Life and Times of Martha Washington: the whole Frank Miller GIVE ME LIBERTY saga

Dark Horse just sent me a review copy of The Life And Times Of Martha Washington In The Twenty-First Century, a gigantic, slipcased hardcover containing the full run of the Give Me Liberty comics and associated titles.

I have Frank Miller's Give Me Liberty graphic novels to thank for getting me interested in graphic novels as a literary form. I read the first Give Me Liberty collection when I was seventeen, after having it thrust insistently into my hands by my roommate Erik Stewart. Erik judged -- correctly -- that I'd find in Miller's groundbreaking tale the same satisfaction I got from reading the best sf novels. He was so right.

Give Me Liberty is the story of Martha Washington, a kid from a futuristic version of Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green projects, simply called "The Green," who joins the US Army in order to escape from poverty. Martha finds herself serving in the army of a country locked in a death-spiral, plagued by political assassination, partisan division, secessionists, cynical corporatism... Her military education becomes a political education and on the way, Miller and Gibbons impart a raging, angry story about corruption and injustice, paced so relentlessly that I found myself buying the single issues between the collections and re-reading them looking for clues as to what might come next.

Miller created Give Me Liberty for Dark Horse after he jumped ship from DC, for whom he had made a fortune with his noir Batman: Dark Knight books, which changed the field forever. DC loved what Miller had done, but they wanted to impose restrictions on his creativity intended to assuage blue-noses who were worried that comics might corrupt the kiddees. Miller told them to pound sand and went to Dark Horse and created this remarkable story, which prefigures some of the best sf comics written since, including Ellis's brilliant Transmetropolitan and Brian Wood's fantastic DMZ.

The Life And Times Of Martha Washington In The Twenty-First Century is the perfect way to revisit that remarkable story or to discover it for the first time. A giant, heavy, high-quality book, it is made for a lazy afternoon on the sofa or the carpet, devouring the whole Martha Washington canon (along with sketches, notes and other assorted nice bits). It'd be a fine (and potentially life-changing -- see above) gift, and makes for a very satisfying indulgence, too.

The Life And Times Of Martha Washington In The Twenty-First Century


  1. I heart Martha. The Green is pretty much torn down and replaced by condos now. Just one building left.

  2. I remember reading an interview with Miller in which he said that he kept going back to writing Martha Washington because he missed her.

    I always love seeing Miller’s formal mastery of comics, but Martha Washington’s stories are the only ones where my pleasure is unalloyed. It’s hard to believe that the Miller who writes Martha is the same author who gave us the fascistic 300 and the all-around-creepy Sin City.

  3. Wasn’t that the series with the gay neo-nazis hijacking a hyper-phallic space laser cannon, a cybernetic Surgeon General, the President’s brain escaping in a mini-robot (pace Spitting Image), and giant Burger Boy mecha trampling the rainforests?

    The heavy-handedness of the political allegory: it burns! :(

  4. There is one Give Me Liberty story where Martha has to hunt down and draw blood from an ersatz, Dark Horse version of Captain America. The blood is required by Martha’s corrupt bosses whom she despises but must serve. The story is an sublime allegory for later marvel artists drawing on the creativity (blood) of Jack Kirby, and how they profoundly respect the man who has been so horribly mistreated by his former bosses. It’s the most moving and powerful comic tribute to Kirby I have ever seen, and it shows the profound respect Miller feels for Kirby. Maybe I was hungover or depressed or something when I first read it, but it brought me to tears.

  5. As good a cultural object this probably is, after the first two stories the qualiy markedly drops. Mind you, they are the bulk of the work and really great, but late Miller isn’t that good.
    From what I’ve read the poor guy was completely unhinged by 9/11. Looking at some of the stuff he sprouts these days I wander what happened to the punk that wrote Ronin and the first two Martha stories.

  6. $63 is a very good price, too. Dark Horse may not be a large as Marvel or DC, but they sound off like they have a pair.

  7. I blame the incoherence of the political perspective on objectivism, which mixes the truth and fiction, much like religion or a cult. Alan Greenspan is the endproduct of that problem, which is why having him control the economy was so ironic and tragic at the same time. That being said, between Daredevil and Martha Washington, not to mention Hardboiled, Frank Miller has secured his place in at least American comic history. One of the things that make Martha Washington so remarkable was its willingness to skip around with big ideas that are relevant to our everyday life, and not get overly concerned with comic book idioms. In the real world, that is called psychosis but in art, it is science fiction.

  8. I couldn’t stay interested in the Martha Washington stories, mostly because I found Gibbons’s highly plausible artwork a poor match for Miller’s exaggerated and cartoony writing. But there’s this one panel in (I think) the first story, an overhead view of the tiny one-room apartment in which young Martha and her family are living, that was so well-realized it still stays with me nearly twenty years later.

  9. Not ot knock Miller, but it’s odd that there is almost no mention of the lovely art by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons.

    It seems odd to me that in a graphics medium that this artist so often is ignored in favor of the writer he is working with.

  10. OK, just one small comment. The Martha Washington saga is by Frank Miller and DAVE GIBBONS. I always find it interesting, when the artist co-creator of a work is left out in discussions of drawn novels

  11. It’s kind of fun, but also a second-rate retelling of Atlas Shrugged (also not a favorite of mine). It’s weird that he doesn’t mention Rand at all, considering how closely he sticks to her story at some points.

    Not his best work, IMO.

  12. Frank Miller is definitely one of the greats, but his star has long since faded. More than faded – I think with the Spirit directorial debacle and his latest Batman book he’s actually gone insane. His work is certainly a shadow of its former greatness.

    Like DeNiro, he trades today on being a caricature of himself rather than actually performing brilliantly.

    I picked up each of the Martha Washington books as they were released, and like his other last good work, Sin City, I found diminishing returns of quality in each successive sequel/follow-up.

  13. I agree that Dave Gibbons’ art deserves more of the credit; he really took a quantum leap when he did Watchmen, and it shows, although this is very un-Watchmen-like.

    As for Miller… well. I think that you might be a little less impressed if you read Scout, Timothy Truman’s saga of the near-future breakup of the U.S. that covers a lot of the same turf as Give Me Liberty and its sequels, but was done years earlier. Miller seems to have come away from The Dark Knight Returns with the notion that he was some sort of satirical social commentary genius. I’m not saying that there aren’t redeeming aspects to it, just as there are to TDKR, but as someone who was already into comics (and had followed Miller’s early career since his first issue of Daredevil), I wasn’t inspired to pick up any past the end of the first miniseries.

  14. Bravo to comments 9 & 10!
    Artists are far too often either ignored or worshiped to the exclusion of the writer. (Mostly ignored, but articles do come from writers, not artists, so no surprise there)
    That’s especially bad in this case, where Gibbons is not just the artist, but the Co-Creator of the book! Reporters would do well to remember that works are often collaborative beyond the crisp lines of writer/artist labels.

    (Not in my case, but often)

    anonymous artist working with LNS

  15. You should check out 2000AD, the Miller and Gibbons Proving ground. The early 2000AD’s and the Megazines, great stuff. Cannot easily get them outside the UK, i miss them.

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