"Nemesis" Asks: What if Batman was The Joker?

The following article contains adult language.

Superstar writer Mark Millar is no stranger to big events, and for two of his biggest projects, fan favorite Canadian artist Steve McNiven has been riding shotgun with the Scottish scribe.

After collaborating on Marvel Comics' best-selling "Civil War" in 2006 and 2007, Millar and McNiven teamed up once more for the post-apocalyptic "Wolverine" serial "Old Man Logan" in 2008 and 2009.

Five weeks ago today, Millar and McNiven released a one-page teaser poster for their third project, "Nemesis," with no information other than a release date: March 2010. Posters in the forums and the message boards throughout cyberspace have speculated that the book was everything from an "X-Men" revamp to an "Avengers" project and all points in between.

The guessing can stop now as CBR News spoke exclusively with Millar and McNiven earlier this week, and the two shared as much as they could about their latest collaboration, a mini-series that will be released through Marvel's Icon imprint starring Nemesis, a supervillain that Millar compared to The Joker. The twist being that at his disposal, he had all of Batman's gadgets and resources, and that his primary target was Millarworld's answer to Commissioner Gordon.

CBR News: The two of you have developed quite a history working together, first with "Civil War" and then with your follow up, "Old Man Logan," both massive hits for Marvel. I guess teaming up for "Nemesis" was a no-brainer?

Mark Millar: I just love Steve. He's amazing. After working with somebody this brilliant, it would be heart-breaking to work with somebody shit. I'm just spoiled now. I can't stand seeing the brilliant artists I've worked with work with other guys. I'm like a psycho ex-girlfriend. The minute I come to the end of one project with Steve or Hitchy [Bryan Hitch] or John Romita Jr. or somebody, I'm just thinking of the next thing for them.

So Steve and I really had to do a third project together. We get along well, even though he's a prick and Canadian, and we work really well together too. We've only done two comics together before - "Civil War" and "Old Man Logan" - and both, like you said, were massive books. So the logical next step was a creator-owned project that shatters all records. We made Marvel a lot of money with these first two projects, and we feel we paid our dues and we had fun writing and drawing almost all of the characters that we'd ever want to do. But now we want to create something, and we want it to be bigger than "Kick-Ass." "Kick-Ass" went through five printings each [issue] and has sold something like 115,000 [copies] an issue. But we want to beat that. "Nemesis," we hope, is the next big thing. We're very excited and think we have something quite unique here.

So when Mark called, Steve, you were ready to go?

Steve McNiven: Yes, definitely. Mark is fun to work with. He writes stuff that's fun to draw, and that's great when you're not pulling out your hair. And he makes me lots of money, too [laughs].

There's nothing wrong with that.

Millar: What? I'm in it for the craft, baby. Jesus, you make me feel like Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver." I didn't realize I'm just your wee cash cow [laughs]. Steve's Harvey Keitel and I'm Jodie Foster. [Laughs] I thought he loved me, but now I see it's just about the cash.

OK. Before, we jump into this, let's put the rumors to rest. "Nemesis" is not an Avengers project, or an X-Men project, or a Marvelman project. It's not even set in the Marvel Universe. It's another world that you've created.

Millar: Absolutely. It's a Marvel book, technically, in the sense that it's published by Marvel, but like "Kick-Ass," it comes out via Icon, and that means me and Steve own all the rights just like Johnny and I own the rights to "Kick-Ass." It's a sweet deal.

McNiven: It's great for Marvel to have an imprint there for us. It's really a great place to do this kind of thing. Just looking at how well "Kick-Ass" has done. It really gets your hope up.

When we first emailed back and forth about this project, Mark, you teased me with the tagline your friend suggested: "What if Batman was The Joker?' I guess the answer to that is you'd have "Nemesis." What was the genesis of this project?

Millar: Yeah, a lot of people who've read it have been coming up with hilarious tag-lines. "What if Batman was The Joker?" is the tame one. "What if Batman was a total cunt?" is maybe my favourite, although it's hardly going to be an ad. Marvel President Dan Buckley sort of paid me a compliment, saying, "This is such a stupidly simple and obvious idea. I can't believe nobody's ever come up with it before. You are the master of the stupidly simple idea." Which I suppose is kind of flattering because everyone said that about "Kick-Ass" too. It's almost too simple.

But, yeah. "Nemesis" is a reversal of the Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark archetype. What if this genius billionaire was just this total shit, and the only thing that stood between him and a city was the cops? It's Batman versus Commissioner Gordon, in a weird way. Or maybe a super-villain version of "Se7en." A billionaire anarchist up against ordinary people. The Joker's the best thing in the Batman movies, so this guy is a bit of an amalgamation of all the stuff we like.

McNiven: And we didn't want to do a little creator-owned book. We wanted to do something that shoots for the Top 10 and competes with "X-Men" or "The Avengers." We want this to be as big as it possibly can be. We're aiming directly at the mainstream, too, and have already set up some corporate backing you've never seen in comics before, and international press. Mark has been working overtime on this one.

Millar: I'm a great believer in creator-owned books not being small. I think probably growing up in nineties' comics did that, seeing things like "Spawn" and "WildCats" that did really well. I just love the idea of creator-owned books outselling Marvel and DC even.

So the idea that you do your Marvel and DC stuff with big sales and then you do your little creator-owned work on your own, I've never been a fan of that. I've been really lucky that "Wanted" and "Kick-Ass" have all sold hugely. So with this, I just wanted to do the biggest one of the lot. "Kick-Ass" beat "Wanted" as the biggest creator-owned of the decade, and we're hoping this beats "Kick-Ass."

McNiven: Aim high, buddy.

Millar: I don't see why it shouldn't. Steve is the biggest-selling artist in comics. If you add up all his sales and divide it by the number of books he's done, he's the biggest selling artist by a mile. At the moment, he's the biggest and best of this generation.

Steve, you need to hire Mark as your agent.

McNiven: I know. That's why I work with him.

Millar: It's totally true. There are guys who sell well, and then there's Steve. It's just a different league. So the idea of getting Steve to go from "Civil War" to "Old Man Logan" to this big, new creator-owned thing to me feels just like Todd MacFarlane going from "Spider-Man" to "Spawn." So I wasn't going to give him a little slice of life thing about what it's like to be a gay Muslim living in Arkansas or something like that [laughs]. It wasn't going to be that kind of creator-owned. It had to be huge.

Nemesis is the world's smartest man, and the bad news for us is that he's the world's only super-villain. That means he's got freeze guns and jump-jets and all these James Bond gadgets and he's using them against us. To entertain himself, he picks a different cop every year and makes his life a misery. The book opens with him fucking over Japan's top cop, and then our story, the mini-series, takes place as he shifts his attention to Washington and his first American attacks. The visuals we've released here are just single panels from the Japanese segment. It's the best stuff I've ever seen Steve do.

Do we get to see Nemesis in the Bruce Wayne role - the billionaire playboy, out and about town?

Millar: I wanted it to be a kind of mystery. I liked the idea of having "who is this guy?' as a plot thread running through it. Why does he keep going after these cops and flying and training all around the world to end up in America to take on this one guy? So we find out a little more about him every issue.

McNiven: It's a clever idea to switch it around so you don't have the origin at the beginning, as opposed to Batman where you get it right at the beginning. I think this makes it a little more of a compelling story.

Millar: It's the reverse superhero concept. A superhero story normally has a linear fashion. You see how he becomes that guy, and then you see him in action. But here, we've done the reverse. The origin comes at the end of the story. But he's the Hannibal Lecter of supervillains in that sense. All the cops are needed to go up against a guy as formidable as this. He's almost supernatural, he's so good. But he happens to just be in a costume. Hopefully nobody's ever seen anything like it before. We're so used to supervillains fighting superheroes, I just thought, "Imagine if there was only one person on the planet like this, and he was actually a bad guy." How would cops deal with him, even though he has no super-powers?

Let's talk about the main cop, the Commissioner Gordon to Nemesis' Batman/Joker. What can you tell us about him?

Millar: Very simply, I wanted to do a book about the world's greatest villain up against America's greatest cop. I just liked the high concept of that - the idea of a villain going around from country to country and having a battle of wits with the best guy that he can get his hands on. And he sends them a little funeral wreath with the date and time of when they're going to die on it, every one dying at precisely that time. All these cops in the Pacific Rim are dead, and then we come in at the American side of the story and see the struggle of this guy in just trying to stop him.

McNiven: Tell him about the charity auction.

Millar: Ah, good point. Another thing that I should mention is the two lead characters - the secret identity of Nemesis and also the cop - haven't been named yet. At the moment, I've written the scripts just with kind of placeholder names, but I wanted to do is what I did with "Kick Ass," which was have a charity auction for the kids at a handicapped school where my brother Bobby works. Doctor Bob works at this amazing place and he's trying to raise money to send the kids on another special trip. "Kick-Ass" raised a few grand for them, and now Dave Lizewski is a movie star name. There are two names up for grabs on "Nemesis," and we'll get details of this auction on CBR in the New Year.

Steve, can you speak about the look of Nemesis and the cop?

McNiven: Mark and I have been talking about it quite a bit. We want to make the guys good looking. They're not ugly mugs. And they're relatively young, as well. Even though Mark said this cop is Clint Eastwood-level good, it's like young Clint Eastwood, not "Gran Torino" Clint Eastwood. Not that there is anything wrong with that. We get great mileage out of the old guys. The visual is to try and keep them very clean and very elegant and not go with giant belts and big shoulder pads and pouches everywhere and that sort of stuff. We've tried to streamline them and give them more of an iconic look. 

We're just talking about the different outfits right now. But Nemesis, being the central figure, we really worked hard on his design. I started with more of a Midnighter type of look, but we wanted to work with a white costume, something that really stands out in the shadows. Very much the antithesis of a Batman costume with the cape, as well. But in working out that initial design, we realized it was a little too bulky, too much armor. We wanted something smoother and simpler, and so we really distilled it down to something that's almost the bare essence of a costume. A lot of the impact of the costume is going to be more in the acting of the character, as opposed to some costumes where you have giant shoulder pads and huge guns and all that stuff, and it takes the place of any particular acting on the character. This one is stripped down, and we're trying to let the character of Nemesis come through.

Millar: Almost the way Batman was a good guy dressed in black, we've reversed that to the bad guy dressed in white. It just seemed obvious to me. And there are so few characters out there wearing white, it's actually an unusual look in comics. There are loads of red and loads of blue and loads of black. We wanted a guy that's very, very visually distinctive. When Steve sent through the first drawings, I had never really seen anything like that before. He looked quite beautiful for a bad guy. It almost looked like a costume made of moonlight, just because it was this shining light material. It's visually quite stark, but it also looks like something people could wear in the real world. Again, this is set in our world. It's not a superhero universe.

Mark, you're no stranger to having your projects being picked up as movie properties. Have you already had those talks about "Nemesis"?

Millar: We actually got a call a few weeks ago when the teaser poster went up on CBR. We were pretty crafty about this in terms of how we marketed this. We had a poster out that said, "'Civil War,' 'Old Man Logan,' 'Nemesis,'" and teased it as a potential big event for Marvel. The number of people talking about it and guessing was just insane, which we loved.

And Marvel was very good about it, not contradicting us. But what was funny was that I got a call from my agent that night - and it was funny because all we did was release a date and a title and no information. And my agent called and said two producers had been in touch saying, "We're really big fans of this book that Mark and Steve are doing. We really like it." Are the rights available?" [laughs].

McNiven: That, my friend, is the definition of Hollywood insincere.

Millar: I know [laughs]. I couldn't believe it. But it made me realize how lucky I was my first picture making $350 million and getting Angelina [Jolie] in it. It made me realize how lucky I was getting [Matthew] Vaughn on "Kick-Ass" and the buzz around town being through the roof and "American Jesus" and "War Heroes" and all that getting picked up so quickly. I remember what it was like, literally being unable to pay my bills nine years ago, so to have this level of interest when I couldn't sell a book not very long ago is just amazing.

McNiven: Sniff. I'm so touched I think I'm going to cry.

Millar: So, yeah, if a movie happens, great. If a bed-spread and lunch-box happens, great. But we're really just focusing on the comic. Anything else is gravy and shouldn't be taken too seriously.

McNiven: Making comics is a real job.

Millar: Exactly. Movie guys are pussies.

Millar, McNiven, "Nemesis," March 2010. Gentlemen, thanks so much for for your time.

McNiven: Can't talk. I'm still finishing a page.

Captain Marvel Tries to Kill [REDACTED] in Issue #13 Preview

More in Comics