Let me break this down for you.
Wanted #1 (Mark Millar/J.G. Jones)- Dec.
Run! (Mark Millar/Ashley Wood)- Dec. 10
Chosen #1 (Mark Millar/Peter Gross)- Dec. 24
Ultimate FF #1 (Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Millar/Adam Kubert)- Dec. 31
The Unfunnies #1 (Mark Millar/Anthony Williams)- Dec.
Does anyone else see a pattern emerging?
Chances are you’ve heard something about one of the five titles best-selling writer Mark Millar is launching this winter, but here’s the cheat sheet. The Unfunnies (Avatar Press), RUN! (Image Comics), Chosen (Dark Horse), and Wanted (Top Cow Productions), are creator-owned fare, slyly cross-promoted under the larger Millarworld banner, and aimed at a retailer near you. Add this to the launch of a new Ultimate title, co-written with another best-selling scribe, and you’ve got the makings of an event.
Part of the promotional push has seen a few members of the online community receiving advance copies for review, and last weekend my copy of Wanted #1 arrived in the mail. My thoughts on it, as well as additional commentary from Mark Millar, are printed just below. Enjoy.
Wanted #1 (Mark Millar/J.G. Jones/Paul Mounts)
The first thing you’ll notice after finishing Wanted, is that Mark Millar definitely wrote this book. A slightly obvious observation, but something that warrants a mention. The most popular writers usually become that way, because their voice remains unique amongst their counterparts, marking their style and tendencies with an individualized stamp that translates throughout their body of work. Millar’s ‘thoughtprints’ are all over this title, ensuring that the dialogue, pacing, and attitude present in his Ultimate titles, and his Authority run, can easily be found here. But something’s different.
Wanted centers on a young man by the name of Wesley Gibson, that refers to himself as ‘one of the most insignificant assholes of the 21st century.’ He makes it hard to disagree with him, considering before the fourth page, we learn his girlfriend is sleeping with his best friend (to Wesley’s knowledge, mind you), that he’s a repressed bigot, and actually believes that what kind of sandwich he eats makes him an individual. Unbeknownst to Gibson, his absentee father belonged to an organization called The Fraternity, that like any self-respecting secret society, controls the world without our knowledge. They can do stuff like that, because all the superheroes died back in 1986. Now they want Wesley Gibson to pick up where his father left off, and the only things they have to offer the young man is 50 million dollars, and the promise that he can shoot, kill, rape or destroy anyone he likes.
Now, as satisfying as company owned properties can become, especially within certain hands, there’s always something special about creators building a world from scratch. Obvious from page one, Millar’s having fun with this, acquainting us with a collection of true bastards, that remain incredibly fascinating, despite the fact that we can’t really get behind anything they’re doing. You’re interested, and then slightly guilty about it, because someone just blew away a roomful of innocent people, and you can’t get over how cool it looked. J.G. Jones is responsible for the artwork, preserving Millar’s fondness for the panoramic panel, that gives everything that ‘widescreen’ look, and having little trouble opening things up when the speed increases. The camera shifts to keep a potentially static scene fresh, and the lighting rises and falls for dramatic effect, and as engrossing as Millar’s story is at this point, it’d be difficult to let a book with artwork like this sit on the stands.
So is Wanted worth buying come December? Absolutely. It accomplishes what any great first issue aspires to, hooking you for the second issue very easily, and doing it with much style. One down, four more new books to go I suppose. Now, as promised, more from the mouth of Mark Millar himself.
Brandon Thomas: Wanted has been billed in some circles as “Watchmen” for the super villain set. Is this something that occurred to you when constructing this series, and is your mission statement to redefine what we think when the term “supervillain” is thrown around?
Mark Millar: I didn’t really get the Watchmen connection myself, but the press who mentioned this are from the mainstream and I think what they meant was that Watchmen was a very realistic, real world book about superheroes and Wanted is a similar kind of approach to costumed supervillains. As someone who stood outside the store for twenty minutes and read Watchmen issue twelve because I couldn’t wait to get home, I suppose I should be happy with the comparison. It’s a nice compliment.
Thomas: The bad guys took things over in 1986. What significance drove you to pick that particular year?
Millar: It’s the year it all happened; Dark Knight, Watchmen, post-Crisis, etc. This is the year that the simplified notion of infallible heroism really died in a cultural sense for our industry. It’s when people started questioning why heroes wore masks and when comics left childhood behind, both for good and for bad. It seemed appropriate that this should be when the villains seized control.
Thomas: Wesley Gibson looks suspiciously similar to a certain popular rap star. Cosmic coincidence? Unstable molecules? Explain…
Millar: This is an old comic-book trick people seem to have forgotten in recent years, probably because the characters themselves have become so identifiable, but a lot of comic characters were based on movie stars of the period. A book like Wanted, where there’s a whole world of characters, could be confusing if they aren’t immediately easy to identify visually. I also like to give that cinema experience in my comics right now. We started it in The Authority, continued with Sam Jackson, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, etc., in The Ultimates and it all really comes to a head in Wanted.
I really want to reach the mainstream as much as the casual readers, so where I might look at the book and spot cute, little analogues of Mister Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, Deadshot, Clayface, Catwoman, etc, more casual readers will feel slightly tickled as they spot Halle Berry, Eminem, Tommy Lee Jones, etc. These are faces they’re comfortable with and, as we found in The Ultimates, it’s an immediate point of reference for them in what might be an unfamiliar medium. (Yes, I think about this stuff far too much.)
Thomas: There was one thing in the issue that I raised an eyebrow at. There’s a line that appears twice referring to Wesley’s African-American boss. Is Gibson supposed to be coming off as a bigot or something here, because it seemed to read a little off.
Millar: Yes, I wanted him to have a funny attitude about black people. I wanted him to be an uptight white guy with a very small social circle and a completely claustrophobic, narrow outlook on life. He’s not a BAD guy, as he says himself. He’s just in a horrible, repressed situation and he’s pretty fucked up. But fucked up in a normal way. Fucked up like fifty other guys we all know, where he has this angry white male attitude, but hides it behind the bullshit veneer of that sub African-American style a lot of these wannabe black guys go around in.
The fact that blacks tend to marry and hang out with other blacks, whites marrying and hanging around with other whites, is one of the big taboos of the 21st century, but I really felt it worked well with this guy’s character, because he’s full of repressed rage and narrow mindedness about everything once he gets going. He’s the same PC guy everybody has to be in the modern world, but just beneath the veneer he’s a homophobe, a racist and a misogynist which, if we’re honest, we’re all like sometimes. Even the nicest guy in the world can have the darkest masturbation fantasies.
Wanted is all about a guy no longer caring how he’s perceived by other people and finding the confidence to be honest with himself, both for good and for bad. Issue one has him repressed, but by issue two he’s raping television presenters he had a crush on because he’s found himself in a world without consequence.
Thomas: Is Wanted something with a definite beginning, middle, and end, or is this only the first adventure for Wesley Gibson and The Fraternity?
Millar: It’s very self-contained. However, the whole Millarworld line does link up. No book contradicts the other in terms of continuity and sly references are made to the other books throughout the seven year experiment. These four companies are producing the first wave in 03/early 04 and these books will all link together with the NEXT wave projects I’ve already been planning for the first six months of 2006. I’ll be doing two years of new projects for Marvel in the interim period.
Thomas: How many projects can you have going before self-destructing?
Millar: I think you can comfortably write two monthly books and a third on occasion. I write around twenty eight comics a year and, yes, I could make more money if I wrote more, but I write because I like it. If I chased the cheque, I’d have written seventeen issues of X-Men instead of these seventeen creator-owned books. I’ve written The Unfunnies for free, the Image books for free, Chosen for a hugely reduced rate and gave most of what would have been my page-rate for Wanted to the artists and colourists rate in order to secure the best people possible.
My wife was going crazy at me for this, pointing out that these entire seventeen issues are only guaranteeing me twenty percent of my regular Marvel money for the seven months I’ve been working on them. Joe said I was crazy too and they might be right, but I really believe in the material and, as a writer, I feel super-charged from the experience. I see the launch of the line as a big evolutionary jump for me and it’s got me psyched for the new Marvel Universe book and The Ultimates Volume Two.
To answer your question, I think you can do two books and a bit of a third without things slipping. Everything can be better, EVERYTHING, and comics are expensive so each one should demand a decent amount of your time. The readers don’t owe you a living.
Thomas: Moving back to Wanted, you’re informed that you stand to inherit 50 million dollars, but only if you become one of the most despicable bastards walking the Earth. What do you do first?
Millar: They don’t tell Wesley he has to RAPE AND MURDER people to get the cash. They just tell him to act like a man and this is what he CHOOSES to do. I might be kidding myself, but I think I’d try to just kill bad guys. Like Wesley, I’d take out anybody who ever pissed me off. That was a fun, boy’s power-fantasy scene to write and I think I’d do a lot of that stuff he did too. I’d probably take down a couple of guys at DC. And a freelancer or two while I’m in there.
Thomas: The Fraternity, the Ultimates, and the Authority get into a violent disagreement. Who comes out alive?
Millar: Me. With the biggest and most fucked up crossover event ever and a beauty of a royalty cheque. However, Frank Quitely, J.G. Jones and Bryan Hitch all working on a single book? You KNOW you’ll never see it before 2015.
Thomas: I’d like to thank Mark for dropping by, and once again offer a recommendation to pick up Wanted in December. It’s just good comics. And speaking of, some weeks, it’s very hard to rationalize not including the New Hotness at the end of my columns. This is one of those weeks?
Da New Hotness-
Batman #620 (Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso)
Inevitably, this storyline is going to draw direct comparisons to the blockbuster affair that preceded it, but that almost seems unfair. Whether by sheer coincidence or clear intent, Broken City is a profoundly different character arc for the Dark Knight, than the cameo heavy Hush, that topped charts for twelve months. From the opening monologue, where Batman offers his cynical theory that God is quite fond of pissing on the city he calls home, to his brutal, yet somehow refreshing, interrogation of Killer Croc, to his playful interaction with a suspect’s girlfriend, Azzarello soaks Batman in a level of grime and dirt that the Gotham downpour can’t wash away. Risso and the remainder of the 100 Bullets creative team assist him in this, draping Batman in shadow and silhouette, delivering a series of exceptionally powerful images, leading up to the haunting cliffhanger that concludes this issue. Some may tell you that Azzarello is contradicting a couple elements of Batman’s character here, or that his narrative lacks optimism and hope, but they can’t tell you that Batman #620 isn’t good.
The Losers #5 (Andy Diggle/Jock)
Action movies are defined by the pursuit. Their particular visual execution often becomes the focus, but their essence lies in the thrill of the chase. You can throw cars, guns, and strange costumes into the mix, but it all boils down to the same thing: bad guy chases good guy, good guy chases bad guy. So if The Losers is truly one of the best action comics on the stands, its merits could be judged by how the creators handle the all-important chase. Throughout the current arc Goliath, we’ve been given a collage of cliffhangers, sudden betrayals, and mass gunfire, but what really gets people talking is doing the unexpected. Like having the good guys hold the bad guys hostage with a very large bomb, subverting a common clich. Or maybe including a helicopter in their list of demands, only to ignore it and sprint for a speedboat after the copter touches down. The Losers offers an intelligence and wit lacking from similar material, without ignoring the bullets, vehicles, and clever escapes that are the common staple of all great pursuits.
Planetary #17 (Warren Ellis/John Cassaday)
I hadn’t realized just how much I missed this book. Ellis continues to excavate the secrets of the Wildstorm Universe, proving that the series’ hiatus hasn’t altered its quality in the slightest and that when completed, it’ll likely stand as one of the writer’s strongest works. This issue brings yet another of Ellis’ inventive takes on once-told tales, re-imagining the beginnings of a certain lord of the jungle, while delving into lost cities and sophisticated civilizations. More than a fascinating look into Elijah Snow’s journal, the journey to Opak-Re, and the consequences that ultimately result, become quite important to longtime readers that have been following things since the beginning. And from the inception of this series, John Cassaday has delivered the best artwork in comics, regardless of what Ellis throws his way. Prismatic cities of gold, giant serpents, beautiful exotic women, he can do it all, and Ellis knows it. No issue, no cover of Planetary is exactly the same as the one before it, but the strength of the storytelling remains unchanged. I can see only two reasons for that.
Wildcats #15 (Joe Casey/Dustin Nguyen/Richard Friend)
Casey calls this chapter Sinful, and makes it apparent in the first four pages that the title is more than appropriate. Agent Wax has been having an affair with Agent Downs’ wife. Among other things, Downs is Wax’s boss, and the affair itself is actually facilitated by a strange and highly convenient talent that ‘persuades’ people to do whatever Agent Wax tells them to. And he’s been telling Mrs. Downs all sorts of filthy things the last few months. But now Wax is staring down the barrel of his boss’ gun. On the other side of the world, Zealot is continuing her systematic elimination of anything Coda in a frantic action sequence with motorcycles, a samurai sword, and a gattling gun. Meanwhile in L.A., the recovering Grifter tries on a new pair of legs, that bears more than a passing resemblance to a former teammate, while android CEO Spartan prepares to change the world with a series of cars powered by batteries that run forever. Does any of this sound even the least bit interesting to you? Yeah, that’s what I said too.
Sleeper #10 (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips)
Brubaker has been on a press blitz lately, telling Steven Grant and CBR, Newsarama, and Rich Johnston all about Sleeper, and the upcoming trade collection dropping in December. The large discrepancy between critical acclaim and sales figures continues to amaze me, and despite the assertion that the industry continues to re-grow its limbs with every passing year, if it can’t support a book like Sleeper, something clearly isn’t right. As things build to a crescendo for the season ender, Brubaker expands and complicates the relationship between Holden and Miss Misery, relates the twisted origin of supporting member Genocide, and ends with a nail biting cliffhanger that may just alter the entire series. But is anyone even listening? Seriously, everyone that gets their hands on this book does nothing but sing its praises, and yet the sales charts continues to ignore what is to the rest of us common sense. Sleeper is an exceptional comic, among other exceptional comics, with a tight premise, intelligent scripting, and gorgeous artwork, that deserves to be moving more units. Period. Those are my thoughts on the issue. It’s just that they need to be your thoughts too.
That’s all for one week. See you in seven.