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August 7, 2013

Go, Read (Or Not): Mark Millar Profile At New Republic

imageThis is a very sad profile for a place like New Republic to run, an article by an Abraham Riesman on the writer Mark Millar that gives him a lot of room to talk about his use of human atrocities in the course of his superhero genre tweaking: a tried-and-true way to provide fans with puerile thrills and to carve a little homesteading plot of his own out of some very limited creative real estate. It's as dumb and as upsetting in places as you can imagine; it is a piece that runs right up to the edge of this kind of black hole of banality that is modern pop culture. The writer does get Laura Hudson to stomp on Millar's assertion that rape is just another atrocity on the ol' tool belt to use in such genre play. She explains why it's different to such strong effect that when you have other writers-about-comics explaining, for instance, that there's a satirical edge in the comics that doesn't get translated to the movies, it seems like a pretty silly argument to be making. It'd be nice if the article itself did more basic parsing of what Millar says as opposed to outsourcing a few key, hit-generating points. The article seems to hold in abject wonder the controversial heat generated by this genius of rape scenes and other "kinks," the man who gets to have it both ways in most things that count.

Mark Millar has really, really played the press over the years, in any number of such articles. They are pieces that tend to be characterized by a broad jumble of assertions that make for a better story -- or maybe just sort of an arguable one, which these days is just as good -- than the facts might more strongly suggest taken on their own. They are rarely detail-oriented; they tend towards broad, hard-to-discredit claims. Is it really possible that Mark Millar received some sort of major career boost by becoming a darling of early Internet message boards? Sure. Is it possible that there was some interest but also a backlash by people that didn't care for the cruder, more pandering aspects of his Authority comics and that he moved into the Ultimates gig after a variety of assignments? Sure. Who can say at this point? Wikipedia entries are written by the winners. This profile reads a bit differently than the ones that used to run in various Scottish newspapers because there's more history to follow now, a whole run of horrific plot lines used in the various ways described, and the self-aggrandizing narrative of Millar's career in superhero comics starts to not jibe with more specific memories of those times as grander, broader, more streamlined claims began to be made for it. There are no step-backs in this version of the writer's story, and almost no mention of his collaborative artists or the writers in whose established story spaces he found room to riff. Hudson nails one of the most repellent of Millar's recent creative choices: a scene in Kick-Ass 2 that uses the rape of a female character solely as a motiving factor in a male character's story and as a kind of grotesque titillation both for its content and for the very fact of its aberrant nature. It's good to have that kind of cynical ploy underlined in terms of its noxious reasoning as many times as is possible to underline something. What doesn't get pulled out enough is how clichéd and unimaginative and bottom-line old-man lame such a plot point is in the first place. It's realistic, man, except that it really isn't. It's satire and it's really not.

So why do some folks listen? I imagine some genuinely like those kinds of comics. I imagine others don't have a strong opinion on content issues and/or appreciate those things that Millar does well (I think he does a pretty good job with fight scenes as a storytelling element; that his comics have a humorous element is worth noting, too) that they can see the rest of it as Millar playing the fool. The primary reason, of course, is that it's worked! Mark Millar has been extremely successful in selling a lot of his comics and a number of his movie concepts. One assumes him to be very financially well-off in a way that directly reflects well on him as the primary agent of his own success. This insulates Millar from a lot of criticism because we live in a world where money is the bottom line, even, maybe especially, in art. Thus we take very seriously an artist who can speak comfortably of flipping the Tony Stark/Bruce Wayne archetype because someone bought the development rights to that particular gaming-table bit of wisdom for a hefty amount -- as if that, and the list of incest-pregnancy hurdles that follow, isn't silly to the point of being laughable. In fact, in comics, riddled with exploitation on all levels, Mark Millar is currently one of the two or three role-models for an entire segment of the industry. God help us all.
posted 7:25 pm PST | Permalink

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