Mark Millar is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and influential comic book writers in the industry today. Period. After writing for several DC titles in the 90’s, Millar was instrumental in establishing the Ultimate Universe under the Marvel imprint in the early 2000’s. Then, beginning in 2004, the Scotsman established “Millarworld” – his own label with which he could craft stories centered on his own unique, personally-created characters. Millar’s satiric, yet crudely refreshing perspective on the superhero and action genres now reaches more fans than ever before. Why is that? Because of the success his stories have found on the big screen.
Beginning with his work with Ultimate Marvel, it’s clear that Millar always had cinematic aspirations for his stories. Rather than pigeonhole his work to appeal to only comic book readers, Millar – a self-professed cinephile – has also always been influenced by films. He doesn’t simply pay homage to films, yet also finds ample opportunity to lampoon them, too.
In his immensely influential series The Ultimates, Nick Fury was famously reimagined as a black character, with actor Samuel L. Jackson as his inspiration; this casting would of course come true years later, including a none-too-subtle 9-picture deal. Millar also toyed with the idea of the Avengers as celebrities, showing Tony Stark on a date with Shannon Elizabeth in space, as well as the Hulk trying to murder Freddie Prinze, Jr. after the latter went out on a date with Betty Ross. Over the years, Millar’s fresh take on characters both new and old has cemented his status as a truly entertaining writer; and even more recently, he has also proven why comic books and their film adaptations don’t need to be mutually exclusive, but rather integral counterparts that accentuate the strengths of each respective medium.
The first adaptation of his work was 2008’s Wanted, the thrilling, action-packed film starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman. The film revolves around Wesley Gibson: an unimposing, office-dwelling pushover, as his life is upended by the news that he’s the son of an acclaimed assassin, with similarly superhuman capabilities. Wesley is initiated into a secret society of fellow assassins, where he hones his skills, and becomes involved in the complex machinations of “The Fraternity.” Russian director Timur Bekmambetov showcases plenty of fast-paced, bullet-curving, high-octane action that has become essential to any Mark Millar adaptation. The comic upon which it was based, though likewise comprised of amoral, wanton violence, is far more – shall I say – “comic booky.”
Mark Millar’s Wanted was a 6-issue parody of the invincible, righteous, caped crusaders that are typically seen in popular comics by Marvel and DC. The premise? “The bad guys won. Led by Professor Solomon Seltzer, ALL the supervillains finally teamed up and destroyed all the superheroes in a cataclysmic battle back in 1986.” Millar’s trademark sarcastic, action-packed, profanity-ridden debauchery is on full display here in this sendup of the superhero genre. There’s literally a character named “Shit-Head” – described as “the collected feces of the six hundred and sixty-six most evil human beings that ever walked the earth.” Though it wouldn’t have been the first film to portray an anthropomorphic, evil shit-monster on screen (e.g., Kevin Smith’s Dogma), the film adaptation of Wanted deviates from its source material in a number of ways.
First off, Millar once again incorporated “dream casting” in his depiction of several characters. In addition to many of the ancillary supervillain characters serving as parodies of classic Marvel and DC characters, he also based the appearances for Wesley and Fox on Eminem and Halle Berry, respectively. Though this obviously didn’t come to fruition, it serves as another example of how the real world often infiltrates his comics in fun, unique ways. While much of the tone and initial premise of Wanted remains intact, all of the references to superheroes and supervillains are omitted. Some comic-purists may argue that the film does not faithfully capture Millar’s parody of superheroes; yet, the creator himself was highly involved throughout the film’s development process.
In an interview after the release of the film, Millar noted, “It’s not like the old days where the creators get ripped off. We comic guys own these properties now and we’re involved at various stages throughout the entire production.” He also mentions that the book has a plethora of references, allusions, and parodies of classic Marvel and DC characters; therefore, a strict adaptation of the comic could possibly lead to legal trouble. As for his feelings on his comics being adapted onscreen? Millar said, “As the writer of the original material, it’s weird passing your wee baby over to someone else, but this was like putting someone up for adoption and seeing him come back as Einstein. It’s the best comic adaptation I think I’ve ever seen and hopefully heralds a whole new type of superhero material.” Millar’s comments could not have been more accurate an indicator for what was to come in future adaptations of his work.