Mark Millar hasn't seemed like himself lately.
"I don't know if I'm getting gentler with each baby," he jokes with me, his Scottish accent jangling on the other side of the telephone line. "I've now got three daughters, and I've got them all obsessed with superheroes — like, obsessed, like they know more about superheroes than I did when I was their age even. At the same time, I think they are making me maybe nicer or something."
We're talking about Millar's daughters because I've asked the comic book writer about his recent change of heart. Millar's most popular works are cuss-filled gems, set in worlds where violence is inextricably linked with justice. Many of his comics, including Wanted, The Secret Service (Kingsman: The Secret Service), and Kick-Ass, have been adapted into movies (with the latter two both earning sequels) that are known for their grit and brutality.
He's also known for writing Marvel's Civil War (the source material for the company's next big blockbuster, Captain America: Civil War, which comes out in May) and for grounding his superhero stories in divisive political reality.
But since the conclusion of the first volume of 2013's Jupiter's Legacy, a grim superhero story of familial betrayal that Millar created with artist Frank Quitely, he's been on something of a feel-good tear. Jupiter's Circle, the nostalgic prequel to Legacy that came out in 2015, was lighter — a Mad Men–esque take on a group of superheroes like the Super Friends. Later that same year, Millar published the gorgeous Huck, about a superhero who just wants to do good.
And now Millar has partnered with artist Stuart Immonen to create a zippy, winsome space opera called Empress. ("Stuart is just the guy I've always wanted to work with," Millar said of his collaborator. "It's like Cinderella accepting your proposal.")
Empress is more Star Wars than Star Trek. A woman, the titular empress, just wants to give her children a better shot at life. That means skipping across the galaxy with her trusted bodyguard who's going to have to double as a babysitter. Oh, and there's an electric blue Tyrannosaurus rex, elaborate alien headwear, and interstellar nightclubs with bottle service.
"Every sci-fi thing I've seen since I was 10 years old, there's generally a future dystopia, and I rarely see [a future] utopia," Millar said, explaining why he loves the joy of Star Wars. "I thought I would have a bash — where everybody looks beautiful and everything's kind of exciting-looking and fresh, and it isn't raining and darkness all the time. It's something that just feels like something a 7-year-old could read as well."
It's strange to hear this kinder, gentler, softer Millar talking about beauty, hugs, rainbows, and children. After all, this is a man whose most popular creation is a tiny, homicidal girl who cusses like a sailor. But he and Immonen have created a gem of a comic — and an adventure his daughters (and anyone, really) could read and enjoy.
Empress No. 1 is available online and in stores today.