Fantastic Four is taking on the superhero “white boys club,” says Mark Millar

Mark Millar talks Fantastic Four, “race bending” Johnny Storm & why we need female superhero movies

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Mark Millar at San DIego Comic-Con 2013

Mark Millar has been one of the hottest – and sporadically controversial – names in superhero comics for so long, that his transition to one of the hottest names in superhero movies happened almost too gradually to notice. As part of the brain trust behind Marvel Studios’ first step into the MCU, he saw his influence first directly hit the big screen with Iron Man – as well as elements of his comics cherrypicked for the worlds of Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers Assemble – before seeing his creator-owned projects hit the screen in the form of Wanted, Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2 and most recently, The Secret Service.

In 2012 he took on the ‘Joss Whedon role’ at 20th Century Fox, the home of Deadpool, The Fantastic Four, The Wolverine and X-Men, and we caught up with him to find out what’s new in his constantly expanding world…

You were brought in as a Creative Consultant for Fox in 2012, for projects like X-Men and Fantastic Four, is there anything you can tell us about these projects?

I signed up until August 2016 because I signed for four years. You know, the weird thing is what I do, I’m not so much a public face, as such, I just sit with the execs, like what we do, is we sit and plan and say ‘Is it worth spinning off this thing?’ or ‘Who is a good writer/director for this?’ and you know, ‘Does this thing have legs?’ so all my things I signed an NDA for.

Ryan Reynolds in the Deadpool costume
Ryan Reynolds in the Deadpool costume

I literally can’t talk about it. It’s always so annoying because I know all the cool plans. It does all look great though. People have been talking about a Deadpool movie for years, and, you know, just to see that finally happening is really cool. The Fantastic Four movie was done by a really great director. That’s exciting. I’ll tell you what I do like about Fox is you’ve got people like Matthew [Vaughn, director of X-Men: First Class], you have Jim Mangold for Wolverine and Bryan Singer coming in for X-Men and Josh Trank in for Fantastic Four. There’s no crap guys there.

If you look around at a lot of comic-book adaptations, you’re starting to see the cheaper people appearing and people that don’t quite get it right. I love that fact that Fox really lay down the cash and they get the guys. Bryan Singer’s X-Men was expensive to make but it was worth it. It’s made double the amount any other X-Men has made. I like the fact that they invest in the people and that kind of excites me about what is coming up.

Fox mix their high-end with people that haven’t been given much of a chance.

That’s what’s good about a good director. A good director will spot [Michael] Fassbender and Jen Lawrence. They weren’t as well known when they came in and they were hired for X-Men: First Class. You just couldn’t take your eyes off them on screen. They were movie stars.

I think Fantastic Four is exactly the same. Josh Trank is a great young director and he’s got a great eye. It all starts with the director for me. That’s what’s exciting that the power is with those guys.

What do you have to say to the people who have spoken out against the casting of Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm?

It’s funny, you see it all the time, and I do understand why fans are always passionate about these things. I remember when they had a guy who didn’t have black hair playing James Bond, when they had a guy with strawberry blonde hair. It was like the world had caught fire. And then people saw Casino Royale and people were like ‘He is the best Bond ever!’ It was this overnight thing.

So I think if something is not what you’re used to it’s going to be a surprise. You know, [Michael B Jordan] was the best thing in Chronicle. He’s exciting, he’s funny. He’s got the character that is needed for Johnny Storm and ethnicity really has nothing to do with it. I think people are going to feel a bit silly when they see the film. Sam Jackson, his character in The Avengers was a white guy for 50 years and I made him a black guy in the comic and nobody now says, “It would make a lot more sense if he was a black guy.”

It all comes down to performance. If somebody is charismatic and pulls it off, you don’t even think about it, you know. Plus, I actually think it is odd, isn’t it? When you think there’s a black president, the world’s biggest golfer is a black guy, with ethnicity it seems the only place there is a white boys club is superheroes.

Growing up, it seems odd that for 75 years it has been mainly white males who have been superheroes. I just think it’s healthy, I think if I was a young black kid or a young Hispanic kid or something I would want to see that represented in superhero comics as well. It seems odd, superheroes has been like a country club for too long. So I think great, mix it up.

Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four
Michael B Jordan as Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four

The other thing that can happen as well is that it can really catch fire. I’m convinced the next thing, just from having three daughters myself who like superheroes, there will be an explosion of female characters. It seems ridiculous that we had a big racoon character in these movies before we had a big female character [laughs]. I think it’s great that they’re doing Ms Marvel and I love the fact that they’ve got a Wonder Woman movie coming.

Because it is funny having three daughters, one of my daughters in particular is obsessed with superheroes, she’s only three but I’m not kidding, she watches the Christopher Reeve movies every morning before she goes to nursery and everything. And I want her to have something isn’t 40 years old that she watches.

I showed her Linda Carter Wonder Woman and we watch that most nights whilst we’re eating our dinner and I hate the fact that I have to go back 38 years, just for something for her. I want her to have something to dress up as for Halloween.

How does the new Fantastic Four film compare the previous ones?

I’ve only seen bits of it, I haven’t seen the whole thing, so I can’t really say, but I think you can tell from what’s been revealed that this is a very high-end sort of different take on it. It’s a film fans movies really, isn’t it?

You can see from the talent that is attached to it. It’s the actors who, you know, generally recognised as being terrific actors as opposed to being hand-picked because they were famous. You’ve got a quality writer and a quality director. You’ve got something that feels very different to the last one but personally I can’t say because I haven’t seen the whole movie.

The cast of Josh Trank's The Fantastic Four
The cast of Josh Trank’s The Fantastic Four

With Captain America 3: Civil War coming out next year, having written the original comic book material, what is it that you want from that film?

For me the most important thing is Cap vs Iron Man. The two ideological conflicts are what’s interesting about that story. I think there is something very emotive about seeing Captain America punching Iron man in the face and vice versa. I think a Marvel bust up is what comic books were built on.

In the 1960s you always have The Hulk vs The Thing and Captain American fighting, you know, another superhero there is all the mis-understandtng between two superheroes and they fought. I think it is going to be such a comic book experience to see heroes fighting heroes and a very classic Marvel idea. As a fan I’m very excited about that.

It’s going to be the first time you’re seeing a comic-book film.

Absolutely, yeah. And I think the public is ready for it now. All the grounds have been laid. We’re in such a weird world now that my Aunty knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man. If you had told me when I was ten that my Aunty would know that I wouldn’t have believed you.

Read more of what Mark Millar had to say in the brand-new Superhero Movie Collection Revised Edition on sale now! And find out more about the characters behind the films in the 100 All-Time Greatest Comics.