Mark Millar has been one of the most divisive (and important) voices in comics. Seen as a big part of the British wave (which was driven by the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison), he helped shape modern comics, as well as the superhero film genre, exponentially. “The Ultimates” is a notable example, giving the Avengers a contemporary spin and also influencing the MCU drastically, starting with Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers.”
However, Millar’s not just known for mainstream comics, as his work on indie books such as “Kick-Ass” and “The Secret Service” also gave way to critically acclaimed movie franchises. He’s been churning out quite a bit of work at Image Comics, apart from his Millarworld imprint, helping build his creator-owned resume and film aspirations. Thusly, CBR decided to look at 15 of the biggest and best books in his diverse arsenal.
Spoiler warning: Major spoilers ahead for several Mark Millar books.
15. CIVIL WAR
Millar worked with Steve McNiven’s amazing art to bring “Civil War” to life, splitting Marvel Comics in half due to the Superhuman Registration Act (which required superheroes to be registered by the government) being pushed by Tony Stark. This saw Captain America’s team go underground while Iron Man’s team adopted a police-like approach in apprehending this resistance by any means necessary. It tore heroes and friends apart, with villains even being used as weapons in the name of justice.
A big moment was when Goliath (Bill Foster) got killed by a Thor clone, as Millar showed he wasn’t afraid to subvert Marvel’s lore like never before. His story made it tough for the audiences to pick a side, as each had such a strong philosophy on how to safeguard secret identities, loved ones and the world in general. It ended with Steve Rogers’ death and redefined the publisher’s landscape, while also going on to fracture the heroes in the MCU with the Russos adapting the story as prologue to “Avengers: Infinity War.”
14. RED SON
“Superman: Red Son” was a popular Elseworlds story that flipped the Superman mythos on its head. Millar (along with the art of Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett) scripted Superman crash-landing as a baby in the Soviet Union instead of America. He molded them as the ultimate superpower, establishing a very tension-filled utopia, which pushed Lex Luthor to try to kill the alien before America got damaged in a new World War.
This 2003 tale also had core characters like Lois Lane, Batman, Brainiac and Wonder Woman, revolving around Superman’s never-ending thirst to make the world a better place. It transcended the usual notion of the Man of Steel, in a way relatable to Grant Morrison’s “All-Star Superman.” It was one of Superman’s greatest stories outside of the main continuity, getting sociopolitical with him depicted as a refugee from Krypton, and more so, as a reluctant leader being weaponized by the Soviets. It was a cerebral take on dictatorship using America’s biggest comic icon.
13. THE SECRET SERVICE
This book was very different from the “Kingsman” movie franchise, but it once more showed how cinema-ready Millar’s stories were. He teamed up with artist, Dave Gibbons, whom he wanted to work with since his fanboy days of “Watchmen,” as this spy-thriller focused on a troubled teen, Gary, being trained by his James Bond-esque uncle, Jack, to become a super-spy himself.
It was more straight-forward than the twist-laden film, but it still had a bunch of celebrity cameos (including Mark Hamill), as Gary spanned the globe for MI6 trying to prove to his detractors that he did have what it takes to be a spy. Millar shaped an action-packed adventure with a hesitant hero, who was inspired by family, making it a relatable piece. His work was amplified by Gibbons’ art, giving it a retro and indie feel, as they tinkered with the spy trope fighting terrorism, adding to the spectacle that Millar’s scripts usually aim for.
12. AMERICAN JESUS
In 2004, Millar partnered with artist, Peter Gross, to hash out a story (initially titled “Chosen”) surrounding Jodie Christianson, a young man who was gauged as the second coming of Jesus Christ. However, as he navigated the world’s religious and political scope, it turned out that his destiny was something much darker, and ending with a huge twist on the opposite end of the Christian spectrum. Millar’s never been afraid to speak out on religion and his views on Christianity fully emerged here.
One scene which sums up the visceral nature of “American Jesus” is where Jodie has to bring a dead animal back to life following an accident, which evokes some Stephen King territory. It felt highly personal as Millar rummaged through several folks trying to manipulate Jodie for his powers, while touching on the pressures the teen felt as someone who was now placed with the huge burden of being mankind’s salvation. It actually riffed off his first publication, “Savior,” which dealt with the antichrist masquerading as a hero.
“Superior” was one of many Millar books published under Marvel’s Icon imprint and played directly off of his infatuation with Superman. This story revolved around a 12 year-old, Simon Pooni, who was suffering from multiple sclerosis, only to be tricked into becoming the hero known as Superior. This was done by a demon monkey (named Ormon) who wanted the boy’s soul in exchange for these powers and pitted him against a powered-up bully ready to destroy Simon’s city.
It was a violent and dark story, but one offset by Simon’s endearing attitude to help the world, while enjoying things he couldn’t do due to his illness. Millar’s depiction of Simon was very powerful as the boy sacrificed his soul to become Superior once more to save everything and everyone he loved, crafting a truly selfless hero under the magic pencil of longtime Marvel collaborator and artist, Leinil Yu. Fox later picked up the rights with Millar wanting WWE’s John Cena as the title character.
10. OLD MAN LOGAN
“Old Man Logan” was a story outside of Marvel’s main continuity that focused on Logan in a post-apocalyptic future. In this wasteland, he lost his family and was forced to go after the Hulk’s grandkids (products of incest, as they were mothered by Hulk’s cousin, She-Hulk), and Banner himself. Villains ruled over the wasteland with heroes barely alive, bar ones like Hawkeye, Emma Frost and Black Bolt. A major reveal was that Logan shied away from his Wolverine persona after Mysterio tricked him into killing his X-Men teammates.
Millar once more linked up with McNiven to produce some of Marvel’s most impeccable artwork. This was layered onto a neo-Western story that saw the character reduced to an old shell in a fight-or-flight syndrome, unable to really pop his claws. The character influenced Fox’s recent “Logan” film, and was brought into Marvel’s main continuity. Millar deconstructed several layers of the hero, from that of pure instinct, to fear, self-loathing, and the base primal instinct he tried to constantly suppress to stop him from going berserker.
Millar teamed up with Yu yet again for “Supercrooks” under the Icon imprint, crafting a story together about a bunch of super-powered crooks who decide to engage in one last emergency heist to help out one of their own. The four-issue story, plotted in 2012 with Nacho Vigalondo, felt like “Ocean’s Eleven” meets “The Italian Job” with twists, turns and sinister agendas at all junctures.
Johnny Bolt was the protagonist, rounding up a bunch of his fellow villains to pay off their mentor’s debt. He cased the scene out just like George Clooney’s Danny Ocean did and put forward a very smart plan for everyone in a story that was rich in character, charisma and of course, deception. These made it one of Millar’s most thoroughly engrossing reads. It was unpredictable and had you rooting for the scoundrels, who ended up being anti-heroes that just wanted to take one big, rich supervillain down, and cash out while doing so.
8. JUPITER’S LEGACY
“Jupiter’s Legacy” (initially titled “Jupiter’s Children”) was done at Image Comics and it found Millar dissecting generations of superheroes and families. It revolved around Chloe Sampson, a super-powered drug addict and socialite, whose parents were legendary superheroes. She and her lover, Hutch (whose dad was ironically the nemesis of the older Sampsons) were forced to contend with her evil brother, Brandon, and her dad’s brother, Walter. The latter duo decided to rule the world with an iron fist and take out all who could potentially oppose them.
Millar dealt with the younger generation as one filled with arrogance, pride and selfishness, not to mention entitlement. It had the glam of Hollywood stuck in but also saw unlikely heroes step up to the plate with Frank Quitely’s art making it one of the best books of 2013. It focused on generation-X as one that was throwing away the groundwork laid for them by their elders, hitting close to reality very hard, yet very poignantly. This book also spawned a prequel, “Jupiter’s Circle” about the older heroes.
7. JENNY SPARKS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE AUTHORITY
“Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority” came out in 2000 and ran for five issues. This limited series came out from DC Comics under the Wildstorm imprint, with pencils by John McCrea. It dealt with Jenny Sparks (who could control electricity) and her formative years in which she experienced things like “Stormwatch” and “The Authority,” serving to remind her what drove ambitions to become a hero.
The series focused on Jenny’s past and her future teammates, the six other members of the original Authority: (Apollo and Midnighter, Jack Hawksmoor, the Engineer, the Doctor and Swift). In her journeys, she encountered notable historical and fictional characters such as Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler when he was an unemployed artist and again, when he had become Führer of Germany. Ernest Hemingway and John Lennon also tied in to remind us that Millar was all about homage, heritage and legacy, not just tasteless style and big names.
“Nemesis” was one of Millar’s most profane and violent books to date. He worked with McNiven to bring the gore under the Icon imprint once more, focusing on a terrorist who was playing mind games with Chief Inspector Blake Morrow (who felt like Commissioner Jim Gordon). Ironically, the Nemesis villain was done as a dark reflection of Batman, with the book feeling like “Die Hard With A Vengeance.”
It was straight-up action and warfare with Nemesis bringing explosions and murder to you in the most gratuitous fashion in 2010. The story, though, was highly enjoyable if you wanted unabashed violence, and it was even slated to become a movie under director Joe Carnahan (although production on it appears to have stalled). There were a lot of disturbing threads in the story, focusing on torture and harming women, which made things very controversial, but Millar made it clear from the onset that this was always meant to be offensive, and very much a popcorn comic.
5. MARVEL 1985
“Marvel 1985” ran for six issues and was published in 2008 by Marvel Comics with illustrations by Tommy Lee Edwards. It was a more sentimental story which linked a young boy, Toby, to some sort of portal or rift that allowed the Marvel universe to cross over into his world. Dr. Doom, the Avengers and Galactus were all just some of the big names that appeared, making Toby question his reality.
It felt like a book for the fans, by a fan. Toby’s character was filled with the awe we all have for comic characters, and it’s the grounded way he was written that made you connect. Edwards’ art immersed you in the book so well, and Millar really found a way of making the heroes so inspirational. He even had you thinking that you could one day cross over and find yourself in the main Marvel 616 continuity. It was a love letter to everything Marvel, making sure everyone knew Millar, despite breaking into the business, was still a major fanboy at heart.
One of his Millar’s most notable works, and the first to get the movie treatment, was “Wanted.” The film adaptation in 2008 was very loose and much more grounded, but the comic was a gloriously obnoxious, profane work of art. J.G. Jones was visually spectacular on the pencils as they told the story of Wesley Gibson entering a world run by supervillains, with his role in the evil illuminati-esque community having been passed down to him from his father.
The plot dealt with Wesley training to become the best assassin out there within the Fraternity (the supervillain group in question), via key figures aiding him such as the Professor and Fox. Wesley was driven by his father’s dark fate and Millar smartly appealed to our basic human instinct of revenge when we’re slighted. This was another action-filled rollercoaster that saw the lead as a very amoral person, who only cared for vengeance. Millar felt he was doing an evil take on “Watchmen,” with villains running the show. It was a gangster story at the end, with Wesley representing the devils on the audience’s shoulders, fighting for his legacy.
Millar usually puts out obtuse and violent stories but no matter what, “Huck” will stand head and shoulders above, washing all obscenities away. It was a warm, fuzzy ball of sentiment that felt like Millar’s true version of Superman, transcending even “Superior.” He was an innocent, naive hero; focused on helping his town as opposed to dealing with self-serving plans. Rafael Albuquerque’s art also wowed as Millar designed someone that was plain lovable.
Huck was mostly seen to be a heartfelt, selfless giver trying to find his birth mother in a tale about love, family and one special person’s desire to make the world safe and happier. When the Russians came after him, he wouldn’t go quietly into the night despite being the product of their superhuman experiments. This showed Millar wanted someone resilient to resonate with readers, and as seen with Huck saving cats in trees and helping old ladies with groceries, we had a forgiving Superman outside of Zack Snyder’s gritty universe.
“Kick-Ass” was one of those coming-of-age movies that may well have been better adapted in cinema, with changes made that actually worked for the movie’s benefit. That said, the source material (drawn by John Romita Jr. in 2008 for Icon) was an epic and gory ride that left you basking in its gruesome vibe. The franchise, both comic and film, spawned a couple sequels, but it’s the original that remains the benchmark.
Dave Lizewski was an average teen, who then became a superhero with just a mask and no powers. He joined a network of like-minded folks while encountering Hit-Girl and her father, Big Daddy, who were truly fighting crime and the mafia. Dave got caught up in an intense story that had high stakes and lots of blood spilled. What makes this book so good is that it’s got a lot of humor, but is well balanced with the endless violence. Millar really honed in on his teen angst and gave us something we could all relate to under times of duress.
1. THE ULTIMATES
In 2002, Millar’s revamping and Bryan Hitch’s art changed the game in terms of alternate “Avengers” stories. It was a modern rejigging of the team for the Ultimates universe that saw them kicking it off against aliens. This would also influence “The Avengers” movie as all the heroes felt like contemporary ones instead of outdated antiques through Hitch’s elegant artwork. Millar sculpted the team as more action-oriented and comprised of rule-breakers, as opposed to the classic, and at times boring, heroes that belonged to our parents.
Nicy Fury was first depicted as Samuel Jackson here, proving Millar had casting chops too (it’s what inspired Jackson’s casting in the film). Apart from how Millar’s story helped mold the MCU for diehard fans, the fresh update on all Avengers members (from their attitudes to their looks) fit in well for a younger generation who were now meeting these characters for the first time. It was your “Avengers” now, and not that of any older generation. Millar made the roster feel real yet flawed, not to mention very soldier-like, at a time when the world could connect to such safeguards on an everyday level.
Let us know in the comments what your favorite Mark Millar books are!
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