Mark's Millar's Book of Revelation: American Jesus

'American Jesus, Vol 1: Chosen' cover

American Jesus vol 1
American Jesus vol 1
The Book of Revelation will be told in comics.

For Mark Millar, the creator behind such eyebrow-raising projects as Wanted, Kick-Ass, War Heroes, Marvel’s Civil War, Ultimates and soon Ultimate Avengers, calling something American Jesus isn’t that big of a deal.

American Jesus is the larger name of Millar’s re-telling of The Book of Revelation from the Bible, set in contemporary times. Both the returned Jesus and the Anti-Christ grow up in a world where at least one of them can more easily reconcile his powers with the notion that he may be a mutant, rather than a supernatural being whose presence signifies the beginning of the end of everything.

The first installment of the three part story, Chosen was originally published in 2004 by Dark Horse, and this week, is being released in a new trade paperback collection bearing the name American Jesus - from Image Comics.

We spoke with Millar about the larger project and the first installment that’s now available.

Newsarama: Mark, take us back to the start here on what was originally published as Chosen - what was the spark of the story?

Mark Millar: The American Jesus idea hit me a few of years back. When I was a kid, I read the Bible like everyone else, and I sort of hoped that the ending would happen in my lifetime. The Book of Revelation is just really cool – all the old stuff with the sandals just sounded less exciting than the returning Jesus versus the Beast at the end of time. I think everyone who reads it kind of assumes that it’s going to happen in their lifetime, so just as a kid, it sounded great. So the idea has been percolating in me for a long time, and has actually appeared in a couple of projects that I’ve done over the years.

I think it came to a head with me when I started thinking about the first volume, Chosen, and it crystallized into a very linear story – a story about what it would be like to be Jesus in the present day, growing up with television, movies and everything that kids these days grow up with. And I also thought it would be interesting to show the Anti-Christ as well, but not in a slasher-film kind of way, but rather just showing a kid growing up who knows that he’s got to be the bad guy in this big battle and terrible stuff; and then – of course, you have to have them meet. If you look at it that way – it’s God versus Satan. It’s probably the world’s most famous story, and yet, it’s rarely, if ever dramatized.

As a kid, I remember watching a copy of The Final Conflict – the last Omen movie - and being so upset that it wasn’t the big fight with Jesus. But back then, I suppose it would be too controversial to do something like that. But now, luckily we’re in these crazy times where you can get away with anything, so God versus Satan gets a telling in American Jesus.

NRAMA: Speaking of these crazy times – when this miniseries originally came out, and even recently with the FULL first issue up on Newsarama, there’s not a hue and cry that at one time you would have expected to greet such a project. Were you surprised that this didn’t make the evening news with a story about how comics are attacking religion and someone needs to take a look at them for the children’s sake?

MM: Oh no, not at all. I wrote the thing with the purpose in mind of not offending Christians because I am one. I’m a practicing Catholic, which is incredibly unusual in the entertainment industry. I’ve always found it the cheapest of cheap shots to go for Christianity. I just think there are so many positive things about it, so why go for the negatives?

To me, Christianity has always been a very relaxed thing. Growing up with it in the West of Scotland may be very different than it is in some parts of America, but generally it’s very tolerant and people are very nice, and will go out of their way to help people less fortunate than they are. So it’s always been a very positive thing in my life.

I always cringe slightly when I see writers going after Christianity and especially the Catholic Church. It’s like the secret handshake of the bad writer. It’s like making Hitler your villain in a story – it’s so easy. Find something new to say. It’s not brave or particularly clever anymore. I think it was brave 400 years ago when you’d still get burned at the stake for it, and even brave 40 or 50 years ago, when attitudes were different and people would get it trouble or be ostracized for it, but now, my God, it’s probably more shocking to be a Catholic than to be a Satanist.

And if you read the story, there’s nothing in it that can be held up and waved by Bill O’Reilly as the latest threat to society and Western Civilization. If anything, this is a bookend to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. That’s the story of the crucifixion, and this is the story of his return. The thing I liked about The Passion was that the people who went nuts about it were the religious groups – the people that are normally campaigning against movies. So I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to tap into that and do something that’s just pretty straight from the Bible and give it a modern spin and just tell a good story.

The thing is, I think it will get some more notice, and probably be held up a little. At some point soon, there will be some movie news, and when it becomes a movie thing instead of a comic thing, it will hit the mainstream a little more and hit a much wider audience.

NRAMA: It’s harder to ignore when it’s a movie retelling of revelation, rather than a comic book…

MM: [laughs] That’s right. The thing is, we’ve got it pretty sweet in comics. Probably 99% of the time, nobody notices us. We have our regular audience, and they’re a very intelligent audience, and we write things for them. So it’s going to be interesting when it starts to reach a wider audience. I’m finding this with Kick-Ass as well – something like Hit Girl in that story – a ten year-old girl that’s swearing and killing people. In comics that can kind of get by without much of a fuss, but when that starts to reach more of the mainstream…I think there might be something of a fuss made. Thye same thing will probably happen with American Jesus.

NRAMA: You had a title change and a publisher change – what went into that?

MM: Chosen was always going to be the first part of a trilogy. American Jesus was the trilogy, and Chosen was always part one of that. This is one guy’s side of it all, and in book two, we’ll see the other guy’s side of it all. So this is something that I’ve planned on for ages, but unfortunately, between things like Civil War, Ultimates, Wolverine, Fantastic Four and other things, I’ve had so much less time for my creator-owned stuff that I’d planned.

I think I originally planned for the first part to come out in 2004 and the rest to come out in 2005-2006. So, as much as my books are usually late…this is four years later than I wanted, so it’s nice to finally get this back on track and have it come out.

NRAMA: What brought you over to Image Comic from Dark Horse for the collection and the subsequent parts of the story?

MM: Probably [Image partner] Robert Kirkman. He’s been on this fanatical campaign to get everyone over to Image, and I just admired that fanaticism. He was telling me, ages back, that I could be reaching a whole new audience with Image and making twice as much as I did at Marvel, and all the other things that a Scottish person wants to hear, so, being like Scrooge McDuck, I gave it a try to see what it would be like. I do have to say though, ICON [Marvel’s creator-owned imprint and home to Kick-Ass] is great – the deal we have with Kick-Ass is one that took us way beyond our wildest expectations, so I was hesitant, but I like Robert, and I like the Image guys, and War Heroes was already over there, so I figured we’d give it a try and see how it goes.

NRAMA: Does this mean that you’re looking at Image as more of a home now?

MM: I’ll still do the vast majority of my work at Marvel, but I’m also very much aware of the fact that ICON exists because Image exists. If Image didn’t exist, I doubt Marvel would have the slightest interest in doing something like ICON, and DC probably wouldn’t be doing so much creator-owned projects under their imprints either. All of these things started after Image because creators started doing their own material. So I think Image is a very important thing in the industry to support – and also, people do very well over there – there are some guys at Image who are making much more than the biggest creators at Marvel and DC. So it makes real sense to have Image around.

NRAMA: Getting back to the story, in writing American Jesus, which is, as you’ve said, a telling of the Book of Revelation, were you typing with the Bible open beside you, matching up imagery and characters as you went, or is this a broader-brush adaptation that hits on the larger beats of the story?

MM: Not really. I was familiar enough with the source material in the same way that most comic book writers are familiar with Amazing Spider-Man #1-#125 or something like that. I spent a lot of my childhood reading the Bible and going to Catholic School, so the material that I was drawing from was familiar to me, and I never had to open the Bible to check references or anything.

Also, I met with a friend of mine who’s a priest who is, certainly one of Scotland’s, if not one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Apocalypse….I just love the idea that there’s someone out there who is an authority on the Apocalypse!

NRAMA: It’s always good to have his number within reach…

MM: [laughs] Yes, exactly! He gets called out for some very interesting things. I was tormenting myself on this, trying to figure out how literal I should be, because when you look at some of this stuff, it’s quite esoteric and doesn’t lend itself to the natural three act structure that most stories have – not to mention that there’s no real conclusion other than “God wins.” There are no beats or real flow within the story. So I wasn’t sure how much I should show in my story – should I show the Seven Heads and the Seven Seals and all of that? And my friend said to just take the basic idea of it and do my own thing. It was great advice that was very liberating as well. So I’ve taken the very broad strokes and am taking my own interpretation of it, and that works much better in terms of story structure because of that. So sometimes going back to the original source can bind you a little bit.

NRAMA: Going back to the whole conflict and controversy side of things, have you ever considered the flipside – that is, that once this hits the mainstream, you’re embraced by the Left Behind audience and the Christian readership that is into End Times prophecy and find this to be appealing to them?

MM: I’d be comfortable with that, actually. I was going through the states a few months back, and all the places everyone said I would hate – all the flyover states – they were the ones that I liked the best. I mean, I’m a left-leaning Scot, and I’m comfortable with conservative Americans. I think America, especially during the Bush years, and even now, sees itself split into two groups, and I feel comfortable in both of them. The Left Behind audience is an audience that I understand because they embrace material that I’m interested in, so if they pick up the book, great. As I said, I don’t think there’s anything in it that they would hate – this is more of a straightforward story without the violence that usually makes it into my other books.

NRAMA: As you said, you’re a Christian raised in the church and with the Bible. Was there any trepidation when you decided to take on this story? Revelation is obviously widely open to interpretation, but there are warnings to those who would willingly misinterpret it or use t to lead those of faith astray – not that that’s every stopped any number of individuals form interpreting it freely according to their agenda or time period… Was there any conflict between your faith and the story you were looking to tell?

MM: Not at all. Like I said, the Christianity I grew up with wasn’t fire and brimstone, just as it isn’t for most people. It was a very loving, community thing. So the idea of doing your own interpretation of the Book of Revelation is something that my old neighbors would be interested in reading. It’s not something that anyone would judge you for. I think if you did something horrible or deliberately offensive, then yeah, there would be a problem, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling it as a story, no different than The Passion or any of the Old Testament books that were turned into movies.

It’s quite interesting to me that the most exciting of all the books in the Bible is the one that’s never been dramatized. We know Moses, we know Jesus’ story, but this is the big one. Maybe the budget hasn’t been there when it comes to film, or that it’s difficult to tell – it’s short, and quite esoteric. It’s more like a trailer for a story. The way I describe it is if the Old Testament is Star Wars, the New Testament is Empire Strikes Back, and Revelation is just the trailer for the next one – something that shows you the coolest stuff is yet to come.

NRAMA: The Return of the Jesus…

MM: (laughs) That’s it! You think he’s dead, but he’s back! That’s when it all gets really exciting, when he comes back for the big fight! I mean, the New Testament without Revelation is like Han Solo still frozen in the carbonite.

NRAMA: So what’s the plan from here? You’re very busy, but with this now out in a trade, I’m assuming that there’s a timeline for the next two installments?

MM: Yeah, definitely – we’re going to run them starting later in the year with Book Two, and then Book Three early next year so all three books will be out before the movie. The movie will comprise all three books, and will be one big two and a half hour film – and there should be news about the movie coming soon.

Related:

Read the first FULL issue of American Jesus right here at Newsarama

Read the first FULL issue of War Heroes right here on Newsarama

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