The Troubles With Starlight
I believe that I have dedicated enough features to the ongoing adventures of the highly polarizing figure known as Mark Millar, and his continuing success and controversies, for this to qualify as a sort of series on him. There is definitely enough material to cover, with every move he makes at least containing a few nuggets of gold for which to mine. The latest of which, although somewhat of an old hat of his, is the recent stir over his use of his constant homages and pastiches - for those are the kindest words to use in this situation.
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Although not as blatant as some would-be homages have been and would be, it's become a rather consistent penchant for Millar to use facsimiles for higher name character in his works. Drawing upon major source from Marvel and DC in order to weave his stories and sell it to the masses. Nearly every one of his creator owned projects have always been announced with the same predictable log lines "What if Superman...
", "What if Batman...
", "What if The Flash...
", but with just general twists added. Nothing incredibly exciting, but the different in the kind of way that sells well and sounds great to movie studios. It's Millar's forte, and it pays the bills handsomely.
Rather than try to create a wholly new character, with all of the little things that go with it, he focuses on premises. In fact it has been noted that time and again that the backdrops these stories provide are merely nothing more than just open spaced playpens for the varied and fantastic artists that Millar gets to work alongside him. So, as of yet, not much trouble has come of Millar cribbing on such noted characters as Superman (for Superior
and Jupiter's Legacy
), or Batman (the only thing close was a pulled advert for Nemesis
making a comparison). At least, there has been not real fall out until now.
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"Flash" and "Ming" duking it out[/caption]
It wasn't until the dawn of his new release (as in it released this week) titled Starlight
. In the early days of it's announcement Millar was quite open to comparing it to the famed comic strip sci-fi hero Flash Gordon. Gordon
, created by Alex Raymond, had fallen out of favor in recent years to the mainstream public - most widely known for the campy 1980's Queen-scored film - has been in need of a resurrection. Starlight, featuring extremely lightly disguised variants of classic Flash Gordon
characters, was looking to be the next best thing for Gordon
fans. The initial release cover was even adorned with an almost exact replica of one of the most iconic panels in Flash Gordon
history: the duel between Ming the Merciless and Flash Gordon.
In fact the homage went beyond the pale for most as it was readily apparent from the get go. The Fu-Manchu style facial hair on the Ming pastiche and of course the ever-present on the Flash analogue proved a bit too on the nose. Yet it was nothing anything much farther than Millar has done in the past with his homages. Superior and Utopian were both telegraphed in version of Superman (with a whole section of Superior
tracing Superman's own pop cultural history) and definitely not anything bigger than what Image Comics did in its early years - especially with Alan Moore's Supreme
, which has been acclaimed for it's widespread cribbing on Curt Swan and on silver age Superman
in general. Yet, the most curious thing occurred only a short time after the original announcement: the preview was re-released, with drastic changes.
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Let's try that one more time[/caption]
For the first time in quite a while, Mark Millar was caught with egg on his face. While the dialogue had remained the same, the designs of some key characters had been altered dramatically. The "Flash" character had gone from blond to dark black hair, with some small alterations to his outfit. The "Ming" counterpart was revealed when the issue came out last week to have gone from a recognizable modern take - to adorning something along the lines of a mix of a French nobleman and a pirate, removing the mustache entirely and adding in an eye patch. While the reasons for these changes are not known, the fact that Millar has dropped name-checking Flash Gordon when doing interviews is very telling. While I mentioned that stories like Alan Moore's Supreme
went on to be highly regarded, that might have been misleading.
Of course Alan Moore and Image never faced any large scale danger or threat for their rip-offs, it was mainly due to Image itself having passed its honeymoon phase at that point. Companies and copyright holders only get involved when these sorts of characters can really outweigh them in terms of popularity and/or sales-wise. Given that Flash Gordon
as a property has been stuck in reprints for the last several years and only appeared in a medium acknowledged miniseries last year. Earned or not, Millar's star in Hollywood has been rising in terms of his properties, with Fox having recently announced that they have optioned a Starlight
movie. It would not be unreasonable for those who own the copyrights to strong arm Millar, since Starlight
would no doubt overshadow Flash Gordon
in the modern day.
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Captain Marvel + Superman = Box Office Fodder[/caption]
Whether or not Starlight
will continue along with its original story or if that was changed as well, it still was able to capture the feel of Flash Gordon despite its changes. Although one would hope that this incident would incite those in charge of Flash
to finally get their stuff into gear and give readers some of the real deal once again. It would be interesting to see if this experience changes Millar's use of pastiches in the future for his stories, but maybe not. What are some of your own favorite pastiches, homages, rip-offs, and "expies" in the business? Comments and thoughts would be appreciated below.