Mark Millar Takes Marvel Back To 1985A comics interview article by: Sean Boyle , Dave Wallace
Questions composed by Dave Wallace; Interview conducted by Sean Boyle.
Over the past decade, there is a very short list of creators who have influenced the landscape of comic books as much as writer Mark Millar. From blockbuster hits like The Ultimates and the universe-rocking Civil War, to cult-favorites like Wanted and Chosen , Millar has proven himself a mainstay in the current age. So what’s next for the Scottish native? Well aside from writing Fantastic Four and Kick-Ass, as well as an upcoming run on Wolverine, Mr. Millar is bringing a brand new event to the Marvel Universe, simply titled 1985. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Mr. Millar to discuss his new project.
ComicsBulletin (CB): So tell us a little bit of the background behind 1985. How did this concept come up, and what exactly is this project about?
Mark Millar (MM): This is about the real world, the world we live in right now, dealing with the villains of the Marvel Universe finding us. It's got Doctor Doom, Magneto, and the Red Skull and Electro and all the others finding a world that's got New York and Tokyo and London without superheroes to protect them. So they come through a doorway from their world to ours and say "damn, this place is great because we can do anything we want", ya know? And that was kind of the beginning of it all.
It’s a fun concept, because in the Marvel Universe a guy like Stilt Man is a joke, but here in the real world he would be terrifying. He could take on an entire police precinct. Somebody like Sandman could take on the US Army. We all kind of forget how scary these guys could be in the real world. That’s the origin of the series: the real world vs. the Marvel Universe.
CB: So why pick the year 1985? When I [Sean] first heard the title I just figured that the story would revolve around my life and the huge rise in Marvel sales with my birth. I thought I was finally getting my due for a lifetime of servitude…
MM: [laughs] That could be a sequel. [laughs] To be honest, I don’t exactly know why I didn’t just set it in the modern day. I suppose I wanted to do something that was a little bit autobiographical. I wanted to tell it from the perspective of someone who was a wee boy in that year. And personally, I think the high watermark for comics over the past fifty years was the mid-1980s. You had Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, John Byrne, etc. All the really great guys working at the same time. 1985 is right smack in the middle of that. It’s also the year that I was probably at my most obsessive comic-fan stage. I almost lost my mind I was so into comics at that age. So I wanted to write a book about a kid like that. The doorway from the Marvel U. to our world is set in this kid’s small Midwestern town. These guys start coming through the doorway, and he’s the only one that knows who they are.
CB: I’m not sure if this is what you were looking for originally when you went into it, but one of the things I think will be most noticeable to readers when they see the pages is that this has a very silver-age superhero feel to it. Obviously with a title like "1985," it’s set in the year before comics really turned gritty with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns (both published in 1986). In a lot of ways, 1985 is the last year of purely superhero comics. Did that influence your choice for the time and setting of this title?
MM: That’s a big part of why I chose the year 1985. If you look back at when I wrote Wanted, one of the themes was that the world changed in 1986. That’s when the super villains took over and the world becomes a very dark place. I kind of see it that way. '86 is also the end of my childhood. That’s when I turned sixteen, and it was the end of my comic book childhood in a way. Just like you said, that’s when Watchmen, Dark Knight, and all those matured content books came out.
I really wanted to create a book set in the slightly more innocent Marvel Universe of old. It's where heroes were absolute heroes, and the villains were creepy villains. That’s 1985. It’s the end of that nostalgic Marvel, for me certainly. There is something lovely about writing the heroes as they were when I was a kid. Captain America was Captain America. Spider-Man was Spider-Man back then. It was quite simple then.
And the characters haven’t changed that much in twenty years, but it felt like I was trying to capture the essence of those heroes as they were supposed to be.
CB: To build off your previous response, I'm going to play the devil's advocate here and say you know comic fans. They’re going to be on the message boards after reading this interview saying you are the guy that’s partially responsible for darkening the Marvel U. with Civil War. Is this a chance for you to go back and write these guys as heroes for the sake of being heroes?
MM: Well, absolutely!!! This somewhat stems off my launch last month in Fantastic Four. I very consciously started bringing my writing around to a lighter style. I think Civil War is as dark as Marvel Comics should ever get. The way I look at it, there’s no correct way to write or draw these characters. There are just certain times when it’s appropriate for them to be dark and periods when they should be light-hearted. I feel like we’ve just come out of a VERY dark period in comics, which was great! People have responded so well to the Ultimate line up until Civil War. In retrospect, I see Civil War as a turning point, and now I think people want to see our characters being heroes again. Clear cut heroes.
So 1985 is a response to that. I was writing it at the same time as Civil War, but I remember thinking "this is the next step", ya know? Likewise, Fantastic Four is very traditional as much as it is forward-looking. We’re moving the concept on, but it’s come back to being a traditional superhero comic. 1985 epitomizes everything I love about superheroes, everything I love about the Silver Age. Although it still has a lot of frightening moments, and it’s almost a horror story in a lot of ways, there’s superhero integrity to it that hopefully comes through. In many ways, I think this project is the complete opposite from what people expect from me.
CB: And this just shows a different dynamic from you as a writer. It’s a different tone than what people normally expect from a book that has "Mark Millar" on the cover…
MM: Oh definitely. It's probably got all the little nuances and bits I bring with it, but I consciously moved this in a different direction. I’m trying to make people cry with this one as opposed to making them feel sick [laughs].
CB: Well, the project has been in gestation for awhile now. Has the event changed much since you first came up with it?
MM: Not really, actually. The script itself has remained almost identical to the original. I’ve gone back and refined some elements to it, but it's a very simple idea I had, and it’s been very simple to execute. I wrote it almost three years ago. The only thing that changed was the artwork. Seeing that this was set in the real world, the original idea was to have the artwork done in digital photographic artwork. It was going to be sort of a three-dimensional comic. It all looked unbelievable when we did scenes focused on real people. The minute the superhero characters were drawn, however, it looked less-good. And Marvel wasn't happy with it. They made a great point that art like that automatically would be compared to the film version of a character. Spider-Man would draw too much comparison to Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man. The Spider-Man films had a $100 million dollar budget, so their Spidey looked amazing. With us having a guy in a Spider-Man costume, it would never look as good as it already did in the movies. Likewise it's the same with the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. The conclusion we came to was that it would look better drawn, and drawn in a very realistic style. That’s how Tommy Lee Edwards came into the picture.
CB: We were fortunate enough to see a preview of the first issue, and when you skim along you can see Edwards including covers to classic Marvel books like Secret War and John Romita Sr.’s Amazing Spiderman. So in addition to being a classic superhero adventure, is this an homage to that original Marvel era?
MM: Oh it's not just homage; it's an absolute love-letter to that era. It's almost a scary love-letter. It's a stalker’s love-letter because I was so into that era. The first issue even opens with a scene from the ending of Secret War, and then it goes into the real world.
CB: In your career, you’ve worked with a litany of amazingly talented artists. However, this is your first time working with Tommy Lee Edwards. What does he bring to your work differently from other artists?
MM: I would say that he brings a quiet naturalism that not everyone can do without being boring and ultra-realistic. He's great at making the characters act. If he draws a group sitting around a table, everyone at the table has their own distinct personality through his artwork. It ties so beautifully to the dialogue. You don’t really appreciate how good he is until you write something for him, because then you see the little nuances he has. It’s like being a screenwriter and being paired with a great cinematographer, director and actor all in one. He’s doing all that work.
I feel like this is the book he will explode onto the scene with. He's going to become a star! For six months, you’ll get to see Tommy drawing Captain America and Doctor Doom. You've got to see his M.O.D.O.K.! You can’t imagine M.O.D.O.K. or Electro being drawn in this sort of style, yet he pulls it off.
If you look at it, this is one of those Marvel Comics' Events. It’s all the heroes and all the villains. Tommy brings an eerie style to it that adds to the horror effect. I always compare this story to a Stephen King story. It’s like Salem's Lot but with Marvel characters. The trees are casting eerie shadows and houses all creek. There’s an unsettling feeling the pages bring that are juxtaposed with the innocence of this small child. Tommy just created this all perfectly!
CB: Overall, you had a break in 2007 from a writing standpoint, which was much deserved. Your production was limited to the final few issues to Ultimates 2 and Civil War. In 2008 however, you’re working on Fantastic Four, Kick-Ass, 1985, and Wolverine. Is it a good feeling to see so much of your work back out on the stands?
MM: It’s a great feeling! As you know, I took six months off. But it felt like longer because I did a lot of stockpiling of stories in preparation for the break. I had to take the six months off, and I didn't want to get sick again halfway through a run. I asked if I could get a head-start on my books and work six months ahead. Luckily I’ve kept incredibly healthy since then, but I'm so far ahead of everything that all the books are coming out at once now. It looks like I'm writing five or six books at once, when in reality I’ve always only written about two to three at a time. So as you said, I've got FF, Kick-Ass just shipped a couple days ago, Wolverine and 1985 coming in a couple months, as well as War Heroes with Tony Harris at Image and another creator-owned project that will be announced later in the year.
I'm very excited about it all. We also just sold Kick-Ass as a movie.
CB: Well, congratulations on that!
MM: Thank you! There are some phenomenal names attached to it too. In addition to all that I just got to see the finished film for Wanted which is coming out on June 27. It’s an exciting year for me!
CB: Well, I know we're all excited for you, and definitely excited to see the finished project. Thank you so much for your time!
MM: My pleasure! Thank you!
MARVEL 1985 #1 (of 6)
Written by MARK MILLAR
Art by TOMMY LEE EDWARDS
Cover by OLIVIER COIPEL
Variant Cover by TOMMY LEE EDWARDS
Before Secret Invasion...before World War Hulk...before Civil War... The most powerful super-villains in the Marvel Universe gather their might to wreak havoc on the one place they've never before set foot-Your World! As mankind's enemies cut a swath of destruction with unprecedented ferocity and ruthlessness, the fate of the planet rests in the hands of one person: Toby, a 13-year-old boy who holds the key to uniting his comic-book idols, the Marvel Heroes! Superstars Mark Millar (Civil War, Fantastic Four) and Tommy Lee Edwards (Bullet Points, The Question) deliver a Marvel Event the likes of which you've never seen!
32 PGS./CARDSTOCK COVER/Rated T+ ...$3.99