Continued from last week.
For a brief moment in early 1990, Millar’s career appeared to be unambiguously prospering. As of May, Trident had, in addition to The Saviour, added Millar’s The Shadowmen to their schedule. Though he was only earning “fifteen dollars a page plus royalties”, which he would later describe as “terrible … real fanzine rates”, it was enough to finally finance a flat of his own. (*1/2) But his relations with Trident, and its owners The Neptune Group, would swiftly collapse. An incoherent mix of Men-In-Black Forteana and political conspiracy yarns, The Shadowmen would be cancelled without warning after its second issue. (*3) With a contract which stipulated that payment for scripts would only arrive two months after a comic’s publication, and with Trident choosing to release The Saviour on a more and more infrequent basis, Millar’s financial position was precarious. Eventually, he would refuse to write anything more for the company, and the sixth and final issue of The Saviour – by now only appearing quarterly – would trickle out in limited numbers at the beginning of 1991. Though the seventh issue had been written, it would never be illustrated, let alone printed.
It was a propitious moment for Fleetway Publications to start accepting Millar’s scripts. At the end of 1990, the company owned not just the pulp-scifi weekly 2000AD and its new monthly spin-off, the Judge Dredd Megazine, but also the somewhat more adult-orientated Crisis and Revolver. (*4) The latter two titles would soon be cancelled, and their disappearance would mark the end of Fleetway’s late-80s attempts to target an older, hipper and more politically savvy audience. But the opportunities they briefly offered would help to save Millar from what he himself labelled “financial ruin”;
“I was really worried until Fleetway came along … They gave me plenty of work and I learned the ropes as I went along … It was a YTS course in comic writing.” (*4)
Millar’s first published work had been for Fleetway, as we’ve discussed, but there was half a year between Her Parents in November 1989’s Crisis #31 and Mother’s Day in the Revolver Horror Special of June 1991. It would then be another three months until a short story of his appeared in 2000AD. From that point on, his career with Fleetway would flourish. In 1993 alone, the company’s comics would feature 75 different scripts from Millar, their number including a string of stories in Sonic The Comic. By then, he’d also be writing the Judge Dredd cartoon strips for the Daily Star tabloid newspaper. By the time he finally broke into the American market with 1994’s Swamp Thing, Millar was firmly established as a Fleetway mainstay, and many issues of 2000AD would feature 2 and even 3 stories that he’d had a hand in.
His first year’s work for the publisher saw him working in a variety of different formats. For Crisis, he produced Her Parents, a five page vignette featuring the trials of a boyfriend stuck with his date’s unwelcoming, unenlightened parents. His contribution to Revolver was the darkly macabre and yet perversely touching Mother’s Day, in which a seemingly run-of-the-mill call-centre worker is revealed to be keeping his mother’s desiccated corpse at home. For 2000AD, he turned in several fantastical short tales for the Future Shocks series, the Judge Dredd strip for the 2000AD Winter Special, and the original serial Silo, a horror tale of demonic possession and nuclear launch-sites. If it was in some ways a reduction in status from his time as the co-owner and writer of two independent titles, it was also a potentially fine education as well as a timely way of paying the mortgage.
There are brief moments in 1990 in which Millar and his preoccupation with the American market and its costumed characters came to the fore. The first page of Silo, for example, has a character declaring himself to be “Jim Corrigan”, a knowing wink to the secret identity of DC Comic’s super-ghost, The Spectre. Perhaps more tellingly, the three-page Self-Awareness features an omnipotent mass-murderer who’s somehow aware he’s a comicbook character. At the end of an absurd, cop-killer rampage, Miller has him declare that he’s;
“.. getting a bit fed up with being in black and white. I quite fancy appearing in an American comic, now.”
Whether that’s a deliberate expression of Millar’s impatience to further his career in the Republic or not, there’s no doubt that he was still striving to attract the attention of DC. Indeed, according to his comments in an interview with Gordon Rennie, he was already working for them;
“I’m doing a new ongoing series of the Phantom Stranger … This will be coming out next year … I don’t think people realise how long a process it can be to get a new title off the ground.” (*5)
It would indeed be a very trying process, for no such title would ever appear, although the coming decade would often see Millar declaring that such a project was indeed underway.
Only in Zenith: Tales Of Alternative Earths, the text feature for November’s 2000AD Winter Special, would Millar have the chance to write about his beloved super-people. Beyond a deliberately farcical supporting character in 1992’s Robohunter, it would be the last superhero story that he’d get to usher into print for more than another year. Superficially a tie-in with Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s brilliant Zenith, it featured nothing at all of that callow, super-powered teenager or his supporting cast. Instead, it took advantage of the multiverse of parallel worlds which had often featured in Morrison’s scripts for the character. In Zenith, these alt-Earths were inhabited by clearly-recognisable – and often tragically doomed – versions of old British comics characters. Although Millar’s short story would display few obvious links to either Zenith or UK comics past, it did describe a parallel reality in which everyone but the aged Yorkshireman Arthur Montgomery possessed both incredible powers and bright spangly fighting togs. Publishing the story under such a title may have been a smart way of putting Zenith’s considerable reputation to use without in any way intruding upon Morrison’s work, or it may just have been a cunning after-thought. Whatever, it did lend a measure of interest and legitimacy to what would otherwise might have likely been seen as a throwaway one-off. (The prose stories in British specials and annuals were usually considered page-fillers by an audience craving more comics and less text.) Indeed, the return to print in 2013 of Zenith’s collected adventures after years of contention between Morrison and 2000AD features Zenith: Tales Of Alternative Earths. For all its lack of relevance to Morrison and Yeowell’s tale , Millar’s effort now appear to be part of Zenith’s canon.
Zenith Tales Of The Alternative Earths also marks the first hint of a collaboration between Millar and Morrison. The latter has always been fiercely, and understandably, proprietary about Zenith, and it seems inconceivable that he hadn’t at the very least known that the property was to be associated with Millar’s story. By 1990, the two had become the best of friends, and Morrison recalls in Supergods how the two would speak several times a day. (*6) That the matter of Arthur Montgomery wouldn’t have at the very least been discussed seems entirely improbable.
Indeed, Morrison and Millar’s lives and work would become so enmeshed that it is frequently impossible to deduce quite where their influence on one another begins and ends. The appearance of a character based on the Victorian politician, writer and occultist Edward Buller-Lytton in Silo, for example, may be the result of Millar having independently read 1871’s The Coming Race. Though hardly a famous author in the context of the late 20th century, Buller-Lytton’s influence on Lovecraft alone may have piqued the teenage Millar’s interest. Yet the same book had already been depicted on the opening page of Morrison and Yeowell’s Zenith: Book 1: Chapter 6, as originally published in September 1987, and Morrison would reference the same in 1992’s sadly lacklustre Zenith: Phase 4. (*6) From this point onwards until the dissolution of Millar and Morrison’s friendship in 2002, the influence of each upon the other’s work is at best difficult to determine.
To be continued.
*1 – “fifteen dollars a page” – “13 Questions With Mark Millar”, with Barb Lien-Cooper, September 1998 – http://www.wickermanstudios.com/index.php?id=57
*2 – “a flat of his own” and “real fanzine rates” – “The Millar’s Tale”, interview with Gordon Rennie, Fantazia #12, 1991
*3: ibid:- The Youth Training Scheme was, according to your political beliefs, either a government grant to encourage entrepreneurship among the unemployed or a way of getting the dole numbers down by paying a year-long grant to folks who’d be back to claim benefit once the 12 months were up.
*5:- For the contents of the collected edition, and a brief primer on the charged politics of the whole matter, see http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2013/05/2000adrebellion-announces-the-complete-zenith/
*7:- As smartly noted by the redoubtable Emperor at the 2000AD Forums, 11/10/10. http://forums.2000adonline.com/index.php/topic,24296.60.html