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[Date: March 10, 2003]
Mark Millar graciously agreed to an interview with the Superman Homepage in regards to his 3-part Prestige-format miniseries "Superman: Red Son".
The Superman Homepage would like to thank Mark for agreeing to do this interview, and for fitting it into his busy schedule.
A: God, every time I see the dates attached to this project my heart freezes. I came up with this idea when I was a little kid after re-reading Superman #300 and a scene where baby Kal-El's rocket landed in neutral waters and both Russia and America were both racing to retrieve the spacecraft. I first pitched it to DC in the 1980s (when I was thirteen) and later pitched it when I was twenty three and had just been given Swamp Thing at Vertigo. Three years later, I sold it and started writing. Six months later (around half-way into the final book) I stopped because I saw that the art was slowing down and I didn't want to complete something that might be out of date by the time it appeared. I wanted to come at this with a fresh eye and this is what I did when Killian Plunkett was brought in to finish it around early 2002. I finished book three and then, quite recently, went back and tightened up the dialogue for the entire project. It was actually very, very satisfying. Stylistically, it's quite unlike the way I work now (in that it relies quite heavily on captions), but this really has proved to be a strength because it's unlike any other superhero book out there at the moment. It's very, very political, very much an allegory of what's happening with the USA at the moment and a very, very mainstream project aimed at the same people who picked up the first Dark Knight book. Just as this was a commentary on the Reagan years, Superman: Red Son is an Orwellian examination of what happens when the balance of power tilts in the world and one country finds itself the only world superpower. The book is suddenly very topical and I was delighted to explore this in detail as I went back and tweaked my early drafts.
Q: In November 1999 in another interview you did with me you stated:
"I wrote the series [Superman: Red Son] three years ago and Dave Johnson is somewhere past half-way through it. I can't bear to even follow up the rumours I heard that DC assigned different artists the remaining pages. This is a prestige format series... the best thing I've ever done. I only pray they haven't screwed up my goodbye to Superman."
What are your reactions to this now?
A: The original editor, Mike McAvennie, should be applauded for his choice of Dave because Dave really is a world-class artist and has produced one of the most perfectly and beautifully drawn Superman stories ever. It's just mouth-watering and appeals to me very much as someone who grew up with Curt Swan and his exquisite, Norman Rockwell-esque vision of the character. Dave falling behind towards the end of the second book was a real problem because we didn't want to compromise the integrity of a prestige book and something I really felt very emotionally attached to. I regard Superman as the pinnacle of anyone's career and I didn't want a potentially huge book like this to be hurt with a change of artists. Again, to Mike's credit, he recognised that Kilian had a near identical approach and pencil style to Dave and, smoothed over with the same inker, it really is genuinely hard to see where Dave ends and Kilian begins. Kilian isn't someone I'd have imagined to work so seamlessly with Dave because Unknown Soldier and his other work was so gritty, but he's actually perfect. They've both done such a beautiful job. Besides Alex Ross, I think they've given us the definitive modern Superman.
A: Like I said, this was something that had appealed to me since I was a kid. Reversals always make the most interesting stories. The reverse of a control freak like Batman is a lunatic like The Joker and that's why they've been such a brilliant pairing for over half a century. Similarly, Red Skull, Venom and all the other 'evil twin' concepts are the most enduring of the Marvel characters because they take the very essence of the character we love and approach the concept from the opposite direction. Superman, to me, was always a representation of everything great about America. He's up there with the statue of liberty because he's the flag-coloured embodiment of the immigrant who came to America and made a success of himself. To take Truth, Justice and the American Way and turn this on its head was fascinating. The trick, of course, was avoiding the cliches of Superman being raised as a Stalinesque tyrant or an overtly evil character. What I decided upon very early in this project was to have an idealistic young farm-boy being raised on the Ukraine and believing, with all his heart, in the goodness of communism. Just as our own Superman isn't tarnished by the Americans dropping bombs in Vietnam or Iraq, this Soviet Superman isn't responsible for the Gulags or the mass-killings. This Superman represents The Dream as much as the traditional Superman does, but watching him reluctantly take control of the USSR when the people beg him to and make communism an international success is quite fascinating. What we have, as the story progresses, is a world where this super-communism has been embraced by most of the planet and capitalism has completely fragmented. Again, a reversal of what happened in the real world. The moral implications of one man or one country policing the entire world then becomes the big question. Like Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft, Superman finds himself wondering if total control is the best thing for the safety of the people he really wants to protect.
Q: What about a "Superman's rocket lands in Scotland" story? As a Scotsman yourself wouldn't you like to write about a kilt-wearing Man of Steel? ;)
A: He wouldn't look as good as I do in a kilt, though. I got married in one and wear them occasionally if we're at a big dinner or a dance. I was actually taught how to dance The Gay Gordons at school, but it's a name and a dance which has become less fashionable these days for some reason;)
Q: You wrote "Red Son" quite a few years ago, and stated it was your farewell to Superman... Have you changed your mind at all about the "farewell" part? Would you want to try and tackle the current continuity Superman?
A: This is something I think about all the time. Superman: Red Son was very much my farewell to Superman because it represented everything I really had to say about the character and, inside three books, featured pretty much all the characters and concepts I loved from the comic-book series like Luthor, Brainiac, a bottle city and so on. I'd certainly never write a sequel, but I'm constantly coming up with ideas for the regular Superman books and jotting them down for future use. I'd never take on one of the monthlies as they're featured at present because I'm not into the weekly format and the restraints this puts on the writers. I'm also particularly unenthusiastic about DC Comics after the mess they made of a successful title I did with Frank Quitely called The Authority so jumping into bed with them when I'm so happy at Marvel would be crazy. It's difficult because I love Superman and Batman and know that I could make them sell very, very well. It's something Bryan Hitch and I talk about a great deal and something we definitely plan to do. Just not anytime soon. It'll be interesting to see how big Red Son is and how this affects my relationship with DC, but I definitely wouldn't expect to be working there inside the next couple of years. In fact, I'd put money on it. Bill and Joe are great and, although I didn't have the same attachment to the Marvel characters that I had to the the DC guys, I'm really having a good time there.
Q: You have a very gritty and determined take on the X-Men and the "Avengers" in the Ultimate line. It brings the characters back into focus for some, but the X-Men were always very tragic characters. How do you think that this can be applied to Superman, and will we be seeing this in Red Son?
A: I really use a different style for whatever project I work on. Because people associate me with my first big success (The Authority), they think this hip, anti-establishment hyper-violence is my thing, but I spent three years writing a horror book like Swamp Thing which was really nothing like this at all. Even The Ultimates is completely different because it's a character-driven piece and (something only a few people have noticed) my attempt as a left-wing writer to tell stories about an essentially right-wing concept and cast. It's very much the Anti-Authority, if you will. Captain America and so on are fully-paid members of the US military machine and this means a very different book and approach from a gang of slightly arrogrant, left-wing, superhuman utopians like The Authority. Similarly, Superman needs an approach all of his own. Like all superheroes, he wants to make the world a better place, but he's unlike any other character in the comicbook medium. He's a God, a christ-like figure of super-intelligence and super-compassion. Superman would happily die to save the world or die saving a cat from a tree. He's the most selfless fictional character ever created and has an intrinsic decency that makes him fascinating to write. He just wants to do the right thing because he's an alien raised with perfect values and this applies as much to my soviet version as the real one.
Q: Is there ever a chance you'll do more writing for DC, or are you exclusively a Marvel writer?
A: Not anytime soon, no. I'm really, really happy at Marvel. I'm writing their top book (The Ultimates) and I'm following up X-Men with a big launch series for their new Epic imprint. I've already signed up for my next Marvel monthly (launching in early 2004) but I can't give any details about this for another six or seven months, I'm afraid. What REALLY has me excited is the creator-owned books I've been putting together for the last three years. Over the next twelve months, these will be launching from a variety of companies (including Marvel), but I really see no benefit of producing books from DC at the moment from any of their individual imprints. Now that I think about it, they're pretty much the only publisher I'm NOT writing for over the next twelve to eighteen months.
Q: Are you still reading the current Superman comics at all? If so, what is your opinion of them? If not, why not?
A: DC stopped sending me comp copies about a year ago so I don't have as much access to this stuff as I had before. However, I do try to pick these up because I think the three guys they have on these books are great and probably producing the best material we've seen since John Byrne. I miss Jeph Loeb's Superman because he's pretty much the best American writer in the business at the moment. He and I share very similar sensibilities with these characters and I'm looking forward to World's Finest enormously.
Q: What is your opinion of the TV show "Smallville"?
A: I honestly haven't seen it... which is weird considering Superman is probably the character I'm most fanboyish about. I bought a DVD player the day the Superman DVD was released for the sole purpose of watching it and didn't buy another DVD for six months. As a little kid, I puked up with excitement while waiting in the line to see the first Christopher Reeve movie. Superman comics are pretty much the only titles I have in what's left of my collection and friends of mine are actually WRITING the show now so I really should check it out. That ad really put me off, though. It just looked SLEAZY. What in God's name was a teenage Superman doing stripped to the waist in a cornfield and tied to a post with lipstick zig-zagging between his nipples? I only wish I'd been at the meeting when the advertising people came in and suggested this as a teaser image. Hilarious!
Q: Thanks for answering these questions... It's been great catching up with you again!
A: Likewise, Steve. Keep in touch, mate, and congrats on maintaining such a beautiful site.
When Lois & Clark started production in 1993, there was an obvious relationship between the comic book people and the Hollywood people.
A trade paperback Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, was published, with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher on the cover. It included reprints of comic book stories that were the inspiration for Lois & Clark, helping to define the characters. Comic's included are: The Story of the Century (Man of Steel miniseries #2), Tears for Titano (Superman Annual #1), Metropolis - 900 mi (in SUP #9), The Name Game (SUP #11), Lois Lane (in ACT #600), Headhunter (AOS #445), Homeless for the Holidays (AOS #462), The Limits of Power (AOS #466), and Survival (ACT #665).
A number of comic book writers and artists had roles as extras in the episode I'm Looking Through You (Season one, episode 4). Their presence was immortilized in the Sky Trading Card #34.
Craig Byrne, president of the online Lois & Clark fanclub The Krypton Club, carried out a series of interviews with comic book writers. The interviews are reprinted with permission of the Krypton Club.