Mark Millar: Time-Travel, Superheroes, and the Next Millarworld Movie Adaptation

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Mark Millar Millarworld Chrononauts comics superhero film adaptations Critical

The difficulty with transcribing an interview with comics writer Mark Millar is not one of attuning the American ear to the Scottish accent. Rather, it's in the judicious editing out of all the exclamation points you find in your notes. Mark, like the comics he produces, is a high-energy personality, and every utterance comes across with a sense of excitement and urgency.

And why shouldn't he be excited? He's had several of his comic book projects turned into films, with more of those on the way, and he's living out the dream of playing daily with superheroes, and getting paid to do so!

The owner and operator of Millarworld sat down with CriticalBlast for a few moments to talk about his latest graphic novel venture, CHRONONAUTS, as well as drop some knowledge on us about some of his other projects he has coming down the pike.

I love time-travel stories because they often use the effect-precedes-cause plot device. You did that a little bit in CHRONONAUTS, but it wasn't in an overthought manner. It was really sort of a "frat party across time" with these two guys, Corbin Quinn and his best bro, Danny Reilly. Was that the feel you were going for when you decided you were going to write this story?

Well, I like the canvas of it. The entire time stream, as a writer, is a very exciting canvass. You can set a story in the far future when the Earth's about to die, or you can set it at the beginning of time, or anything in the middle. So I'm just going to have as much fun with this as possible.

Time travel stories tend to have just one jump. The most famous ones, like TERMINATOR or BACK TO THE FUTURE, it tends to be just one jump in the initial story, because it's quite a lot of people to get their head around; especially in movies there's a budget consideration because you can usually just afford two sets. You can afford Marty McFly in 1985, and you can afford to build his old high school in 1955. So the beautiful thing about comics is we never have this consideration, so I thought, I'm just going to do something that breaks all the rules, and just have fun with it and go crazy with the story.

You're right. Even DOCTOR WHO which exists on nothing but time travel really only has one time jump per storyline. (I'm sure there are some exceptions.) I think the movie that would come closest to the multi-jump thing you have in CHRONONAUTS would be BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, where you had two guys partying through time, although your two guys were much, much smarter and in much more danger.

Yes! You know, weirdly, I've never seen BILL AND TED. I'm aware of it, I know what it's about and everything, but that one's a straight-up comedy.

Chrononauts Mark Millar MillarworldThe story for CHRONONAUTS wraps up rather neat and tidy, with a clean ending. Do you have any plans to revisit these characters or this world?

Oh my God, yeah! I mean, this is just the first book. I've got three planned already. I see this very much as an ongoing thing. To me, time travel actually is almost like a power. It's an underutilized power in comic books. You've got stories about people who can fly and people who are strong. I kind of like the idea of these guys just having two suits that allow them to travel through time, because then there's an infinite amount of stories you can tell with it. So this one can run and run, I think. I'm already working on the second volume just now, and I've got the plan for the third one, and we're planning it as three movies as well.

That leads right into my next question, because you've got this streak of writing not so much comics, it seems, but marketable storyboards that get easily picked up by Hollywood.

For me, as a comic, I love it becoming a movie because for seventy years our industry was a faceless corporations ripping off creators, the guys who came up with the books, paying for giant Manhattan offices with the works of the comics pros, so I feel so incredibly fortunate that guys like myself and Robert Kirkman, we can sort of enjoy the fruits of our labors. Because our predecessors, and the guys from the generation before that, very often died with nothing after a lifetime of service in comic books. So it's wonderful that we have the opportunity to have this happen with the Hollywood side of things, and no big company sees a cent of it. It's entirely to us, and our families in the future.

But if I wanted to just do movies, I would just do movies. But for me it's comics first. And if somebody wants to make a videogame or a lunchbox or a movie, fantastic! Even better!

You've had a solid string of your work go to film, including creator owned work like KICK-ASS, WANTED, KINGSMAN, as well as some Marvel properties like CIVIL WAR and ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR, all of which had varying degrees of box office success. With FANTASTIC FOUR being the last one, what were your thoughts on seeing your ideas adapted and incorporated into the film? Do you get to consult on things like that?

It wasn't an adaptation of one of my books. There were elements from a lot of different FANTASTIC FOUR stories in there, but it certainly wasn't as much of an adaptation as the stuff that's appeared in the Marvel movies, with the Marvel Universe movies. I think the only thing from the Brian Bendis time...was the teleportation thing, where you saw the Fantastic Four as young kids and then the teleportation thing. But beyond that, there were no scenes or anything that was related to us.

Mark Millar Deadpool Marvel Ryan ReynoldsI do do a consultancy thing at Fox, which I signed up from August 2012 until August 2016, which is great fun. I go and sit in the back rooms with the suits and just chat, and we talk about what project would be good. I've been pushing for DEADPOOL from August 2012, since the first meeting when I first walked into the office in Los Angeles. Things like that, where you're just sitting, chatting with people and talking about which director would be cool, which actor -- or which franchise might be worth expanding upon, because the X-MEN universe itself almost seems like a movie universe of its own. There's about 600 characters which Fox has the rights to, so there's a lot of fun stuff that can be done with that.

Has it reached a saturation point, or is there no limit to what we're seeing planned for the number of superhero genre movies?

I think the market dictates the saturation point. If one emerges, what happens is less people go and see the movies. So I trust the market with this stuff. If audiences feel there are too many, they'll just go see fewer of them and it corrects itself. I think the number that we've had for the last 15 years has been excellent. I think four or so comic book movies has been the average over the last decade and a half, and the reason it's worked is that there have been very, very high end directors, whether it's Sam Raimi or Bryan Singer or Ang Lee or Matthew Vaughn -- any of these excellent directors has brought a real dignity to each of these projects. Just as a fan, I love that because when I was a kid, it was generally -- outside of Richard Donner -- less good directors who tackled comic book material. So I think as long as they keep it to a sensible number every year, I think it will work. If they expand too fast, then the market will correct it.

Is there any story you've got waiting that you would really like to tell, provided that you could get your hands on the right character? Something like, "I can't wait until I can work with SUPERMAN, because I really want to do this."

To some extent, yeah. It's funny. Like, the other day, I came up with a really good BATMAN story. And you can't help it, it's a really weird thing. You know, I've got my own company and we're busy with a whole bunch of comics at the moment -- I'm juggling three or four that I'm writing right now. But an idea is a funny thing. It can come out of nowhere, and you can't help it. Sometimes you just think of a good BATMAN story. So you jot it down, and then later you're having lunch and you go, "Oh, you know what would be a really good scene in that BATMAN story?" and you add something else to it.

So over the years I've done things like that. I've done all the Marvel characters I've always wanted to do. I was at Marvel for quite a while. DC I only got to touch on. I did SUPERMAN: RED SON and a couple of very small things outside of that. So it would be fun, as much as I have my own thing. I mean, the reason I got into this is because I love superheroes so much. I love Marvel and DC characters so much. So the idea of going back and doing a big special project or something is incredibly exciting to me. You know, Bryan Hitch has just done JUSTICE LEAGUE, and he sends me all the pages, and I'm like, "Oh my God! This is so cool!" It pleases different sides of your brain, really. It's lovely walking onto a film set and seeing famous actors dressed up as your characters. It's amazing walking into a store on the other side of the planet and a translation of one of your books from Millarworld. But at the same time, you can't beat playing with your childhood toys sometimes. I'm good friends with a lot of the DC guys, and we're always talking, so I would expect in the next couple of years I would like to do something for sure.

You and I share the same childhood-rooted love of the superheroes. I believe it was one of your intros to KICK-ASS where you mentioned that as a child "Superhero" seemed like a viable career option.

Yes! As a kid, that was my plan. And the weirdest thing, for a guy growing up in Scotland, my plan was to be Captain America!

I rather morbidly used to sit in my room and look through the junior college course catalogs that came in junk mail, and check off all the classes I was going to take -- criminology, self-defense, etc. -- all while wondering when I was going to become orphaned and would my working class parents leave behind a secret fortune for me to begin my war on crime in a town of less than a thousand people. So I recall the feeling well. But moving on... one of our writers asked me to inquire about the opportunities for a sequel to NEMESIS or a movie version of it, or perhaps SUPERIOR. Are there any plans along those lines?

You know, I have very exciting news on both, actually. NEMESIS we've taken over to Warner Brothers, which does seem quite odd because Warner Brothers obviously has the entire DC Universe, you know? I can't really go into what their plan is, but when I heard it, I was like, "Wow! I didn't even know they could even do that." So that's interesting. So we're going to do that over there, and the exec who bought it at Fox originally and is now a senior guy at Warner Brothers, he said once the rights to this become available again I'm all over this. So he jumped on it, which is great.

Mark Millar Nemesis MillarworldSo we're going to do that over at Warner's. And SUPERIOR is probably going to be the next movie we're shooting. STARLIGHT or SUPERIOR, I would imagine, are going to be the next two Millarworld adaptations. With STARLIGHT, the final screenplay is done now, and SUPERIOR has got one more tweak to get done. And they're both fantastic -- I'm so happy with them! I know who the most likely director is for SUPERIOR, I know Matthew Vaughn is producing it. And the director is actually a friend of mine, which is really exciting. I've been a massive fan of this guy for years, and I'm excited when I see an email from him in my inbox; I'm a huge fan as well as a pal of this guy. And just by pure chance, he was saying, "I'm thinking of doing a big studio picture." And I said, "Are you interested in this?" And he said, "Yeah, I've read the book and really enjoyed it. Let's do it." We're still probably a couple of week's away from anything formal on that, but this has just happened in the last few days, really.

Do you have a targeted date for a CHRONONAUTS movie, or is it still in the planning stages?

We're actually just out to writers just now. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS team are producing it over at Universal, and they want to get really high-end writers, so they're interviewing a couple different people at the moment. I imagine we're looking toward a 2017 release, all going well if we can get the writers that we want and get a final draft done by Christmas, and hopefully into production by summer next year.