men, who debuted in 1963, were foils for the civil rights movement. The driving conflict in the X-Men was that their powers -- and their classification as mutants -- were also their curse.

Over the years, comic books have continued to tackle issues that have made headlines. DC Comics' the Green Lantern has introduced a gay character, and Marvel's Iron Man has battled alcoholism. Spider-Man has witnessed some of his closest friends deal with drug addiction, and the Hulk's alter-ego, Bruce Banner, has fought his own memories of an abusive childhood.

These mature themes -- child abuse, drug use, racism, AIDS, gang violence, homophobia, and now apparently terrorism -- almost vanquish the notion that comic books are child's play.

"The majority of comic-book readers are in their 20s, 30s and 40s," said M. Thomas Inge, professor of English and the Humanities at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. "Most writers hardly ever write with children in mind. These are fully grown writers who want to produce good stories without dumbing it down."

Shouldn't Imaginary Heroes Stand for Something?

Comic-book heroes, many critics believe, cannot live in a bubble and have to reflect their time and culture.

"The Greeks had their gods and heroes," Miller said, in a recent interview. "We have ours. … What are they there for?"

It is unclear when Miller's "Holy Terror, Batman!" will be published. He said he has completed 120 of the novel's 200 pages. "Holy Terror, Batman!" is reportedly not expected to hit comic-book stores before 2007.'s Bryan Robinson contributed to this report.