For years now, Mark Millar has been telling epic and acclaimed tales of some of the most popular Marvel Comics heroes in books like "Wolverine," "Spider-Man" and most recently "Civil War." In 2008, Millar and his "The Ultimates" collaborator Bryan Hitch will make their triumphant return to the racks, and this time they'll be chronicling the exploits of the first family of the Marvel - not Ultimate - Universe in the pages of "Fantastic Four." CBR News spoke with Millar about his plans for the series.
Interestingly, Millar and Hitch's new project almost ended up as a run on a different Marvel title. "Bryan and I had planned to take over the X-line with two other artists, and we'd been prepping this since 2004," Mark Millar told CBR News. "I have read literally every X-Men comic ever in preparation for this and have hundreds of pages of notes. And yet, like an idiot, the moment I heard last year that J. Michael Straczynski was leaving 'FF,' I just went into the Zone. I could think about nothing else. I contacted [former X-Men group editor] Mike [Marts] and asked if he minded our bailing and he was cool about it. We then phoned [Editor] Tom [Brevoort] and he was quite pleased. We were just so into 'FF.' X-Men is still there and might happen someday, but 'FF' was so out of left field. We hadn't even begun to think about it, so that was very exciting."
A variety of reasons lead Millar to enthusiastically pursue the position of "Fantastic Four" writer. "It's the keys to the family car, isn't it?" Millar explained. "To 'civilians,' they associate Marvel with Spidey, but as fans we know it all started with 'FF.' It was probably the most radical of all the Stan and Jack collaborations in that we had a superhero cohabiting with his equally super girlfriend, the world's ugliest superhero, a super-hedonist, and with no masks or secret identities. It was the book that broke all the rules, which is something we take for granted. By the mid '70s, it lost a lot of that radicalism and just stayed the same --with the exception of the brilliant Byrne run-- but the constant evolution of the characters in those first 100 issues is quite staggering."
Millar holds many "Fantastic Four" stories in high regard and his goal on the series will be to try and produce tales that rival the quality of the most beloved FF adventures. "I'm always quite tough on myself and measure anything I do against the best stuff when I'm writing," Millar said. "I was inspired by [John] Buscema's 'Avengers' for 'The Ultimates' and Frank Miller's 'Wolverine' for 'Enemy of the State.' So even if you fall short, it's important to go in there trying to compete with the best. The stuff I'm trying to measure up to are the first 110 ['FF'] issues and the Byrne stuff. I've championed Byrne as often as possible these past couple of years because I specifically think his 'FF' run counts as some of the best Marvel books ever. I think it's up there with his 'X-Men.' Just amazing stuff.
"Our Marvel distribution was rubbish here in Scotland when I was wee, and I mostly read '60s reprints in black and white. So, I kind of missed Byrne at the time and only just read his stuff recently. But this and Kirby are the two stand-outs. The two legendary runs. We've quite bravely called our run 'World's Greatest,' which is a tall order as it's a book that's seen real excellence before two snotty Brits came along."
Creating stories worthy of the title "World's Greatest" will be a challenge for Millar, but in a number of ways, "Fantastic Four" is also a refreshing and relaxing assignment for the writer. "It's a palette cleanser," Millar stated. "It feels nice, almost like a holiday. 'The Ultimates' was incredibly dense in terms of plotting with an enormous cast and 'Civil War' even more so. So 'Fantastic Four' seems like a breeze with just four principal characters."
The distinct personalities of the four main characters make "Fantastic Four" an even easier book for Millar to write. "Reed as the flawed genius; Sue as the woman holding all the craziness together; Johnny as the passion and the humor; and Ben as the monster with a heart of gold just makes it all so primal," Millar explained. "I think it takes a huge amount of effort to do a bad FF story when you're cooking with ingredients as tasty as these."
Millar had to keep quiet about the details of the specific stories he and Hitch are cooking up for Marvel's First Family. "I don't want to give too much away just now. I started this before Christmas and Bryan started in the New Year," Millar said. "I just handed in our tenth issue last week and Bryan is just finishing the fourth. So, we're in good shape. But I don't want to trailer any plots until late next month. It's good stuff, though. We're very pleased with it."
One thing Millar was able to reveal --and readers may have guessed this already from his comments-- was that his and Hitch's run won't be tied to the current creative team's story, which features the new Fantastic Four line up of Black Panther, Storm, the Thing, and the Human Torch. "This is set a few months after their last story," Millar confirmed. "That story dealt with the consequences of the Civil War, but this has all the toys lined up again. We've got the classic Fantastic Four. I couldn't imagine doing it any other way."
Millar and Hitch's "FF" run will star the familiar faces of the classic team members, but readers can also expect plenty of new characters to be debuting in their run as well. "I feel quite strongly that what made 'FF' the big book for the first five or ten years was the constant creativity and invention," Millar remarked. "The return of Galactus, for example, holds little threat because we know the FF can beat him. We've seen it fifteen times now. So that awe-struck feeling I had when I was ten and reading this as a Marvel pocket book on the bus to Scout camp can't be recaptured. Likewise, the first feeling of the Thing fighting the Hulk. It needs to be something new and so that extends to the supporting cast as well as villains. The characters are all in a slightly different place to where we might have seen them before. It's a perfect starting point for new readers and absolutely feels right for the FF."
The title of the series may be "Fantastic Four," but it's important to Millar that the series be somewhat grounded in reality. "Mainstream readers tend to pick up my stuff because it's very accessible and I feel that's something the early 'Fantastic Fours' did beautifully," said Millar. "Everything was just a suped-up version of something kids had in their daily lives. Instead of a Ford they have a Fantasticar. Instead of a sitter they have Agatha Harkness and so on. I've really tried to root everything with these stories, no matter how outrageous they become. A character from Reed's past comes back in the first issue and what she has to say is colossal, but we can also ground it as something we've all experienced in real life, too. I won't give any more away right now, but each of these storylines are something a kid could understand."
Millar has told stories starring solo heroes before, but "Fantastic Four" falls under a category in which the writer seems to produce some of his best work, the Team Book. "I hadn't thought of that before. But yeah, I think I like teams better because everybody's interesting," Millar remarked. "Were you writing 'Iron Man,' for example, you'd have to surround him with ordinary people as a supporting cast, and Happy Hogan is never going to be as interesting as Captain America. So a team book means every single person there is unusual and probably does something visually interesting I can play with.
"'Fantastic Four' is probably the most natural fit Bryan and I have ever experienced, though. The work's just flowing out. It feels very natural and we're having a great time. I think people are going to really, really like this."
CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.
Updated 11:45 AM
Marvel has provided CBR News with a look at a trailer they've produced to promote the series.