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Mark Millar returns to espionage comics with revenge-centric 'King of Spies'

Comic Books

Mark Millar returns to espionage comics with revenge-centric ‘King of Spies’

The tale of a dying secret agent lands on shelves December 1.

When it comes to spy-centric comic books, Mark Millar is the de facto king. His hugely entertaining Kingsman series is a hit both on the pages and across its silver screen adaptations. On December 1, he returns to the genre with a brand-new series, the aptly-titled King of Spies.

The book, a collaboration with artist Mateo Scalera, has something of a unique origin. The four-run book will lead directly into an upcoming Netflix film (which owns Millar’s Millarworld imprint). In fact, press for the project says it’s “based on designs created by the team at Netflix.” Aside from that, it’s the standard awesomeness you’d expect from Millar — the story of an aging spy who wraps up his remaining days on earth by getting rid of the true baddies out there.

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Before issue #1 hits stands today (via Image Comics), we caught up with Millar via email. There, we discussed the story’s origins, working with Scalera, the appeal of spy stories, and much, much more.

Mark Millar

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for this book/series?

Mark Millar: Britain’s greatest secret agent gets a terminal illness and decides to go after the real bastards before he dies. He’s an old man now and he doesn’t like the look of the world he supposedly saved. Can he fix things before the final curtain?

AIPT: This has been described as a “graphic novel translation” of a Netflix property. What’s that mean in terms of the story’s development and what you can do in making these characters and designs into a proper GN/story?

MM: We sold Millarworld to Netflix four years ago, much like Disney buying Marvel in 2009. So this company is owned entirely by Netflix now and will exist as a department long beyond me. But after the sale we all got on so well they asked my wife and I to come on as executives and run Millarworld as a department much like we were before, but with Netflix’s lovely budgets. They also wanted me to create sequels to all the franchises they bought and create new movies and TV shows.

Netflix has never been in the comic game, but I asked if they minded if I brought some of these to life as comics too, based on production bibles I put together with various teams of artists both in-house and freelance. They were very nice and indulged me, King of Spies being the latest. To me I just see the whole thing as a story so it was very easy to do as a comic after I’d written the treatment for the show.

AIPT: Your work has always had cinematic qualities, a fact proven by the many adaptations. Does that impact how you develop and/or approach comics? Do you come to everything now as if it could or will be a movie/TV show some day?

MM: I can’t see any difference, really. They’re all just stories with beginnings, middles and endings. Exciting moments, a sense of escalation. When I was doing The Ultimates with Bryan Hitch we had no idea they would use it as a template for movies. We just wanted to tell a story. I think the kind of books I’ve worked on just seem to translate well, but there’s no secret formula. When I was writing Kick-Ass masturbating to internet porn in the opening of the comic and a 10 year old killing drug dealers and dropping the C-bomb a movie seems unlikely (laughs). I just do what I love and that’s hopefully contagious.

AIPT: One of things I’ve experienced amid COVID is this (hopefully) justified anger for people getting their comeuppance. I definitely think there’s a thread of that here; is this book born out of the same kind of awareness of bad players in politics, culture, etc. facing the consequences? Is this at all maybe a commentary on our larger societal hubris?

MM: I often feel funny watching blockbuster movies. On the one hand, in 2008, I was rooting for Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne to win, but on the other the financial crash was going on that year and these are the guys who would fire 30% of their work force to balance the books. It’s the same with British secret agent movies. On the one hand I love seeing the bad guy blown away and a Union Jack rolling down the screen.

On the other, I’m aware that the country is a mess, there’s division like we’ve never seen, all these kids are living in poverty and these super-spies are defending kings and queens in their palaces. I liked the idea of someone like that, who had every advantage in life, looking out the back of a taxi at London boarded up and homeless people in shop doorways. Is this what he risked his life for? A corrupt status quo? That was an interesting starting point for me.

Mark Millar returns to espionage comics with revenge-centric 'King of Spies'

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: What’s the visual inspiration or influences for this project?

MM: Yes, I always start with a drawing and when I first put this treatment together 3 years back I painted a picture of an old spy with a white beard and a beautifully tailored suit sitting ruefully in his gentleman’s club with a brandy and looking at the roaring fire. It always starts with a painting or a drawing for me. I’ll sketch for days before I start writing.

AIPT: What is it about spies that’s still so interesting (especially after the Kingsman projects)? How do you approach a trope/concept that’s been done so many times and still make it feel novel or interesting?

MM: I always hear about superhero fatigue, even when these movies are making over a billion dollars, but you never heard about spy fatigue. I remember when Kingsman: The Secret Service came out we had six or seven spy movies all around us in those 12 months. Way more than the superhero pictures. But because one was British, one was American, was a team of spies, one was a comedy, etc., they all kind of had their own audience and I think pretty much all of them made money. I love the story of an old hero back for one last job. It’s up there with origin stories for me. They just always excite me and I’d never seen a character like Sir Roland King before. The old, very troubled spy who doubted the world he was leaving behind.

Mark Millar returns to espionage comics with revenge-centric 'King of Spies'

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: Similarly, how much did other spy-centric series, especially James Bond, influence the look or scope of the story? Did you pull anything specifically?

MM: I never really think about other franchises when I write something. I think it becomes hard not to imitate. I just focus on the one I’m typing away and can’t wait to get started every day. It consumed my thoughts the entire time.

AIPT: I love the design here, especially that of the older Roland King — his look just says so much about himself and the story at-large. How much does character design and setting do in terms of telling this story? I’m also thinking of the fight scenes, and just how visceral and deliberate they are and what that means for the narrative.

MM: We looked at a few different artists here back in 2019. Two different guys actually started the comic and were so brilliant, two of my favorite artists, but it didn’t feel exactly right. I talked to Matteo much more recently and he and I had an amazing experience on Space Bandits. I love the Black Science book he did with Rick Remender. He’s amazing on mood and has so much kinetic energy in his work. But even I was surprised how good this looked. I think this is where he becomes the next Frank Miller. This is unlike anything else on the stands right now. He just takes it to another level. My non comic pals are going crazy for it.

Mark Millar returns to espionage comics with revenge-centric 'King of Spies'

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: What was the collaborative process like? Does COVID make these kinds of projects easier, harder, or more or less about the same?

MM: Well, I’m in the UK and he’s in Italy so, sadly, geography is more of an issue than COVID. It’s only now you mention it, but I’ve never met the vast majority of the artists I’m working with. We talk over email all the time, of course, but yeah, that’s a good point. I’d love to see more of them.

AIPT: Without spoiling too much, what can we expect from issue #2 and beyond?

MM: Issue #1 is where Britain’s greatest superspy sees his life just fall apart. He’s 68 years old, he’s dying and he’s got three good months left. Issue #2 is where he starts killing all the people he feels has ruined the world. There’s never been anything like this before. It’s absolutely shocking. His list has a few surprises. He’s essentially a serial killer, but he’s picking off some of the most famous people in the world. It sounds grim, but it’s strangely really enjoyable and enormously cathartic to read after being locked up for 18 months!

King of Spies

Courtesy of Image Comics.

AIPT: How much of yourself goes into the art or the story itself, especially as you’re dealing with a tale about getting older, redemption, and one’s own legacy? Is this a way to cope with big ideas and feelings or all a bit of fun?

MM: There’s a little bit of yourself in everything you do. Even when you don’t notice it. I remember writing about sixteen year old Kick-Ass at the same time as the old man Wolverine in Old Man Logan and it was great as it felt really different. It project used different muscles from the other. I wrote this at the same time as the teenage Night Club series (the superhero vampire story we’re doing in 2022) and again it’s nice to have that mix. A young protagonist still in school while the other is at the end of his life. The characters in the middle are less interesting. The usual 30 year leads. There’s a reason Batman: Year One and Dark Knight Returns are the best Batman stories ever.,

AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?

MM: It’s the best comic of 2021 and I’m going to put that on the poster, attributed to me (laughs).

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