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October 21, 2010

Editorial: Millar’s “Superior” is Anything But; All According to Plan

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Last Wednesday heralded the return of Mark Millar to comics. His new title, Superior, was sent out to the world, and upon reading it, a lot of people thought it was crap; I agree with them wholeheartedly, and to be quite frank, Superior‘s lack of quality could be seen from a mile away.

I’m going to preface this by saying I have never been a fan of Mark Millar; many of his stories feature “shock and awe”-type events, which are usually tasteless. They are usually at the expense of a character who was just beginning to be developed or have things “going their way,” and usually fit the purpose of plot convenience, or an injection of controversy into a book that is losing steam (or press). Quite simply, in many of his stories he is trying to be Garth Ennis. However, Ennis himself does this so much better (with titles like Crossed being the exception), the comparison is usually fruitless. I am not a proponent of punishing readers for getting invested in a story; this seems to be the core of Millar’s writing philosophy, so naturally that puts me on a bit of an edge.

What has grown to annoy me, however, is his withdrawal from writing comics with actual comic story lines and his descent into the type of stories that will result in film options. This began with the king-of flop Wanted, which was a previously-finished story line that did not translate well onto the big screen. After this came Kick-Ass, which was optioned for a film before the first issue even went to print.
This put Millar at a great advantage: he could then mold the story line of the comic to be both friendly to a movie and comic book environment, reaping in the best of both worlds. He would be able to keep the major points of the story while removing much of the swearing and bigoted language, preserving the “shock value” in the comics while throwing in little tastes (like the infamous “cunts” line) to the more conservative movie audience.

Millar would also be able to cash in on the “based on a graphic novel” tagline for both the movie and the re-released printings of the trade paperback (which, of course, was completed just in time for the movie in hardcover and softcover editions).

Kick-Ass seemed to be the perfect storm for Millar. The movie did extremely well in both formal entertainment critics’ reviews and the eyes of more hardcore fans. The money that was made from the venture was astronomical ($48,071,303 box-office in the US, with an estimated 100-500 million DVD sales). According to Millar himself (when asked about the inevitable sequel), “The first [movie] made so much compared to what it cost [28 million] it would be crazy not to [make a second]. (source)

That is not the attitude that endears me to comic creators. When writers and artists start saying “Hey, the first one made money, why not make a second?”, we get things like The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Countdown, and the death of Bruce Wayne with the 10+ Batman titles that DC Comics is publishing at the present time. While there is some publisher influence on how their big-name heroes are treated, creator-owned characters do not have this pressure to produce; that being said, Kick-Ass‘s last issue, which sets up for a second story arc right as the movie came out, was dually disappointing.

This disappointment carries over to Superior, when Millar revealed that directors were already contacting him after the first issue hit the shelves. Taken from his forum:

“Anyway, we’re having talks again tomorrow and my agent said two other guys have set up calls for tomorrow evening to run through THEIR ideas on where the story goes (which is immediately putting me off them). But the guys I spoke to tonight were both great and I’ve sent them the scripts for the rest of the series.

This won't be in the movie.

Superior #1 is actually less of a comic book than it is a pitch for a movie. We, as an audience, are introduced to the Multiple Sclerosis-laden main character, emerging from a movie about a Superman analogue with his one and only friend. He is alienated from his other friends due to his condition, and had a life of popularity and athletic success before the condition took control. He is angsty and picked on, and his friend regards older heroes as “lame.” He is then visited by a monkey in a space suit, told that he has been chosen from billions for “the wish,” and then turned into the Superman analogue he just finished seeing in the movie.

Now, I must ask you: what part of this does not seem like a comic book movie that executives would like?

An angsty character with a disability is turned into a new type of hero, unlike any that have been in film before! He must then grapple with his new power, and how he’ll use it to regain his old life…or will he?

I apologize if I come off as extremely jaded towards Mark Millar’s comics; it’s because, time and time again, I have found them to be the exact antithesis of what I enjoy in comics. They have shallow plots with hooks based on controversy, gore, and shock value, characters that do not develop over the course of the story, and endings that usually have me asking “What was the point?”

That was the exact question I asked myself when I finished Superior #1. I learned nothing about the main character besides the fact he is disabled, and lonely. His mom steps in to solve his bully problems, and his best friend thinks that Superior is “just too much of a Boy Scout for people these days.”

Maybe I should just wait for the movie.

Matt Demers