Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Best Comics of 2009

After a long post of grousing, I felt it was needed to mention the stand-outs of 2009's comic books-- and there were plenty of them. There were a lot of books that genuinely excited me last year. The rise of the Norman Empire made Marvel's line all in all more interesting, and even DC had a few standouts amidst its usual mix of Silver Age nostalgia and relentless sadism. Meanwhile, the smaller publishers gave us a salvo of great new material-- from continually entertaining series like Dynamo 5 and Umbrella Academy, to new phenomenons like Chew and Beasts of Burden. Granted, there was still the influence of Sturgeon's Law upon the industry, but this year it seemed that the quality AND quantity of 2009's portion of good comics was an increase over last year.

So, the awards:

BEST SUPERHERO STORY ARC: World's Most Wanted, Invincible Iron Man, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, Marvel. Not since Daredevil: Born Again has a mainstream superhero been torn apart so effectively. I could discuss how the story destroyed the entire empire of Tony Stark, down to the last soldering iron and broom closet. I could discuss how his supporting cast was forced to pick up his slack, and prove their worth against impossible odds. And I could even discuss the meticulousness of Tony's plans, which were so elaborate he could even pull them off with a barely working brain at hand.

But therein lies the greatest part of the story; Tony having to sacrifice his very intellect to fulfill his plans and atone for his sins. Many stories have been told with heroes on the run, and heroes like Tony Stark typically maintain a MacGyver-like aptitude for making solutions out of thin air. In this case, the deconstruction even went for his mind. An uncharacteristic level of sophistication was used for the treatment of Tony's degenerating brain, having the loss of knowledge occur in multiple areas in a randomized arrangement, and showing that he could still accomplish things without certain sections of ability ( as opposed to the linear model of IQ that is tragically common in pop culture ). Eventually, Tony would lose all of his function-- but the last thing to go was his heroism. Even at the end of the story, so addled he couldn't form a complete sentence, Tony tried to fight back against a superior and completely depraved enemy. His victory was phyrric in the practical sense, but in the moral sense, flawless-- would a lesser superhero subject themselves to a fate worse than death to fight off such an enemy? Or would such a story even occur to a lesser writer than Fraction?

The revelation that Tony had a back-up of his mind intended to be used by the other superheroes may somewhat mitigate the redemption of this story, but it was still a huge risk for the hero. And for the creative team, to take a whole year with a story that had the protagonist mentally deteriorating. But Fraction's brilliant scripting and Larroca's always excellent visual storytelling ( especially in regards to his renditions of technology ) pulled it off.

MOST IMPROVED SERIES: The Boys, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, Dynamite. At its launch, one might have dismissed the Boys as being a puerile spoof of superhero comics, much in the same vein of Mark Millars' Wanted. Superhero comic fans still do, but if they actually read the comic, they'd have less and less justification for their critiques beyond prudishness. What began as a continuation of Ennis' " The Pro " has actually been living up to the author's claim that it would exceed his magnum opus Preacher.

For all the gaudy spandex trappings, the Boys isn't really a superhero comic-- it's a scathing critique of the military-industrial complex, with the capes as the garnish. From the start we knew that the stereotypical superhero universe was just smoke and mirrors for a world of Caligula-like excess, but Ennis and Robertson drove the point home further and further. That the origin of all superhuman power is a compound developed decades ago through the Nazis' vivisection? That the United States' leadership is divided in a coup between the President, the Vice-President, and the military contractors responsible for the power of both? Or that the X-Men analogue " G-Men " is composed of children abducted at a young age and sexually abused to give them the right disposition? Even Norman Osborn in his flag-colored robot suit is nowhere near so cutting an instrument of satire.

Not that it's just unpleasant to read; it has all the great dialogue and dark humor characteristic of a Garth Ennis comic, and Darick Robertson's excellent character design is in full force here. There's even a love story at the heart that serves as an anchor amidst the relentless cruelty of the universe. What Preacher did as a satire of religion, the Boys appears to be doing as a satire of military culture; don't let the abuse of capes detract from that.

BEST SINGLE ISSUE: Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield. Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice, Luke Ross. Marvel. This wasn't a good year for Cap, after an exceptional 2008; the big event of the year, the resurrection of Steve Rogers, was just an extended action scene with a pointlessly convoluted plot, harmed by the art of Bryan Hitch ( who has moved too far from energetic storytelling into hyper-rendered set pieces, with the story suffering for it. Fortunately, the one-shot epilogue to the series delivered in a very substantial way.

The question raised by the title is answered, but not conclusively-- the prediction was that with Steve Rogers back, his replacement Bucky would either meet a quick end or simply fade into the background. Steve metatextually agrees, hence how he responds to ominous visions by asking Bucky to stay as Cap. But Steve's not simply retiring; he's keeping active in the hero community, especially given how far it's gone to hell in his absence. The characterization is as sharp as ever under Ed Brubaker, but what really sold me on the issue was Steve's dialogue with Barack Obama.

Marvel writers tend to lean towards the left, hence why Marvel-Dubya has been stripped naked tortured by Magneto AND cuckolded by Iron Man. Given Obama's reputation, one would think he'd escape this scrutiny-- at least, last year, that's what one would think. But Barack's inability to make real change has not been unnoticed, and his talk with Captain America makes him almost a pathetic figure-- he's talking about how he doesn't agree with things like Superhuman Registration or HAMMER Director Norman Osborn, but how he can't do anything about it. One might even think that he actually voted for the Registration Act while he was a Senator, and is retrospectively downplaying this given the company he's with. Obama isn't the savior others made him out to be, and his office forces him to support the status quo that he knows should be changed-- so thus, he turns to Captain America.

It's really interesting since the Dark Reign was conceived during Dubya's reign of error, and the Marvel Universe finally appears to be catching up to current politics. If Tony and later Norman represented the Bush administration, Steve is now Obama-- the figurehead for change and hope. I'll enjoy seeing how well he holds up under this level of pressure.

BEST NEW SERIES: Chew, John Layman and Trevor Guillory, Image. The moment this appeared in the solicitations, it looked like a huge conceptual gamble-- something that would be wonderful or terrible. Certainly the ideas represented were way out of the audience's experience. A detective with a psychometric sense of taste, who can read the past of what he eats? A job that forces him to eat all manner of awful things? A food-themed alternate America where the FDA rules with an iron fist and poultry is banned?

And then you get to the series itself, beyond the first issue. The character designs are extremely bizarre and exaggerated; the character of Mason is described by the artist as " the love child of Orson Welles and a grizzly bear ". The stories involve all sorts of food-themed bizarreness, such as a woman who can empathically influence people with her writing about food. And there's a meticulous constructed plot here about the Bird Flu scare, and the truth about it. Yes, this is an ongoing series with very dark undercurrents about a detective who psychically reads what he eats ( except beets, which somehow block his power ). It would either succeed spectacularly or perish pathetically.

And guess what? It succeeded. So suck it.

BEST MINI-SERIES: Beasts of Burden, Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, Dark Horse. It's no secret that I love animals, especially dogs and cats. I love seeing comics about animals being animals; anthropomorphized enough to talk, but not enough to stand, wear clothes, or have human-type anatomy ( I'm NOT going any further with that ). Unfortunately, it's hard to find that balance in a way that's convincing. We3 was a triumph in this arena, but beyond that, good treatments of animal characters are few and far between.

Beasts of Burden delivered this. It's a great comic about household pets solving neighborhood supernatural crimes. The series is still relatively new-- it has some backstory as an online strip and only four issues on the stands-- and admittedly many of the characters seem identical. But the dogs and cats are wonderful creatures, who show depth beyond the story structure requirements when given a chance. Here, they aren't animals acting like their human masters; they're animals who have far more going on than their masters assume, but in a uniquely non-human way; the dialogue is in English, but the perspectives feel like they're from a different species with their own religious traditions. There are many stories about evil in suburban backyards, but few where the animals hold the line.

What's more, it's not a simple funny story. It has a strong element of horror, and sadly, that horror isn't always from the monsters-- the worse scenes involve human treatment of the pets. Issue 2, which had a ghostly dog trying to find justice for the deaths of her puppies ( coldly thrown in a lake ), was just brutal. And issue 4 was just as gripping.

They've only begun to scratch the surface of the Beasts of Burden's world, but Dorkin and Thompson gave us so much, that I demand more in 2010.

And the Person Of The Year: Brian Michael Bendis, for New Avengers and Dark Avengers. The series of essays I did for New Avengers' five-year-anniversary illustrate better how I feel about Bendis' work on the Avengers as a whole, but the Avengers books were the comics I followed closest this year. Intellectually pretentious fans may bitch about crossovers, and lord knows I've done it too; however, I can't deny how much I've enjoyed Dark Reign, especially in the aforementioned Iron Man comic and the Avengers books.

Bendis' Avengers have steadily been improving since the rough start of Avengers Disassembled, and really hit their stride when he started writing the second book Mighty Avengers as well. The idea of two duelling Avengers teams was a welcome one, but then the two teams were holding back against each other due to their former friendships. Now, we have the dynamic consolidated, with one book for the heroes, and one book for the newly-marketable villains. The way both of Bendis' books tie into each other is a unique dynamic, and I have to admit, one that could only work in a super-consolidated shared universe.

In New Avengers, we've seen many improvements. The Secret Invasion conspiracy stories are over, so the dangling plot threads have been reduced. The character dynamics have been developed further, with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones really starting to see how impossible it is to raise a child as vigilante metahumans, Clint Barton's nervous breakdown getting more and more extreme, and Captain Bucky joining with the disposition of a kid trying to fit in with his older brother's friends. Also, Stuart Immonen's art has turbo-charged the enjoyment of the book, and the stories have become more focused without the rotations and flash.

Meanwhile, Dark Avengers is just great. Norman Osborn, a complete monster in other comics, actually receives some sympathy in the comic series that is basically his. He's joined by the rest of his EllisBolts buddies, also dressed as heroes and trying/failing to restrain their psychopathic tendencies. The team isn't all evil, as Ares ( more of a Chaotic Neutral figure in the D&D alignment schema ) and the impressionable Sentry are on the staff, but it's still very much a villain book. The entertainment is in watching how long they can keep it up, and from all indications, it's falling apart. Also, Mike Deodato Jr. is on the art duties, and he's the artist who's given us the definitive version of Norman since he drew the guy's sex-face.

I hope that once Dark Reign ends early next year, the two-book dynamic will be kept up, because I've enjoyed it so much this year that reverting to a single Avengers faction with a unified heroic mission would be a let down. Kudos, BMB.

Here's to 2010 being even better.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ruby's World: Now Weekly!

Just approaching the end of the Holidays, my comic takes a long-overdue shift in scheduling; now, it'll be updating in single pages, three times a week. This will mean a lot more work, but also increased momentum. To go directly to the latest page,
go Here

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 2009 Humperdoozie Awards for Exceptional Blundering in American Comics

Last year, I wrote the first Humpredoozies* article, listing the dumbest things that I thought Western publishers did. Looking back, I have to admit that 2008 was quite a bit worse for comics, and this year has seen better output overall; there will always be complete turkeys in comics, but it's much less common that great work is produced, and this year's given us Chew, Asterios Polyp, Beasts of Burden, World's Most Wanted, and Dick and Damien's Excellent Adventure**, as well as more consistently good work from continuing series. I also have to admit that I should have actually written a column on the stuff I liked that year, instead of just promising it. 2008 me was far weaker at this blogging thing, but 2009 will avenge the mistakes of the past and punch them in the weiner.

But as I said, there will always be complete turkeys, and the Humperdoozies award the worst of the worst-- the comics that aren't just weakly written and drawn, but do something outstandingly stupid and reach a level of suck that isn't just forgettable, but repellant. Every medium has its flops, but comics have a smaller audience than most-- and while that means great things can happen due to the lack of supervision, it also means a tendency for asylums staffed with inmates. So without further ado, here those allegorical inmates are...

THE RORY GILMORE AWARD FOR MOST REPREHENSIBLE PROTAGONIST: Cyclops, Uncanny X-Men by Matt Fraction, Greg Land, and the Dodsons. I name this award for the young co-star of the excellent Gilmore Girls show, who became more spoiled, egotistical, and self-destructive as the show went on ( and yes, I am a heterosexual man AND a fan of GGs ). And even as Rory moved away from her mother's hard-working values to her grandparents' WASPy decadence, developed tastes in men similar to those of Eva Braun, commit actual crimes without remorse or significant consequence, and all the while acted like she was still a great student and a good person with unique insights-- it seemed that the show's writers were coming very close to acknowledging what a reprehensible, vapid bitch Rory had become, but didn't actually go through with it. Such is the case with Cyclops, the first and once greatest of the X-Man.

People have commented that Scott Summers has gone downhill since he left his saintly wife Jean Grey for the profoundly immodest ex-villainess Emma Frost, but now his decisions are even less moral than hers. What's more, Scott's not even good at being a manipulative bastard-- his schemes are bluntly obvious and only succeed on luck. He didn't defeat Norman Osborn-- he just moved the mutant community to an offshore island, cowering from Norman's dark reign in international waters. He stopped Ares and Sentry, but only did so by having two of his people make deals with even worse forces ( Hela, and the Void, respectively ). He didn't bother to think through little concerns like food, electricity, indoor plumbing, or NOT HAVING THE FUCKING THING SINK INTO THE OCEAN before he made his island nation. And he's still commanding the X-Force squad of mutant assassins, a PR nightmare in the making so great that even the Red Hulk scoffs at it. Yet even though he's done nothing except buy mutantkind time against inevitable destruction, much of which wouldn't have come about if he'd actually gotten his shit together, Scott still believes he's a great leader with a master plan.

And apparently so does Matt Fraction, because at the end of the day, Scott is still treated as the great hero whose master plan justifies throwing out Xavier's founding mission of peaceful co-existence in favor of an isolationist, segregated mutant nation on a desolate ocean rock. Meanwhile, the other X-Men comics have to deal with the nonsense status quo of Nation X, and every time a character appears in the same panel as Cyclops and isn't causing him physical and/or emotional harm, their heroism loses credibility.

THE WOLFENSTEIN 2D AWARD FOR NEEDLESS BLOODSHED ON PAGE: Blackest Night and tie-ins, by DC Comics. The past few years have seen DC's superhero comics go from being PG to practically R-rated in terms of gore. Whatever the quality of the stories have been, there seems to be an encouragement for horror-movie levels of violence. Except, unlike the better horror movies, the bright spandex trappings of the DC Universe make such displays of gorn the kind of thing you wish were joking about. Comedic heroes get capped in the head, animal sidekicks devour their owners, Black Adam has become so good at ripping people apart that he can rip someone in half with one hand while the other plays with himself, and Superboy Prime seems to be a deliberate self-parody-- he wants things to be the traditional way he remembers them, but he unleashes an orgy of dismemberment to get it every time he appears.

However, I would rather have a superhero universe that doesn't revel in blood and guts instead of one that lampshades itself and doesn't do anything about it-- and if Blackest Night is any indication, it's just going to get worse. The many characters who have died are back-- except, to further indicate why most DC writers would be a more comfortable fit on the scripts to the next few dozen SAW movies, they're back as evil zombies!*** And they go forth to further kill and eat the surviving heroes, all the while giving long speeches about how the heroes are such failures. Yes, DC Comics have finally become one big horror movie. Now they just need to ditch all the superheroes in favor of nubile teenage cannon fodder in Abercombie and Fitch decor, so they can finally stop pretending they're doing anything else.

THE KURT COBAIN AND MORTAL KOMBAT AWARD FOR POINTLESS NINETIES NOSTALGIA: Invincible 60. Granted, Image United was a more blatant example ( though I didn't read it and don't plan to ) but this " summer crossover in one issue " guest-starring everyone Image still has some rights to was really frustrating. Certainly it was an interesting idea, and far and away preferrable to Marvel or DC dragging these stories across their entire respective lines for months, but I really hoped for better from Kirkman. Invincible is one of the best superhero comics on the stands, and a prime example of how creator-owned stories are good even for traditional genre fare-- a major reason being because they don't have to deal with such crossover nonsense and can just get to the meat of the story. But this comic, which wastes many pages on casts of characters from other creators' books who will not have any meaningful development here, fell into the avoidable excesses of the rest of the superhero genre. And since many of these Image all-stars aren't big commercial draws for anyone except fans of 1990's superhero comics that didn't stop holding a torch for shoulder pads and BFGs, I don't even know if it was so important that they appear on the pages themselves, as opposed to just the cover.

Suffice to say, I give Invincible 60 this award because while the main story was good, it didn't need so much page space devoted to the crossover orgy, and that detracted from the Invincible series at hand.

THE REPETITIVE REDUNDANCY AND REDUNDANT REPETITION AWARD: Tie between Flash: Rebirth and Superman: Secret Origin, DC Comics. Geoff Johns' Green Lantern reboot has been extremely successful, even though people initially questioned the wisdom of bringing back long-dead Silver Age hero Hal Jordan. Since it's proven successful, DC has to respond the only way a big comic company in charge of a shared superhero universe can; beat that approach into the ground until it stops selling. Case in point; two series with themes and even titles lifted from key Green Lantern stories, both also written by Geoff Johns, just applied to different characters.

However, while the approach has been applied to different characters, it's been done so in a way that doesn't fit the individual case. Hal Jordan's return can be justified by the fact that he'd had a sloppily written and inconclusive death/fall from grace, and excising the Green Lantern Corps from the franchise in favor of a Peter Parker Expy being the center of attention sacrificed too much. But Barry Allen had an extremely conclusive and memorable heroic over two decades ago, and his replacement Wally West had proven himself a worthy replacement in that time ( including the many Wally West Flash stories at the hand of Geoff Johns himself ). Similarly, Green Lantern: Secret Origin was a beneficial update to Hal Jordan's backstory that helped foreshadow new developments in the series, while the Superman story; well, everyone with a passing familiarity with superheroes knows Superman, and he's already had a great many origin retellings, so why yet another one?

Since Johns is writing, there's a high degree of craft involved, and the artists are excellent for both, but I would hate to have material for " The Geoff Johns Story Blueprint ", especially if I have to write " The Geoff Johns story wallows in the past regardless of the quality of the present ".

THE CRY FOR JUSTICE AWARD FOR BEING CRY FOR JUSTICE: Cry for Justice, DC Comics. Yes, Cry for Justice falls into the " Shaped like Itself " category, because this thing is so profoundly ridiculous that it doesn't fit into anyone category. The creative team was promising-- James Robinson is a respected veteran of DC comics, and the shots we saw from digital painter Mauro Cascoli were beautifu, but in practice all they've done is create a work that takes itself far more seriously than it should. It's similar to Blackest Night in terms of the violence, but instead of taking refuge in horror-movie audacity, it treats itself like Big PRestigious Story in the vein of Kingdom Come-- and fails spectacularly at doing so.

To the people outside the DC Comics offices ( and probably a few inside, if they care to admit it ), this is not a great work. It is a ridiculous story that treats some of the biggest cliches' in superhero comics like they're somehow novel. The veteran heroes who decide to take a hard line against super-crime are not only ripping off books like X-Force and the Authority that have been doing that for many years, but they're quite obviously echoing the use of torture in the War on Terror, without doing it in a context with even the slightest resemblance to the real world's depth. So, instead of increased stakes for the Justice League, we get the protagonists coming off as grumpy old men, trying to use the tactics of the people they're trying to keep off their lawns.

And it just gets worse from there. Characters are brought from various corridors of the DCU to receive grim-and-gritty updates-- Congo Bill, a human mind in an ancient gorilla body, comes in to weep over his fallen brethren and demand vengeance himself. The Atom, a character with the inherently unimpressive power of shrinking, uses it to step inside captives' heads and interrogate them by stomping on their brains ( and he does it so often even the characters in the work itself get tired of it ). Black Canary is kept absent for the first part, but later comes back to chastise her husband Green Arrow for his actions-- and, because apparently having her as a strong independent heroine wasn't kosher, her complaints are more about him neglecting her feelings than his team's use of TORTURE. Meanwhile, the token female on the main cast is the teenaged Supergirl-- hanging out with a bunch of middle-aged men, with only Captain Marvel Jr. around to diffuse the impression that she's just their shared Lolita.

The story is profoudnly melodramatic. The art would be good in another title, but that would be providing said title wasn't trying so hard to impress the audience. The dialogue is some of the clunkiest ever printed in a professional work ( " We want Prometheus! And justice, when you get down to it. " ). And even amidst the release of Blackest Night, the scene in the latest issue with Roy Harper getting his arm ripped off manages to out-gorn most of its competition for pointless dismemberment. If there's one consolation, it's that this has been an unintentionally hilarious comic. But it wasn't shipped as " Laugh at Justice ", right?

THE HUMPERDOOZIES 2009 LIFETIME UNDERACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Greg Land, Uncanny X-Men. Last year I gave this prize to Jeph Loeb, who hasn't stopped doing ridiculously stupid scripts since then, but hasn't topped himself either. I also gave an award to Greg Land last year, and he hasn't changed his style-- so he wins it this year. Comic companies will always do stupid things, but rarely will they do stuff that is outright angering beyond the parameters of regular nerd rage-- and Land's continuing work fits.

Everything about Land's art that can be said has been said-- it's overly surface, the character poses are stiff and lifeless, the faces are almost universally identical to each other, the scenes use reference material to the point of plagiarism, and the women are drawn like porn stars ( even teenaged characters; perhaps I should have named this " The Roman Polanski Award " ) . And yet, he's still drawing the X-Men as half of the regular art team. Apparently, since he gets work done on time and looks pretty in an air-brushed sort of way, the nigh-complete deterioration of his willingness to do original work and express something unique with his art is an acceptable loss. This isn't just goofy art in the realm of Rob Liefeld, which at least has some endearing qualities in its technical flaws and masculine excess. This is the kind of art that is offensively bad, and deserves as little respect as the artist apparently has for his audience.

Well, I have less anger at comics this year, and I hope that I'll have even less to rant about next year, but somehow I doubt that.

* Named for the calling cry of the Grail's Messiah in Preacher, who came from Christ's bloodline, but is the result of so many centuries of inbreeding that he's regressed a few million years of evolution. " Son of God or son of Man, you don't fuck your sister and expect much good to come of it ", to paraphrase Herr Starr, that still seems to be what comic book companies excel at with their publishing decisions.
** Batman and Robin, but since that's the main story hook of the new direction, that's how I'll be referencing it.
*** I'm aware that DC editors have gone on record to argue that the Blackest Night villains aren't zombies, since they're not shambling and mindless. But they're still undead, butt-ugly, evil, and make living beings into similarly undead, butt-ugly, and evil creatures. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc..

Friday, December 11, 2009

In Light of Nemesis; The Blueprint for Pretty Much Every Mark Millar Comic

In light of the Nemesis news, which I hope is not more of the same

After nearly a decade of consistent popularity, Mark Millar has developed a finely tuned formula for what to expect from his comic writings. By " developed ", I also mean " has fastidiously stuck to with little if any deviation ". And I say this from someone who has absolutely loved his work in the past, particularly on the Authority and the Ultimate Marvel characters, and even his year-long runs on Spider-Man and Wolverine. But in the past couple years especially, Millar's comics have become based on a very tight blueprint that's good at the illusion of deep, challenging work. Unfortunately, after many years, it's become apparent how the magician is doing the trick. Again, and again.

For example;

-- The Mark Millar story is a superhero premise with a high concept twist. Emphasis on high concept; the twists are readily apparent and easily digestible. Examples include Wanted ( supervillains secretly rule the world, Joe Schmoe discovers he's heir to the deadliest of them all ), Kick-Ass ( comic book fan tries to be a costumed superhero in a world without powers ), War Heroes ( military develops super-power pills, soldiers use them for massive heist ), and now Nemesis ( Batman figure turns out to have Joker modus operandi ), If it's a run on a corporate-owned franchise, it's less likely to be so obvious, since Millar is putting in a longer story there. But even then Millar tends to write his stories as finite runs with clear premises, most notably with Civil War ( superheroes brawl over thinly veiled post 9-11 issues of freedom vs. security ), but also with Old Man Logan ( shell-shocked veteran Wolverine pulled out of retirement for one last big kill ), 1985 ( 80's supervillains attack real world of 1985 ), and even the Ultimates ( Marvel history rewritten for Bush-era America ). These at first seem like ideas so devilishly simple that you're surprised nobody's thought of it prior. The truth is that people have thought up these story ideas, they just were represented in more subtle and nuanced ways ( JLA villain Prometheus being created as an evil Batman, late 80's fantastic four dealing with superhero registration in a sane and reasonable fashion ). But if you want the blockbuster treatment...

-- The Mark Millar story never has a hero. Protagonists do things that may be labelled heroic, but it's clear that the motivations are never pure, and the results are never wholly successful. The closest character Millar can write to a hero is a character like his version of Peter Parker, who's simply so naive that he doesn't know there's more than a good vs. evil binary to the world. Otherwise, his heroes are zealots for a very fundamentalist notion of justice ( Civil War Cap, Ultimate Thor, Ultimate Xavier, possibly Kick-Ass ), or self-serving nigh-sociopathic individuals who happen to target the right enemies ( Wolverine, the Authority, the rest of the Ultimates, Civil War Iron Man, most of the Fantastic Four but especially Johnny Storm ). Nemesis will probably have the Millar version of the Gotham Police work under a similar paradigm.

-- The Mark Millar story always has a villain. Nobody is 100% good, but there are people who are 110% evil, so vile that they go beyond the normal possibility of 100. Wanted has its protagonist become utterly hedonistic and depraved once he receives power, scoffing about how he can " rape an A-List celebrity and not even have it make the news ". The Wolverine story " Enemy of the State " has the Gorgon, who mathematically disproved the existence of God and works towards the destruction of life PERIOD. The Authority faced a number of genocidal maniacs obsessed with rape. And while Norman Osborn has always been a complete monster, Millar gave him his worst act to date-- upon learning of the chronic illness of his prison guard's wife, made a cure for her, which made her temporarily healthier but then killed her even more painfully. Nemesis should, by the very definition, provide a villain with similar actions ( especially since Millar compares him to the Joker, the worst super-villain since super became attached to villain ).

-- The Mark Millar story almost always has a Morality Pet,a genuinely pure and good character who is there for no reason other than to offset the nihilism everywhere else in the story. Characters like Hawkeye's family in the Ultimates, the Vulture's terminally ill grand-son in Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Dave's hard-working widower dad in Kick-Ass, the kidnapped little Japanese boy in Wolverine: Enemy of the State, Cindy Sheehan analogue Miriam Sharpe in Civil War, and Wolverine's Little House on the Prairie brood come to mind. Toby from 1985 might qualify, because he's got divorced parents ( though it isn't used for much other than stock drama ), but he's a protagonist. These characters tend not to have any agency other than to show that the world isn't all bad. However, they also tend to either suffer or outright die, reinforcing the nihilistic premises. They aren't characters who draw sympathy so much as attempts to show that the worlds Millar writes aren't entirely unsympathetic-- but they're still outweighed by the Wesley Gibsons of the worlds. I'm not sure how this will appear in Nemesis, but I hope that the titular character doesn't justify murder and pillage by being a single father to a child with cystic fibrosis.

-- The Mark Millar story has an extensive amount of conversational dialogue filling in backstory, giving hints to a colorful history and universe-- without actually showing us said colorful history and universe. Professor X will write a book on Mutant Boom and Bust Economics, Tony Stark will have a history of suicide attempts, countless characters will have backstories that make them " cry themselves to sleep every night " ( Bruce Banner, Ben Grimm, Bobby Drake, and more ), and as I said before Wesley Gibson will be able to commit rape without consequence-- but we don't find out anything more about these story threads. It seems like a compromise between having big unique ideas without having to risk them not succeeding-- these asides don't go into Mutant Economics or Reed Richards' 100 ideas for a better society, so there's no chance of failure for expanding on those ideas-- but no change of the success that a really thought-provoking story could offer. They're just expanding on what's already there.

-- The Mark Millar story has a style of dialogue that is universally nasty and insulting. Every character will call someone else an idiot, a moron, a dumbass, a ( R-Word deleted ), or some other insult to their intelligence. Villains are especially insulting, and they relish in exposing their nemeses to depraved monologues. Heroes aren't disgusting, but they do tend to go past witty banter and into outright dissing their opponents. Even nice characters talk with this dialogue rhythm, and tend to sound very condescending as a result ( Aunt May, for example, jokingly chastising Peter at the end of Marvel Knights Spider-Man for his tired " I'm giving up being Spidey forever " monologues ). It's a series of memorable lines, but it doesn't really work as dialogue, and it doesn't show a lot of range; at least in Nemesis, the protagonist is a villain, so this should be appropriate for him.

-- The Mark Millar story is told in wide, letter-boxed panels designed to imitate big budget movies. Many contemporary writers use this format for their scripts, most notably Warren Ellis with his " Authority ", but Millar has made it the key to his style. His scripts are written with big " moments " in mind, massive panels displaying awesome images. Every artist he collaborates with delivers this, and they very from dramatic gestures ( Wesley breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience in the end of Wanted ) to big action scenes ( Iron Man ripping open Captain America's face and years of borderline homoerotic bonding as a result ). Artists like Bryan Hitch, who are well known for drawing this sort of story, are called to be especially showy; Ultimates 2 ended with an orgy of splash pages as the Ultimates take down their third world enemies. Seriously, they had a six-page gatefold spread. These are most obvious in the endings to individual issues; typically there's a splash page ending with one ominous line of dialogue, like the first issue of Ultimate X-Men ( where we find that Wolverine is introduced as a Brotherhood assassin ).

-- The Mark Millar story has lots of references to pop culture and current events. Millar's stories tend to be very specific to the present ( exceptions occur like the Jenny Sparks history, Red Son, or 1985, but it's clear that Millar's preferred ouvere is dealing with the now ), and deal with headlines as they come up. His superhero comics tend to deal with the War on Terror in a very explicit fashion-- Ultimate X-Men has mutants cast in the role of Muslims ( though I have to give Millar a lot of credit for the fact that he was writing this series almost a year before 9/11, which makes " The Tomorrow People " arc almost prophetic ), Ultimates deals with America's concerns about homeland security, and Ultimates 2 is direct commentary on the " nation-building " tactic of Iraq. War Heroes also qualifies, since it was originally planned for Ultimates 3; Civil War was meant to, though it ends up being more of a really awkward version of the gun control debate. Pop culture also commonly appears; Kick-Ass is heavily influenced by the runaway popularity of internet video sites like YouTube, the fledgling mutants in Ultimate X-Men make constant pop culture references ( like how Iceman " should have been playing Metal Gear Solid like every other kid his age " ), the Ultimates has all its members become celebrity tabloid fodder, and many characters are actually based on popular celebrity likenesses ( most notably Wesley Gibson, based on rapper Eminem ). It's no wonder that the Ultimates had a scene with the characters chatting about who'd play them in a movie version.

I'm wondering if the fact that Iron Man movie actually DID get Samuel L. Jackson to be Nick Fury will further encourage this trend, and not just amongst Millar.

-- The Mark Millar story has blood. Lots of blood. People who watch Saturday Morning cartoons as an adult might wonder why they shoot lasers instead of bullets, why no civilians get hurt, and how someone can survive being hit by Superman. The sheer amount of collateral damage in the Mark Millar story is evidence why kids' versions of superheroes try to avoid that. It's logical, but it means that families in SUVs are incinerated when Electro goes rampaging towards Spider-Man, schoolyards of children are murdered when neophyte heroes screw up in Civil War, and people trying to be heroes without powers in Kick-Ass end up getting their faces worked into the shape and texture of a dog's breakfast. This shows up in Millar's Marvel work, even that which is intended to be towards a more general audience ( like Ultimate X-Men, initially ). His creator-owned work is even more egregious with this, being the " Too Hot for DC " version of his stories with franchise characters.

-- The Mark Millar story never has a happy ending. There's often a big party serving as an epilogue, as we saw in the Authority ( Apollo and the Midnighter's big gay wedding ), Ultimates 1 ( the White House party with Tony Stark about to cuckold George W. ), and the penultimate issue of Ultimate X-Men ( the opening of the Xavier School to the public ); even without the party, there's still always a sequence that indicates that it's not really the end. In Wanted, we get the immortal line " This is the look on my face as I'm fucking you in the ass " addressed to the audience; in Ultimates 2, we get a tragic flashback to the 1940's with Captain America promising his then-girlfriend that this will all be over soon. Civil War has Tony Stark kind-of bringing the world to order, though he does so in a very smug way that seems to invoke Wesley Gibson's parting lines. And while Marvel Knights Spider-Man is one of the few optimistic stories Millar has given us, it still ends on the note that the endless dance between Peter Parker and Norman Osborn is distracting him from doing anything meaningful in the world beyond being a costumed vigilante.

With this all said, I can envision a lot of Nemesis before it happens, and I'm hoping dearly that Millar will expand his repertoire. His formula has more often than not produced entertaining results. However, it's a formula, and it has limits. Many of Millar's contemporaries have their own stylistic quirks, but their stories have more range than this. Grant Morrison can do more than non-linear stories that read like hallucinations; Garth Ennis does genres other than just stories mercilessly satirizing religion, government, and spandex. Millar should be able to go beyond the super-cynical, super-violent, super-"hero" story. I have faith in him having the capacity to do so; I just hope he develops the inclination.