End Of An Era: Millar Leaves Marvel

The other day, while most eyes were on the DC Reboot, a tweet came through from Mark Millar stating he had finalized the dialogue on his last for-hire Marvel script. That’s it, he’s done, it’s all Millarworld all the time from here on out, all obligations to the House of Ideas were now complete.

Regardless of what you might think of the quality of Mark Millar’s writing, it’s most certainly the end of an era at Marvel.

Millar’s arrival at Marvel in 2001*, after spending most of the 90s trudging away for DC** and 2000AD*** (and most of that work as a co-writer with Grant Morrison), was a bit of a gamechanger. His Ultimate X-Men was an instant hit, compared to previous works at other companies, and on the back of fellow new Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, it looked like a new chapter for Marvel was being written. What came next was unlike anything Marvel had done before: a realistic (ish), hyper-political series that reimagined the Avengers as The Ultimates. Looking at the book at face value, with its photorealistic art by Bryan Hitch, you wouldn’t think the other 2 main Ultimate books at the time were even related to The Ultimates, and it became the defining book for how that area of Marvel was to be written. Like another book Millar and Hitch had worked on (tho at separate times), The Authority for DC/Wildstorm, it took comics by storm and redefined how superheroic exploits were to be portrayed for the next decade.

It was only a matter of time before Millar, like Bendis, would be given work in the “classic” Marvel arena. Taking the place of a bogged down Kevin Smith, Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man had a lasting effect of redefining one of Spidey’s classic villains, Venom, by combining him with another, The Scorpion. And this change stuck only up until very recently. From there, one of my personal favorites from Mark, a 12-issue run on the Wolverine title called “Enemy of the State.” Fast-paced, gory violent, and yet never felt contrived.****

Then of course, there was Civil War, the mega event miniseries that became Marvel’s best-selling title for a long, long time. With it, Millar politicized the Marvel Universe in a way it hadn’t before, with its theme of Freedom v. Security, and the conflicts it bore. The effects from that are still felt today in Marvel’s titles. And really, it’s never going to be Millar’s crowning achievement – there are some moments of absolute golden brilliance (including possibly my favorite portrayal of Frank Castle, The Punisher, done yet), but there are some that are, well, garbage.

It was a storyline he ran in Ultimate Fantastic Four that spawned another one of Marvel’s bigger properties in the last decade, the Marvel Zombies. And even then, it was launched with a typical Millar stunt, teasing the first ever crossover between the mainstream and Ultimate Marvel Universes, before flipping the script and revealing the decrepit zombie versions of beloved Marvel characters.

Have you enjoyed Paul Cornell’s run on DC’s Action Comics, or indeed his late lamented Captain Britain + MI:13 series for Marvel? Millar recruited Cornell to write for Marvel after being blown away by Cornell’s Doctor Who episode “Father’s Day” (although Cornell had written for Marvel UK and 2000AD in the past).

Did you like the first Iron Man movie? Millar was but one of many advisors to the project, but it’s Millar’s Tony Stark from The Ultimates that you see Robert Downey Jr. portraying onscreen. Additionally, Millar suggested the villain be changed to the Iron Monger, as opposed to the Mandarin. That would have been a very different movie.

However, maybe this is the best time to go. Millar’s last substantial involvement with Marvel was in 2008-09, when he concurrently delved into a woefully underrated (and underselling) Fantastic Four tenure with Bryan Hitch***** that laid the ground for Jonathan Hickman’s current work on the title; 1985, a highly recommended miniseries with Tommy Lee Edwards; and Wolverine: Old Man Logan, another gory adventure with the X-Man that offered a different look at a future Marvel universe.

But it was during this time that Millar got his first taste of his current direction, when two of his creator-owned properties, WANTED and KICK-ASS were turned into Hollywood blockbusters. Millar knew which direction he wanted to head in. He’d done creator-owned work before, but now it was actually making money for him. And Hollywood was a-knockin’. Now Millar has several movies based on his work waiting in the wings. Despite re-upping his Marvel deal, his only for-hire work has been the four Ultimate Avengers miniseries’, the final series only having two more issues to go.

When Marvel announced their “Architects” last year, Mark Millar was noticeably absent from that list. But by that time, Millar had two more creator-owned series being published through Marvel’s Icon imprint, Nemesis and Superior. Nemesis is now in the works to be directed by Tony Scott. Millar had also launched his own magazine in the UK, CLiNT, showcasing… mostly his own work, but others (mostly his friends) as well.

Yeah, the writing was on the wall. We all knew it was coming, Millar had said so himself. But announcing it was finally DONE… well…

Mark Millar gets a lot of criticism thrown his way – some of it justified, some of it, not so much. (Trouble? VERY justified.) And not everything Mark Millar touched at Marvel turned to gold. But despite all that, at a time that saw Marvel go back on top of the comics industry, Millar was one of the driving, and defining, forces in that renaissance. And it worked the other way around too, as after a decade in the industry never quite breaking out, Millar finally found his niche at Marvel. It was a relationship that worked very, very well for both parties until both decided to go in different directions.

But with movie money coming in, throwing his own KA-POW! Convention in London in April, CLiNT, projects with Dave Gibbons and Frank Quitely, and Supercrooks by Leinil Francis Yu…

Yeah, I think both Millar and Marvel are going to be just fine.

* – Although he, Grant Morrison, and Steve Yeowell did work on the delightfully demented Skrull Kill Krew for Marvel in 1995.

** – Including a horribly underrated run that concluded the “Alan Moore” Swamp Thing book that I completely missed the boat on when it was relevant.

*** – And from what little I’ve seen of Millar’s work for the Prog, the less said about that the better.

**** – Although the violent death of the Northstar character indirectly lead to the late Perry Moore (better known as the producer of the Chronicles of Narnia movies) to write the novel Hero, about an openly gay teenaged superhero.

***** – That sadly got derailed by illness on Millar’s part and a death in Hitch’s family. The final issue of Millar/Hitch’s run was actually by Joe Ahearne (another BBC writer Millar recruited to Marvel, with less success than Paul Cornell) & Stuart Immonen.

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