Ruby Nation

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Open Letter To Mark Millar Re: Superior

Dear Mark Millar,

In the unlikely event that you have been reading this blog, you probably know my increasing dissatisfaction with your output in the past few years. This comes from a place where I once loved your work, back on the Authority and the Ultimate titles. There were innovative titles that were very entertaining and felt like genuinely modern takes on the superhero genre. Even in more recent years you've delivered some very good comics like Wolverine: Enemy of the State and the Marvel Knights Spider-Man. The frustration I feel with more recent works (particularly your ICON output and your Ultimate Avengers revamp) comes from the feeling that you are working well below your potential. Some part of me still held out hope that you'd do thoughtful works again, but after I read Superior #4, I realized that wouldn't be the case.

My experience with Superior was at first conflicted; on the one hand, I thought that the not-Superman Superman analogue was the worst cliche of creator-owned superhero writers, filing serial numbers off and calling it 'meta' rather than creating unique characters. One the other hand, I was impressed with how Simon's Multiple Sclerosis was handled. You made the character's suffering realistic and sympathetic, and you treated him as a major character rather than a pet to showcase others' greatness. And even while I'd lost interest in your other books, I still wanted to see this story progress, and see how Simon would live his life with super-powers.

But that's not what this story is about, is it? The backstory of Simon is scarcely mentioned in issues 3 and 4, and instead the story starts focusing on the Superman analogue. All the old tropes are trotted out, with Simon doing all the heroic Superman things with his Superior powers, and the world acting like he's a savior. The narrator even goes out to talk about Superman-- I mean Superior's origins, and how he inspired kids people during the 30's. This is a unique insight that everyone who's even heard of The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Klay already knows.

Admittedly, it's optimistic, which is a far cry from your previous Icon stories (which are about, respectively, a wannabe teen hero who pretends to be gay to get chicks, and an evil Batman analogue who impregnates his enemy's daughter with the sperm of his son and booby-traps her womb. But just because it's unique for you, doesn't mean it's unique for others. I've already seen stories that try to reintroduce wonder and hope to superhero comics. I've read Marvels, the "Heroes Return" Marvel books, Grant Morrison's JLA and All-Star Superman, Mark Waid's Fantastic Four, and other comics that believed that being traditional was revolutionary. Most of them weren't so self-conscious about it, though-- they also had inherently interesting stories to go with the nostalgia.

This would merely make it forgettable had I not read your afterword for the first issue, where you talk about the importance of creating new heroic characters for each generation, like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko did in the 60's. But a technicality doesn't make something new. Superior is Prime from Malibu's Ultraverse, who was Captain Marvel from Fawcett. If it was a story about a kid dying of multiple sclerosis, as in the actually GOOD opening parts of the comic, I would have loved it. But you couldn't divorce yourself from the superhero genre, and had to make MS the Culturally Noteworthy Tragic Backstory to inspire Simon when he becomes Superior. Which, in its own way, is again reducing the disabled character to a prop off which others look better.

The cliffhanger with the seemingly compassionate but actually evil Space Monkey giving Simon's bully powers did nothing to convince me that this story will be going anywhere. I'm just not going to bother, because if you've stopped caring about trying anything different, why should I care about what you do?

Hoping you'll write something interesting again,
-Neil Kapit


  1. Yeah, right. From Millar? Good luck these days.

    Jimmy T

  2. A couple of points are worth noting here:

    -In some cases, things like deconstructions of popular heroes, casual sex, graphic violence and Darker and Edgier cynicism used to be subversive, but now they've become so prevalent that more optimistic and uplifting stories themselves end up being out of the ordinary.

    It's almost as if writing a story where the characters DON'T hop into bed over the course of the storyline, and where the hero's sexual prowess or lack thereof isn't touched on at all is in its own way bizarrely subversive.

    -What Millar doesn't seem to realize is that subsequent generations of creators have been creating new superhero characters for decades. Everyone from Ms. Marvel to Luke Cage to Sleepwalker have been created in different decades, but for whatever reason they just haven't become icons the way characters like Spider-Man or Wonder Woman have.

    Indeed, many of these characters are derided as second-stringers, C-listers, losers, call them what you like. Barring rare exceptions like the Hood and the Runaways, most of these characters don't have as much stature in the Marvel Universe as Iron Man or the Hulk. Even then, almost none of them have gone beyond the boundaries of comicdom and into mainstream culture-everyone and his brother knows who Batman is, but chances are none of them will ever known who the Hood is.

    Even long-standing characters like Hank Pym, the Scorpion and the Whirlwind have been degraded and shat on by different writers despite being created by titans like Lee, Kirby and Ditko. Let's not forget that Millar himself is responsible for at least some of this, insisting that even when he's gained the powers of Venom, apparently the Scorpion is somehow still a loser.

    Obscure characters can still be given new leases on life if a creator takes an interest in them-C.B. Cebulski is doing it to Darkhawk, Bendis has done it to the Hood, Fred Van Lente and Dan Slott have done it to a number of Spider-villains, and so on. Even fanfic writers like myself (writing Sleepwalker) and Lorendiac (who wrote an extensive American Dream series at can do it.

    Too bad Millar himself doesn't seem to practice what he preaches. The New Warriors could easily have been given a new lease on life, but Millar merely used them as cannon fodder to kick off the Civil War.

  3. Wasn't aware of Lorendiac's fanfic, but I've always found him impressive on the forums, so I should probably check it out.

    And that's a good point about how the most original concepts fall under the radar at Marvel and DC. Unfortunately for them, the industry has changed so that new characters tend to be kept by their creators. Original superheroes like Hellboy, Madman, Dynamo 5, etc. are done as creator-owned works, while the original characters we get at the Big Two tend to be very derivative of others (see: Daken).

    The fact that Millar is doing most of his work on creator-owned comics makes the unoriginality of his concepts even more damning.