Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and 300 creator Frank Miller has faced a great deal of criticism lately for his controversial behavior and commentary, from the anti-Muslim sentiment of his self-described "propaganda" graphic novel Holy Terror, his admitted ignorance about the faith of the people he wants to "burn in hell," and his comments labeling the Occupy Wall Street protestors "pond scum" and "louts, thieves and rapists" for distracting America from what he believes is an Islamic threat.

Miller's screeds have shocked many comic book fans and even professionals, not just because his ideas are ideologically different than their own, but because his "analysis," as Wanted and Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar called it, amounts to little more than ugly, emotional tantrums comprised almost entirely of name-calling. Millar has nonetheless stepped up to defend Miller, berating his "favorite writer's" critics for... well, being so mean to him.

Politically, I disagree with [Miller's] analysis, but that's besides the point. I wasn't shocked by his comments because they're no different from a lot of commentators I've seen discussing the subject. What shocked me was the vitriol against him, the big bucket of sh*t poured over the head by even fellow comic-book creators for saying what was on his mind.

Apologism is a common reaction, or tactic, by the supporters of great men and women whose profound personal flaws or misdeeds have been exposed, and an understandable one. It's difficult to watch your heroes fall, especially by their own hand. But let's get real: the problem here is Miller and the things he has said and done, not the fact that other people have failed to protect him from the consequences of his very public and deliberate actions.Millar's defense confuses the symptom with the disease, and the sadness of seeing a very gifted creator's reputation dragged through the mud with the even sadder truth: that he did it to himself, and that it has made many people realize he is not the man they thought he was.

Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a supporter of the Occupy movement or a critic, it's hard to read Miller's comments and not feel let down. These aren't thoughtful critiques; they're crude, verbally abusive expressions of rage that lash out wildly at his perceived enemies: Muslims, liberals, protesters, and strangely, the people he believes "live in [their] mommas' basements" playing "Lords of Warcraft."

I'm also not sure what Millar is advocating as an alternative: That we ignore the sheer cruelty of Miller's words, or their xenophobia, or their lack of substance simply because he was a great creator? The idea that we are obligated to be something less than outraged by outrageous behavior doesn't have anything to do with fairness; it has to do with letting him get away with it, because he's Frank Miller. And frankly, that's just not a good enough reason.

Millar is right about one thing, though. It is "strange to watch your favorite writer getting strips torn off him for a couple of days." It's an incredibly disappointing turn of events, to be sure, and one that has occurred entirely because Frank Miller has so profoundly disappointed us.

Free speech means that we have the right to express our opinions, no matter how intemperate or unkind, a right that Miller has exercised vigorously. And conversely, everyone else has just as much a right to read his sentiments, to feel saddened, angered, or unwilling to continue to support his work with their dollars, and to express that as well.

Bizarrely, Millar conflates those personal opinions and choices not only with depriving Miller of a "voice," but with some sort of government censorship bordering on fascism. "Liberalism doesn't mean throwing guys in jail who DISAGREE with your liberalism," says Millar, in response to an argument no one has made. No kidding.

Saying that the negative reactions or personal choices of readers somehow amount to "silencing" Miller not only fundamentally misunderstands the principle of free speech, it attempts to delegitimize critics who exercise their right to express themselves by portraying them as authoritarian censors rather than opinionated individuals. Disagreeing with someone -- no matter how sharply -- isn't censorship; it is itself free speech. And free speech isn't always nice. But then, Miller should know that better than anyone else.

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