Mark Millar on ‘Starlight’ (with Exclusive Preview!)
Some people spend their days excitedly awaiting special occasions – the events that are asterisked, circled and underlined on their calendars with an enthusiastic red marker: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Festivus…but not me. I just wait for the next Wednesday to roll around.
If you’re a comic book reader, Wednesday isn’t just ‘another day’: it’s a glorious, weekly celebration of geekery known as ‘NCBD’ (or ‘New Comic Book Day’ to the layman). And sometimes, on a really special NCBD, there will be something so exciting that awaits me on the shelves of my comic book store that it induces manic dancing, leaping and screaming with excitement (I try to get this out of the way before I walk through the front door…it makes things less awkward).
Those are the days that Mark Millar releases a new comic book.
Earlier in 2013 I was thrilled to review an advance copy of Kick-Ass 3, #1. And then in the summer, I flew from Toronto to San Diego to attend the launch party for the movie adaptation Kick-Ass 2. And last weekend, I was lucky enough to get some time with the mastermind responsible for Millarworld.
Enjoy the chat, an once you’re finished, scroll down to the bottom of the page and check out a monster 7-page advance preview of Wednesday’s Starlight #1!
Blake Northcott: Hi Mark! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.
Mark Millar: Are you kidding? It’s a pleasure not to be working for ten minutes. It’s nice to hear a human voice.
BN: Your new comic is called Starlight, and I’ve read that it’s like Buzz Lightyear meets Unforgiven.
For people who are hearing about this project for the first time, can you give everyone a little more background?
MM: Sure. This is about a classic American sci-fi hero called Duke McQueen who went into space and saved the universe 40 years ago. You know the type. He frees the people, takes down a dictator, gets the girl and returns home to a hero’s welcome.
But what happens when a guy like that gets old? What if that one space adventure was the only interesting thing that ever really happened to him and he comes back, gets married, has kids and just otherwise lives a normal life like the rest of us. I’ve never really seen anything like that before and it interested me enough to start playing around with it.
I also started wondering if people would even believe him. There’s no proof he did what he says he did or proof he even went to an alien planet. So I kind of liked the idea of a guy that saved the universe just moving back to Vermont and living live like the rest of us for years until this amazing moment, on a wet night when he’s fixing something in his work-shop, when one of those old fashioned sparkly rocket-ships just lands in his yard and he’s needed one final time. I love those stories about old guys who used to be awesome getting one last chance to do something amazing. A chance to live up to their old reputations.
Older characters are always really interesting because they’re iconic and vulnerable at the same time. Unforgiven meets Buck Rogers or Buzz Lightyear is how this has been described and I think that’s a pretty cool description.
BN: One of the things that has drawn me – and a huge following of fans – to Millarworld titles is the raw, explosive, and sometimes adult-themed content that is simply unavailable in Marvel and DC titles.
Can readers expect Starlight to have the same edge, or is there a different flavor to it all together?
MM: I like to mix it up a bit. Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl in particular is very in your face, a kind of real-life, screwed up take on the superhero legend that’s more like Fight Club than Spider-Man where bored teenagers suit up and beat each other up after work. Hit-Girl in particular is kind of Robin crossed with Joe Pesci but visually like something from Disney Channel. But they each have their own flavor.
The Secret Service series is my love-letter to the old James Bond movies where it was all gadgets and gags instead of angst and crying, Superior is essentially a children’s book… a wish fulfilment story about a young boy with multiple sclerosis getting a magic wish and asking to get out of his wheel-chair and become his favourite big screen superhero.
So I like playing around with tone and Starlight is maybe closer to Superior in that it’s less sexual and sweary than Kick-Ass, but it still has a lot of dark, adult themes. It’s a very emotional book. What it’s like to have all your best years behind you, how it feels to have lost your wife and your kids are gone and you’re just old and lonely. He’s quite a unique character in a comic book so we’re really on his side from the start. He’s that uncle or grandfather we don’t visit enough.
BN: Illustrator Goran Parlov brings a very unique style to Starlight; his work has some retro flare, but still maintains a contemporary sensibility.
Was that intentional – to have an artist that bridges the gap between the past and present in a similar way that Starlight’s main character Duke McQueen is transitioning from his prime into near-retirement?
MM: Yes, very much so. I wanted something classic, yet modern. American, yet European and influenced by artists like Moebius, who aren’t as well known in America but revered like demigods in France.
Most of all, I wanted something people hadn’t seen before and to play around with that retro-futuristic imagery we know from all the old sci-fi serials was really interesting. Star Wars kind of killed all that stuff, instantly rendering it old-fashioned. All science-fiction since 1977 has been post-Star Wars sci-fi, but I love the idea of going back and looking at this very earliest stuff and giving it a little twist.
What’s interesting is that all the old characters have a very simple ‘fish out of water’ storyline going on where an Earth-Man generally ends up on an alien world, and has to save the day. Buck Rogers was a little different, the twist being that he ends up in the far future and has to save the day. Superman, created around the same time, was a reversal of the conceit in that he was an alien, through catastrophe, who somehow ends up on Earth and has to save everyone. This was a well-worn idea for over half a century, but it’s been a long time since it was revisited and so it felt oddly fresh to go back to now.
BN: One of the most exciting announcements I read in 2013 was that there would be a combined Millarworld Universe, which would feature continuity and crossovers like Marvel and DC have in their respective universes. Is the continuity going to start with Starlight? And will future titles include references to Kick-Ass, Superior, Wanted, Supercrooks and other Millarworld books, or is the universe starting fresh in 2014?
MM: Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve just been really lucky with Millarworld. It all started when I was still at Marvel and I was very flattered when they were using a lot of my Marvel stories in their movies, and producers were asking me if I had anything of my own. I’d only really written Wanted and a couple of other things, but they’d all been optioned as movies and Wanted had been a really big hit, making $340 million on a $70 million budget and starring Angelina Jolie and all that. But I didn’t really have this big back catalogue and all these studio heads seemed really keen so I guess that gave me the confidence to dig out my notepad and turn these old ideas into books.
It’s a huge risk to move away from something like Marvel, where the pay was great, and work for a year for nothing, just hoping the comics catch on and the movies eventually come, but it all worked out so much better than I could ever have imagined. The 27th issue of Kick-Ass, for example, is out at the end of this month and we’ve already had two movies, video-games, a clothing range, Pez dispensers and any mad thing you can think of. I’ve been at costume parties and seen people dressed up as my characters.
So yeah, it’s all worked out better than I could ever have hoped, my plan really just doing now what Marvel did in 1961 and creating a whole universe of these characters which I’m hoping will appear across 25 different titles and subsequently 25 movie franchises.
BN: It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on Twitter and Facebook that I’m obsessed with the movie adaptations of Wanted, and of course the Kick-Ass franchise. Can we expect even more of your comics to become summer blockbusters in 2014 and beyond?
I think my head would explode of there was a movie version of Jupiter’s Legacy. And as a Mission Impossible and 007 fanatic, I would love to see The Secret Service on the big screen as well.
MM: The first of The Secret Service movies, Kingsman, just finished shooting about three weeks ago and it’s looking terrific. The idea for this is kind of James Bond meets My Fair Lady in that a young English street kid is taken in by a secret agent and turned from a nightmarish yob into a gentleman spy. It’s a ton of fun and, stylistically, more like the classic Spy Who Loved Me Bond than the Jason Bourne kind of one we have right now.
I’ve seen about 70 minutes of it, the movie just being edited at the moment, and I think this is going to be the biggest of the movies yet. You’ve got the best action I think I’ve ever seen and the script is just really funny and likeable. But it’s also crawling with Oscar winners, Colin Firth as the gentleman spy, Michael Caine as the head of the spy organization and the best Bond baddie that never was with Samuel L Jackson, who is AMAZING in this picture. It’s just great.
But the real breakthrough guy is the lead, Taran Egerton. He’s the young kid who’s been trained up and his journey is just incredible to watch. It’s terrific.
So there’s Secret Service being edited at the moment, Nemesis is shooting later in the Summer from Fox and directed by Joe Carnahan. We’ve got Kindergarten Heroes, based on a kids book I’ve written, shooting later in the year, and hopefully Starlight and Superior shooting around Christmas or New Year’s. It’s exciting. It’s probably how Marvel felt ten years ago. It’s just great seeing things really coming together.
BN: And finally, what else can we expect in 2014 from the Millarworld Universe?
MM: Well, there’s all the movies being put together, but comics is really — as always — going to be my main focus.
The final issue of Kick-Ass is out in May, the ending to the whole story that started in 2008, and I’m really happy for it. This is the end of Dave’s story and it’s actually been quite emotional as this was a huge thing in my life.
Jupiter’s Legacy volume 1 ends around the same time and MPH launches in May. That’s my only other book to come out this year and it’s about four teenagers in Detroit who get their hands on a drug that allows them to move at super-speed for a week. I loved the idea of a comic set in America’s most broken city and these four people who have nothing, who’ve just been totally abandoned by the system, suddenly being the four most powerful people in the country for a week. I’ll talk a little more about this in May but it’s really hard and a lot of fun and it couldn’t be more timely.
But Starlight is getting all my attention at the moment. I’m just writing the ending now and really happy with it. Simon Kinberg is producing the movie for Fox and looking for a great writer and director so I want to get this all wrapped up this week before anyone formally gets typing.
BN: Thank you so much for taking the time, Mark. It was a pleasure!
MM: The pleasure’s all mine. Always nice to talk to a Canadian.
Mark Millar’s highly anticipated Starlight #1 (Image Comics, $2.99) is available at comic stores everywhere on March 5th, with covers by John Cassaday, and a variant by series artist Goran Parlov. Scroll down for a preview! And while you’re at the comic store you can pick up Jupiter’s Legacy #4 (Image Comics, $2.99) which conveniently hits shelves the same day.
[EDIT: Mark asked us to add this video of a woman who got a large-scale Starlight tattoo. Is this real, or another famed Millar publicity stunt? Vote below after the preview!]
Blake Northcott is an author, Twitter-er, and occasional Slayer of Vampires (only the ones that sparkle).You can follow her on Twitter, or pick up her best-selling Sci-Fi/Superhero books Vs. Reality and Relapse over at Amazon.com.
Blake previously interviewed YouTube sensation ComicBookGirl19 in She Makes Geek Chic and proved cosplay is on the rise with The 5 Hottest Trends of the Summer Fan Conventions.