Despite his going Hollywood, it doesn't seem like Mark Millar's comic book output has changed. The best-selling scribe behind hits like Jupiter's Legacy and The Magic Order continues to draft new series nearly every quarter at Image Comics, as he has for the past decade. But behind the scenes, the projects of his now Netflix-owned Millarworld imprint have expanded their creative partners and focus, with July's Space Bandits being the most recent example.
Drawn by Black Science artist Matteo Scalera, Space Bandits feels like a classic Millarworld project. The story of two cosmic criminals named Thena Khole and Cody Blue on a quest for intergalactic payback, the book mixes classic genre tropes, a 1980s fashion sense and Millar's signature character bravado for a lady-centric mini series. But the way Space Bandits came together is now a collaboration between Millar, Scalera and Netflix's TV-primed production team – eyeing eventual filming for the streaming service alongside Millarworld properties like the in-development Empress.
Ahead of the series' July 3 debut, CBR has an exclusive first look at the interiors for Space Bandits #1. We also spoke with Millar about the development process for the book, why the story is both a forward-looking piece of genre entertainment as well as a VHS-era throwback. Puts, we have first word on James Wan's plans for the Magic Order TV show.
CBR: Mark, I know you're on a pretty regular rotation where you pivot from one Millarworld series to the next as they come. With Space Bandits on deck, what made this the most compelling next story for you? Why is this story a good fit for 2019?
Mark Millar: I just love doing things I’ve never seen before and always try to think of something I’d really enjoy myself. A story about two amazing outlaws is something that was done so perfectly in Butch and Sundance, but setting it in space and making it two female leads makes you just write a completely different kind of story, and the potential for total madness is obviously very alluring. We’re also at a nice turning point culturally right now where all stories aren’t about thirty year old white guys. Nothing against thirty year old white guys -- I used to be one myself. But from a creative point of view it’s like all movies starring 1990 Tom Cruise or all novels being about 1990 Brad Pitt. We’ve mined that demographic very well over the last century in genre stories from Tarzan and Flash Gordon onwards.
Creatively, it’s just interesting to have a different kind of lead. Empress was about a mother with her three kids, and that’s immediately going to be completely different from Predator or Star Trek. Similarly, two female leads who have been ripped off by their old male colleagues is something I’ve never seen in sci-fi before. Now everybody wants something new, which is a dream for a writer.
Let's talk about your sci-fi background. Obviously, a lot of this series a response to what is getting produced today, but there's a deliberate throwback feel to this book. You've got the kind of indie budget post-Star Wars sci-fi of the late '70s in there and also the fashion of '80s music videos. What are your keystones for that aesthetic, and how does the retro aspect fuel the story's point of view?
I like the idea that Earth culture is the best in the universe and everybody is into it, but it takes a while the deeper into space you go. The opening line in Space Bandits is about how it took years for the eighties to hit the Mid-West so imagine how long it took to reach space. Thus, you have a project that’s visually very interesting and immediately identifiable because the production design is pure 1985. Sharkey has a very '70s flavor, like a Don Siegel movie. It’s about dusty planets and bounty hunters, and has a big blue collar lead like Convoy or Smokey and the Bandit or one of those very likable '70s flicks. Space Bandits feels like St Elmo’s Fire, but with a thermo-nuclear capacity. This should feel like the VHS you didn’t have money to rent as a kid or your parents made you swap for Batteries Not Included because they felt it was too naughty.
Matteo Scalera is teaming with you for the comic, and while he's been working for a good long while, his work may be less well known than some of your other collaborators. What put him on your radar? And after the brief encounter of delivering a Sharkey cover, why did his art match your concepts for Space Bandits?
Everybody at Netflix was very excited by the story and the designs in the character bible for Space Bandits, and I always like to do these things as a comic, too, if they’re happy for me to go and spend three months putting that together. Netflix isn’t a publisher. This is obviously done through Image Comics, so they trust me to go and make it look as good as possible. Their only proviso when I turn one of my concepts into a comic is that I get the best artist I can lay my hands on. The quality is very important to all of us, and people like Olivier Coipel, Simone Bianchi and Rafael Albuquerque have set this incredible standard. I don’t chase superstars, because not all superstars are appropriate to the project you’re working on. It’s like casting a movie. The wrong artist can completely screw something up. I just pick quality, and I’ve admired Matteo for years. He and I have been in contact for close to five years now, but I’m fortunate to get him in between one big, excellent project finishing (Black Science) and before he signs a new contract elsewhere.
Aside from the conceptual hook, the characters, Thena Khole and Cody Blue, each have their own individual flare. What personalities are at the heart of each of your leads, and is their combination in the story more peanut butter and jelly or oil and water?
I keep coming back to Butch and Sundance, Murtaugh and Riggs and all the buddy movies we’ve ever seen all kind of owe William Goldman that debt because this really was the template, except it’s flipped here and it’s two women with a guy in the supporting role played by Katherine Ross in the movie. The guy, Viggo Lust, is the most fun character I’ve ever written: '80s mullet, a total asshole and the most brilliant outfits. What we in this country called shell-suits. I’m not sure what they called them in America, but he wears those bright, colorful sports casual-wear things and lots of bad gold jewelry. But Thena and Kody are the stars of this. It’s the Redford and Newman thing where one is the brains and one of the brawn, but they’re both funny. They’re incredibly fresh.
You're playing on this idea of the criminal as a hero – something I'm sure will draw Han Solo comparisons at a glance, but you've also played with these ideas in other ways with stuff like Super Crooks and even a little with the dynamic of Chrononauts. What makes this roguish concept click for you, and how confident are you that you can tweak that trope with the two ladies in your story?
Stories about people obeying the law aren’t that interesting. Stories about people breaking the law are awesome. Maybe it’s because in real life we worry about something as small as parking in the wrong place and there’s an element of catharsis in seeing someone else break all the rules. Anti-Heroes also just work really well in sci-fi like you say. This story has a great Tarantino vibe to it. If someone gave him $200 million dollars I feel this is the kind of sci-fi he’d deliver.
You've never been a stranger to wild promotional stunts, and this time you've got Space Bandits Legends Covers starting with Howard Chaykin. At 75 cents an issue for these editions, how in the world does this work financially? Are these covers going to be limited in number for retailers?
Yes. It’s one of the great things when you’re working at Netflix. They’re up for any crazy idea, and I thought it would be cool to create a really limited run of these covers (because I miss the beauty of scarcity and collectibility), but give it the added twist of these being the low-cost buys. These will be really hard to find and weirdly be the ones worth most as they’re so limited. All the details will be available for retailers through Diamond. But there’s one big crazy promotional stunt we’ll announce on launch week. You’ll love this. [Laughs]
We're a bit out from issue #1, but what excites you about the overall arc of the series? Is this more a revenge story as the solicitations make it seem, or do Thena and Cody's plans have another layer we haven't seen yet?
I just realized I haven’t gone into that lot much so here you go. One of these girls is the leader of the most bad-ass gang of thieves in the galaxy and on their final job they screw her over and leave her for dead. The other is part of a Bonnie and Clyde kind of outfit where she’s likewise betrayed and the two of them team up to go take down the men who screwed them over. This makes it sound only semi-insane, but believe me this is nuts. There’s another little character I love, a third member of the team, which is a telepathic white lizard Cody always has on her arm. This is the Joe Pesci of the dynamic.
Meanwhile, things are really heating up with your various Netflix shows and movies getting toward production, but I wanted to look at how the collaborative process has been so far. Reading The Magic Order's trade, I saw how a lot of the visual development for the characters began with the Netflix team. Has that been common for these new series? How often do you work just on the pure concept level with the folks in LA, and how has that process impacted your approach to the books once you team with an artist?
It’s very interesting, actually. A completely new way of working. After I sold Millarworld to Netflix back in 2017, I became a full-time Netflix staff-member and working exclusively in-house, creating company-owned franchises. The first under this new job was The Magic Order, and I worked out a story I really liked and had a great character design bible put together with a bunch of in-house and freelance artists. I love doing comics, and when I looked at all our brilliant character designs, I suggested this could also be a great book. They agreed under the proviso that we get the best in the business to draw it, and this, my friend, is Olivier Coipel. I've been doing this job since I was nineteen, and I’ve never been as proud of a book. I think it's a career best for both of us.
So, I create projects in-house to become TV or movies at Netflix, but some of these will also be comics. This has been the same with Sharkey, Prodigy and now Space Bandits. It's kind of the opposite of how it used to work before the sale, where an artist and I would put a comic together and Hollywood would maybe come along and license it. This is kind of the reverse.
The most recent development news comes for The Magic Order with word that James Wan is executive producer alongside showrunner Lindsey Beer. I know you were hyped on Aquaman early and that you've already done some work with Lindsey. Is this team one you went after in some respect, or did the final pairing fall into place? And what's been the most important discussion point at this early phase of translating that story to screen?
James Wan was always the number one target for this. He’s the master of modern horror, though can turn his hand to any genre (as we saw with the Fast movie and Aquaman). He’s probably the most consistently successful director in the world at the moment and has this Midas Touch I’m sure he’ll apply now to The Magic Order too. Lindsey was a massive target for the TV team because everybody loved what she’s done on Empress, and she and her Known Universe team of writers ( Nicole Perlman and Geneva Robertson-Dworet) are pretty much the hottest writer-ticket in town right now. Nabbing her for showrunner was something I had three decades of the rosary praying for.
This project means a lot to me, so it had to be someone who could make it as big as it could possibly be and do the best version of it. Nobody’s more excited about it than I am. The book went down huge, and the trade is selling gangbusters (the European numbers just came in and blew us away), so I think this is another one of those lucky projects where the stars all just aligned at the right time.
Stay tuned later this week for more exclusive insights into Millarworld and Netflix's Space Bandits.