Dissecting Millar: Old wine in new bottles?

This post contains spoilers – if you don’t want to know what happens in Kick-Ass, Nemesis, or Superior then turn back now!

The third of Mark Millar’s much heralded (on Millarworld at least) creator owned projects releases its latest instalment this week as Superior issue 2 hits the comic book stores.

But has the Scottish comic-book supremo really come up with anything new lately? Or is it just a re-telling of well worn tales?

Superior follows the two previous Millarworld creator owned releases, Kick-Ass and Nemesis, in having it’s central premise based around a one line ‘what if…’ question. With Kick-Ass it was ‘what if a normal kid tried be a super hero’, with Nemesis it was ‘what if Batman was a bad ass’ and now with Superior, it’s ‘what if a kid with a disability got super powers’.

They’re the sort of questions you kick around in the pub with your mates after a beer or two and you always wonder just how they would turn out if someone did actually take the idea and run with it.

Kick-Ass was first and has, so far, been the most successful, spawning one of the most enjoyable films of the year. It’s now onto Volume 2 and the inevitable follow up movie will be on its way too if Matthew Vaughn can complete the new X-men film before Chloe Moretz grows up.

The comic was one of the best comic book serried of recent times, arguably better than the film which toned down some of Millar’s anarchic excesses. It created an icon in Hit-Girl who stole the comic book and with the aforementioned Chloe Moretz playing the part to perfection went on to steal the film too.

In Kick-Ass though, the original premise is dropped pretty sharpish.

It starts off with an ordinary kid pulling on a costume and going out to fight the bad guys. That doesn’t last though and when the inevitable happens and he ends up hospitalised, Millar drops the ordinary kid angle.

The eponymous Kick-Ass ends up with a Wolverine-style metal skeleton and a higher threshold for pain courtesy of some damaged nerve endings. He then teams up with Batman and Robin – sorry Big Daddy and Hit-Girl – and proceeds to fire rockets from the jetpack he borrowed from them for the big finale.

None of which makes it any less enjoyable, but the ordinary kid pulling on a costume angle didn’t last long. What we end up with is a normal kid who has powers (of a sort) and how he juggles his ordinary life with his secret life. The basic stuff of many a comic book.

Nemesis came next and has been the weakest of the three so far. The original premise is dull and uninspiring – what if Batman was a bad ass? Really tha means  what if someone with the drive and resources of Bruce Wayne decided to use them for nefarious purposes?

It’s not a new idea, there are many super villains out there who have such resources and have used them for evil, think of Lex Luthor and Luthor Corp or Norman Osborne creating the Green Goblin in Oscorp labs.

There have been three issues so far, and all have been plodding with very much bog standard uninspired storylines. Nemesis is out looking for revenge for some slight on his father and can’t just go straight for the man he feels is responsible he has to make innocent people suffer too.

An unoriginal plotline would be fine if the stories were told with style and panache, but they’re not. Even Millar’s trademark shock tactics don’t come off in this one.

Nemesis artificially inseminates the Police Commissioner’s daughter with her gay brother’s sperm. He then rigs her womb to collapse if a termination is attempted. It smacks of trying too hard, and we know Millar can do better. Apart from that there is some fighting, some killing and not much else really.

I yawned my way through the three issues of Nemesis, and that is something that I thought I would never do with a Mark Millar story.
One resounding hit, one resounding miss so far, which brings us on to Superior.

This time it’s ‘what if a kid with disability got super powers?’

An interesting prospect, but only if the disability has an impact on the super powers in some way. In comics we spend most of the time with the hero and if his civilian alter ego has physical issues of whatever kind, then it has to impact on the hero. Otherwise it’s just the crippled Don Blake, banging his walking stick on the ground to change into the God of Thunder, and is there any point to him being disabled?

Unfortunately that’s the line that Millar has taken so far, with a young boy in the advanced stages of MS being given a wish. His wish is to be his hero, the comic and film superman called Superior. The Superman comparison is particularly valid in Issue 2 with our young hero trying out all the powers he has when he is Superior and they are pretty much a tick list from the Man of Steel.

Superior part one started with Simon, a young kid who suffers from progressive MS, being visited by a space monkey. The space monkey grants him a wish. It’s this wish that allows him to change into his hero – Superior.  The monkey will be back in a week to explain it all.

Issue 2 takes Simon, now in the guise of the eponymous hero to his friend Chris’s house to tell him what’s happened. It manages to avoid the inevitable similarity with Tom Hanks and Big here by use of a short incredulous explanation of how Chris accepts the adult Superior is really his friend Simon.

That sorted, the two of them set out for the woods to test Superior’s powers. The issue doesn’t tell us anything, doesn’t move the story further along and there’s a distinct sense of marking time. As chapter two of a graphic novel it would be excellent. As a standalone issue it doesn’t do so well.

What it does do well though, and it does it very well indeed, is capture the joy of a young handicapped boy finding himself not only able bodied, but super-able bodied.
This issue may well be the most tender and moving piece of writing I’ve read from Mark Millar.

So, is Kick-Ass a teenage boy juggling his powers with a hectic normal life a la Peter Parker or is it a modern, self deprecating take on the familiar teen hero? Is Nemesis a flip version of Batman or… actually no, Nemesis is just too boring to make a case for. Its one note arc isn’t strong enough to hang an interesting story on and shock tactics on their own aren’t enough. Especially when they’re not very good ones.

Superior could just be Superman with an even weaker alter ego or it could be something far, far more. Time will tell.

These ‘what if…’ concepts aren’t anything new, but are they merely an excuse to put old wine in new bottles?

There’s wrong with taking an old premise and giving it a new twist. How many genuinely original ideas are out there these days anyway? It worked very well for the BBC when they mashed up Randall & Hopkirk: Deceased, and The Sweeney and called it Life On Mars. Sometimes it’s not the tale you tell, but how you tell it.

It all comes down to whether you think Kick-Ass and his stablemates are bringing something new to the table. For me, it’s a yes for Kick-Ass, a resounding no for Nemesis, and on the basis of issue 2 of Superior, the jury’s out, but it might just turn out to be the best of them all. {jcomments on}




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