The boldness of Millar’s work and the freedom of Netflix make them a perfect pairing.
On Monday, Netflix acquired the Scottish comic book imprint Millarworld, which is co-owned by Kick Ass and Wanted creator Mark Millar. According to Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos, the intention is to create “several existing franchises, as well as new superhero, anti-hero, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror stories Mark and his team will continue to create and publish.” These will include exclusive films, series, and kids’ shows, all of which will be made available to subscribers all around the world. The deal does not include Kick-Ass or Kingsman: The Secret Service, as the rights to those are owned elsewhere, but from what we understand, the rest of the Millarworld library is fair game. And if we can expect anything based on Sarandos’s words, it’s a diverse range of releases reflective of Millar’s work.
Millar is a divisive voice among comic book fans due to the controversial nature of his content, some of which is excessively violent and disturbing. He’s a fearless storyteller who’s unafraid to venture into taboo territories whenever he wants to establish how evil and rotten people can be, but that doesn’t always sit well with some readers. The New Republic once dubbed him “the sickest mind in comics’’ and questioned his frequent use of rape as a plot device, while Comics Alliance described his “refusal to consider the ramifications’’ of sexual assault as “astounding, infuriating, irresponsible, and sad.’’ That said, Millar’s work has translated well from the page to the screen, managing to retain its anarchic spirit while still doing business at the box office. Take for example Kingsman: The Secret Service, a film featuring a church massacre which grossed $414M worldwide.
Even at its most mainstream accessible, there’s a boldness to his work, and Netflix’s history of letting creators have freedom makes the company a perfect home for bringing the Millarverse to life in any way those responsible for helming the projects see fit. We don’t need to see rape and blood, but what these adaptations do need is a strong voice akin to that of the one present in the majority of Millar’s writing.
While the decision to acquire Millarworld was undoubtedly inspired by the success Netflix has had with Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, some pundits are speculating that they are preparing for life after Marvel in the near future. Variety suggests that “Disney and other conglomerates are waking up to the fact — perhaps a little too late — that they’ve cannibalized their audiences in pursuit of the short-term gain that comes from licensing revenue, and are better off keeping their content in-house, whether in the pay-TV ecosystem that has been even more valuable to the bottom line than Netflix, or with their own fledgling direct-to-consumer efforts.’’ Disney’s plans to hopefully have their own streaming service by 2019 would mean that all Marvel shows would be pulled from Netflix, but a brand new superhero universe to fill the gap sounds like a fair replacement.
Sarandos’s statement suggests that his company’s ambition is only getting bigger, but its willingness to spend the big bucks to bring original content to subscribers indicates that Netflix isn’t screwing around, nor have they been for awhile. David Ayer’s upcoming fantasy action film Bright was given a production budget of $90M and stars Will Smith, and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is set to cost $100M. Right now, we have no idea what they have in mind for Millarworld projects, but their decision to replicate what Disney and Warner Bros. have done before them and acquire their own comic publisher implies that they have their own comic book universe aspirations in mind.
Millarworld contains an array of original titles, from superhero family dramas (“Jupiter’s Legacy’’), violent anti-heroes (“Nemesis’’), space operas (“Star Light,” “Empress’’), science fiction (“Chrononauts’’), and stuff that’s potentially offensive to Christians (“American Jesus”). Looking at Millar’s catalog and considering Sarandos’s words, we can see the full-breadth of his creator-owned bibliography receiving the screen treatment, with the exceptions of those whose rights are locked down elsewhere. The last we heard, Wanted 2 was still happening. Will it find a new home on Netflix?
On top of capitalizing on the current pop culture trend of comic book adaptations, which appears to be sticking around for the foreseeable future, this latest move by Netflix reflects the company’s desire to secure more intellectual property. Earlier this year, it was reported that they plan to spend $6B on original content in 2017 alone, with “a lot more’’ planned in future.
But overall this is potentially a win-win situation. Netflix has secured original content for years to come and Millar’s adaptations have a global platform supported by a company that, until now, has promoted originality and creative freedom. On paper it’s a perfect match, but only time will tell if it pays off. I think the Millar universe is one most viewers will be able to get behind.