This week, Twentieth Century Fox announced that they’ve tapped longtime comic book scribe Mark Millar to serve as creative consultant on their film adaptations of Marvel Comics properties based on the "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four" series.
But what exactly is behind this move, and why did Fox choose Millar in particular to help guide these valuable franchises? To answer that, we need to take a look at Millar’s background both in comics and in Hollywood.
Millar began his writing career in the early ‘90s in his native UK, where he worked on such titles as the venerable 2000AD, the comics magazine most notable for introducing Judge Dredd. With the help of his close friend and fellow Scotsman Grant Morrison, he was able to break into the American comics scene at DC Comics, where he initially co-wrote several series alongside Morrison. It was during this period that Millar would get his first taste of the Marvel Universe, co-writing 1995’s Skrull Kill Krew with Morrison, a miniseries about a group of vigilantes determined to hunt down and kill alien shapeshifters, known as Skrulls, living among us. (The Skrulls, it should be noted, are primarily antagonists of the Fantastic Four, so experience in writing them could come in handy if Fox’s plans include these little green men.)
Millar broke out on his own in 2000 with his run on Wildstorm’s The Authority, a hyper-violent take on traditional superhero archetypes with a dose of political and social commentary. It was his work on that series that attracted the notice of the new management team at Marvel Comics, who were on the cusp of launching an imprint featuring updated takes on classic Marvel characters, a line that would come to be known as the Ultimate Universe.
This opportunity afforded Millar his first experience with one of the franchises he will now be consulting on, as he was tapped to write Ultimate X-Men, a reenvisioning of Marvel’s mutant team, featuring versions of the characters who in many instances possessed radically different personalities and backgrounds from their original incarnations. Ironically, the Ultimate Universe was launched in part to address a perceived failure to tap into the potential audience of Fox’s first "X-Men" movie. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that Fox would look to the man who wrote a comic created specifically to reach that audience. Millar wrote Ultimate X-Men for 31 issues, and also wrote Ultimates, the Ultimate Universe version of the Avengers, many elements of which were borrowed for this year’s blockbuster "Avengers" film, most notably the Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury.
Subsequently, Millar got his first taste of the Fantastic Four franchise, Fox’s other key Marvel property, when in 2004 he co-wrote the first four issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four with Brian Bendis (who himself serves a creative consultant for Marvel Studios). This take on the Fantastic Four featured an all-around younger team, in an effort to make it more directly relatable to younger readers, an approach Fox may consider if it intends to reboot the Fantastic Four franchise. Millar returned to the series a year later for a 12-issue run in which he introduced the popular Marvel Zombies franchise.
Also in 2004, Millar delved into the X-Men mythos of the mainstream Marvel Universe, with Enemy of the State, a 13 issue arc on Wolverine’s solo series, in the style of a Hollywood action blockbuster that featured ninjas, zombies, and a mind-controlled Wolverine facing off against the greatest heroes of the Marvel Universe, including the Fantastic Four.
Millar would get the chance to tackle the Fantastic Four of the mainstream Marvel Universe in their own book, when in 2008 he began a 14-issue run on Marvel’s first family alongside his Ultimates artist Bryan Hitch. Millar used this run to play with the sort of big ideas that the Fantastic Four series has been known for since its inception, including parallel worlds, future timelines, and grandiose villains. In the same year, Millar returned to the pages of Wolverine with Old Man Logan, the tale of an aging Wolverine in a post-apocalyptic future, enabling him to turn many of the tropes of the Marvel Universe on their heads, and explore Wolverine’s psyche in a future gone wrong. Given Fox’s plans to adapt the classic X-Men story “Days Of Future Past,” a grasp of how the X-Men work in dystopian futures is a big asset that Millar brings to the table.
However, lest anyone think that comic book writing is the only experience Millar will be able to put to use in his new position, it’s worth noting that Millar has already successfully parlayed his comics experience into a career in Hollywood, having had two of his creator-owned series adapted into feature length films. The first is "Wanted," the tale of supervillains who have wiped out the heroes and taken over society. "Wanted" was adapted into a 2008 film starring James McAvoy, who currently holds the role of Professor X in Fox’s "X-Men: First Class" franchise. The other is "Kick-Ass," a series about ordinary people who dress up in costume and fight crime in their communities (often to horrific results) as part of the so-called “real-life superhero movement.” Millar became good friends with the director of "Kick-Ass," Matthew Vaughn, who also happens to have directed "X-Men: First Class." Millar and Vaughn have even co-created a new comic book series, "The Secret Service," which they plan to bring to film as well.
Given a network of relationships with the very people already working on Fox’s Marvel properties, it’s easy to see how Millar made it onto Fox’s radar. But perhaps most important is this; Fox, as well as the rest of Hollywood, has seen Marvel’s success at producing their own films, and have noted that it is no small part due to the authenticity their movies possess, stemming from the people who work on the comics being involved. Tapping Mark Millar, a key member of the team of writers who revitalized Marvel in the last decade, may be their first step in creating a shared universe to rival that of Marvel Studios.
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