Interview: Millar Speeds Ahead With MPH & Millarworld

From his run on The Authority to the launch of MPH this week it is an understatement to say that Mark Millar has been one of the biggest names in the comic book industry over the past 15 years. He is known as one of the architects of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, and writer of one of the most successful company wide crossovers ever in Civil War. Over the past decade he has developed a creator-owned multimedia empire known as Millarworld where such smash hits as Wanted and Kick-Ass have gone from successful comic books to blockbuster movies. With 2014 being one of the biggest in Millarworld history, Mark Millar sat down with Comicosity to answer questions about his new book MPH, the end of Kick-Ass, and the state of the Millarworld Universe.

John Ernenputsch: First off, thanks for taking the time to talk to talk to Comicosity today. I wanted to start by discussing the cohesive Millarworld Universe that you launched with the first issue of Starlight. After a decade, why was this the right time to build a connected universe? 

starlight1-coverMark Millar: When I say connected I mean it in the loosest sense. One of the strengths of the Millarworld line is that anyone can pick up Jupiter’s Legacy or American Jesus or Starlight or Kick-Ass without reading any of the other books and I want to keep it that way. But since the second scene in Wanted you’ll notice references to the other Millarworld titles and it’s really just a bit of fun. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s really just Easter Eggs for those, like me, who enjoy that kind of thing the way we saw other Marvel characters being referenced in the early Marvel movies. The final issue of Kick-Ass explains where everything fits in just a few panels, but it’s just for fun. At the moment I don’t really want to see Hit-Girl fighting Nemesis while the Jupiter’s Legacy cast watch or anything (though I don’t rule that out later).

JE: Was the Millarworld Universe always something you envisioned when Wanted was released back in 2003? If so, how has the concept evolved from theory to practice? If not, when did you realize this was a road you wanted to head down?

MM: Kind of. Wanted was all about a world of superheroes that used to exist, but the bad guys won and made us forget about them. Kick-Ass and all the other comics are about superheroes starting to appear in the world again. I always had a big, broad plan of how all these things connected into a massive story that connects about 20-25 different franchises, but each one self-contained in the same time.

JE: A big question that’s come up is which of the Millarworld books are a part of this shared universe? Is it just Starlight and MPH or will previous titles be retroactively inserted in when possible? Or is this more of a wait and see situation where readers may find themselves surprised? 

MM: The clues are all there. Kick-Ass 3 #8 explains a lot, but this has been happening right under your noses.

MPH01_CoverAJE: Longtime readers will remember a project called Run that was announced but never made it to the shelves. On top of that you had a brief stint on The Flash years ago. Now with MPH racing ever closer to release it seems as if the concept of super speed is one you have been interested in for quite awhile. What stands out as special about this particular superpower?

MM: There’s a few powers that are just so incredibly obvious and ancient that we’ve fantasised about them for thousands of years. Green Lantern isn’t one of those concepts. Creating green plasma manifestations from your imagination via a ring that’s vulnerable to wood or the colour yellow isn’t a universal fantasy. Running fast is. As is flying or being strong. I love those really primal ones that can be traced back through the Roman and Greek Gods and Hermes and Mercury proved this was cool thousands of years ago. The Flash was a 1940 update on that old idea and I’ve been noodling with my super-speed story for the better part of a decade now. I nailed it a couple of years back and started working on MPH after a trip to Detroit where I felt like I was walking in a movie set. I saw trees growing through the roofs of banks and the entire thing came to me… this notion of America’s most powerless suddenly becoming empowered through this odd quirk of fate and what the next logical steps would be. The visuals for the speed, all these ideas I’d been thinking through for ten years, just seemed like a perfect addition to this story I wanted to tell.

JE: Can you give the readers a brief introduction to the world we will be reading about in MPH? In your mind how will these stand out from other titles featuring super speedsters?

MPH01_CoverBMM: The DC characters were generally created in the golden age. There’s been a few since then that have been very good, but really the core of that universe was created between 1938 and 1942. Back in those days the power was really the character. You didn’t really know a huge amount about Jay Garrick or even later Barry Allen beyond what their jobs were or the names of their girlfriends or any of that very simple and rather lovely stuff that I grew up adoring. What made Marvel work were the secret identities. Peter Parker and Tony Stark were much closer to being actual personalities and that’s what I try to do on these books too. Superior is humanised by the fact he’s a kid with MS who isn’t just walking for the first time in years but FLYING. Jupiter’s Legacy is about a son and a daughter who can’t ever fill the shoes of their amazing superhero parents. MPH is about a guy called Roscoe Vasquez who comes from statistically the poorest area in America, where not just a single generation has been sold down the river, but three consecutive generations hung out to dry, trying to make something of his life in the worst possible surroundings. He’s a guy that’s into Tony Robbins and creating visualisation boards and so on, but at the same time the only economy open to him is the economy forced on his neighbourhood when the traditional one passed him by. So I like making these stories all about real people. Starlight feels like a real old man, dying with loneliness. This feels like a nineteen year old guy who’s doing enough things that compromise him so he and his girlfriend can get enough money together to get out and join the other America.

JE: A few issues in, and Starlight already feels like unlike anything you’ve ever written. It has also received almost universal acclaim. How has the response felt on your end? Also, given that they take place in the same universe, how does one find the balance between the Sci-Fi fantasy of Starlight, and the street level superpowers of MPH?

Starlight03-coverMM: I keep them pretty distinct, although you’ll see the MPH guys on TV in the background for some characters or Duke McQueen as a headline in another book and so on. In terms of tone, Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man are very different, but happily co-exist so I’m really just doing the same.

JE: Over the years you have worked with some great artists. Can you talk a little bit about your time spent working with your current collaborators Frank Quitely, Goran Parlov and Duncan Fegredo?

MM: Oh my God. amazing. I’ve been spoiled on Millarworld. Right mow I’ve got Johnny (Romita), Vin (Frank Quitely) and now Duncan and Goran. I think these are maybe the best looking books my name has ever been on. Duncan’s a master. The artist’s artist. Goran is like Moebius made manifest again. I’m too lucky.

JE: I have to ask about the end of Kick-Ass. This is a story that has taken up a large chunk of your career. Four mini series, and two movies later the story has come to an end. What has Kick-Ass meant to you, and what do you hope Dave and Mindy’s lasting legacy will be?

MM: Kick-Ass was life-changing. Wanted actually made a fortune, making more than Captain America or The Hulk on less than half the budget. But Kick-Ass had a bigger cultural impact, Suddenly I was seeing people at shows dressed up as the characters or seeing them in the street or seeing people with Hit-Girl hoodies or back-packs. My family, for the first time, were kind of aware of what I did as most of them don’t read comics, but they loved coming to the premieres and all my aunts and cousins and so on just had a ball. Living out here in Scotland, which is quite a long way from Hollywood, it really was quite a unique experience. But the sales on those books and the money we made from the movies not only kick-started a movie career, but made the graphic novels sell much better than they would have otherwise. And now we have this chain reaction as the upcoming books all have movies attached and we can sell these comics all over again as Secret Service comes out this year, Nemesis, Superior, Kindergarten Heroes and Starlight over the following eighteen months. as a creator, there’s nothing more liberating than doing what you want and Kick-Ass gave us that. I loved my Marvel heroes, really love the guys and am proud of the work, but the freedom Kick-Ass gave us is kind of perfect. I’ve brought all my friends into this with me and as we expand the whole thing and set up more comics (and subsequently movies) it’s giving everyone that life-changing cash to maybe experiment and do that book they’ve had in the back of their heads for years. I love that. Traditionally, comics has been creators having no work after middle age and very little money as they enter old age while big corporations change hands for billions of dollars. There’s something nice about seeing the artists who co-create this stuff owning half the writers and getting producer credits and having a little security and freedom. I love the fact we can do this now and appreciate it every time I switch on my computer.

JE: We know that McNiven will be diving into Nemesis 2 soon, and that the Secret Service movie is on the way, but are there any other final hints or teases about Starlight, MPH, new books, possible sequels, or the Millarworld Universe in general that you would like to share with the Comicosity readers?

MM: Sure. I finished the first book of Jupiter’s Legacy and Kick-Ass 3 a little while ago, the artists working away on the final issues now. I’m finishing Starlight and MPH‘s final issues at the moment and the artists are just ploughing through these now, everything on track which is a lovely feeling. I’m going to take a wee break after that and spend a bit of time in London hanging about the Secret Service post production and want to spend a month or so in LA, just doing things on the various gigs I have over there. I don’t really like traveling especially as I have a young family and don’t like to be away so we’re all going out and I’ll just do all the business at once whilst the rest of the gang play on the beach or whatever. When I’m out there I’m going to start three new books but these won’t get announced until I’ve finished them. That’s the way I tend to work now, just writing the whole thing at once and I’m trying to get as much art in before the books come out. These new titles, all of which will be a surprise, have mega artists onboard. Literally the biggest guys in the biz doing big crazy projects. Nothing is more than six issues long and the plan is not to publish even issue 1 until the entire series has been mostly drawn. So that’s a challenge, but an exciting one. There’s the Secret Service movie out in October and then a bunch of other movies coming out over the following 18-24 months. Nemesis and Kindergarten Heroes will also be at Fox and probably the next two out, Superior and Starlight following soon after, the latter two just at script stage right now. Lorenzo DiBonaventura and I are working together at the moment and get on very well. I think this is going to be one of those really fun partnerships. And there’s a TV show in the works, which we might hear more about in Summer. So it’s a busy time… and I had Baby 3 a few weeks back. It;’s kind of mental. I looked in the mirror and looked like Ben Kenobi this morning, getting by on about 3 hrs sleep between the various feeds. But the kids and the books are all looking good so it’s worth it.

MPH hits stores this Wednesday, May 21 from Image Comics.

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