Is this Millar's troll face?
His practiced grin is almost like his signature, like Stan Lee's aviators and moustache, and nearly as ubiquitous. Millar is one of the most successful writers of superhero comics, and his multiple movie adaptations give him uncommon clout. More than anything else, it was Millar's action-oriented, ruthlessly commercial approach that has shaped 21st century superhero comics, especially their depiction in blockbuster movie franchises.
While he has a commendable record of charitable donations, and an ostensible dedication to creator-owned work, I find him obnoxious and I dislike his comics. But I have to admit that I have a morbid curiosity about his popularity, and what it implies about the state of mainstream superhero comics and the readers of those stories.
Millar has an undeserved reputation for being an ideas man. I think this is probably because of his early associations with Grant Morrison, and Morrison's great influence in young Millar's first works. But, with their friendship terminated long ago, the contact high is gone. Those searching his comics for anything offbeat or innovative will be left starving. Millar's comics are little else but obvious ideas realized in a pedestrian manner, made distinct only by the insertion of indulgent ultraviolence and perfunctory PC-baiting; racism, the violation of standard taboos, predictable misogyny, and the almost constant depiction of rape. Designed to offend, these scenes are ugly, mean-spirited and tiresome.
Anybody remember War Heroes? 1985? Supercrooks? I hear the movie versions are coming out any year now.
Millar is unashamedly a fan of superheroes (and I can hardly fault him for that), especially the deconstructionist superhero comics of the 80's that he grew up with. The non-superhero titles he's done all failed to register, and you can tell that his heart wasn't in it. His ill-conceived attempts at experimentation, like Trouble and The Unfunnies, have been failures. It's clear that his sole obsession as a writer is that old chestnut: "what if superheroes were real?" and all of his notable comics have asked variations of this question.
For Millar, the answer is a high-concept pantomime of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison: violent, sarcastic, movie-ready, and deliriously self-important. The execution is prosaic. He's committed to three-act story structure, first person narration, and contrived analogues of established characters with personalities that range from asshole to psychopath. This limited repertoire is reworked for each new comic, but with diminishing returns. Millar's last few efforts haven't exactly set the world on the fire, and the movie adaptation of Kick Ass 2 was dismissed as a box-office disappointment. As trends in mainstream superhero comics transition towards a bizarre corporate approximation of indie comics, Millar's schtick could well be a fading flavor-of-the-month. Possibly, possibly not.
Right now, Millar is as rich and famous as ever, and I wonder about his fans. Those that I've met weren't very encouraging: inarticulate, pompous, angry, nerds. Are they all like this? Are they alone in their apartments, laughing along to the bloodshed, thumbing past the moments of hollow sentimentality, and smirking as the stuck up bitches get gang-raped? Is there really a huge population of readers hungry for prepackaged sadism and disaster porn?
Hopefully, these are just the most vocal fans, and not representative of Millar readers as a whole. I suspect that the majority are merely boring, and for them Millar's brand of cynical edginess is a spicy alternative to Geoff Johns or J. Michael Straczynski. It probably feels quite adult to those in arrested adolescence. Whatever the case, Millar's fandom speaks to his shrewd salesmanship of his garish sensibilities. His skill at self-promotion is so good, I think, that even he believes his hype. Earnest appraisals by Sequart writers and frequent unearned inclusion among the great U.K. comics writers have also helped. He's even been awarded membership in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his contributions. Convinced of his talent, Millar is only too pleased to reap the great rewards. His legacy is one of repugnant, empty-headed movie pitches disguised as comics.
Will superheroes ever escape Millarworld?
The Lost Sounds, "Destructo Comet"