The creative braintrust of Marvel's top-selling "Civil War" mini-series, superstar writer Mark Millar and fan favorite artist Steve McNiven, will re-team on an eight-issue "Wolverine" arc beginning in July with issue #66.
And if that's not big enough news to grab you by your adamantium-laced skivvies, Millar told CBR News his futuristic take on everybody's favorite anti-hero will crossover with his upcoming 16-issue run on "Fantastic Four," which he is kicking off next month with his wingman from "The Ultimates," popular British artist Bryan Hitch.
Oh, and for those keeping score at home, the two books will also tie into his forthcoming mini-series "1985," a Stephen King-inspired title Millar calls "Marvel's Chronicles of Narnia."
All in all, for citizens of Millarworld, 2008 is going to kick-ass.
Asked why, when he likely had his choice to write any book he wanted at the House of Ideas, he decided to return "Wolverine," a book he penned for 13 issues in 2004 and 2005 with his "Kick-Ass" collaborator John Romita, Jr., Millar responded, "I had about three years worth of 'Wolverine' ideas when I was doing the book. But I do have this stupid thing where I like to fire myself at the end of every year and it's because Frank Miller's my hero and I love the fact that Frank Miller came on and did four issues of 'Batman' and made it the best ever and then he came on and did eight issues of 'Daredevil' with 'Born Again' and it was the best ever and I just try to copy that.
"Instead of doing a five-year run where two years you are kind of coasting, I love the honesty of coming in and doing a really, good short run," continued Millar. "And with 'Wolverine,' I wanted to stay on longer but I made this decision to stay on things for about 12 issues or so and I had this idea that was floating around and it is actually so radically different than the previous run on 'Wolverine' that it felt very fresh to get back into it. It has absolutely nothing to do with the previous storyline. And it feels like doing a whole new book."
And thanks to a leap forward of 50 years, Millar is allowed to play in a sandbox – at least what's left of a sandbox – unencumbered by the happenings of the X-books post-"Messiah CompleX" and Brian Michael Bendis' "Secret Invasion" summer event.
"I kind of liked the idea of just separating it off," explained Millar, who lives and works in his native Glasgow, Scotland. "That's when I think the 'Wolverine' book is at its best. The 'Wolverine' book is essentially Logan's adventures when he is not having 'X-Men' adventures. And some of those stories are set in the present and some are set in the Vietnam era and some are set in World War II and some are set in ancient Japan.
"So I thought wouldn't it be quite cool to see a little further down the line. And the basic kind of concept is that it is set 50 years into the future and Wolverine hasn't popped his claws in five decades."
"Yep, he's turned his back on violence and he's living like an old man, out in the sticks, out in the desert with his family and he's just working as a farmer," said Millar. "It's very, very much like Clint Eastwood in 'Unforgiven.' That's kind of a big inspiration for it. I was just doodling a picture of Logan and drew him older with gray hair and it sort of looked like Clint. And the thing that really struck me with Wolverine is when we first appeared, he was very much like the Man with No Name archetype. He came out of the spaghetti westerns almost time-wise. You didn't know where he came from. He had that cigar chomping Clint Eastwood thing going on. So I just took that to its logical conclusion and I loved 'Unforgiven' because Clint hadn't pulled a gun in all of those years. He's a man of peace now. I wanted to tell a Logan story that starts like that but then just gets so crazy.
"It makes 'Enemy of the State' look like an English period movie," laughed Millar. "I am just writing the last issue right now. It's absolutely nuts. It's one of those things that we could go quite crazy with. I didn't want to do anything that was quieter than 'Enemy of the State,' so it starts off crazy and just gets insane.
"The big idea of it is that Wolverine had pissed off a bunch of gang lords over on the west coast of America and the superheroes are all gone. There are just a few superheroes scattered across the America. It's just a 'Mad Max' post-catastrophe Marvel Universe where you have the grandchildren of the super-villains running each area of gangland. The Hulk gang is a bunch of hillbillies, who live out in the hills out in the desert. They rule the west coast. It's basically a 'Hills Have Eyes,' kind of inbred, remote, sick from radiation like Hulk with wifebeater shirts, big handlebar mustaches and all this kind of stuff like baseball caps. It's just like white trash Hulks living out in the sticks.
"Anyway, Wolverine pisses them off and has to get some money quickly. And what he does is find Hawkeye, who is one of the last superheroes left alive. He's 82-years old and he's a drug dealer that runs Super Soldier serum from the west coast of America over to east coast. Basically the story is basically a road movie that takes Wolverine from the west coast over to the east coast and encounters what's left of the Marvel Universe along the way."
And what's left ain't too pretty.
"The kind of characters he runs into is like Spider-Man's granddaughter, who is called Spider-Bitch and she is this black Spidey-Girl type of person that runs around in Utah. He runs into what's left of the X-Men. He runs into the remains of the Marvel Universe. And it's done in a way that you have never seen before."
And again, by developing a timeline set 50 years in the future, Millar has created his very own self-contained Marvel Universe just perfect for a family of four who like to do a little time traveling, themselves.
"I think there is a little bit of event fatigue. The events, especially at Marvel, have been good. And I think 'Secret Invasion' looks great. But I was very conscious myself to do something a little bit more self-contained, you know, so 'Fantastic Four,' '1985' and 'Wolverine' all tie into each other," teased Millar. "They tie in very, very directly into each other in the case of 'Fantastic Four' and 'Wolverine' because I am writing both books at the same time. I actually have a lot of crossover with both books. 'Wolverine' is set in the future but 'Fantastic Four' obviously has the time travel capacity and they go into the future more, so they crossover very directly. The characters appear in each other's books. So it's quite cool."
And while "Fantastic Four" is traditionally viewed as perhaps slightly lighter fare than say, "Wolverine" or adjective-less "X-Men," Millar says make no mistakes about it, he and Hitch's take on Marvel's first family is not for the feint of heart.
"'Fantastic Four' is going to be kiddie-friendly and everything but the one thing that I was very aware of when I read all of my favorite 'Fantastic Four' stories was that they were kind of frightening sometimes," explained Millar. "And the thing about 'Fantastic Four' that sometimes people mistakenly think, especially because of the movies, they should be kind of tweety and retro and silly and everything. And for me, the absolute best 'Fantastic Four' stories, you should be on your knees weeping just at the sheer scale of the horror.
"Like 'Cloverfield,' for example, feels like a 'Fantastic Four' story. It feels like the coming of Galactus. So that's the take we have done with the book. The characters are very much themselves. They are incredibly charming and likeable, much more so than anything I have done outside of Superman, but the situations have got to be very grim sometimes. When it's funny, it's funny. But when it's scary, it should be really scary. Doctor Doom should be scary. And lots of the villains, and so on, that we have made up, are very frightening."
How frightening? Millar cites a TV cult classic from the 1950s that thanks to the voice of Rod Serling used to make America's collective skin crawl.
"'Wolverine' is obviously a very different tone than 'Fantastic Four.' 'Fantastic Four' is very classical in tone, not retro but it feels like 'Twilight Zone' or something," offered Millar. "Where as 'Wolverine' is more like 'Mad Max.' It's in the future of the Marvel Universe and it's a post-apocalyptic future. "
Often counted as one of the most, if not the most, important runs in the history of comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's 102-issue streak on "Fantastic Four" is the stuff of legend. And in the 40-plus years that followed, heavyweights likes Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, John Byrne, John Romita, Sr., John Buscema, Rich Buckler and George Pérez have worked on the title. None of this is lost on Millar.
"Yeah, it's crazy, you know," he laughed. "There is a little part of me, a greedy part of me thinking, 'Fantastic Four' is very bold move for me. It's a very new direction we are taking the book. It feels like a new book. The take on it is sort of unlike anyone else's. We could have really, if we were being greedy about it, made it a new #1. But, like you say, there is something really satisfying about doing the real deal.
"After doing the 'Ultimate' book, we are doing the real 'Fantastic Four.' Just to be doing #554 of 'Fantastic Four' when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee did #35, it just feels great. I just love the fact that some people have the big long box and have our comics, and Kirby's comics and John Byrne's comics all in one big, long row. There is that crazy fanboy part that absolutely appeals to me.
"You feel like you got into this because you loved those old books so much. As a five-year old, those meant the world to me. The idea of being part of that lineage and then someone else taking over from me is a dream come true. 'Spidey' and 'Fantastic Four' are probably the two books that I was most into and Captain America too.
"But writing 'Fantastic Four,' I kind of can't believe it. It's funny, one of my brothers, who is a big comic fan from way back, he doesn't really read them anymore, but he just can't believe Marvel has given me 'Fantastic Four.' He sort of can't accept it. He can appreciate the Ultimate stuff because it's not really letting me touch the good stuff."
And while Millar admits picking "Fantastic Four" as a project may be a tad risky, (unlike "Wolverine," which was a no-brainer), he thinks he and Hitch have not only the good stuff, but the right stuff.
"'Wolverine' with Steve McNiven and the old man Logan story feels very much like the 'Dark Knight' of Wolverine stories, you know and that, as far as Marvel is concerned, is a license to print money. That's no risk.
"But with 'Fantastic Four,' it's slightly different. 'Fantastic Four' is a book that has probably had the greatest lineup of creative teams over the past 40 years, really consistently brilliant, probably more than any other book and yet, for 35 years, they have been stuck in the middle of the charts. No matter how good it is, it is stuck in the middle of the charts. And that was a challenge because you know, 'Fantastic Four,' is regarded as, I think, a book that is kind of kitsch and retro and so on and really, it has been two generations since "Fantastic Four' has been at the top of the charts. 'Spider-Man' has been there and 'X-Men,' but not 'Fantastic Four.' So that was more of a challenge and a risk. But that sort of happened with "Ultimates,' as well.
"What you have to remember is that the Avengers franchise was regarded as played out. I remember [Marvel executive] Bill Jemas saying to me at the time, don't do 'Avengers' and [Editor-In-Chief] Joe [Quesada] was saying, as well, 'Don't do the Ultimate Avengers book.' They said to do a second 'X-Men' book, do 'Ultimate Wolverine.' And we said, 'No, no, trust us on this, honestly. This is quite radically different.'
"We just assumed our enthusiasm and passion for the project would translate and it would just work out and luckily it did. And I think the same thing will happen with 'Fantastic Four.' I think people will be quite surprised. Bryan Hitch drawing it is obviously gold. And having it out every month is really going to help us.
"My suspicion is we will start around 'Ultimates' numbers, something around there and probably around the fifth issue, we will be up around 120,000. That's my guess because I'm quite confident in the material that we've got."
In fact, Millar and Hitch are so loving their time with Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny, that they have already announced they are sticking around for an additional four issues, making it a 16-issue run. But they will likely be it, said Millar.
"We love it. We had a really good time on it. We were going to do 12 issues but we actually love it so much, it was hard to let go, so we've stretched it out to 16 issues already," with no pun intended, said Millar. "You never know but the storyline that runs from #13 to #16 is a really strong one, it's a good one to end on.
"It's actually so far away, I won't get into it right now but it's a take on a character that no one has ever done before and I am actually quite shocked that no one has done it because it's actually quite obvious. When I mentioned it to [Executive Editor] Tom Brevoort, he was actually shocked that no one had ever done this. It's such a great, big dramatic one to end on. So I think that it will probably be a good time to go. Get off the stage when they are clapping."
Because CBR News couldn't hang up from across the pond without doing so, Millar was asked if either "Wolverine" or "Fantastic Four" would fail to meet a monthly schedule, as both "Civil War" and "The Ultimates" both missed a few deadlines over the years.
"That was a concern when we knew we were going to cross the books over," admitted Millar. "So Marvel gave Bryan a year's head start on 'Fantastic Four' and he has really stepped up to the plate. He is literally drawing twice as fast than he was drawing on 'The Ultimates.' He was doing roughly a book every nine weeks on 'The Ultimates' and he is doing these monthly.
"At the moment, he's done nine issues and I think, he's starting the tenth. So the issues we cross over with 'Wolverine' are already drawn. They are absolutely fine. And Steve, believe it or not, is incredibly, incredibly punctual. 'Civil War,' he started really late on it because Marvel wanted it out early, so they could get it in a certain financial quarter. So he started off with no lead time. And it was also the most labor intensive project, there were double-sized issues and there were 100 characters in every panel. But Steve regularly draws four or five pages a week. He's fine."
"Wolverine" #66 is set for a July release while "Fantastic Four" #554 is due in stores on February 13.