How many comic scribes get their own day? Okay, sure, Millar Day was “founded” by Image Comics to commemorate the release this Wednesday of Jupiter’s Legacy Vol. 2 #1, the return of artist Frank Quitely to the book’s main narrative following an interstitial story drawn by Wilfredo Torres and Chris Sprouse. Still, it’s irrefutable that Mark Millar is one of the biggest, most influential—and most divisive—writers working in the medium today.
From character-defining runs at the Big Two of Marvel and DC to creator-owned series known for artist-friendly financial splits and near-instantaneous movie options, Millar has created an empire. Some may be repulsed by Millar’s shock tactics, but it’s undeniable that he still knows how to hit at the heartstrings when a story calls for it. To celebrate Millar Day, Paste compiled its list of the best Mark Millar comics of all time. There are sure to be controversial omissions—sorry, Kick-Ass—but these ten storylines stand tall among an enviable bibliography, and are worth revisiting as he launches his latest saga.
1 of 10
10. Marvel Knights Spider-Man
Artists: Terry and Rachel Dodson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Mark Millar built his name on engulfing double-page spreads to match massive headline-inspired ideas, but the writer's 12-issue stint on Marvel Knights Spider-Man runs in direct contradiction to those instincts; the three-volume saga opens with two pizzeria workers arguing over DVD vs. VHS while finding Peter Parker's body crumpled in their garbage-filled alley. Though Millar's attempts at modernity haven't exactly aged well, he captures a fragile superhero grappling with an unhinged rogue's gallery that has no qualms kidnapping elderly aunts.
The book later proposes an interesting, if underdeveloped, concept of devious companies creating supervillains to distract the heroes from their machinations. But Millar's innovations here—new Venom included—expand and honor the off-kilter, introverted loner sensibilities of inaugural webhead writer/artist Steve Ditko before the character was transformed into something less distinct and more commercial. Terry and Rachel Dodson also construct some of the most fluid, graceful web-slinging in the history of the character. Sean Edgar
2 of 10
9. Jupiter's Legacy
Artist: Frank Quitely
Publisher: Image Comics
When this tale of different generations of superheroes began, it felt as familiar as a clickbait headline about millennials: kids these days are the worst, the world is going to hell, blah blah yada. But things quickly took a surprising and drastic turn, with the worst of the old generation and the worst of the young'uns teaming up to wipe out almost all superheroes and take over the government.
Despite the horrors of this coup—illustrated via some of the most graphic violence ever seen in a superhero comic—this series is moving in a more optimistic direction, much like Millar's recent work in Huck. As the second arc begins, Chloe (the daughter of superheroes) and Hutch (the son of a supervillain) are set to save the world thanks to the inspiration of their son Jason, a true throwback to pure heroes like the Superboy of yore. Compelling premise aside, this comic would be worth your money just for Frank Quitely's art, which is as finely rendered and gorgeous as ever, making the long wait between arcs worth it. Mark Peters
3 of 10
8. Superman Adventures
Artists: Aluir Amâncio & Others
Publisher: DC Comics
You can't deconstruct the superhero archetype in books like The Authority and Jupiter's Legacy without a keen understanding of what makes it enduring in the first place, and this late-'90s/early '00s cartoon tie-in proves that Millar has just that when it comes to the Man of Steel. The Scottish scribe is responsible for a good chunk of the book's run (sharing writing credits with, among others, Paul Dini, Mark Evanier, Scott McCloud and Ty Templeton), tapping into the same iconic, all-ages version of Superman who was protecting Metropolis in the animated series of the time. Working primarily with Aluir Amâncio, a Brazilian artist skilled at matching the Bruce Timm aesthetic without sacrificing his own distinct flair, Millar produced nearly 500 pages of Kryptonian storytelling that rarely get mentioned today—hardly a surprise given the mature corner his career quickly turned—but which stand the test of time as purely good capes comics, with none of the cynicism that marks much of his more recent work. Steve Foxe
4 of 10
Artist: J.G. Jones
Publisher: Top Cow/ Image Comics
On the surface, this 2003-04 series is about what happens after the supervillains kill all the superheroes and wipe them from memory. But in 2016, it's hard not to read Wanted as an exploration of the toxic masculinity that's fueled gun massacre after gun massacre. Unfortunately for us all, this series feels more relevant than ever. Millar's protagonist is Wesley Gibson, a mopey schlub who feels victimized by a cheating girlfriend, an African-American boss and Hispanic gangs. Then he finds out his father was secretly a supervillain, and Gibson has a chance to inherit wealth—and a license to steal, rape and kill.
Millar and artist J.G. Jones' portrayal of a victorious, but squabbling, supervillain community is entertaining and full of Easter eggs, but the character of Gibson, who adapts easily to the role of predator, cuts deeper. This commentary on superhero comics has become a prophetic piece about the entitled, embittered male anger behind most gun violence. It's hard not to shudder as Wesley holds a gun, which Professor Solomon Seltzer labels, "The answer to all your problems." Mark Peters
5 of 10
6. Old Man Logan
Artist: Steve McNiven
Publisher: Marvel Comics
After haloed X-Woman Shadowcat slid back in time to prevent the Brotherhood of Mutants from knocking off Senator Kelly in Chris Claremont's groundbreaking 1981 "Days of Future Past" story arc, less-than-favorable alternate future scenarios snowballed into a superhero cliché. We've seen Kingdom Come, Age of Ultron, Futures End, Earth X, Dark Knight Returns, Here Comes Tomorrow—the list could go on. Apart from the obvious time travel aspect, all of these stories share one crucial element: They Aren't Funny.
Calling Mark Millar's 2008 epilogue for the Marvel Universe a parody or satire might be a stretch, but the original Old Man Logan—brimming with expertly rendered blood and guts courtesy of Steve McNiven—nonetheless stands as a shining example of how a superhero tale can go full grimdark without sacrificing its sense of humor. A third-tier Spider-Man baddie slaughters most of the X-Men, Bruce Banner and Jennifer Walters sire a brood of green trash and, to top it all off, Wolverine and Hawkeye nearly meet their ends by the teeth of DinoVenom. In the spirit of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Millar's version of Armageddon is nothing to get bummed out about. Barry Thompson
6 of 10
Artist: Goran Parlov
Publisher: Image Comics
One of Image Comics' many sci-fi series to launch in 2014, Starlight stands apart as being heartwarming rather than dystopian. Buck Rogers-esque space cowboy Duke McQueen has returned to earth and aged into an old man, mocked for his insistence that back in the day, he was a space hero. When a citizen of the world Duke saved comes to find him, insistent that only he can topple the new, more evil regime, Duke straps his blaster back on to save the day once more. Like much of Millar's work, Starlight feels tailor-made for Hollywood, but Goran Parlov's Moebius-inspired space-age art keeps the book fresh and beautifully strange. Tini Howard
7 of 10
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Publisher: Image Comics
Millar wrote Huck as a therapeutic response to Zack Snyder's self-serious 2013 Man of Steel, a film that climaxed with Supes snapping the vertebrae of foe General Zod. Whereas that movie (literally) sucked the color from superhero fiction's most salient icon, Huck swims in Midwestern sunsets and optimism through its depiction of the titular hero—a simple agrarian farmboy with astronomical powers, and a clear analogue of Big Red. The plot revels in the emotional, touching psychology of Huck; he's egoless, delighted to rescue cats and retrieve lost family members as if there were no option not to. Artist Rafael Albuquerque freezes that good-of-all majesty with brilliant, old-school charm, but also knows when to pull back to show the head-hunched vulnerability of one man perpetually aiding his neighbors at his own expense. Though Huck pulls plenty of twists as it inflates into Cold War conspiracies and android brawling, it stands as an understated treatise on the superhero as the modern Christ figure, and one of the purest, most nostalgic comics in recent memory. Sean Edgar
8 of 10
3. American Jesus Vol. 1: Chosen
Artist: Peter Gross
Publisher: Dark Horse, Image Comics
After Millar honed his craft on bright, bold affairs like Sonic and Superman Adventures following a stint at gritty UK publisher 2000 A.D., American Jesus Vol. 1: Chosen showed that the author is just as effective in the dark recesses of supernatural drama. Jodie Christianson walks away from a truck collision unscathed, empowered with spiritual abilities that fall nicely in line with the Biblical Book of Revelations. Is Jodie the second coming of history's favorite carpenter? Is he an imposter? Millar and artist Peter Gross tightly choreograph the tolls of divinity on a 12-year-old psyche, as well as the cultural clusterfuck that would be a messiah resurrected in the 21st century. The sucker punch twist is perfect, and strangely respectful of the Biblical source material. Though 12 years have passed with little evidence of a proposed sequel, Chosen remains an absorbing, astute bildungsroman and this writer's favorite contribution to the Millar library. Sean Edgar
9 of 10
2. The Ultimates
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Talk about a problematic fave. Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates might read imperfectly now, but the two original volumes were a gateway into the Marvel Universe for many new readers. With Hitch's widescreen panels and Millar's snappy pop-culture references, The Ultimates inarguably inspired much of the style and structure of the present-day Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the first appearance of the Chitauri aliens to the lasting presence of Nick Fury as Samuel L. Jackson, The Ultimates is like an early glimpse into the billion-dollar industry that turned Marvel into a modern monolithic brand. For many fans, The Ultimates, despite featuring a now-defunct alternate universe, represents the most blockbuster distillation of the Avengers concept available in print. Bonus: keep an eye out for the prescient scene in which Nick Fury tells Cap his nose has been "smashed more times than Robert Downey, Jr." Yikes. Tini Howard
10 of 10
1. Superman: Red Son
Artists: Dave Johnson & Kilian Plunkett
Publisher: DC Comics
This Elseworlds tale finds Millar at a tipping point: after years of scripting a fundamentally good Superman in the all-ages pages of Superman Adventures and partway through turning the Avengers into cynical, kill-happy modern action heroes, Millar teamed with Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett to blend both sides of his storytelling expertise in Superman: Red Son. The premise is devastatingly clever in its simplicity: what if baby Kal-El's rocket had arrived just a few hours later, landing in Soviet-occupied Ukraine instead of wholesome, corn-fed Kansas?
Superman grows up to be the perfect Communist and the ideal Cold War weapon. Millar, Johnson and Plunkett have terrible fun reimaging Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and others for this twisted hammer-and-sickle world, but what shines through is the immutable qualities of these iconic heroes. This may not be the Bruce Wayne we know, but it sure is Batman. And as if putting an end to the nature versus nurture argument, even a steady diet of Soviet propaganda can't combat Superman's inherent desire to do right by others.
Make no mistake: Millar's path to confirming Superman's humanity is rough going, but Red Son sees the writer falling far short of the extremes of later works like Nemesis and Old Man Logan. Between suicide bombs and grievous war injuries, Millar is still primarily concerned with the beating heart of superhero action tales that we've seeing again in recent years from books like Huck and Starlight. For capturing both sides of the controversial scribe—and featuring gorgeous, propaganda-inspired art from Johnson and Plunkett—Superman: Red Son is our favorite Mark Millar comic of all time. Steve Foxe