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
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
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
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.
Read the first FULL issue of American Jesus right here at NewsaramaRead the first FULL issue of War Heroes right here on Newsarama