Mark Millar on Jupiter's Legacy, Millarworld & Netflix
Mark Millar sold his Glasgow-based comic book empire Millarworld to Netflix in 2017 – and he couldn't be more chuffed about it. We speak to him ahead of the release of the first Millarworld/Netflix production, Jupiter's Legacy
When I last interviewed Scottish comic book writer Mark Millar, in 2011, I asked if he thought comic book movies were running out of steam. After all, that year’s slate of superhero flicks didn’t include icons like Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. Instead the B team, corny 40s relics like Captain America, Green Lantern and The Green Hornet, were being subbed in. And Millar’s own film Kick-Ass had just been released the year before and had ferociously taken the piss out of the whole genre. I had the distinct impression at the time that the bottom of the barrel was being scraped. Ten years and 19 Marvel films later, however, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Millar certainly knew there was more juice in the tank. Around the time I last spoke to him, he’d been working on a new superhero story. “I literally had one ambition,” he recalls of the project that would become Jupiter’s Legacy. “I wrote it on a piece of paper, which I've still got somewhere because I hang on to all my old notes. I just wrote, ‘this has to be the greatest superhero story of all time.’ And underlined it three times.”
It’s no wonder Millar was thinking big. After all, he'd already had a hand in the biggest superhero film franchise of all time. The Ultimates, his 2002 comic giving a 21st-century spit and polish to The Avengers, is widely considered the chief blueprint for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It even cast Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, six years before the actor would appear as the character in Iron Man's post-credits scene. “I thought, OK, I've done all this big Marvel stuff. I've done the big DC thing. If I'm gonna do this, I need to make it bigger than everything, or what's the point?”
With a narrative split across the Great Depression-era and the present day, Jupiter’s Legacy tells of the generational conflict between a group of god-like superbeings and their spoiled offspring, who used their inherited gifts to court celebrity and product endorsement deals. “I liked the idea of an old Superman-like guy at the end of his life just feeling he’s failed,” Millar says of the comic’s protagonist Sheldon Sampson, a patriotic American who lost everything in the Wall Street Crash before becoming the most powerful man on earth.
“He’s just having these King Lear-type regrets,” Millar explains. “He's like, my kids are awful. They're like Kardashians. And the world is exactly as it was in 1929 during the financial crash. We thought nothing like the Great Depression would ever happen again, and yet here we are.”
We’re chatting to Millar ahead of a television adaptation of Jupiter’s Legacy on Netflix. It's the first in a series of Netflix originals based on Millar’s work, after the company bought Millarworld, his Glasgow-based comic publishing house, in 2017. “It's kinda like when Disney bought Marvel,” says Millar, “or when Warner Brothers bought DC in 1968.” How much the streaming giant shelled out for Millarworld is unclear, although reports suggest it could be anywhere in the range of $50 million to $100 million.
Millar is keeping schtum on the final figure, but put it this way: it was large enough that many of the illustrators who collaborated on Millarworld titles are hanging up their pens and inks. “The artists were 50% partners, and they all sort of checked out after the deal,” Millar laughs. “They were like, ‘fantastic, I'm taking the rest of my life off.’ And I was like, ‘I'm 47. I'm too young to retire.’”
Luckily for Millar, Netflix had another offer for him that he couldn’t refuse. “Netflix said: ‘Look, we all get on really well, you know this stuff better than anyone, do you want to stay on?” While Netflix now owns the company outright, a separate deal installed Millar as the president of Millarworld and Lucy Unwin, Millar’s wife, as CEO. It’s fair to say he's chuffed with the arrangement. “It's like the ultimate con,” Millar beams. “I sold an awesome house, and then I got to live in it for free.”
The main appeal was quality control: “The thing is, most movies and TV shows are not great. Nobody sets out to do anything bad, you know, but it happens. So if you can actually stick around and make sure that everything is as good as it possibly can be, it's a gift.” Millar’s also finding there are plenty of fringe benefits of having a behemoth like Netflix in your corner. “What I used to have with Millarworld was a small company that got to do big things; I got to do Wanted and Kick-Ass and Kingsman," he says. "But what's amazing now is I've got the most incredible team around me. So if you need a good lawyer, Netflix has 100 of the best lawyers there are. If you need an accountant, here are 150 international accountants. So it's wonderful.
“I've avoided a real job my whole life, but if I thought it was gonna be so much fun, I'd have done it years ago.”
Jupiter's Legacy is now streaming on Netflix