In this case it was Bethesda, Maryland, at the SPX (Small Press Expo) comic book convention, around 1997 or so.
After hours — maybe 1 a.m. or so — I was hanging out at a party in one of the hotel rooms with my pal and comic book fan extraordinaire Tom Peters, putting back a few beers. And who should wander over but Frank Miller.
Dark Knight Returns. Sin City. Daredevil. Elektra Assassin. Ronin.
Yep. That Frank Miller.
Having known Tom for many years at that point I knew his love of comics and the various encounters he’d had, so I turned to the famed creator and said, “I’ve got a Frank Miller story for you.”
Slightly amused, Frank Miller indulged me as I queued up the scenario for Tom. For the record, I don’t remember Tom’s original Frank Miller anecdote, but I sure as heck remember what happened next.
As background … Tom is more than a comic fan. He’s a comic book aficionado. Even 20 years ago he saw comic books as a true art form, and is in a very real way a comic books scholar. He wasn’t your typical comic book ‘nerd.’
Nevertheless … as comic book fans are prone to do if they meet the creators they have come to enjoy (or even worship), Tom got into a conversation with Frank Miller about The Dark Knight Returns — and it’s inherent flaw.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
For those who haven’t read Miller’s tale, a 55-year-old Batman, in a supped-up exoskeleton, goes toe-to-toe with Superman. And Batman — being the clever and industrious crime fighter that we’ve come to know — ultimately bests an already weakened Superman using some well-timed Kryptonite (there’s far more to the plot, but I don’t want to get off track).
Tom’s contention, and one he relayed to Frank Miller, was that under any logical circumstances, Superman would crush Batman — simple physics — and the only reason Batman essentially defeated Superman was that, as the writer, Frank Miller made that choice. Miller decided that Batman would win, even though it would seem implausible, at least in theory.
(Yes, as we comic book nerds know, these conversations really do happen; not just on The Big Bang Theory).
Anyway, Frank Miller politely accepted Tom’s thesis, but explained that under the circumstances within the story, his plotting not only made sense, but paid off on multiple levels, giving the finale an epic send-off.
Tom wasn’t buying it, and finally said — in front of a room full of comic book nerds — “Okay. That’s it, Miller. You and me. Outside.”
Now … I’ve known Tom a long time. To know Tom is to love him, and also accept that he has a VERY dry sense of humor. It does take some adjusting to, but once you understand it, Tom is quite funny.
At that moment in time and space, I knew that, and Tom knew that.
But Frank Miller …?
Not so much.
So Tom’s standing there with fake fists, ready to go, the room unsure as to what’s going to happen next. Miller surveys the scene. He looks to his left. He looks to his right. He looks straight ahead. He looks to side.
Aaaaaaaand … he leaves.
My one and only time hanging out, drinking beers and talking comic books with Frank Miller, and Tom, the biggest and most sophisticated comic book fan I ever met, chased him away.
Just goes to show that even if you plot the story out perfectly in your head … sometimes it goes the other way.