Mark Millar Makes "MPH" His American Superhero Story

When Mark Millar's latest Millarworld creator-owned series arrives this May, it'll be on the fast track for a coast-to-coast tour of America.

No, that's not a reference to the writer's strong odds on inking a film deal for "MPH" -- the five issue Image Comics miniseries co-created with artist Duncan Fegredo -- in Hollywood. Rather, the story of a Detroit teenager with eyes on raising his status in life via a powerful drug that gives him super speed will give readers a look at Millar's version of the American dream.

"That's the way the rest of the world sees Americans -- the idea that Americans always see the hope in the future," the writer told CBR News of his lead character Roscoe while showing off some exclusive Fegredo art from issue #1. "This all ties in with superheroes. Superheroes are created in order to get you through the bad times. Superman was created by two Jewish kids in probably the worst time in modern history to be a Jewish kid. It was an idea to get them through a Depression and then a World War. These characters are always at their most powerful when we need them most. So I loved the idea of telling a story about a guy who was in probably the worst place to be in America today and one of the worst situations you can imagine, but he's such an optimist about it. That's such a superhero ideal.

"A friend of mine was a screenwriter making absolutely no money at all. He hadn't sold anything in five years and was scraping by on the bare minimum. But he was voting Republican because if the Republicans won, he'd have to pay less tax when he sold a $3 million screenplay. To me, that absolutely sums up the American psyche," the writer continued. "And it's what I love about America! I don't mean this in a bad way. Whenever your family came to America -- 50 years ago or 100 years ago or whenever -- they were the ultimate optimists. They crossed an ocean so they could have a better life, and I think Americans have this ultimate entrepreneurial head that's been passed from generation to generation. Americans are in love with the idea of making their lives better. I think Europeans are a little different, but I think I'm more like an American. When I watch all those infomercials that we don't have here about how you can become a millionaire in your spare time, I get it! And I love that about America. Opportunity is a lovely thing."

"MPH" doesn't just explore opportunity in a metaphorical sense; the series is also the most recent building block in Millar's own plans to create some synergy between his creator-owned comics by building a Millarworld Universe that includes the characters from "Kick-Ass," "Nemesis," "Starlight" and other incoming series. For its part, "MPH" opens by introducing the world's first superhuman -- the mysterious "Mr. Springfield."

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Explaining how the universe works, Millar said, "It's basically our world. Mr. Springfield, the character who is mentioned in 1985, is never seen in a costume or anything like that. He's just the first person on the planet to get superpowers. But he completely screws it up and smashes up a shopping mall. Then he gets put in solitary confinement for 30 years. He was in there when Kick-Ass was putting on his costume. All these Millarworld stories across this line of books are all about this stuff happening for the first time. There's nothing like at DC or Marvel, where there's 35 or 50 years of these characters. It's just that one guy who we never heard about, and he's on the opening pages of 'MPH.'"

And nailing that mix of real world drama and high octane action is one of the key reasons Millar tapped Fegredo to draw the series. "There are a lot of guys who can just draw Captain America or Batman jumping out at you in a double-page spread. But for my stuff, that doesn't really work," the writer said. "After having worked with guys like Frank Quitely and Bryan Hitch, I need guys who can draw anything. Much of my stories are someone smoking a cigarette and having a glass of wine, and you've got to be able to make that as real as a guy running through a shopping mall at super speed. It sounds crazy, but there are not many guys who can draw anything. Some guys are really good at the small stuff and the quiet stuff, and then there are guys who are great at the superhero stuff. But there are only a handful of guys who can do both convincingly.

"Duncan is a guy whose stuff I first saw when I was 19, and I've wanted to get the chance to work with him since then. To have him do a superhero book is great because he's a guy who's never been drawn to that. I had to kind of convince him that this was a superhero book that's not like anything you've seen before, but it took some convincing to get him there! These books tend not to be very costume-y, and I think if you gave Duncan the Avengers or the Justice League, he'd be equally bored and terrified. He's doing something very much in his comfort zone here."

Millar added that his artist brings a low-key presence to the series that may catch readers off guard. "He's brilliant and is one of those guys who doesn't realize how good he is. While I love his Hellboy stuff, pretty much my favorite comic that DC ever published was 'Enigma.' That's one of my favorite books of all time that Duncan drew years back, and it's unreal. And the great thing here is that he's a guy who doesn't draw that often, so when he does it here it's really special. And when I say, 'He doesn't draw often,' I mean he's incredibly slow," the writer said with a laugh.

Ultimately, the combining of everyday life and crazy superpowers that has become a cornerstone of the Millarworld books will manifest itself in "MPH's" super speed scenes -- conceived by Millar and Fegredo as a perception-distorting jump between seconds. "It's fun to mix this up," Millar said. "You can change up your style and keep the readers on their toes. Because this story is about how real life comes on very fast and about perception changing to make things seem really slow, I like to mess with the mood a bit. There will be some scenes that feel like they've taken place over hours, but it's only been a couple of seconds as you read the story. There's a lot of great things with super speed that hasn't been done yet. When I was doing something like 'The Ultiamtes' or 'Wolverine,' I wanted to find a take I'd never seen before. In 'Old Man Logan,' I wanted Wolverine to be chewed up and then reform himself in the Hulk's stomach. It's fun to find a new kink in something. With 'MPH,' it's taking the idea of super speed and going nuts with it for five issues. I've had all these ideas about super speed for years, and this is the one book I can cut loose on those with. Even the idea of a fluorescent light blinking on and off 120 times a second plays in. When I was a kid and I first heard that, I remember thinking about how the Flash would perceive that light. So this has been building up for a while."

And expect the writer to continue building Millarworld as 2014 rolls along and into next year. Millar explained that he's looking at bringing project-after-project to the line in a highly planned fashion. "I've got a whole new system of working, which I started a few years back. Now, I write on a project-by-project basis, which may sound obvious, but in the past, I was always putting out fires. I'd be on issue #3 of one book and then realize that someone needed pages for issue #7 of that book. So I'd jump over there and write some more. What I do now is break everything down into projects and then do them. So I've finished 'MPH' and 'Starlight.' 'Kick-Ass 3' is done, and I'm almost finished on 'Jupiter's Legacy.' I'll be all wrapped at the beginning of May, and then I'll probably take a few weeks off before starting on the 2015 projects over chunks of a few months. I think I'll do three projects in 2015 and write them all by next Easter. I'm trying to get all the scripts for these written before the artists start, and the beautiful thing is that I'm banking three or four issues of art before we release the comic. With 'MPH,' Duncan will be halfway through the series by the time issue #1 comes out.

"I've started having all my artists sign on to not work for other publishers while they're working with me, because creator-owned can not be part time," he added. "The rates I'm paying are better than the rates at Marvel and DC, generally, so I say, 'You have to commit to this for six or 12 months.' It's gotten a nice routine going, and the three guys I'm working with next year are all very excited. I'm doing a book with Sean Gordon Murphy, one with Bryan Hitch and then one with a huge, huge artist who is still under contract elsewhere, so I can't say his name yet. But as soon as his contract's up, he'll be starting with me as well."

"MPH" #1 debuts in May from Image Comics. Stay tuned to CBR this week for more with series artist Duncan Fegredo.

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