If the ramp up to Mark Millar's latest creator-owned Icon Comics series has been big in scope, it's not entirely without reason. Months before the writer and artist Leinil Francis Yu's "Superior" was ready to even be solicited for sale in comic shops, the pair had already started to roll out awareness on the book with a "Wizard" magazine cover and a series of prophetic teaser images – all of which evoked Millar's love for the Superman mythos. But now, with October's first issue only a few weeks away, the creators are ready to talk about what makes "Superior" a comic, concept and character all to itself.
"The basic idea behind Superior is about a kid who's been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis getting a magic wish for whatever he desires," Millar told CBR New. "And his wish is to become the big screen superhero he's always loved. This superhero is a tip of the hat to all the golden age greats, a romantic character slightly out of time, whom the modern world doesn't have much interest in. He's been around for decades, in comics, movies, television shows and lunchboxes, but nobody cares anymore. They've just tried rebooting him with a big new movie, but even this underperforms and he's almost a forgotten character. He's an American icon, but tied to an America that's been left behind. It struck me as interesting to have this character, who was created in the Depression, essentially appear now in a very bleak economic time in the real world. Like his creation back in the 30s, he appears just when America needs him most. So we have this really quite charming notion of a little boy who's granted a magic wish giving America her confidence back again. It's actually a very emotional story. It's got massive action set-pieces, super-villains, aliens, robots and all the things you might expect, but at its core, it's a morality fable."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the origins for "Superior" are rooted in Millar's observation of that other caped American icon...or at least one of the actors who portrayed him. "The idea came to me when Christopher Reeve died a few years ago. I looked at the covers of all the newspapers. It was very moving. They'd all say, 'Christopher Reeve Dead' or 'Superman Actor Dead' and have a photo of him in his wheelchair next to a photo of him as a very potent and healthy Superman. I thought how powerful an image that was, and it stuck with me. I came up with an idea there and then of a little kid in a wheelchair, whose body was disintegrating with a horrible disease, getting the chance to become the world's greatest superhero.
"Obviously, Superman is something I've always loved," Millar continued. "I think that's quite well known. But I was aways amazed to hear people say they couldn't relate to him the way they could relate to Marvel characters or Batman because Superman was just too perfect. That's why I think this idea of a 14-year-old boy who has these disabilities getting super-powers kind of Marvel-izes the concept or grounds it for people. It also gives you the chance to see what it's like for someone who couldn't even walk at the beginning of our story fly through the clouds or bench-press a steam engine. It's a very heartwarming, kind of heartfelt story."
It's that relation, Millar explained, that his concept for Superior grew from. In the end, the character that made it to the page as drawn by Yu took its inspiration from a number of "square" heroes the writer related to as a kid. "My friends at school always like Batman more, and I always liked both Batman and Superman...but I liked Superman more. I always preferred Kirk to Spock. I preferred Luke Skywalker to Han Solo. I preferred Paul McCartney to John Lennon. I just never seemed to identify with the guy who was more fucked up. Maybe it's because I wasn't really like that. I wasn't a particularly dark character, even as a teenager. I was always in a pretty good mood, so I wasn't drawn to those personalities.
"So what I tried to do here was make the Superman idea, which extends across a lot of different superheroes, palatable to people who didn't like those kinds of guys before. To humanize him in this way has worked out very interesting. It's quite different than anything I've done before. It's a very emotional book."
Included in the ongoing scheme of "Superior" are more branches of the superhero family tree than mere wish fulfillment narratives, though the book will carry a more classic tone than some of Millar's other creator-owned work. "It's got great villains in it as well. It's a real romp, and I think it'll be the sort of thing that people will be a bit more surprised to see because it's not my usual course of Shithead and Fuck Wit and the normal stuff of mine you'd see in 'Wanted' or even 'Kick-Ass.' There's not little girls dropping the C-Bomb in it. It's as nice as I get, but also features maybe the best action I think I've managed. Super-powers on this scale are great to play with and something I haven't been able to do since 'Red Son.' Villains tossing trains through skyscrapers and so on isn't something you can do with Captain America, but it works very well within the parameters of this book, and I'm having a lot of fun with it."
Working with artist Yu back-to-back (the pair just finished a stint on Marvel's "Ultimate Avengers 2") afforded Millar the close collaboration he needed to make this series a bit more personal. "'Ultimate Avengers: Crime and Punishment' gave me an even greater appetite to work with [Yu]," the writer said. "Leinil and I have been talking about working together since I was writing 'The Authority.' Over e-mail nine years ago, I was like 'I want to work with you' and he said, 'I want to work with you too, but I'm off to WildStorm now.' So I've waited years for him to come back, and he finally came back to Marvel two years ago to do various projects. Now I've got my hands on him and I'm not letting go. I think he, McNiven and Hitch, along with Johnny Romita and Frank Quitely, are the five best guys in the industry right now, and to be working with most of them is phenomenal luck for me."
So far, the collaboration has been a fruitful partnership, Millar told CBR, even when the writer brings a bit too much to the table. "We go back and forth a lot by e-mail. Surprisingly, I'm very control freaky, always going, 'No no, the costume's still not right' and sending notes back and forth, and that's the thing that surprises me so much as we work – that Leinil is so patient. He's probably the sweetest collaborator I've ever worked with, and he's just nailed it now. We've sent so much stuff back and forth that we'll probably put in the collection, eventually, with all these costume designs and possibilities. He's just knocked it out of the park, now. I think he knows exactly what to expect from me and me from him. I've never been as happy with an artist as I am with the pages he's sending me. And he's so fast. He turns an issue around in two weeks. It's a nice a change of pace for me," the writer laughed.
"Superior" #1 is in stores on October 6, 2010. Check back with CBR tomorrow as SUPERIOR WEEK continues for a chat with Leinil Yu and an exclusive look inside the book.