Continued from last week.
The problem with Skrull Kill Krew obviously wasn’t a lack of ambition on Morrison and Millar’s part. The same was true for several of their other substantial pitches to Marvel during 1994 and 1995. But as with their Swamp Thing project, a mass of promising ideas, a hearty degree of enthusiasm, and an impressive overarching plan didn’t by itself guarantee focused and enticing comicbooks. Where Skrull Kill Krew is concerned, much of Morrison and Millar’s energies seemed to have been poured into the high concepts and the bullet points of their plans rather than the essential minutiae of page-to-page storytelling. It’s hard to believe that anything would have been different with their other, unsuccessful proposals such as 2099: Apocalypse and Marvel Tales: End Of The World. With Millar being by his own admission a mediocre scripter at this point, and with much of the workaday writing devolving onto his shoulders, the two men’s approach was a recipe for squandered opportunities. As such, it was probably best for both men’s careers, if not, in the short term, for their bank balances and peace of mind, that the bulk of what they proposed to Marvel was rejected.
Their Apocalypse pitch sketched out major changes to Marvel’s largely underperforming 2099 line of comics. Launched in 1992, it depicted one possible future of the Marvel Universe. With a largely generic cast and an often unconvincingly dystopic Sci-Fi backdrop, the 2099 books had met with a mixed response. Beyond Peter David and Rick Leonardi’s lively Spider-Man 2099, the line was short on critical and top-rank commercial successes. Though there was the initial support to launch a second wave of 2099 titles in 1993, overall sales were soon in decline. (The X-Men 2099 book appears to have lost hundreds of thousands of annual sales between 1994 and 1995.) (*1) Presumably at the behest of series editor Joey Cavalieri, Morrison and Millar set about developing “a means of re-sparking interest in what was a fading 2099 universe…”. (*2)
Their 2099: Apocalypse could hardly have been the easiest of proposals to write, given that neither Morrison nor Millar were likely to have read anything much – if at all – of the 2099 comics before. Though Morrison was seriously exaggerating the situation when he told Tim Pilcher in 1995 that he hadn’t read a Marvel Comic since 1968, there was more than a grain of sand in the quip. (*3) With most of Millar’s knowledge of Marvel limited to the contents of the UK’s black and white reprint titles of the late 70s and early 80s, he was even more out of the loop than his partner. What may have a playful piece in the UK’s Comics International described both men’s attempts during the period to hire a helpfully knowledgeable Marvel fan who’d fill them in on all the continuity they’d missed. (*4) (Even as late as 2014, Millar would, in the wake of James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, declare that he’d never read a comic with Drax The Destroyer in it. (*5) That would mean that Jim Starlin’s classic ‘cosmic’ Marvels of the 1970s had quite passed Millar by, and that despite the praise showered on them by the likes of Morrison and Joss Whedon. (*6) Millar did remember, however, that his seven year self had placed a sticker of Adam Warlock on his bag .) (*7) Most writers find themselves with a considerable degree of research before them when pitching, but Morrison and Millar seem to have been starting with a particularly demanding duty before them. The backstory of the 2099 line was admittedly far, far less complex and tortuous than that of Marvel’s mainstream titles. But given Morrison and Millar’s stated distaste for the distinctly of-its-age storytelling to be found in the likes of Punisher 2099 and Ravage 2099, their investigations may not have been particularly enjoyable.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the material that Morrison and Millar appear to have drawn upon for the superstructure of their 2099 proposal came from the first 18 years of Marvel Comics history. Locating the company’s traditional strength as lying in its “less-than-super alter-egos”, they sought to recreate the Marvel Revolution’s range of iconic costumed crusaders with profoundly disadvantaged secret identities. (*8) (Tellingly, Morrison later referred to the inspiration of the templates laid down by characters such as the blind Matt Murdock and the socially ostracised Peter Parker in the early Sixties.) Revamps of Captain America, Iron Man and the Avengers dominated Morrison and Millar’s detailed and longterm plan, with the protagonist’s berths being filled by Galactus and the Martian invaders from 1973′s War Of The Worlds strip. In what’s been made public, only Ravage, of all the characters unique to the 2099 line, got a mention. Even there, he was referred to by Morrison in the context of being the descendant of mid-70s Amazing Adventures headliner Killraven rather than a player in his own right. Whether this reflects the contents of the pitch or its writer’s enthusiasms when speaking about it, it does point to Morrison and Millar’s enthusiastic preference for decades-old material.
As an attempt to attract readers who might want even more of the company’s familiar fare, it was a pitch with comfortably nostalgic virtues. The spins Morrison and Millar offered on standard-issue Marvel material may have tended towards the unchallenging, but they were, in places, undeniably intriguing. As such, the secret identity of Iron Man 2099 was to be based on Stephen Hawkings, a “man with a super-brain trapped inside the body of a disfigured invalid”. Nor was the narrative itself devoid of interesting plot twists. In one smart reversal, the new team of future-Avengers would convince Galactus to feed on Mars rather than the Earth, killing two particularly threatening birds with one inspirational strategy.
To be continued.
*2: The Column, Mark Millar, CBR, 9/8/02http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=14182
*3:- “so… which one’s the lesbian”, interview by Tim Pilcher & Steve Jewell, Comics Forum #8, 1995
*4: New Guardians Of The Galaxy Thread, comment by Mark Millar, 1/9/2014 http://forums.millarworld.tv/index.php?/topic/104950-new-guardians-of-the-galaxy-thread/
*5:- Reference pending
*6:- Whedon lauds Starlin’s Avengers Annual 7, which featured Warlock’s death, as the best in the franchise’s printed history.
Morrison devotes pages 136-9 of his Supergods book – 2011 edition, Jonathan Cape – to his love of Starlin’s 70s work for Marvel. By comparison, he never mentions Skrull Kill Krew. Indeed, he barely pays more attention to his relationship and work with Millar than he does to Starlin.
*7:- Millar’s lack of curiosity in comics history can be more than just surprising. In the same thread as *3, he refers to loving Keith Giffen’s DC work in the 80s, and yet admits that he’d never realised Giffen had also worked for Marvel. Most folks who find a creator they admire are keen to track down something more at least of their work, but Millar often appears to have no such drive.
*8:- The information about these projects mostly comes from two features by Scott Braden;
a. Untold Tales: Grant Morrison & Mark Millar’s Marvel Tales: Apocalypse , Overstreets Fan #17, November 1996
b. Untold Tales: Grant Morrison & Mark Millar’s Marvel Tales: End Of The World, Overstreets Fan #18, December 1996
They can both be referenced at trusty Deepspacetransmissions;
Brian Cronin later reprinted much of the first article in another of his excellent Comic Book Urban Legends pieces at CBR: