It’s safe to say that as much as they enjoy watching their favorite characters pummel each other on the page, comic fans may like to follow a good legal battle as though it were a summer blockbuster even more. From the long-standing battle over the rights to Marvelman to dozens of creator’s rights issues, the legal maneuverings surrounding the world’s greatest heroes have made for dramatic narratives in the comics press for decades. However, sometimes the rumor of a lawsuit can run away with itself.
That seems to be what happened with Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s new creator-owned Icon series “Nemesis” this week. After the project was announced here on CBR with pull quotes and a headline comparing the comic to DC Comics’ iconic Dark Knight, the original cover failed to appear in Marvel/Icon’s March solicitations. A report soon appeared from Rich Johnston claiming that DC had made a legal move to stop the original cover, and the litigious chum in the water set off a series of blog reports and message board postings worrying over the fate of “Nemesis.” But according to the writer, the word on the street is a bit ahead of itself.
“In all honesty, the story has been massively misreported,” Millar explained to CBR. “There is no issue at all here. Someone simply saw that the image we had planned for the first cover had been removed and assumed DC had hit us with a writ or something. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the whole thing is much more informal. What happened was that someone in DC editorial was a little worried that we were casually mentioning two of their characters in interviews and asked legal to ask us not to. The legal guys at DC, who are friends of mine, just dropped me a casual, informal email asking me to be cool, and I agreed, promising them that Steve and I wouldn’t cross any kind of line in the promotion of ‘Nemesis.’
“Steve and I both have a good relationship with DC, and I’m friends with about half the staff. So we chatted about it and as a courtesy removed the cover image we planned, which we both felt might just be a little too playful. DC knew this was a gesture of goodwill and appreciated it, but they absolutely didn’t ask us to remove it. Everyone is on very good terms, and there is absolutely no issue here.”
Asked whether it was difficult to know your legal ground in an industry where projects from “Invincible” to “The Sentry” and beyond take a page from the iconic building blocks of other companies – not to mention his own work introducing Avengers analogues in “The Authority” -Â Millar said, “Comics have been doing this since before I was born, and the companies are very relaxed about it. I’ve seen Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman and especially Superman analogues in dozens of books. Some of my favourites, like ‘Invincible’ and ‘Irredeemable,’ are running at the moment, but ‘Supreme,’ ‘Sentry’ and a million others have all played with some classic building blocks and given them a little tweak. Squadron Supreme did the whole Justice League, for God’s sake. So we’re all kinda on the same team on that sense. Like you said, I even wrote Marvel analogues in ‘The Authority’ when I worked at DC, and the guys on both sides thought it was funny. I think the companies are a lot more relaxed about this stuff than people realize.”
As to the question of whether Hollywood adaptations of characters complicate matters for Millar in his upcoming “Kick-Ass” movie, the writer felt that there was more than enough distance from other screen heroes to differentiate the players in the eyes of fans. “[Nic Cage’s] Big Daddy was more like The Punisher, to be honest, or one of the many other 80s-style revenge heroes. Sammie (the costume woman) tweaked it a little more towards the Tim Burton rubber because the guy is a comic fan and that would be his fantasy, I guess. But we touched on everything from Peter Parker to boy sidekicks to anything you can think of in that movie. It’s a hymn to superheroes. I even got Runaways in there, just to see Brian K. Vaughn’s little bald head explode when he’s watching it in the cinema,” the writer laughed.
As for “Nemesis,” plans remain on schedule for the four-issue series to launch this March as originally written and drawn. “The upside of all this, I guess, is that people are talking about it, and visibility for the book is going to be enormous. ‘Kick-Ass’ and the various printings all add up to an average of 114,000 copies sold per issue so far. It’s the biggest selling creator-owned series of the decade. But I think we’re going to top it here. Just the release of the name alone generated pages on message-boards, and every single word we’re saying on this thing seems to be getting plastered all over the Internet. Retailer buzz is even bigger than ‘Kick-Ass,’ so I suspect we’ve got a monster here. ‘Old Man Logan’ and ‘Civil War’ worked out pretty good for us, so hopefully we can bring some of that same heat over to our first creator-owned launch. I have a massive mainstream news story set up for the day the first issue launches. Bill O’Reilly is involved in this, so you know it’s going to be fun.”
As is Millar’s way, the writer spoke on the planned release of “Nemesis” with more than a small amount of confidence as to its prospects. “I think it’s going to be the most talked about comic next year, in our industry and in the mainstream. Believe the hype.” He also confirmed that the series’ artist is well into the process of drawing the mini, saying, “Steve is doing great. He’s inking this himself and somehow gotten even more detailed and brilliant than [his] previous work. You’ll see from the panels we’ve already released how good the art is. I’m a lucky bugger. He’s the biggest artist in the industry at the moment so just having him draw it means people are going to love it. I’ll just try to write as few words covering up that great art as possible.”
Just as he did with the lead character of “Kick-Ass,” the final name of the villain at the heart of “Nemesis” will come from one lucky bidder in a charity auction Millar has planned for next week. “As regards the auction, I was actually planning that for Monday next week. Thanks again, CBR dudes, for help set this up. My brother, Dr. Bobby Millar, works with special needs kids, and just like we did when we named the lead in ‘Kick-Ass,’ we’d like to shoot some cash his way for a big trip they’re planning for the children. More details on Monday, but this is just a heads up for people to start opening their wallets!”