The Column: Issue #21

Fri, January 31st, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Mark Millar, Columnist

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EXCLUSIVE REAL WORLD SPECIAL

You know, I can't remember the last time I actually clicked on a site that wasn't related to comics or porn. Every morning I get up, brush my teeth and stagger through to my office to do email and a little surfing for an hour before meeting my wife for breakfast at 10am. During these sixty minutes, I check all the same sites you check and then read everything anyone in even the farthest corner of the web has said about even the most insignificant thing I've ever written (contrary to what most pros admit in their interviews, we read these things like addicts read their methadone prescriptions). As I gaze down my bookmark file, the whole thing seems hideously one-sided for someone with a supposed interest in current affairs and what's happening out there on my doorstep. As a writer, my day is carved into three equal parts of sleep, writing and playing. Is this what happens when the real world only enters into one third of my adult life?

To avoid freaking out and in the interests of proving that comic-book people can actually talk about normal things too, I'd like to make this a real world special where I try, for the next few hundred words, to talk about something other than comics. I mean, there must be SOMETHING going on out there besides the fact that Bryan Hitch has just faxed me the full pencils for issue nine of The Ultimates and managed to turn the whole issue around in a little over four weeks this time, right? RIGHT?

ITEM!

War's great, isn't it? Or maybe that's just the ones starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton or, even better, Mark Hamill in an X-Wing trying to take down the Death Star. What's especially great about these kind of wars is that we can watch them from the safety of our living rooms without worrying for a moment about being caught in the gunfire or hit by shrapnel and, like all the best TV, America's overseas adventures are usually much the same. However, Operation Desert Storm 2: Your Ass Belongs To Me, Saddam doesn't look nearly as much fun. Not only are some of the best characters like Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf not even back for this one, the fucker's actually going around saying it doesn't sound like a very good idea at all. Worse still, it looks like us white folks might actually get hurt this time too for a change. Did you know more US troops died in so-called friendly fire ten years ago than were actually killed by Iraqi soldiers? Seizing Baghdad promises to be a lot more complicated and messy than most people are expecting and, kind of worryingly, Johnny Foreigner is starting to counter Western aggression with wide-screen terror tactics of their own too.

No, this war doesn't look as fun and as cosy as all the others we've had in the wake of Vietnam and I think I'd rather watch something ELSE on TV while the retaliatory dirty-bombs are going on outside in Bonnie Scotland, thank you very much. If September 11th and the Bali attack were payback for the Muslims who died in the name of western foreign policy over the last decade, I wonder how they're going to react when we carpet-bomb the heart of the Muslim world and install a Methodist called General Tommy Franks as Saddam's interim replacement? Last week, the Pentagon announced very matter-of-factly that it intended to shatter Iraq "physically, emotionally and psychologically" by dropping 800 cruise missiles on its people over two days (more than twice the number launched during the entire 40 days of the 1991 Gulf War). Their chief strategist, Harlan Ullman, boasts that they're going for "The Hiroshima Effect" and politicians all across the world fear that this is merely the first stage in a takeover of the entire Middle East. Good to see they've learned their lessons, eh? But before anyone accuses me of yet another anti-Bush rant, please bear in mind that the British and Australian Prime Ministers are also on the side of this un-elected Republican junta in the endless war they've promised us. Thus, in the interests of fairness and balance, let me say that they're a couple of pricks too and the rest of the world is pointing and laughing at them.

ITEM!

They say there's nothing like a war to get the blood pumping back into your privates and this has certainly been the case for me. My latest crush is the surprising choice of Oval Office Hottie Condoleeza Rice. Black women are virtually non-existent in Scotland (I've honestly never seen a black chick in real life over here) so there's the novelty aspect, of course, but there's just been so many romantic, thoughtful pictures in the papers lately of her looking troubled as she gazes out of the White House windows in her 80s-style 'fuck me' shoes that I'm definitely becoming a fan. Wouldn't it be great if the entire cabinet were kind of sexy instead of just plain creepy? It's a cruel fact of life, but we could forgive them for almost any atrocity they were committing on the world-stage if they tittered and giggled their way through press conferences and maybe even gently kissed one another when faced with difficult questioning. John Poindextor being given a ten figure budget to spy on the American people must have George Washington spinning in his grave, but think how much less menacing this would seem if this had been given to Jlo, for example.

ITEM!

Has anyone read STUPID WHITE MEN by Michael Moore? The title kind of bugged me because it smacked of that stupid, self-loathing shite white liberals often fall into and I promised myself I wouldn't be seen, as a white guy, sitting in an airport reading a copy of a book with this title. However, I found myself facing a long, boring plane trip a few weeks back and bought a copy in Glasgow airport, reading it cover-to-cover by the time we touched down at JFK. It's brimming with interesting facts and ideas (the opening chapter on the widespread rigging of Election 2000 makes especially chilling reading), but a chapter that surprised me was Kill Whitey. Again, this smacked of white, liberal bullshit where we're faced with a rich, fat white man saying white men deserve to die, but the actual information contain therein genuinely blew me away.

Like I said, I come from a country where there's no real sense of racism or even INTEREST in race relations because everyone's pretty much just one race of people. To any white supremacists reading this column, Scotland is probably your idea of Heaven on Earth. To any black people reading this column, come to Scotland because you'll be treated like an A-list celebrity (but watch out for those vacationing white supremacists). Growing up I knew one black guy. My home-town has sixty thousand people and one black guy. Even his PARENTS were white and it took me years to figure out he'd been adopted. What you've got to understand is that growing up in this environment kind of dulls you to any kind of racial tension ELSEWHERE in the world because Phil, the one black guy in our town, was probably the most popular guy in the west of Scotland. All the white guys wanted to hang out with him because he gave us liberal credibility and he pretty much shagged every girl at my school. Being black was actually the greatest advantage a young man could possibly have in life and so, when I read the black and white facts in the Kill Whitey chapter, I was pretty dazzled by the stats.

Did you know blacks are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and this figure remains unchanged since 1954 despite all the bullshit talk we hear about equal rights? Did you know black women are a massive four times more likely to die during childbirth than white women? I won't bog you down with all the facts and the figures and would urge you instead to just pick up the book and read this stuff for yourself. What I wanted to mention is the test he gives you and that's where he asks you to count how many blacks you see in the work-place who aren't wearing some kind of uniform. I assumed this was complete bollocks until my five-day stay in the States didn't turn up a single black worker who wasn't either a guard, a cleaner or a passing cop. I visited video game people, movie studios and even comic-book companies and you know the only black faces that greeted me in any of these huge buildings? The fucking receptionists, I kid you not. This is when it struck me that the REAL white, liberal bullshit was the writers and artists and Hollywood people who talk about the importance of token blacks and Asians on the super-teams or in sit-coms or whatever they're making money from, but not actually allowing them at the meetings where these decisions are being taken.

ITEM!

I was out with my pals last week for our weekly curry and, as always, the conversation tends to drift along to who you would or wouldn't shag in the world of entertainment at the moment. These conversations are basically the very same words and phrases we've been using for the last few years except every six months or so the names change to incorporate the latest airbrushed babe on the cover of GQ, Rolling Stone or Esquire. These girls all share the same basic look and measurements, but a new name has appeared in these last few months and she looks and talks unlike anyone else in our well-researched babe-files. Is it just me or is Kelly Osbourne the greatest role model a 12 year old girl could ever have? After a generation of hard-bodied, teen high-achievers and magazines filled with their diets, their punishing exercise regimes and, of course, their inevitable breakdowns, isn't it nice having somebody who KNOWS she's been beaten with the fat-stick a little and doesn't give a fuck about her weight? Isn't it refreshing to have a fledging popster KNOW she's only there because her Dad's Ozzy Osbourne and cheerfully admits it in every interview? After a decade where spin and hype and terrifying multimillionaires like Tom Cruise hit gay porn stars with hundred million dollar lawsuits for saying something nasty about them, it's just kind of cool to have someone on TV who doesn't even wear make-up for the cameras. Best of all, this nineteen-year old Anti-Britney, who's fast becoming a role model for a whole new generation of chicks fed up with the taste of their FINGERS down their throats, comes from Beverley Hills. Who'd have thought?

ITEM!

Okay, I tried to go a full column without talking about comics and I'm about to fail. Fuck you! But I've got to say something about Daredevil because, well, we're all kind of COUNTING on this Summer of 2003 to super-charge us like the Batman movie super-charged the industry back in 1989 and I have trouble keeping my opinions to myself anyway. Daredevil is first out of the gate and is the only blockbuster this year I'm genuinely worried about. I haven't seen the trailer like the rest of you probably have. For some reason, I can't even seem to download it properly, but I've seen the posters and I can only add my voice to what a lot of people have been saying: What were they thinking with that gay costume? The horns, the little DD on his chest and the mask all just look great in the comics but, as we learned from the Image artists, what looks good on the printed page isn't necessarily how things look in real life.

I could count on one hand the number of these characters I'd keep in costume if my job was translating them to the big screen. In fact, I could count them on MICKEY MOUSE'S hand because there's only four superhero costumes a mainstream audience would pay money to go and see. These are Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and The Hulk (I count green skin and purple pants as a costume) and this might even stretch to Wonder Woman because, like the others, they have a massive mainstream recognition factor. We see Billy Zane running around in a purple mask and we think he's a dick because we don't know who the Phantom is. Tobey Maguire swinging around in a red and blue leotard works because people just accept that's what Spider-Man LOOKS like. We've got HISTORY with these images and therefore feel okay about shelling out ten bucks to go and see them in a movie theatre with someone of the opposite sex.

Daredevil, however well received the books have been for twenty years, has absolutely no recognition factor beyond the relatively small comic-book marketplace. My wife's reaction, when she saw the trailer at a cinema recently, was that Ben Affleck's dressed up as some guy in the kind of movie people like me and my friends would probably like. Just as Nic Cage would have been Nic Cage in a Superman costume, the very last hope of credibility is shattered when your disbelief is no longer suspended and you can only see a movie star running around in a red costume with a little DD on his chest. I know the director has a genuine love of the character, but I'm worried he's stayed perhaps a little too true to the comic-books here. As a fan of the Miller run and Guardian Devil in particular I think he's definitely been reading the right stuff and I'm sure, as someone well-versed in this material, that I'll enjoy it in the same way I get a little more than most people from these genre flicks. I really hope I'm wrong. Expectations, I think, are fairly low for DD based on the posters and, I'm told, from the trailer and I really, really hope that this works to the movie's advantage when we're all dazzled when a Marvel superhero flick lights the blue touch-paper on a year that's destined to be a billion-dollar advert for the comic-industry. I hope it WON'T be as reverential as it looks like it might be because, like I said, we're all really COUNTING on this one to maintain a momentum we haven't seen in over a decade.

NEXT WEEK: Do creators come with expiry dates?

Visit Mark Millar on the Web at www.millarworld.biz and discuss this column on the MillarWorld forums.

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