Continued from last week.
The Saviour #1-6 (December 1989 to January 1991)
Trident #5 (April 1990)
The Saviour TPB Volume 1, Trident, 1990 (reprints all of the above except issue 6, with a Neil Gaiman introduction)
Story by Mark Millar
Art by Daniel Vallely and Nigel Kitching
Edited by Martin Skidmore
Published by Trident Comics
I’m hoping for some hate mail … this one should really offend people and I’m really looking forward to it. If this doesn’t work I’ll just set fire to a primary school.
— Mark Millar, to Martin Skidmore, FA #110, March 1989 (*1)
Time hasn’t been kind to The Saviour. At the turn of the Nineties, Millar’s first-ever published series was spoken of as an admirably ambitious if undeniably rough-edged book, and regarded as a radical alternative to both mainstream superhero comics and all-too-worthy agitprop pamphlets. Reviewing the book’s fifth issue in 1990’s Speakeasy #115, 2000AD writer John Smith awarded it the top-of-the-range rating of “scorching”. Praising both its audacious premise and its “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” storytelling, Smith declared that The Saviour was a comic which lived “up to – and in parts surpasses – its (own) epic demands”. (*2) It was, he added, a “down to Earth” version of the kind of daring, invigorating stories which Grant Morrison was pioneering in DC Comic’s Doom Patrol. Gordon Rennie, who would himself go on to write for 2000AD, also noted that The Saviour was “Morrisonesque”, while adding that it blended “Revisionist superheroics, Thatcherism parody and Old Testament apocalyptics”. (*3) Even Neil Gaiman, whose The Light Brigade was also published by Trident Comics, lent his weight to the acclaim. In his introduction for the one and only collection of The Saviour, he described Miller as one of “a growing band of creators on both sides of the Atlantic (who are trying) to push the boundaries of a medium that for far too long has been held back by being seen something for children or subliterates…”. (*4)
But isolated from the context of its day, The Saviour now reads almost as if it were a brochure designed to trail everything that Millar would attempt to achieve. In more than a few places, it even suggests a cruelly brilliant satire of the writer’s entire career. Only Millar’s distinctively sparse and focused post-millennium style of storytelling is completely missing from its pages. Beyond that, there’s not a single prominent, recurring feature of his later writing that’s absent. Has there ever been another creator of Millar’s stature who arrived with the content, if not the style, of their work so conspicuously fully-formed? As the man himself readily admitted in 2012 to Alex Fitch on the Panel Borders Radio Show;
“ …. Saviour was the template for everything that was going to come. You know, because it’s politics, it’s religion, it’s superheroes, it had hyper-violence, and it was unpleasant, and I realised it was kind of like the seeds which became my career.” (*5)
But The Saviour’s high concept remains an undeniably enticing one, and it’s easy to see why the notably idiosyncratic and daring John Smith admired it; what if Superman was secretly the fallen angel Lucifer? What if an apparently invulnerable, super-strong and airworthy champion of truth, justice and the British way should be surreptitiously working to bring about the death of God? As a bold and yet crowdpleasingly-obvious fusion of the horror and superhero genres, its proposal had understandably caught the eye of Trident Comics editor Martin Skidmore in 1989. The fledgling UK publisher had announced that it was looking for new British talent in the one hundredth edition of the magazine FA, and Millar’s subsequent submission was, according to Skidmore;
“… the one which stood out the most. It was instantly obvious that this was someone with plenty of strong ideas, plenty of energy in his writing, and a willingness to address fraught subjects.” (*6)
Though FA had hosted several of Millar’s often-contentious letters, as we’ve seen, the relationship between editor and would-be comics writer was slight and, in some ways, hardly promising. The kerfuffle which Millar had kicked up over Supergirl and sexism in FA#94 could hardly have actively endeared him to Skidmore. Indeed, the letters column to FA#99 saw Millar’s contribution for that issue somewhat ignominiously referred to in passing at its end. To be relegated to the ‘we-have-also-heard-from’ closing remarks of No-Man’s Land in a magazine with a relatively small pool of letter writers was evidence that Millar wasn’t being regarded with any preferential fondness. In short, Skidmore’s admiration for Millar’s proposal for The Saviour was one which, at the very least, reflected the promise of the work rather than any personal bias towards the writer.
It was, as we’ve discussed, a break which Millar never stopped appreciating, and that seems to have remained true despite his relationship with the soon-to-be Skidmore-less Trident Comics swiftly collapsing. As Skidmore, who would retain his liking for Millar as a person and a writer, related just before his passing in 2012;
“I got a surprise a few years later, chatting to Mark at some con. I think he had told me in his original submission letter that it was the first time he had ever sent anyone his work. At this con, he told that as far as he was concerned, if I had told him he wasn’t up to it, that would have been it, and he’d never have tried again … Mark definitely said that bit about my being the first and last person he intended to try, had I been uninterested; but clearly he might have simply been flattering me – it certainly doesn’t prove that it was the truth. I’d be much happier believing he wouldn’t have been completely discouraged just by my opinion. Obviously he may have submitted elsewhere first and been rejected, and didn’t want to tell me that – maybe I was a last resort. I really can’t say, and I wouldn’t put too much stock in one comment over a drink.” (*10)
To be continued.
*1:-”Trident Comics: The Hype Article”, Martin Skidmore, FA #110, March 1989
*2:- John Smith, Speakeasy 115, page 65, November 1990:- Smith was already four years into his estimable career as a writer for 2000AD, while Millar’s first script for the comic had been published just one month before this review saw print. (“The Foreign Model”, a “Future Shock” short in 2000AD #643, 25/5/90.) Smith’s “Indigo Prime” strip would seem to have been a considerable influence on Millar’s 1993 superhero strip for 2000AD, “Cannon Fodder”, as we’ll soon discuss. Also in 2003, new 2000AD editor Alan McKenzie handed over the comic for 8 weeks to Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and John Smith for the contentious, radical “Summer Offensive”.
*3:- “Mark Millar: Apocalypse Now!”, Gordon Rennie, Speakeasy #108, April 1990
*4:- “Introduction”, Neil Gaiman, Saviour Vol 1, Trident Publishing, 1990
*5:- http://podcasts.resonancefm.com/archives/10139 Mark Millar in conversation with Alex Fitch on the Panel Borders Radio Show
*6:- from an interview with Mr Skidmore by e-mail, 13/1/11
“7:- eg: to Rick Fulton in The Daily Record, 26/6/08 http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/entertainment/celebrity/exclusive-scots-comic-writer-mark-981582
*8:- Robert Mitchell, ‘Mark Millar Talks About His Millarworld Work”, 25/1/12, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, http://www.acadvertiser.co.uk/lanarkshire-news/local-news/monklands-news/2012/01/25/mark-millar-talks-about-his-millarworld-work-at-coatbridge-library-65864-29701148/
*10:- E-mail interview with the author, February 2012