Continued from last week.
Yet whatever its strengths, Morrison and Millar’s 2099 proposal went to waste, with a far less sweeping and less nostalgic series of changes being introduced instead. As part of the ongoing attempt to make the line as enticing and vital as possible, the young British writer Warren Ellis was given the Doom 2099 title to play with. Compared to Morrison and Millar’s pitch, his critically acclaimed approach would be considerably more innovative in terms of both form and content. They had sought to mix traditional Marvel conventions from the Sixties and Seventies with the hyper-active melodrama so common to the company’s typical Nineties books. By contrast, Ellis was already playing with an innovatively sparser approach to storytelling matched to “political-SF” content. (*1) By the end of the decade, his influence and patronage would have helped to transform Millar’s career.
If Morrison and Millar ever were seeking to pick the brain of a young comics continuity expert, her or his knowledge would have been even more useful for their other grand Marvel pitch of the period. Submitted in 1994, Marvel Tales: End Of The World proposed that the Professor X of an alt-Earth’s X-Men should be transformed into the fiendish, universe-destroying super-villain, X-Terminus. Designed as an in-continuity 12 issue maxi-series, it would initially present the disastrous end of a parallel Earth without informing the audience that they were reading about doppelgangers of familiar characters. Then, after almost two-thirds of a year, the action would shift from an utterly ruined universe to the familiar Marvel champions and battlegrounds. It was an audacious suggestion which, unsurprisingly if regrettably, was knocked back. Apparently fundamental changes to major franchise characters were relatively rarely allocated to writers lacking either a proven track record with the company or a substantial power base within Marvel’s corridors. Such could trample on developments that were under consideration or appear to close off directions that might be judged better left untouched for the while. Yet, Morrison and Millar appear to have been encouraged to be so ambitious, and to pursue their ambitions through at least one extensive rewrite. It would take a hard heart not to sympathise with Millar’s subsequent frustration when the project was eventually sidelined, given that the process had, in his own words, involved “so much effort”;
“End Of The World is alot like Alan Moore’s Twilight – it would have made a great comic, but we’ll never know.” (*2)
One of comic’s most famous and influential unproduced pitches, Moore’s Twilight had sketched out a future of the DC Universe in which the Earth was disastrously divided up between warring houses of superheroes. For the Millar of 1996 to compare End Of The World to it showed how his regard for Moore’s work, and his desire to be mentioned in the same breath, were as strong as ever.
In the pitch’s second pass, Professor X’s central role was filled by the Puppet Master, a third-string member of the Fantastic Four’s rogue’s gallery. As might be expected, both Charles Xavier and Philip Masters were familiar to Morrison and Millar from their early appearances in Silver Age tales. Once more, the two writers were relying in substantial part on historical rather than contemporary material. (In the most tactful statement of their alienation from 90s Marvel product, Millar would explain that he had “a real fondness for that old stuff” while admitting they’d both “been away from Marvel for quite a while…”.)(*3) Yet End Of The World itself was to refer to the modern era’s mainstream continuity, and that will have brought with it the need for both men to know far more about Marvel’s current product than they wanted to. Working for the company meant that both of them were obliged to engage with the then-dominant Dark Age tradition that they’d previously shown a considerable degree of contempt for. Indeed, their enthusiasm for working at Marvel would openly co-exist with their distaste for a great deal of its output in several interviews of the period. On the one hand, Morrison could proclaim Marvel “the country’s best superhero comics publisher”, while on the other, he and Millar would rip to shreds the way in which its characters had long been presented. (*4) It was a truth that Millar would readily discuss in the period which followed the collapse of all their projects, mooted and actual, at Marvel;
“What was so great about (End Of The World) was that (Puppet Master) would actually destroy bits of the Marvel Universe …. Grant and I thought there were so many crap Marvel characters at the time, thanks to all those terrible books that came out during the 90s. We just wanted all of those really bad characters killed off, and we thought this was a good way to do it.” (*5)
It was a sweeping, and quite frankly contemptuous, agenda that was unlikely to help sell End Of The World to a bureaucracy and creative staff that had, in significant part, created the very same “crap Marvel characters”.
The task of making sense of the ever-shifting, ever-sprawling detail of the Marvel Universe would have been far more demanding than any similar engagement with the 2099 line. But evidently, a measure of research was successfully undertaken. And so, Morrison and Millar had at first proposed tapping into the young mutant Jubilee’s melodramatic relationship with her mentor Wolverine. A character that had only been introduced six years before, the feisty, Chinese-America Jubilee was anything but a Silver Age stalwart.
There is a possibility that Morrison took to the modern-era Marvel Universe with more gusto than Millar. Certainly Millar would make no bones about knowing little about the company’s output in the late Eighties and Nineties when he returned to Marvel in 2001. Indeed, he declared that his knowing “bugger all about it” was a great help to him where revamps such as 2002′s Ultimate X-Men were concerned. (*6) Even given his compulsion towards the hyperbolic, there may be a considerable truth to be found in his 2002 declaration that “I’d only ever read three X-Men comics in my life (all very good and written by Chris Claremont, I should add) and had zero familiarity with the characters.” (*7) Whether Millar was relying unduly on Morrison in this instance, or whether one or both of them were helped by more knowledgeable individuals, is impossible to say. It may even be that the 1992 X-Men: The Animated Series cartoon show had, in the case of Jubilee, helped lend a taste of the company’s more recent product. After all, Millar had, as we’ve seen before, a history of both celebrating and mocking TV cartoon characters in strips such as Red Razors. and Judge Dredd: Mr. Bennet Joins the Judges. As such, his own pop culture predilections may have been more useful with End Of The World than Morrison’s often-more esoteric tastes.
To be continued.
*1:- “political-SF” comes from Ellis’s response to a bitter broadside from Doom 2099 artist Pat Broderick, as appears here; http://forums.superherohype.com/showthread.php?t=312184
*2:- Untold Tales: Grant Morrison & Mark Millar’s Marvel Tales: End Of The World, Overstreets Fan #18, December 1996
:3:- ‘You Are What You Eat’, Wizard 46, 1995
:4: “the best superhero …” comes from ‘You Are What You Eat’, Wizard 46, 1995. Perhaps the best source for GM and MM’s loathing for much of Marvel’s output comes can be found in “Comics Aren’t For Adults Anymore”, interview by Steve Holland, Comics World #40, 1995
*5:- As (*2) above
*6The Ultimate Writer Mark Millar by Barb Lien-Cooper Sequential tart MARCH 2002