Mark Millar on The Authority

The Authority, already popular, has taken off under the new team of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely. Though many doubted they could replace their popular predecessors, they have followed a revolutionary act with one that seems — shockingly — even more so. Buzz about their first two issues alone has exceeded any generated by the popular 12 that went before.

The most recent issue of The Authority, issue #14.

JULIAN DARIUS: I’ve been reading your work since your time on Swamp Thing, which I thought was hit-and-miss but had many fine, fine issues. There was a reason the readers who had stuck that title out said that you were the best on it since [Alan] Moore (though I think [Rick] Veitch is overlooked). Your last storyline on that title, in which you at last revealed the circumstances behind John Constantine meeting Swamp Thing, and in which we saw an ascended Swamp Thing at last unconcerned with humans, was truly riveting, fantastic on a page-by-page basis. You brought in the Mendelbrot set, Neil Gaiman-esque flourishes, the Floronic Man, Tefe, everything. So when I heard you were going to write The Authority, I was gratified. But almost no one knew who you were, and you hadn’t done much in comics since Swamp Thing. Every once in a while, I’d hear about some project of yours that was proposed but never accepted or that never materialized. I always got the impression that these proposals had some brilliant ideas but were too controversial, and that you’d been looked out. What would you have done if [Warren] Ellis hadn’t recommended you for The Authority?

MARK MILLAR: To be honest, I’d already had three adult-oriented projects closed down at DC (Phantom Stranger, Secret Society of Super-Villains, and the Saviour) and was seriously planning on going full-time as a TV writer / director simply because I didn’t have a choice.

In the couple of weeks before I landed The Authority, I pitched a horror series to Channel 4 and they accepted it. It’s a six-episode vampire series called Sikeside, and I’m writing episode two at the moment.

DARIUS: Let’s get down to the brass tacks of The Authority #14. This issue and the last have featured a team that slightly resembles Marvel’s Avengers. But, even though they’re knock-offs, they don’t act like it.

MILLAR: Yeah, fleshing these guys out is really important to me. I love superheroes like I love crunchy-nut Cheerios, but they all seem to talk with the same voice these days. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could be cranky sometimes? Petty sometimes? Lecherous sometimes? Or just plain decent, forgiving, pleasant, witty? All the things people are every day.

I just finished the final draft of #18 today, and I had Apollo and the Engineer bitching about how the Doctor was really getting on their nerves. He never shows up for meetings, switches off his radiotelepathy when he’s watching TV and they think he’s even dodged a couple of emergencies because he was at a party.

Isn’t it time heroes started gossiping?

DARIUS: For the record, what are some of the names of these Marvelesque characters? I’ve heard you have names for them, but not all of them have seen print.

MILLAR: The Commander, Storm-God, Atlas, The Hornet, Tank Man, Titan, Street Panther, Jackflash, Cheeta, Samson, Huntsman and Disco, Phantasm…

DARIUS: Since we’re getting particular, it looked like Wonder Man whose skull Midnighter’s demolishing, but the red effect makes it hard to tell. Was the red put there for this purpose as a kind of obscuring tactic, like a blur zone in a photograph?

MILLAR: Yes, that was Wonder Man whom Midnighter skull-split on what has to be one of the two best pages of the issue and yes, the red effect was a request by DC to tone down Frank’s anatomically perfect head-split. Obviously, we were really annoyed. This, I suppose, is the downside of being owned by a big corporation. Our editor and Group Editor were really terrific, though, and managed to smooth our ruffled feathers. The only thing a creator can do in the end is walk and, the changes being rather small, we didn’t feel it was necessary to do so. We believe in this book to much to let it fall into the hands of a couple of hacks.

DARIUS: Okay, now for the rape. When Apollo crashes, we see the Commander, the Captain America analogue, with his hands on his belt. When we next see the Commander, it looks like he’s zipping up. The clear implication is that the Commander has raped Apollo. Moreover, when the Commander enters the nursery in #13, he leaps over the counter and the Wasp analogue asks Tank Man, the Iron Man analogue, if he’s going to “do” them. The implication is that the Commander has liked sexual conquest with martial conquest, that he actualizes this upon the beaten bodies of everyone from Apollo, a powerful super-hero, to virtually helpless counter ladies. The DC message boards have been on fire about this.

MILLAR: I’m delighted and fascinated by the response. And you know what? I’m not telling. I want you to draw your own conclusions on this one. I’m leaving this open. I wrote the scene (and subsequent follow-ups) to be ambiguous and, like all the best drama and horror, I want the reader to use his or her imagination and make up their own mind. What intrigues me about this is that we saw the Commander (again off-camera) rape two nurses last issue and Tank Man burn a maternity ward full of sleeping babies.

DARIUS: Right. I loved that. “Are you kidding?”

MILLAR: An awful lot of people were very disturbed by this (and this was my intention), but I certainly didn’t write these scenes just for shock value. The emphasis on solving real world problems highlighted at the beginning of #13 was given a superhero twist here. Weren’t rape-camps and burning babies some of the most shocking things we heard about from, for example, Kosovo. And isn’t Kosovo, you might have noticed, where Earth’s Premiere Super-team honed their skills (according to Tank Man in #14)?

DARIUS: The point about how these tactics, burning babies and whatnot, are real-world tactics is particularly salient, I think. Somehow, when it’s in art, people get offended. It’s like there were no concentration camps — or like art should just entertain, like some Disney cartoon, always alluding enough to vice to tantalize but never being so obvious as to cause a moral revulsion. But we’re getting away from the Apollo situation. A number of posts immediately following #14 thought that he had to be dead because of the injuries and the blood. Do you think something’s lost by showing such battering that a character should be dead — only to revive him? Or is Apollo dead in #15?

MILLAR: Think about the last time you were in a fight. I remember myself and three pals got jumped by a crowd as we left a pub ten years ago. I was standing there fighting these guys, worried about my pals and the next thing I knew I’d lost a tooth and my pals were half a mile in the distance, yelling abuse at the guys. Confusion abounds. Even radiotelepathy doesn’t help when you’ve got a Hulk-style guy on your back squeezing the life out of you and your friends are telepathically screaming in your brain. I tried to make this fight as realistic as possible. Same for the big, big fight in #16… .

DARIUS: I saw one post online that said Apollo might be in therapy for being raped.

MILLAR: I don’t want Apollo to be seen in therapy because this would mean that A) I’ve made a firm decision on whatever the horrible thing was that was done to Apollo and B) would become a different story. I want these kind of personal details to be happening off-camera sometimes because it’s rarely done in comics. I want the glimpses we have of these people to be similar to the people we know in real life. We’re not with them all the time and sometimes have a little catching up to do. For example, one of the team [the Doctor] gets married to one of the most famous women in the world [who would never be explicitly named] between issues #16 and 17. They seem so much more real to me when we don’t know or see everything or actually read the thoughts in their heads in a little balloon.

Does this mean Apollo’s situation is being glossed over? Not at all. We should see subtle, emotional scenes over the next few issues, but letting it swamp the storyline just makes it a different kind of comic.

DARIUS: You suggested that this storyline would feature more Marvel characters — or analogues.

MILLAR: Oh yeah, there are a lot more super-sods in the Hangar, as you’ll see next issue when we find out what the Hell this has all been about. Wall-crawlers, radioactive teenagers, Fantastic Families… you’ll see them all gutted by your favourite superheroes very, very soon.

DARIUS: Is there a reason you’re focusing on Marvel characters?

MILLAR: I’ve got a neat twist I’m very pleased with next issue which will explain everything, but I wasn’t just poking fun at Marvel. I really wanted to say something about the fact that the Marvel U.’s premiere super-team are card-carrying members of the Establishment. The same establishment who let people sleep on the streets and don’t provide decent medical cover for malnourished kids. The same establishment who let the Third World starve.

The Authority feels like a crusade to me at the moment. Superheroes have been useless for too long. Let’s make them mean something again. This is a poke at superheroes at both DC and Marvel. Why should they always fight for the status quo? Sometimes I’d just like to see what Lex Luthor could do for the world, you know?

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In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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Also by Julian Darius:

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