Mark Millar says black superheroes are the way forward as he talks 'Kick-Ass' reboot (exclusive)

Hanna Flint
Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. are back with a Kick-Ass reboot featuring a black female lead (Image Comics)

It’s been ten years since Dave Lizewski burst onto the comic book scene as the green and yellow costumed vigilante Kick-Ass but now the title’s creators Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. are sharing a fresh new take on the beloved hero, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Patience Lee is a black single mother just returning from a military tour to find life back home in Albuquerque, New Mexico is not what she was counting on. Her journey to becoming Kick-Ass comes more from necessity than morality; she starts taking down criminals because she has children’s mouths to feed and bills to pay unlike Dave whose love of superheroes inspired him to become one.

With Black Lightning hitting Netflix to rave reviews and Black Panther breaking records before it’s even hit cinemas, the arrival of Patience couldn’t come at a better time to boost the representation of non-white superheroes in pop culture. And the first run sold out two weeks before its release tomorrow.

Patience Lee begins her crime fighting career by taking on Albuquerque, New Mexico’s criminals (Image Comics)

Mark Millar spoke exclusively with Yahoo Movies UK about his decision to reboot Kick-Ass with a black female lead, his plans to turn the comic into a TV show, and what’s next with Netflix after selling his company Millarworld to the streaming service…

Yahoo Movies: Why did you choose to make the new Kick-Ass a black woman?

Mark Millar: The reason she is black is because I got this feeling a while back that there are tonnes of white characters in comics, wouldn’t be interesting to have some who weren’t white? I’ve created Asian, Indian, and African-American characters like Patience but superhero comics, up until a while back, really looked like a country club. It was weird.

The Justice League were all white, as were the Avengers you know, and I had always noticed that comic book starring black characters, like Blade the Vampire Hunter, there just weren’t that many around and they didn’t seem to last. So then I thought, I’m in a very unique position where I’ve got a lot of followers and fans and reasoned that I could try something that maybe other people weren’t trying.

Mark Millar wrote the first Kick-Ass book ten years ago with artist John Romita Jr. (Getty)

How does Patience’s narrative differ from Dave’s? Do they exist in the same universe?

MM: What’s great is telling a story that’s not about a white guy makes it feel completely different. With this Kick-Ass it doesn’t feel like a rehash of the previous volumes. [Patience] has quite a cunning plan because she’s robbed these bad guys and she’s putting the money to good use. Because she’s a military tactician she came up with a really simple idea to make it look as if it isn’t her. The first people the cops are going to talk to are comic book fans and because she’s not one it’s a brilliant cover. So Dave and all those people exist, and at some point down the line Hit-Girl and others will come into her story.

So how did you find the voice for Patience? Where was your inspiration?

MM: So I namely always find it from friends and Patience is based on two friends of mine; one is married to a very good friend of mine and the other is a pal I’ve known for 15 years who is ex-military. What’s quite interesting, because a lot of people have said why did you make her black rather than white, is that the army is disproportionately, in terms of the American population, African-American. So it just felt more real having her black. A year ago it would have been seen as radical to have a black hero, but look at Black Panther set to be the biggest opening weekend for Marvel ever. So it is crazy how much things can change of what you expect from a superhero movie in that very short space of time, but it is an improvement.

Timing wise it’s brilliant that the issue is coming out the same week as Black Panther.

MM: I actually wrote this over a year ago, 18 months ago in fact, and the book was meant to come out last year but then I got involved in the company sale and that took over ten months, and I didn’t have anything coming out because of all the financial stuff and the business stuff. I had no idea that Black Panther was even out the week we ended up selecting for the release, we had talked about January but then we realised the ten year anniversary fell this month, but you know, sometimes fate looks after you!

It’s interesting because you brought diversity to the Avengers with The Ultimates by making Nick Fury black and Janet Pym Asian. Do you think enough has been done since then to bring more diverse comic book heroes to the screen?

MM: I think we’re about to see it change now just for one reason. Hollywood runs on money and Black Panther is about to make a huge amount of cash. Then certainly, everyone’s going to be like “where’s my African-American hero?” What has been going on a long time is the fact that people never want to be the first person that makes the change, they want to follow a trend because they see it making money. So if you’re a studio exec you think “well, we’re doing well with these blonde Paul Newman-type guys so let’s just stick with them.”

Samuel L. Jackson has Mark Millar to thank for his Nick Fury role as the writer made a point of making the character black in The Ultimates (and name-checked the actor too)

Years back I heard someone say “it’s very hard to sell a black lead internationally” and I said “what about Will Smith?” and they said “he was the exception”. It’s weird that it’s taken a while but we’re now seeing the culmination of this with the arrival of Black Panther. But people forget that the three Blade films didn’t cost much to make but they grossed a billion dollars, and that was before the Marvel wave had even truly begun. The appetite has always been there but the studios have been nervous. I think after this weekend they’re about to get a lot less nervous.

You’ve already been discussing the possibility of Tessa Thompson playing the live-action Patience…

MM: People say the world’s changed and all that but there are hardly any good big budget roles for women who aren’t white and blonde. They say it’s a different Hollywood now and all that but everyday people come up against the same barriers, so if there’s one more character out there that makes it a little easier for somebody to break through then great.

Kick-Ass wasn’t part of your deal with Netflix but is there scope to bring a Patience Lee series to the service?

MM: Because Kick-Ass is out of it, it’s weirdly disconnected from my day job. I can’t push this the way I could push something else and get it going but it’s a conversation I wouldn’t mind having. I love this stuff and I don’t think there is anything going to be happening theatrically with Kick-Ass. Kingsman is different, Kingsman will keep going but Kick-Ass has just been sitting blind there, so the idea of a TV show or something, I would be super excited for it. I think the time is right and the character’s got a lot of goodwill, with Hit-Girl in the same continuity, it would be an awesome TV show.

When we brought out the first movie in 2010, the idea of doing it as a TV show would be unthinkable, because TV was just so straight forward back then, but now we could do something as mad and as radical as that. It kind of fits the format a little better because it’s not a $200 million [budget], it could only really be about $25 million.

Is that something you’re thinking of doing currently?

MM: I own the rights, but Matthew owns the theatrical and Lionsgate the television rights so a deal would have be to be struck, but we haven’t had conversations like that yet. It’s definitely something I’d be open to. We have about six Netflix things up and running at the moment so it’s one of those things that you don’t want to break your back, and this other stuff we’re doing is much more big budget.

Can you give us any details on what these projects might be or is it all still hush hush?

MM: There’s going to be a big press conference next year once we’ve got all the actors and the directors. We’re assembling our directors right now and selecting writers, the right people to do this stuff and then we can start talking to the actors. It’s a little early but I imagine as the year goes on [a Kick-Ass show] could be explored, as like I say we’re planning six things at one time right now.

Mark Millar hopes to turn ‘Kick-Ass’ into a TV show

With Disney launching its own streaming service, it’s certainly cleared a path for Millarworld to take Marvel’s place in the queue to make new Netflix Originals.

MM: Absolutely. These Marvel characters have been around for over twenty years and I think people are already getting a little itchy for something new. I mean what Iron Man are we on now? Everyone is starting to look a little saggy. I think the time is right for something new, we’ve got this incredible machine behind us and we’ve got 20 franchises just sitting there. We’re ready to get going.

I have to ask your thoughts on Marvel given it’s the ten year anniversary and so many of your books have contributed to the narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

MM: It’s great, that period in my life was amazing because I went from being a guy who was just keeping my head above the water, when in my twenties, to overnight my life changed completely. Suddenly I was on first class flights, it was amazing. I was a guy who was constantly rewritten prior to that, then suddenly I was editing and next I had the number one book and then could do anything I wanted. As a writer, a professional writer, it was really satisfying.

Above it all, I played with these characters, these toys, as a kid and actually getting to play with them as a 30-year-old was amazing. Although I don’t own any of that stuff from the Marvel years, and I don’t really get credit in the movies (I think I just get a little thank you in there), I can only see it as positive. But to be honest I never think about it, I always think about what I’m doing next. I’ve never re-read one of my old books, I never think about the films once their done, I’m always excited about tomorrow instead of looking back to yesterday.

Logan was based on Millar’s Old Man Logan book

It must be cool to see Logan get an Oscar nomination when it was your book James Mangold and Michael Green adapted?

MM: I honestly never think about it! I’m obviously pleased for everyone involved but for me it feels just ages ago. I wrote Old Man Logan back in 2008 and The Ultimates was 2002 to 2006, so to me it just feels like that was high school and now I’ve graduated to university. It was a lovely period of my life that I look back on fondly but no interest in ever going back to it. I almost see Marvel as the competition now, I want to replace them rather than celebrate them!

And I have to ask your thoughts on the current DCEU movies given you spent some quality time at DC Comics – apart from Wonder Woman, what is Warner Bros. doing wrong?

I think it’s really simple the characters aren’t cinematic and I say this as a massive DC fan who much prefers their characters to Marvel’s. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are some of my favourites but I think these characters, with the exception of Batman, they aren’t based around their secret identity they are based around their super power. Whereas the Marvel characters tend to be based around the personality of Matt Murdock or Peter Parker or the individual X-Men, it’s all about the character. DC, outside of Batman, is not about the character. With Batman, you can understand him and you can worry about him but someone like Green Lantern, he has this ring that allows him to create 3D physical manifestations and green plasma with the thoughts in his head but he’s allergic to the colour yellow! How do you make a movie with that? In 1952 that made perfect sense but now the audience have no idea what that’s all about.

People will slam me for this but I think the evidence is there. We’ve seen great directors, great writers and great actors, tonnes of money thrown at them, but these films aren’t working. I think they are all too far away from when they were created. Something feels a little old about them, kids look at these characters and they don’t feel that cool. Even Superman, I love Superman, but he belongs to an America that doesn’t exist anymore. He represents 20th Century America and I think he peaked then.

Sounds like it’s time for a Red Son reboot…

I’d rather they just left that one alone!

The first issue of the new Kick-Ass hits stores tomorrow on Valentine’s Day

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