With the recent sale of the Millarworld imprint to Netflix, comic book writer Mark Millar has fully stepped into the big leagues as a truly significant film and TV player.
In the statement announcing the acquisition, Netflix’s chief creative officer Ted Sarandos described Millarworld founder Mark Millar as “as close as you can get to a modern day Stan Lee.”
The parallels here are pretty straightforward: Both Lee and Millar come from the writing side of the comics business, and they’ve both had a hand in creating popular comics characters who have gone on to even greater success when adapted for the silver screen. Furthermore, with Disney possibly pulling its product from Netflix in favor of its own as-yet unannounced rival streaming platform, it is easy to see why it would be so tempting a comparison. Quite reasonably, Netflix want to have a suite of popular comics-based intellectual properties that it owns, and it wants them to be of equivalent longevity, prestige and value as those co-created by Stan “The Man” Lee back in the 1960s.
But it does seem that comparison misses a key component of Millar’s appeal. It is not so much that he has created, along with his various artistic collaborators, a string of new intellectual properties – ones that have proven successful at both the comic book store and the box office. It’s more that he’s generated a body of work that is positively marinated in his love for the conventions and lore of comics themselves, and superhero comics in particular.
In this manner, Millar’s output would seem to have more in common with the work of that other follower of genre fiction, Quentin Tarantino.
Tarantino is no stranger to comics himself, of course; the central crime boss in his debut feature Reservoir Dogs is even described by Tim Roth’s character as looking like The Thing from The Fantastic Four – but his principal passion focuses on exploitation cinema more than the more broad pulp entertainment world.
Drawing from his background as video rental clerk and his own fannish enthusiasm, Tarantino established early in his career a reputation for crafting films that heavily referenced the exploitation genre alongside various other elements of popular culture.
There are a whole heap of articles to be found across the web cataloging the myriad film references made in various Tarantino films; the writer/director has freely admitted in the past, “I steal from every movie I see.” The aforementioned Reservoir Dogs alone borrows the criminals’ colorful codenames from the 1974 hijacking exploitation thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, while Pam Grier, star of a string of ’70s blaxploitation films, is mentioned prominently in a piece of dialogue. Grier would go on to star in Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s 1997 adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch.
Aside from his love of, and continental references to, film and a wide range of pop culture, Tarantino’s most prominent motif is probably his taste for the excess associated with exploitation cinema. Indeed, his films wear their abrasiveness with pride. The torture scene in Reservoir Dogs dares the audience to keep tapping their toes to Stealer’s Wheel while even the camera’s unblinking gaze shifts away from Mr Bonde’s ear-hacking blade. From the bondage rape scene in Pulp Fiction, to the scalpings in Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino’s exploitation instinct is to shock and ensure his audiences don’t get too comfortable.
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