Mark Millar has been on a roll for quite a while now: he’s had a successful company-wide event in Civil War; he’s had a successful multi-year run on the Ultimates; he’s having several of his creator-owned properties optioned for film—with Wanted set for a DVD release in the near future and Kick-Ass being filmed at present. Of course, he’s happy—he’s also writing a story in Wolverine with Steve McNiven and he’s the writer of Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four, drawn by Bryan Hitch.Currently, the final installment of ‘The Death of the Invisible Woman’ is only a few hours away—and beyond that it seems the winds of change are going to be changing quite a bit of the status quo in the Fantastic Four. Newsarama contacted Millar to talk about upcoming events in the Fantastic Four and how plot threads from “Old Man Logan” in Wolverine and his current mini-series 1985 have ties to the advent of the upcoming “Masters of Doom” storyline.
Newsarama: So, the title says it all: “The Death of the Invisible Woman”—we’re approaching the final chapter of the story—everyone has seen the solicit image of Reed standing over a casket and he’s surrounded by characters from the current storyline…is this really happening? Sue’s dying…
Mark Millar: Oh yeah—it’s really happening. If you think about it, we’re playing a few little tricks but there has been something set up since the beginning of our run which is the idea of a potential successor to Sue which is Reed’s first love, Alyssa Moy. The Scarlet Witch and Sue Storm were both big deals to me as a kid for some reason—I just had crush on them both when I was around the age of seven; I would draw pictures of them and things. (laugh)
It’s always really struck me that Reed and Sue are really an odd match; a lot of people say “opposites attract” but usually it’s not the case, especially when somebody is just of average intelligence encounters someone who is extremely intelligent—so much so that they almost don’t seem human. So, someone like Alyssa, who we introduced in earlier issues, just seems like the perfect match for Reed—but thenFantastic Four #561, page 2 , he doesn’t love Alyssa like he does Sue.
I’m not saying we’re going that way—but the idea of setting up a potential post-Sue wife for Reed was intentional. All I will say is that the Invisible Woman does die in the next issue of the Fantastic Four.
NRAMA: Wow, that’s a pretty heavy thought—you’re not going to pull a bait and switch where Reed gets in a time machine and goes and gets himself a younger, less ornery version of his wife? (laughs)
MM: No, but I love the idea! He’s weeping because Sue dying is the worst thing that’s ever happened to him—but then, he hops into a time machine and goes back and grabs a slightly hotter Sue from some point before she had the two kids—I almost wish I had done that! (laughs)
I’m a writer—so there is always going to be a bait and switch in there somewhere but no—he’s not going to try to fix this like that.
NRAMA: How do you come up with ideas like using Galactus as the battery for a large time machine/portal with Doctor Doom and the Human Torch as the jumper-cables?
MM: It’s funny you say that—I think it comes from wanting to be a writer/artist originally but I wasn’t able to afford the art materials—because, in all honesty, I wanted to do both. I draw a lot of stuff out before I start writing—I think comics are just so visually driven. And this may be an odd thing for a writer to say but intensity and artwork are really 80% of what’s important in a comic book.
Sometimes, a visual will come to me before the story, like when I was coming up for the plans for these eight issues that make up the first two four-parters we’ve worked on. The first thing I drew was Galactus lying on his back chained up with Doctor Doom and Johnny Storm chained back to back in his chest plate. At first, I didn’t even know what it was—and I just called it “the Galactus engine” and I made it this little note to myself in my subconscious. Well, as the weeks passed, the story eventually evolved from there.Fantastic Four #561, pages 4-5 Oddly, that’s sort of how I write comics—I know that must sound ridiculous in the sense that I think of something that is visually interesting and then the story kind of organically forms up around that. I think almost everything I’ve ever done is like that—everything starts as an image. For example, the image with Hawkeye flicking his fingernails as weapons and then I worked the story outward from that. Another image was one of Soviet and Chinese supermen pushing over the Statue of Liberty and attacking the White House and then I sort of came up with ideas for the other end of the story and connected all of the images together. That’s the way I tend to write, I know it sounds a bit odd…
NRAMA: Kind of like a “comic savant”…
MM: (laughs) Yeah…or an idiot somewhat—yeah. It’s all about what seems interesting to me—or what would be a cool story to tell. This whole story—because the two four-parters link together—really came from a singular image that looked cool.
NRAMA: Fantastic Four #562 is aptly titled 'A Fantastic Four Wedding and a Funeral' and the solicited cover image indicates that the time-displaced Defenders are still time-displaced. Will these characters from the far-flung future be taking up residency in the modern Marvel Universe?
MM: Definitely. One of the things I try to do—and I’ve done this on other books—is that I try to leave behind something; to not just constantly play with the old toys, so to speak. One of the things I used to admire about the Lee and Kirby run on Fantastic Four was that, unlike us mere morals, they created stuff constantly and they didn’t really play with other people’s creations very often. I love the fact that, in the middle of their amazing run on Fantastic, Lee and Kirby came up with all of these really great concepts that everyone else got to play with later. I really love the fact that the Inhumans came from this little three-part story—and they’ve stuck around. I mean, they’ve never really sustained their own book for very long but they’re a lovely little part of the Marvel Universe. I try to do that in my work—like in the Ultimate Fantastic Four—I came up with the Marvel Zombies by basically saying, “Look, here’s a cool little alternate dimension where all the superheroes have become zombies.” It was such a nice and simple high concept that other people could play with—and then came the mini-series and now they’ve done an endless string of covers and mini-series.Fantastic Four #561, page 6 People always ask, “Do you feel like they’re ripping you off?” and I say, “No, that’s why I wanted that world to exist—that’s why I created it. It’s their world as well.” I think that’s the coolest compliment as a writer of comic books that you can get.
There’s a lot of stuff like that coming up—there’s going to be more of the time-displaced Defenders—there is more to them than meets the eye. There’s also the Nu-World, the exact duplicate of our world, just waiting there—and then there’s Doom’s Masters—the Masters of Doom coming up. They are the guys who trained Doctor Doom. I just want to leave behind all these little things behind for other people to play with.
NRAMA: I have to admit the Hooded Man is very cool…
MM: Well, there’s a nice little reveal coming up in involving him—it’s something that fans will like quite a bit. Again, it’s a bait and switch—and it’s not quite what you think it’s going to be—you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
NRAMA: So are you yanking Ben Grimm’s chain this time around? Is he really getting married and is he going to stay married for a while without fear of a Skrull bride?
MM: He’s definitely going to get engaged—that plot is still pretty undeveloped in the books that are out and I don’t want to give away anything yet. I actually wanted to keep the engagement a secret but I keep forgetting that one of the down-sides to the preview images for the catalogs and online solicitation material is that they show cover art—and that upcoming cover image kind of tells the whole story, doesn’t it? (laughs)
That can get pretty annoying because I really want to make this big (GASP) moment where Ben proposes and then suddenly—everyone knew that three months ago! That’s also a massive upside to the internet though—because the fans can get these little things and it can spur them to keep reading your book as well.Fantastic Four #561, page 7 Fantastic Four is most pleasant when the characters behave like real people. Things that we understand as being ordinary things—being given the next ordinary quest—as I’ve said before, when the Fantastic Four get a nanny, it’s kind of a big deal when the nanny turns out to be a witch—it’s just a more intense ordinary experience. If the Fantastic Four are having a baby—it’s going to happen in a hospital just like anyone else but Mr. Fantastic may have to stretch his neck to the breaking point to get there on time for the birth of his child. Everything we can relate to on a certain level—whether it’s the family car being the Fantasti-Car or whatever—it’s just given a little more of a twist. Ben getting engaged is just another example of that happening.
NRAMA: And there’s potential for little creepy, rock-covered babies…
MM: (laughs) And that’s what I want, you know? I’ve been talking to Marvel about that and I’m not finished with them yet—I’ve got a couple more ideas but they are quite hesitant about that. I think one of the reasons Fantastic Four started off as one of Marvel’s more trendier books back in the 60’s until the early 70’s when Amazing Spider-Man and The X-Men really caught on is because the book did such an amazing job of organically carrying on and then it stopped doing so. You have to think—back then—when you had superheroes getting married it was quite shocking; it really didn’t happen before—and having children—and so on. I think the book froze—and the worst thing that can happen to a family dynamic is that is just freezes to death and then the family dies. I think the Fantastic Four should constantly expand—all the time—that’s what Stan and Jack did, they constantly expanded it.
In all honesty, I think the Simpsons is really the best template for the Fantastic Four where you have this entire world at your disposal where you can interact with their friends and new people and all kinds of stuff—and I think Marvel has become a little bit resistant to that because having things happen—where characters get married or have kids…ages a character. So, if these characters start to age—then readers might start to think of them beyond their prime—and no one wants to see Reed and Sue as their grandparents. I completely understand their side of the ‘aging’ argument too.
I’ve always felt that the difference between Marvel and DC is that the characters did sort of age with the reader but just very slowly and things tended to move forward in a very linear way. With DC, everything kind of moved forward but stayed the same…Fantastic Four #561, page 8 NRAMA: Things stay so ‘iconic’...
MM: Absolutely. To me, that’s a fundamental difference between DC and Marvel—when big things go down in the DC Universe it always ends up feeling like fairy tale because everything always remains the same.
NRAMA: Do you think this is part and parcel of the comic industry’s success in Hollywood? Every book from the Big 2 now has this “absolute definition” of what it is—and most books seem very fixed with very little room for any sort of change beyond cosmetic changes…
MM: Oh yeah—absolutely. I think when you see something like Ultimates—where we really kind of screwed around with a lot of the classic stuff—we got away with a lot of stuff because Marvel was one year out of bankruptcy back then. Back then we were trying anything; I think five years down the line when all of these characters have huge established movie franchises—creators just aren’t going to have the wiggle room. There won’t be that sort of “try anything” creative freedom.
Right now, we’ve really got lots of room—at Marvel all the writers seem to have quite a bit of control over the directions of the characters, I think. It helps that Joe [Quesada] is a creator himself; I always say to him that Marvel, in the last eight years or so, is probably in the same situation that DC was in the early 80’s when Dick Giordano, an artist, was in charge of the company. There’s just so much more freedom and creators just seem to have so much more license.
I remind my fellow creators all the time that I remember what it was like getting started in the early 90’s as a writer—and not having the sort of control that we have now. Editors were sort of big bullies back and they would re-write your stuff and you weren’t treated particularly well. Well, in five or ten years time, when other people are in charge, it’s not going to feel the way it does now—I think this is kind of a golden age and there are quite a few good books out there.
NRAMA: In December, Fantastic Four is going to be featuring a threat that is introduced in your project 1985, correct? Just who are the Masters of Doom? And what does Victor Von Doom think of these so-called “Masters”?
MM: I’ve always thought it was quite interesting actually that Doctor Doom is Marvel’s most iconic villain—even more so than Red Skull or Green Goblin. It’s just that name, you know? It’s one of those characters that a lot of people who don’t read comics don’t quite know who he is—but they’re familiar with the name and they recognize his name before you mention any other villains.
We don’t really know what quite happened with him at this point. We know he went off and got trained up with those monks and stuff—and now here he is…Marvel’s greatest super-villain—but you never even saw how all that happened. The idea of him being this sort of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” type of character in the sense that there is a guy who trained him; it’s very similar to the whole Sith Master and Sith Apprentice roles in the Star Wars stories—in the sense that Darth Vader was really this rip-off of Darkseid and Doctor Doom.Fantastic Four #561, page 9 So it just kind of blew my mind when I started conceiving the idea that there was a guy that bigger and more evil than Doctor Doom—like this sort of old man that Doom knelt down on one knee for when he saw him. That guy is now coming back—and there’s this idea that 20 years ago, Doom made a promise to concur everything and honor this guy by making a name for himself throughout the cosmos. Now, this guy is back and he’s looking at everything that Doom has achieved during this time that he’s been away…
NRAMA: Is he happy with Doom?
MM: Ah…no. Doom’s been defeated quite a bit…
NRAMA: But he had the power of the Beyonder once…
NRAMA: …but I guess he lost it.
MM: In the end, the Fantastic Four and all these other people that Doom has faced have found a way to thwart his plans. And now, Doom’s Master isn’t very happy with his record—Doom has dishonored him greatly so he comes back and becomes the new Doctor Doom.
NRAMA: Does this guy have a name?
MM: Yes, he does—he’s called the Marquis of Death—and he’s like, “Doom, you’ve fucked up; and now, I’m going to take care of this.”
NRAMA: Who is the other guy with him?
MM: He’s only known as Wyncham—he has ties to the Fantastic Four. He’s like the coachman to the Marquis of Death; he’s the guy who takes him from universe to universe and they just destroy everything together. They just go around the multi-verse destroying everything—they are the opposite of life. Doom found out about these people and he wanted to learn from them; so, they agreed to take him on—under the condition that he become as much of a bad ass as they are.
NRAMA: This also loosely ties into the story with Wolverine in ‘Old Man Logan’, correct?
MM: It ties-in in the sense that they compliment each other. As a kid, it really used to annoy me when I felt like I had to pick-up all these extra books. This is a very relaxed sort of crossing over in these three books. I’ve said this since the beginning—if you read all three of them, you’ll get something out of it—but if you only read one or two of the three, you’ll still enjoy the same stories. They can be read on the own, you know? Wyncham shows up in Wolverine and Doom shows up in 1985—but all of these stories can be read as is.
Just think about it this way: ‘Old Man Logan’ is set 50 years in the future and the time-displaced Defenders are from the same timeline—just 450 years after ‘Old Man Logan’—so in the upcoming months, in Fantastic Four, you will see how these events start to tie-in to one another. There’s a method to all of this madness.
NRAMA: It’s important that readers get a sense of clarity from these sorts of projects, right? Do you think that it helps to give them a peek behind the curtain, so to speak? You haven’t spoiled anything for these stories—but you just kind of showed them a couple of big cogs in the machine…
MM: I just think that a lot of this came from working on Civil War for nine months. I just wanted to do something a little more self-contained but I just couldn’t help it—I found myself just linking the things together. Everything just ties together really well—in the next issue of FF, you’re going to see how the current FF story links into ‘Old Man Logan’ and at the end of ‘Old Man Logan’ there is going to be this really cool epilogue that ties into the Fantastic Four…or you can enjoy all of it on your own. If you need to spend your money on rent that week—by all means, pay your rent that week! (laughs)
NRAMA: So, would you say that 2009 is going to be a status quo changing year for the Fantastic Four? Can you give readers some teases as to what’s in store for the beginning of next year?
MM: Well, the resolution of the first big storyline is coming. The Invisible Woman is dead—so that’s a new status quo set-up right there. The death of Doctor Doom…a new Doctor Doom coming to make up for how the old one has absolutely failed—and he’s going to try to destroy everything overnight. Ben’s going to be engaged. Reader’s will be introduced to a gay alternate universe Johnny Storm…there’s also somewhat of a Christmas special…that actually splits into two issues of the regular series and it takes place in Scotland. I wanted to do a horror story with the FF set in Scotland. Most of my favorite FF issues that don’t rate as highly with most fans are the early Kirby issues—when Kirby was still fresh off of all the big monster comics from back then…well, some of those monsters would spill over into his work in the Fantastic Four back then—years before Joe Sinnott came in and made the book look so much more “superhero”. I just really liked the creepy feel that the earlier issues had. Now throw in the fact that my all time favorite television show is the ‘Twilight Zone’—you know, the good ones…so I wanted to do something that was a nod to that as well.
So I have this pretty creepy story where the FF travel to see Reed’s cousin who is a Presbyterian Church minister in the north of Scotland—in this eerie little village that the Fantastic Four are spending their Christmas in…which, of course, leads to the discovery of a Christmas monster that’s there waiting for them. (laughs)
NRAMA: (laughs) Of course…
MM: Every Christmas something awful happens in this village and it just so happens that the FF are there this year.
NRAMA: Has there been a story that you’ve pitched for the Fantastic Four that Marvel has simply said, “Um, no—too crazy”?
MM: Actually—no. The lovely thing about Marvel—and I keep going back to comparing Marvel to DC in the 80’s—is that there is a lot of freedom right now and they’re very supportive of the guys they hire. They’re very interested and hopeful that the things we’re coming up with succeed. You know—it’s one of those things—they won’t hire you unless they trust you, you know? When they trust you—they let you go and do your thing. I love working for Marvel.
I’ve been very fortunate over the past couple of years and I’ve had a great deal of success. It’s something like five movies in the works now and they’re all getting made which is great. People ask me, “You’re getting all this money now—why are you still doing this?” and I tell them, “I like getting into the office and working. I like talking to the guys about comics on the phone. We have a lot of laughs and we’re all pals.” It’s just such a great working environment because we can really do what we want to do creatively—I mean look at 1985. How the hell do you pitch that? Marvel trusts me—and that’s a great feeling.
NRAMA: So Mark Millar isn’t going to disappear to Hollywood?
MM: I am 100% staying with comics. I’m a comic guy—ask my agent, because that’s exactly what I tell him when he tries to get me to move out to LA. (laughs)