There are very few writers in the comic book industry with the level of impact and commercial success that Scottish writer Mark Millar has enjoyed in the last twenty years or so. Not only he wrote some of the most fascinating works in the Big Two during the last two decades, but he has also established his own universe of independent comics called Millarworld, which has provided a lot of commercial success for him and a much more stable place in the industry.
So it might be a little daunting to get into Millar’s vast bibliography without a clear notion of his writing style or the stories that have become part of the history of the genre. This is very interesting because Millar spent the vast majority of the 1990s scrapping by: first writing every gig in the UK that he could land and later on doing likewise with DC Comics, when he was hired by the American company in 1994.
His story is one of success through hard work and dedication.
Millar has always favored showing the darkest side of the world of superheroes and some of his best work have become intrinsic to what deconstructed comics are, so if you want a different take on some of the industry’s greatest icons, Millar is the one for you.
Are you ready to start? Then let’s get started with our list of the best Mark Millar comics:
15. Nemesis (2010-2011).
One of Millar’s favorite tropes when he is writing independent comics is to take a superhero archetype and give him or her his own spin on things, which usually results very gruesome and yet interesting stories. This is particular true with his four-issue miniseries with artist Steve McNiven (one of his personal favorites), Nemesis.
This miniseries presents a very interesting situation: What would happen if Batman were evil and Commissioner Gordon had to step up and stop him? This is what Millar writes in this story, with the antagonist being a vigilante that takes the lives of multiple detectives and our protagonist, Blake Morrow, is the next on his hit list. This is only the first issue, but we already got the ball rolling and a lot of shocking events going on.
This story is pretty accessible if you want to get into Millar’s style from the get-go; this is far from his best work, but I find it highly enjoyable and considering that he took the Batman archetype to twist it around, it’s pretty interesting when you do that comparison.
14. Superior (2010-2012).
I have always found very interesting that a writer that is known for such cynical works such as Millar has such a strong interest and appreciation to the character of Superman, which has shown multiple times throughout his career. And his miniseries Superior, alongside artist Leinil Francis Yu, is a tribute to the Man of Steel.
In this comic we have the protagonist, a 12-year old named Simon Pooni, who is suffering multiple diseases and injuries and worships a superhero named Superior. One day Simon receives the visit of an alien who tells him that he has one wish and he wishes to obtain the powers of Superior.
As time progresses, Simon has to deal with the consequences and the ramifications of the powers that he has obtained and we see how he balances the effects of his disease and this new aspect of his life.
Mark Millar shows a very different side of him; he is mostly known as a cynical and deconstructionist writer when it comes to superheroes, but here we find the most uplifting and optimistic nature of his writing, which reminds me of the time he was writing Superman comics. There is also a lot of Shazam/Captain Marvel here, with Simon/Superior being a reflection of sorts of what Billy Batson represented as a character.
This story is a very enjoyable classic superhero tale with a lot of innocence and a lot of positive messages. I remember I once read that Millar said that Superior was inspired by Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman and the diseases he had to deal with later on in his life.
13. Ultimate X-Men. #1-12, 15-33 (2000-2003).
Back in 2000, Marvel decided to create an alternate universe where talented writers and artists could create different takes on their established characters. It was eventually called the Ultimate Universe and a very experimental era where the classic Marvel characters were a little bit darker and unhinged. Mark Millar was a very important figure in this line and his Ultimate X-Men was one of the most prominent.
I have to say that Millar is a very weird case when it comes to the X-Men, but I also think that he is a very interesting writer with these characters. Around this time the X-Men were still Marvel’s top brand and Millar completely revamped them, changing multiple origin stories, adding multiple differences to their status quo and giving them a more morally ambiguous feel to these characters.
A huge drawback for me as far as these comics go is the art of Adam and Andy Kubert. They are usually extremely good and skillful artists, but here they are somewhat uninspiring given that these years were honestly fairly poor in terms of popular style–they have this highly cartoonish style that doesn’t really work with characters so realistic as the X-Men.
But that’s not Millar’s problem really; he offers a dynamic and entertaining take on the X-Men that might be interesting for those looking for a different perspective on everybody’s favorite mutants.
In normal days, I would recomend to buy the overzised hardcovers to read this title. They look really great. But as I write these lines (March, 2020), Covid pandemy break and all that, maybe these could be good times to recommend the digital versions… good thing about this? If you’re bored, you can purchase it and read one of the best Mark Millar comics right away form home!
12. The Secret Service (2011-12).
If you ever watched and enjoyed the Kingsman movies, then this comic that inspired said films is the one for you. Here we have a lot more emphasis on Millar’s British sensitivities and offering a comic that has nothing to do with superhero stuff, which is an interesting experimentation on his behalf.
The story introduces us to a seasoned spy called Jack and he decides to hire his young nephew Gary so that he can start getting into the world of espionage. Gary is a rebellious and conflictive individual that needs to learn about discipline and being more mature as he starts to progress on the role of a spy.
The plot is extremely simple and yet a lot of fun, with Millar teaming with legendary artist and writer Dave Gibbons (who obviously drew the Watchmen comic), providing a very entertaining art style that truly fits with the comic’s story.
Definitely worth your time if you enjoy espionage stories and want to know more about the world that you probably saw in the movies.
Again, given current times, I´ll be recommending the digital version:
11. Superman: Red Son (2003).
There are multiple Superman Elseworlds stories out there and many of tremendous quality, but there are very few that have achieved the critical acclaim of Superman: Red Son, where Millar reached a very particular height with this miniseries given that he worked extremely hard with small Superman comics and then having a lot of success with this miniseries.
The story is very, very simple: What if Superman had landed on the Soviet Union instead of the United States? This story shows how Superman grew under Soviet communism with the influence of Stalin, growing into the role of the leader of this country and confronting the United States, whose biggest champion now is Lex Luthor. We also get to see a lot of Batman, Wonder Woman and a lot of different aspects in just three issues.
This miniseries reminds me of those 50s and 60s Superman stories that dealt with alternate realities but this time done in a serious manner; Millar takes good care of multiple aspects to make sure that the developments that cover fifty years of events are done in a natural way and fleshes out the characters very crafty way. It shows you how much of an impact did the Kents had on Superman and how he would react to becoming a symbol of communism.
Odd, experimental and highly entertaining, this is a story for everybody that wants a different take on the character of Superman.
Hey, I won´t say it again… I´m recommending all digital editions that you might take advantage now, during Covid times, to read some of the best Mark Millar stories without leaving your home. If you’re a paper lover, go and order them on paper anyway!
10. Jupiter’s Legacy (2013-present).
The concept of the superhero and how it can connect to the real world is a common theme throughout Millar’s career and this somewhat recent introduction to his Millarworld, Jupiter’s Legacy, explores the concept of the families of superheroes and supervillains throughout time.
That is why the story goes through multiple generations and explores the stories and origins of these superheroes as if they were a modern day mythology, which is something that has been said a lot of times when regarding this medium: that superheroes are modern interpretations of mythology. And Millar connects this with the development of American society throughout the years, making for an interesting story and also giving us a deeper perception of what Millar understands of that country and their superheroes.
This project also marks his reunion with legendary artist Frank Quitely; they haven’t worked together since the days of The Authority back in 2001, so it’s always nice to see these two collaborating on a new project. And while I’m not the biggest fan of Quitely’s art, I have to say that he does a great job here.
Ok, you have a few books to buy here if you want to fully understand the story: you have the Jupiter’s Legacy books, which tell the main story, and the Jupiter’s Circle books that go further in time to tell the origins of the original heroes. All of them are really good…
9. Wolverine: Enemy of the State. Vol. 3 #20-31 (2004-2005).
Imagine being friends with a guy who is a walking killing machine and one day he snaps, trying to kill everybody he loves and cherishes in an inhuman rampage. That’s what you get when Mark Millar takes the Wolverine title and decides to mess with everybody’s favorite Canadian.
In this story we find Wolverine being brainwashed by Hydra and the Hand, thus resulting in Logan attacking many of his friends and S.H.I.E.L.D. and many other organizations need to pull all their resources to stop the man that is the best at what he does.
Wolverine is a character that is often forgotten when discussing the biggest contributions that Mark Millar has done to the world of comics and it has to be said that he has done a lot of interesting stuff with this mutant (more on that later), with Enemy of the State being an action thriller that is extremely enjoyable and shows how dangerous can Wolverine be when he is on a rampage and lashes out.
8. The Ultimates (2002-2004).
I have to say it upfront: this might be the most important comic book of this century so far in terms of cultural relevance. This is because this comic was the blueprint for many different concepts of the Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also a groundbreaking revamping of Earth’s mightiest heroes, with Millar and artist Bryan Hitch reaching tremendous degrees of success and popularity after the release of this comic.
The Ultimates are the Avengers of the Ultimate Universe and their origins are altered and updated to keep up with modern times. Captain America is a hardened soldier from WWII, Iron Man’s character makes a lot more emphasis on the alcoholic billionaire playboy, Thor is depicted as an ultra-liberal eco-terrorist, Nick Fury is depicted as Samuel L. Jackson (before the MCU) and many other changes that go through a gritty and darker feel to what we’re used to.
This book is really interesting because it’s Mark Millar at his best and worst excesses. Here we have all the grittiness, sexual connotations, swearing, heroes acting like douchebags and brutality that you can expect from a Millar book, to the point that one can argue that The Ultimate don’t do anything to be qualified as heroic until the final confrontation of the book. The characters are very different in terms of personality to what you’re used to and at times it can be a very unnerving experience, which is something that Millar enjoys A LOT.
This was also Bryan Hitch’s breakout book and he deserves all the platitudes that he gets from his art; here he goes for a cinematic approach and it does wonders to the excessive nature of Millar’s writing, especially considering how the Scottish writer makes a tremendous emphasis on making the book look and sound current (which is funny because all those references are now outdated). The art is strong, detailed and filled with style, which is something that I love about Hitch: he always seems to know how to get each character right.
If you want a more modern and grittier depiction of how the Avengers formed, then The Ultimates is a fantastic comic for you.
I couldñt find what this volume includes, but it seems it might include both series, Ultimates 1 and 2… it’s worth to check it out!
7. Superman Adventures. #16, 19, 22-31, 33-38, 41, 52 (1998-2001).
These were the days where Mark Millar was still making a name for himself at DC and was given the chance of writing different Superman comics from the book that was about the animated series that was airing at the time in the late 90s. Perhaps it wasn’t so much of a great deal for many writers, but Millar seized this opportunity some really wonderful Superman stories that still deserve to be read.
Despite being in theory a show for kids, both the series and the comics were done in a way that any person can enjoy it and Millar thrived in this context, crafting multiple stories that served as a tribute to the vast mythology of the character of Superman and also a way to deliver little twists to his character to keep things interesting. Most of them are stories that you can read in an issue or two and it really feels remarkable.
There is a lot of satire here, but also a grand feel that fits with the character of Superman and it also pays a lot of respect to what he represents. Millar would make a career as someone who liked to mess characters up in terms of deconstructions, but his work with Superman always showed a lot of respect and perhaps that’s why I gravitate so much to his work on this book: it shows a different side of his writing.
7. Wanted (2003-2004).
Imagine a book where Mark Millar can let loose even more than usual and where there are almost no morals to hold him down. This is exactly what we’re getting with Wanted, a miniseries where the writer shows a different perspective of the supervillain world.
In the world of Wanted there are no superheroes and supervillains are thriving given that they are the only people with powers on Earth. We’re introduced to the young man that is our protagonist and he discovers that his father is one of the biggest villains, forcing his own son to take on the “family business” and become a villain. The kid has a different opinion on the matter.
Complemented by the great art of J.G. Jones, Wanted is a very dark story where we can see Millar doing everything he loves without having to be restricted by the classic tropes of superhero comics (and one look at his work could tell you a lot about how he feels over said tropes), resulting in a comic that is actually somewhat unique in the industry.
6. Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. #1-12 (2006).
Mark Millar taking a Spider-Man title was always going to be a notorious and interesting experiment because they seem to be complete opposites beforehand, but we cannot deny that Millar is more flexible as a writer than what you may think and it shows in this compilation of stories that were released under the Marvel Knights imprint.
Millar tries to add more darkness and a grittier feel to the Spider-Man character, which is not something that hasn’t been done before (after all, the character’s best story, Kraven’s Last Hunt, was a pretty dark affair), but Millar adds his own unique style of satire and dark humor to make for a very unique experience.
I would argue that this book might be divisive for a lot of people given that Millar tries to take such a well-defined character as Spider-Man through different directions, but I also think that he stays true to Peter Parker’s essence and core values, which is something that a lot of people have been struggling with in recent times.
5. The Authority. #13-20, 22, 27-29 (2000-2002).
The Authority is a very interesting team and has a very colorful and somewhat complicated story. The team initially started as StormWatch at Jim Lee’s company under the banner of Image Comics, WildStorm, back in the early 90s and they were a very classic action-based team, but once writer Warren Ellis took the title, he decided to spin them around by changing the team and making it more cynical and morally ambiguous. After a time, the team evolved and became The Authority.
This new version of the team would still be written by Ellis and he would get the input of artist Bryan Hitch before his The Ultimates days, quickly establishing The Authority as one of the most comics in the business at the time. And Mark Millar took over the title in 2000 and had the opportunity of teaming with Frank Quitely in what is considered as this book’s best era.
Millar goes to town here with all his favorite tropes and that involves messing these characters up. If Ellis already turned them from classic 90s edgy superheroes into morally ambiguous beings with superpowers, Millar takes this to a whole new level with characters having multiple sexual orientations, some of them dealing with drug addiction and overall showing all the excesses of people that are basically gods. It reminds me to the decadence of Julius Caesar’s rule in the Roman Empire; we see these men and women showing the darkest sides of our nature.
A really fun experiment of how a conventional superhero team can become a very complex set of characters. It’s very interesting and a lot of fun. And if you like Quitely’s art, then this is the one for you.
Lucky us, all this material has been collected into one great volume of some of the best Mark Millar material available:
4. Old-Man Logan. Wolverine Vol. 3 #66-72 (2008-2009).
I have to say that this is one of Millar’s crowning achievements in the comic book industry. While Wolverine was still a very popular character at the time (perhaps even more popular due to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of everybody’s favorite Canadian), Millar found a way to revamp the character a bit and come up with an alternate future where he is one of the last heroes standing in the Marvel universe.
Old-Man Logan is set many years in the future and the vast majority of the heroes have died and we don’t know why. Wolverine is seemingly retired and doesn’t want anything to do with that life anymore, but after a few events involving his family take place, Logan has to team up with a blind Hawkeye to take his revenge and to put an end to multiple aspects of his old life.
Millar does an excellent job in setting up an almost post-apocalyptic world where everybody is dead and Logan is almost like Clint Eastwood’s The Man with no Name, walking around and fighting against multiple enemies. This version of Logan is a lot more serious and a lot more savage at the same time, cutting loose like we haven’t seen before.
Steve McNiven works once again with Millar and does a tremendous job here, especially during the fighting scenes where he has no qualms in showing the gore, the blood and the violence in beautiful details. His style fits this story like a glove and is definitely one of the biggest highlights of his career.
3. Kick-Ass #1-8 (2008-2010).
Perhaps the most important creator-owned book in Millar’s career and one of the most important in the history of the industry, Kick-Ass is a very real, cohesive and visceral representation of what a superhero would be like in the modern day. I don’t think there is a more realistic and rawer story as far as this topic goes and I think this is one of those properties where Millar, alongside legendary artist John Romita Jr., caught lightning in a bottle.
This first book tells the story of high school student Dave Lizewski, who is a comic book reader who wants to become a superhero and after going through several ordeals he buys a suit on the internet, starts training and becomes his own superhero, Kick-Ass. The story continues with his first exploits, his learning curves, his first villains and all the different challenges that come with being an actual superhero in what would be considered a realistic environment.
I think what gets me the most about this book is the fact that there is a lot of heart to it; I think Millar and Romita Jr. really believed in this project and it shows, with Dave being a protagonist that feels like a genuinely good person and we feel for him through the different obstacles that he needs to overcome. I also think that Romita Jr. does a phenomenal job here and it’s definitely one of the strongest works of his career.
2. The Ultimates 2 (2005-2007).
The process of making The Ultimates 2 was a somewhat more complicated experience than making the first book. Not only there was a bigger demand for another book, but Millar was now a world-class writer with a lot on his plate and Bryan Hitch took his sweet time to deliver the artwork, so this 15-issues miniseries was finished in a space of two years, but it was definitely worth it as it is vastly superior to what we saw in the first volume.
This story deals with the consequences and the aftermath of the previous book, but it also dwells a lot more on the character of Thor, who was more of a supporting character in the first comic, and we also get to see a lot more of the friction going on between the different members, even going as far as having their own particular traitor between the ranks.
Millar knows what he is doing and it shows in this comic; here we see a writer at the height of his powers and who is fully aware of the characters he is writing, often adding twists and turns for a much more unique story among the Avengers’ pantheon of comics. It’s also everything that you can expect from his interpretation of these heroes: they are excessive, they are a bit more morally ambiguous and the violence is always over the top.
A really solid book and one of the best of Millar’s career.
I couldñt find what this volume includes, but it seems it might include both series, Ultimates 1 and 2… it’s worth to check it out!
1. Civil War (2006-2007).
Quite likely the most important Marvel Comics event of all time, Civil War is also the biggest moment of popularity and success in Millar’s career and the moment where he was perhaps the most known writer in the industry. Very few events can brag about having the cultural relevance and commercial success of Civil War, resulting in perhaps permanent changes for the Marvel Universe, for better or worse.
After a group of superheroes from the New Warriors dies in an accident, the US government establishes the Superhuman Registration Act, which serves as a way for superheroes to hand over their secret identities and work with the government in order to avoid casualties like this one in the future–Iron Man ends up becoming the leader of this proposal and many superheroes follow suit. Captain America, on the other hand, claims that goes against every civilian’s right to choose and this unleashes a major conflict between both sides of the superhero spectrum.
I have to say that Civil War is a really good story, but my only gripe is that it could have worked a lot better as a What If? story or a Ultimate Universe storyline than something within the main continuity as this notion of heroes fighting heroes feels a bit out of character in various times. Having said that, the event itself is extremely fun and enjoyable, often showing different perceptions about characters that we have seen for decades.
Millar has a lot of fun here and I think he has been the closest to changing the superhero landscape at Marvel, with consequences that are still felt to this very day. It also presents a very strong moral debate about being held accountable of your own actions and a person’s right to be free. That is very interesting and he picked the right characters to represent both sides (Iron Man and Captain America).
A historical story in the world of comics and one that you must read.
Going through this article finds me with two final thoughts:
- Did you see the comics this guy has produced? Man, these are some of the most important comics from the last 20 years! I cannot believe why some “bigger than thou” guys rise their eyebrows when thay talk about Millar! Who do they think they are, Shakespeare? Guys, these are comic books, and as comic books come, Millar gave me some of the best comic books moments from my life! So cheers to you, Mark!
- During 2017, it was announced that Netflix, who was loosing the rights to produce Marvel series due to the upcoming Disney streaming service, bought the rights to produce series based on Millarworld comics. The info was that the first one would be Empress, that would release early 2020, followed by Huck and Jupiter’s Legacy. More recent data points that the first series that have already finished shooting are Jupiter’s Legacy and American Jesus. There are also rumors of a Supercrooks anime series. Waiting more than anxiously for them!
Did you enjoy our list of best Mark MIllar comics? Is any of your favorites out of the list? Please let us know!