Mark Millar has always been a workhorse of a comics writer, cranking out scripts at a regular pace from his days at Marvel Comics through to the creation of his own Millarworld label. Since selling his company to Netflix several years back, the Scottish writer has kept the details of his new comics relatively close to the chest until they’re ready to debut — and nowhere has that been more evident than with Millarworld’s most recent franchise The Magic Order.
Originally debuting in 2018, the series’ first volume introduced readers into the sometimes vulgar, always hidden world of stage magician/supernatural defender Corderlia Moonstone and her family, who sit atop the title organization. Tasked with keeping ancient beasts and demons out of humanity’s sight, the Magic Order hit an unforeseen shakeup that saw the return of dark magic so old it may rewrite the rules of all humanity. That was the endpoint of Vol. 1, and just before Halloween, Millar and incoming artist Stuart Immonen push the familial saga into its next phase.
CBR spoke with Millar about his grand schemes for The Magic Order Vol. 2, including his predilection for flipping expectations, the class issues at the heart of his world-building, and how the creation of this series will lead the way on all the new, fully in-house Millarworld/Netflix series and movies. Plus, Millar shared off a handful of exclusive new pages from Immonen’s incoming issues, the first of which arrives on Oct. 27 from Image Comics.
CBR: The first volume of The Magic Order came with its share of twists, but ultimately it served as the origin story of the world’s biggest screw up, Cordelia Moonstone, having to shoulder the responsibility of leading a group tasked with saving the world. What was your attraction to that flipping of the heroic script, and how did you want to pick up on Cordelia as the real lead of this series in book two?
Mark Millar: The whole point of writing, I think, is subverting expectations. This is a story about magic, and so I employed a little sleight of hand. Spoilers ahead for anyone who hadn’t read, but we have what looks like a typical Chosen One character arc for Gabriel Moonstone, when it looks like he’s coming back to save his family after his terrible tragedy, but the reverse is true and it’s the least reliable of the family who ends up sitting in the big chair.
There’s also something really, really satisfying about seeing a character who’s more like us than the hero turning out to have all the chess pieces in place. They were actually brilliant all along, and their faults are what let them win. It was a really carefully constructed first volume. A little magic trick in itself. I love Cordelia. Charlize Theron in Young Adult is what a lot of people have compared her to, and I think that’s a nice comparison.
In any series about the arcane, the rules of magic usually involve the price paid for powerful spells. What was it about Cordelia’s use of ancient, forbidden magic at the end of the last volume requires a piper to be paid, and how does that drive the conflict at the heart of Vol. 2?
You’ve got to have some parameters in magic or anything is possible. Magic is a battle of wills, one perception of reality pitted against another, but there needs to be rules too and these rules create fun stories. So because she did something she should never, ever have done to save her family, this comes back to bite her on the ass big time. What looked like an amazing save actually doomed everyone.
So Vol. 2 and beyond kicks off with her realizing she’s doomed everyone and everything she’s ever loved just at the moment their greatest threat of all time is looming. The Magic Order have had an easy time for the last couple of generations. These wizards who made all the bad things go away hundreds of years ago and gave us this simple, rational world we enjoy right now have been slightly coasting, but now the darkness knows there’s an unreliable flake in the big chair and the Order itself has become a little flabby. They’re all talking in the shadows and they know this is the perfect time to strike and return the world to the age of monsters that only exists in storybooks now.
The big news in collaboration this time out is the arrival of your Empress artist Stuart Immonen to the series. While the work he and colorist Sunny Gho are turning in feels of a piece with what Olivier Coipel did in Vol. 1, I get the impression that Olivier’s strengths lay in atmosphere while Stuart is really an illustrative powerhouse. How did you approach scripting this story differently to play to your artist’s strengths?
The beauty of working with artists at the level of Stuart and Olivier (or any of the guys I work with) is that you don’t have think about stuff like that. They have no weaknesses. It’s all strengths and there’s nothing they can’t do. [laughs]
I have a moment where you look inside someone’s broken face and you see a beach scene at night, an old blind lady sitting on a chair looking out at the sea with a sobbing child on a leash. Stuart didn’t bat an eyelid. He just made it work. I have a ballerina with legs instead of a head destroying my home city in Scotland, released from one of those little ballerina music boxes, while the dark wizards who are trying to destroy The Order hunt through a department store for a buried artifact. Stuart makes it work. There’s nothing he can’t do. Thank God!
One thing I found really interesting about the themes of the book is the idea that wizards hide in society in some of the most humble, blue collar jobs there are. Some of them see this as a noble calling, and some really bristle at it. How did you evolve that kind of class element this time out particularly when drawing up a new set of antagonists?
That’s actually a huge part of the issues coming up, the idea that these wizards 500 years ago made rules and one of those rules was that you couldn’t use your magic to get rich. Then people started living in cities and then there was these amazing big TVs you couldn’t afford or cars you wanted to drive, but your vow meant you have to live humbly in your cleaning or cooking job even though you could rule the world.
That’s a huge part of where we’re going, but it’s a nice allegory too in COVID times. The lawyers didn’t help keep society going. The Hollywood people and the influencers didn’t make sure we still had food on the shelves. It was the delivery drivers and the shop assistants and all the jobs people ignore while we’re lauding Kim Kardashian’s backside. This story obviously predates all that, but the celebration of normal people is a nice coincidence, a pal of mine working on the Netflix show pointed out.
You’ve spoken about this series as having a long arc planned ahead of it, and there have been hints at long term plot seeds (both the Moonstone patriarch’s search for his estranged wife and deeper backstories for the Magic Order’s non-Moonstone members). What are the bigger story threads you had to tackle at this phase of the overall plan?
The Magic Order is going to be five volumes, and the big, overarching story is that by saving everyone in Vol. 1, Cordelia doomed them all to an even worse fate, and this includes herself. They’re all going to meet a terrible end because that’s the blood sacrifice she has to pay for using an ancient and evil spell from old Atlantis at the end of Vol. 1, but we have a lot of fun in the meantime.
Just as Vol. 1 owes a visual nod to The Sopranos, we used The Long Good Friday and that early ’80s British gangster vibe for the English wizards. Just something different from the usual Victoriana. Vol. 3 is Asian wizards, and this is halfway through being drawn right now by the amazing Gigi Cavenago. Vol. 4 is the European chapter of these five families. These are all completely written and mostly drawn, though I’m waiting for one of my favorite artists to come and do the fourth book. He’s still under contract until Christmas and then he becomes my latest steal from the Big 2. [laughs]
You’re always writing scripts a few projects out from what fans are actually getting in the shops, but I wanted to hear a bit more about how your process for creating series has evolved since you’ve been full-time at Netflix for a minute now. I know Magic Order had an early assist visually from Netflix in-house art team, and upcoming projects like King of Spies and the just-announced Night Club seem to be following that kind of gestation before signing on series artists. Does that collaboration change much about what you do from when you were fully independent?
Oh, yes. It’s completely different. A lot of people were confused when we sold the company to Netflix. They seemed to think it was a first-look deal or something, but it was Netflix’s first ever acquisition, much like DC being bought by Warner Bros. or Disney buying Marvel. This is owned stock by Netflix now, and if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, it would continue to be owned by Netflix, my partners and I all selling everything 100%.
In a different deal entirely, Netflix asked my wife and I to join the company after the sale as President and CEO of the Millarworld Division. We all got on very well and thought along the same lines, so it was a very smooth transition, giving us a chance to oversee the various film and TV adaptations, as well as running publishing in-house and bringing the books out via Image Comics.
Netflix was surprised I was so passionate about continuing to do comics too, but I didn’t get into this business to get out of it. It was never a stepping stone for me as I love it. I asked to get a few comics written into my work contract as a Netflix exec every year and I’m now adapting the franchises I create in-house into comic form. The Magic Order was the first of these, but also Space Bandits, Sharkey, Night Club, King of Spies and Prodigy. These are all TV shows or movies I created as an in-house franchise and then worked up with character bibles to be comics too.
I think any Netflix film project has the same perception with audiences in the way that they all seem to be quietly in development and then filming before showing up on the streamer fully finished, and people are certainly seeing that with the Millarworld stuff now that the Super Crooks anime is appearing weeks after we’re seeing the first images. What kind of updates can you give us on how you see the media projects speeding towards their eventual debut?
The anime version of Super Crooks is up next, streaming on Nov. 25th and based on the comic by Leinil [Yu] and I years back. It’s 13 episodes, and I was saying to our Japanese team (who work with Studio Bones) that four issues was a bit of a stretch for 13 episodes of something as fast-paced as animation. So I created a huge amount of new stuff up front for them to adapt and leading up to the four issue arc, which runs over the final three episodes. It’s really fun stuff — the maddest stuff I’ve ever done — and it was great to have the room to play with it. Motonobu Hori is a phenomenal director. I absolutely love that guy and Dai Sato is obviously very well known in anime, a fantastic writer who did some really funny scripts.
We’re hard at work on the live-action version of this too now and we’ll release more details on that when we can. Netflix was never crazy about doing those 2-year lead-ups. The marketing plan is always more immediate, but on the TV side, Super Crooks, King of Spies and The Magic Order are taking up all our time right now (plus another show you’ll hear about before Christmas). On the movie side, Sharkey, Empress and Prodigy are our shooting priorities, all looking great. It’s the happiest little place on Earth, as they say, and you get free food in the canteen. I regularly shame myself at meetings sitting with 3 cans of Coke and 5 Kit-Kats as a result, everyone else just sitting with a bottle of water.
The Magic Order Vol. 2’s first issue arrives on Oct. 27 from Millarworld and Image Comics.
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