This March, Mark Millar is going back to the future.
For his latest Image Comics series, the writer behind his own Hollywood favored Millarworld Universe of comics is teaming with “Punisher MAX” artist Goran Parlov for “Starlight” — an homage to the classic bubble-helmeted space heroes of the movie serial era. But this time, the story focuses on the later years of a man named Duke who once rocketed to the stars to save an alien race. Years after he returned to earth to a life of domestic bliss and the skepticism of his own people in regards to his interplanetary adventures, the hero looks skyward again for a new mission.
Aside from presenting the latest creator-owned series from the writer behind “Wanted,” “Kick-Ass” and numerous other projects,”Starlight” also marks the first book more closely tied to Millar’s new universe of interrelated titles which will eventually envelop everything he’s done from “Jupiter’s Legacy” to “Superior” and beyond. At this early stage in the game, Millar shared with CBR an exclusive first look at “Starlight’s” finished first pages, and below he expounds on why this was the first book in his new universe, why his space hero character bucks conventional trends and what the next step will be for the film version already set up at 20th Century Fox.
CBR News: Mark, “Kick-Ass 3” has its finale in April, and by then I guess you could say that the new Millarworld Universe will be in high gear, right?
Mark Millar: Right. The big plan here is to expand the Millarworld idea and create a kind of Marvel-style Universe for this century. “Kick-Ass 3” is the foundation for the whole thing, really, which makes sense as all these stories kind of take place in the real world and Kick-Ass is the very beginnings of a superhero comics universe. It’s also our most widely known concept in the mainstream, those 28 issues becoming two movies and a video game and t-shirts and all that sort of thing, so it seems like a great place to build. You also kind of start to see how all the Millarworld books tie together here too. As “Starlight” begins, you start to see how “Jupiter’s Legacy” and some of “Supercrooks” tie together and how “Kick-Ass” itself makes sense alongside something like “Nemesis.” “Kick-Ass 3,” I guess, is the end of the first phase, and then “Starlight” is the beginning of something very big and very new. It’s really exciting.
So let’s talk about “Starlight” as the first new piece of this puzzle. The series focuses on a space-faring adventurer who’s been returned to earth for decades only to live in a world where no one believes he ever went to the stars. Can we assume that he’s the kind of origin character for the universe? Is he the first to come in contact with the fantastic?
“Starlight” is my love letter to all the sci-fi serials I was obsessed with as a kid. It’s odd, but growing up with older parents I was into all these things nobody else really watched and I was obsessed with everything from the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies to all the old sci-fi serials. That stuff really means as much to me as superheroes. That mainstream sci-fi thing resonates on so many levels for me and I’ve always wanted to do something in that genre. It’s one of the things that John Cassaday and I bonded over years ago: we both had all those things on DVD. I love “Buck Rogers” and “Commander Cody.” I’m probably the only guy in a thousand mile radius who has every episode of “Undersea Kingdom.” [Laughs] I’ve had this idea for “Starlight” almost as long as I had the idea for “Superman: Red Son” when I was a kid. I just wanted to do something about one of those old retro space heroes and what he’d be doing now. I didn’t know it at the time, but the idea is best summed up as Buzz Lightyear meets “Unforgiven” in the sense that a cool, old hero picks up a blaster for the first time in forty years and gets a call back into space.
That kind of storytelling went out of style maybe in the ’70s here in the US, but I wonder if because of comics like “Dan Dare,” do you think it held on a little longer in the UK?
No, not at all. That square-jawed space hero thing is probably even more out of date here in the UK than in the States. You guys still had heroes like that in the ’60s and early ’70s, whereas for us, that golden age really ended with characters like Dan Dare from the Eagle comic in the 1950s. I really love that classic space hero personality type that was usurped by the more roguish Han Solo types or even the kind of brilliant stuff [Howard] Chaykin was doing a little earlier with beautiful books like “Ironwolf” in the early ’70s. But the archetype I most wanted to play with here predates even Superman. I really, really love those very early and primal heroes and that notion of the Earth guy, seen in everything from John Carter on, stranded on an alien environment and doing something brilliant for the locals is a really charming one and subverting that has been really exciting. You can’t just do the same old kind of story, but making him older really creates a fun kink.
The idea for this came to me when I was about ten and watching all these old shows on the BBC. I remember thinking that when these guys got back home they’d just be talking about their experiences all the time and if you accidentally ended up on an alien world of a different time zone or whatever the chances of it happening again are pretty remote. The chances are this is the one and only amazing thing that will ever happen to you and so you have to go back to driving a bus or working in a factory or whatever you were doing before fate pulled you into that pulp novel environment. The ordinariness of that really excited. The notion that you could have once been gliding through the clouds on the back of an alien dragon, but now buying washing powder and phoning your wife to see if you need anything else from the supermarket — I don’t know. That’s just really interesting to me. The irony is that I’m not even sure people would really believe you either. What pictures do you have of your old alien adventure? Did you bring anything home? The idea of being a bit of a joke when you get back is kind of fun, but also the idea that you can’t stop talking about it because it was such a huge experience. I always had this thought of a “Die Hard 1.5” where John McClane just talks about that time he jumped off the roof of a building holding onto a fire hose. He’s talking to his wife about it all the time, like when he cut his feet on that glass. Nothing else has been as interesting since and my guy I guess is a bit like that. [Laughs]
There’s an element in the pages we’ve seen that almost reminds me of “The Incredibles” where he’s reflecting on his past glories, and I wondered if there was a similar thread of domestic conflict for this character. Obviously, there was a beautiful alien princess involved here. Is that where part of the drama is born from?
Oh no, there’s no romantic conflict as such. I wanted this guy to be an old school proper good guy, so there’s no element where he’s torn between his wife and the princess or anything like that. It’s a very straightforward story at first where we get these flashbacks, which take place 40 years ago, has the princess saying, “You’re amazing. Stay behind and be my king.” But it’s a classic heroic scene where he’s loved by everybody on this world, but he just says, “I’m sorry, lady, but I’ve got a sweetheart back home on my world, and I’m going home to get married now.” He makes this choice to give it all up and come back to be with the woman he loves, and even though his life isn’t tremendously exciting, it’s very satisfying to him and he lives a good life in the time between the adventure and where our story picks up. I like the idea of him having his kids, and then they grow up, and his wife dies and now he doesn’t see his kids as much as he did before. So he goes out with a beer every night and looks up at the night sky, kind of wondering if this life is still out there for him. Which of course it is.
What’s it been like working with Goran Parlov on this? With both “Starlight” and soon with “MPH” with Duncan Fegredo, you seem to be expanding out and working with guys who aren’t previous collaborators of yours.
It’s really exciting to be bringing in all these big new artists for Phase Two. It’s actually been quite invigorating and makes the whole thing feel very, very exciting and a new start for the line. I’d been a fan of Goran’s for years, and I contacted him several years ago and said, “As soon as you’re done with your commitments and have some free time, I’d love to do something with you if you’re even remotely interested.” So we’ve been doing this dance and e-mailing with each other for three or four years until he finished the brilliant stuff he’s been doing at Marvel, which I think are the best-looking Marvel books of the past five years, by the way. That stuff he and Garth [Ennis] have been doing is just amazing and I’m only borrowing him for six months here before he goes back and gets back into that.
Even though he’s done mostly real life stuff in things like “Punisher,” I always felt he had this kind of Moebius sci-fi vibe. Alex Toth is his most obvious influence when you look at Goran’s work, but there is a Moebius streak too, especially in the way he lays out a panel and in the uniqueness of his ink-line. I just thought he’d be brilliant at science fiction. So I sent him some of the character concepts for this and asked him to come up with some designs, and he had a great time with it. It’s possibly the best drawn book I’ve ever had my name attached to. I’m so proud of how it’s come together. It just looks so spectacular, but at the same time there’s a grounded quality and all the characters look like real people. He has an amazing eye. Usually, you can tell someone’s strengths and weaknesses, but Goran doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses. He instinctively knows where to put the pen. He’s the most natural artist I’ve ever worked with, and he’s fast too! It’s nice to know I’ll have a book out there that’s going to stick to its monthly schedule. [Laughs]
I know that as with many of your projects, some movement is already happening on the Hollywood front. What can you tell us about the upcoming “Starlight” movie?
Well, The Hollywood Reporter, er, reported just before Christmas Goran and I have sold the rights to Fox, and the quite brilliant Simon Kinberg is shepherding this for us as a producer. I met Simon for the first time last year when I signed that three-year deal with Fox on the Marvel movies, and I liked the guy the second I walked into the room. He’d been on the Marvel movies for a few years and I knew of him professionally, but — like Matthew Vaughn — we’re around the same age and into the same stuff and within the hour we were finishing each other’s sentences. I let him have an advance look at what we were doing, as I do all my friends when we’re launching something new, and he just pounced on it. He was so genuinely excited it was really infectious. We talked to a few producers and there was a bit of a three way chase for this thing, but I just feel Simon knows exactly how this should translate to the screen. He shares my love of this stuff and everything he and Aditya [Sood] (his partner at his company [Genre Films]) have been suggesting in terms of writers and actors and directors is just pretty thrilling. Annoyingly it’s nothing I can spill here, but Fox are really into this and we all expect it to fast-track. The first “Secret Service” movie, “Kingsman,” is just wrapping filming this week and out next March so that’s the next of the adaptations to reach the screen. “Nemesis” should be the one after that, and “Kindergarten Heroes,” also with Simon at Fox, is being written by the excellent Carter Blanchard right now. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see this up next, all going to plan. I just feel it’s all in great hands, which is all I want as a writer.
“Starlight” #1 debuts this March from Image Comics. Stay tuned for more news on the Millarworld Universe tomorrow on CBR.