Millar and McNiven’s NEMESIS -


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Millar and McNiven’s NEMESIS

Building on a Tradition of Evil

By Chad Derdowski     March 31, 2010
Source: Various

Comicscape: Millar and McNiven’s NEMESIS
© Mania

To hear Mark Millar tell his story, you might think the guy created Superman, Batman and the entire Marvel Universe in his sleep. We can’t blame him for being a shameless self-promoter though; while he tends to be quite a bit more crass and a lot more vocal, he’s just following in the rich tradtion of guys like Smilin’ Stan Lee. What he lacks in style and class, Millar more than makes up for with noise and volume. That’s his schtick and it’s worked well for him, and we’re not here to tell him to do otherwise.

Millar’s latest creator-owned project, Nemisis (with artist Steve McNiven) was released last week to much fanfare. While we didn’t think it exactly lived up to the hype that surrounded it, the book was entertaining enough and depending on your point of view, it might’ve even made Kick-Ass look like S#!T. We won’t go into a full-fledged review right now because Mania’s own Chris Smits covered it last week and frankly, we couldn’t have said any of it better ourselves. So go ahead and read his review if you haven’t already.

But for as much as Millar might be following in Stan the Man’s tradition of tooting his own horn, we wonder if anyone realizes the other tradition he’s following in? The villain-as-protagonist is nothing new to the world of pulp fiction. The ultra-rich genius bad guy? It’s been done before and “What if Batman was a son-of-a-bitch?” isn’t a question that Mark Millar came up with. Nemesis is really the latest in a series of dastardly billionaires waging war with the forces of good.

We’re not trying to call Millar a rip-off artist, though we might be tempted to call him a hack (and we honestly don’t think he’d disagree). A lot of creators borrow ideas and inspiration from other places to create something new. We’re not shining a searchlight on Millar in an attempt to bust him but rather, trying to shine the light of illumination where we can. We love the history of the medium and as they said on Schoolhouse Rocks, “Knowledge is power!” And with that power comes the responsibility to share it.


Not The Good Ol’ Boys

We’re not talking about characters such as Rocambole, Arsène Lupin (or his grandson, known to anime fans as Lupin III), Robin Hood, the Shadow, the Saint or the Dukes of Hazzard. Those guys are, for the most part, heroes who just operate on the wrong side of the law. Yeah, the members of the Lupin family might steal a diamond necklace or two and the Dukes were runnin’ plenty of Uncle Jesse’s shine all over Hazzard County, but deep down they’re heroes through and through. Everybody loves moonshine and Uncle Jesse’s was the best. No harm done there.

But Nemesis certainly isn’t cut from the same cloth as those anti-heroes and neither are the two characters we’re going to focus on this week, both of whom share a number of similarities with Millar and McNiven’s newest creation.



Way back in 1911, these two French dudes (Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre) created Fantômas, one of the most popular characters in the history of French crime fiction and a definite inspiration for Nemesis. Unlike his predecessor Arsène Lupin, Fantômas was a straight-up villain, revelling in murder and sociopathic behavior.

Similar to Nemesis, Fantômas was a genius who used all manner of insane plan and twisted vision to outwit the bourgeoise society he hated so much as well as his arch-rival Juve, a French police detective. Releasing plague-infested rats on an ocean liner, forcing a man to watch his own execution by placing him face up in a guillotine and using a victim as a human clapper in a giant bell were all par for the course for this master of terror. Fantômas appeared in a grand total of 43 volumes and was quickly adapted into film, television and comic book adaptations. We’re fairly certain that if Sideshow Collectables would’ve existed back then, there would’ve been a highly-articulated action figure as well.

Now Fantômas was so popular that he inspired a number of knockoffs (as well as a band fronted by Mike Patton of Faith No More fame). This is where it gets interesting. There was another Fantomas who became quite popular in Latin America during the 1960’s. This character had a less villainous bent, commiting crimes for the sheer thrill of it and wearing a skintight white mask.

A skintight white mask, eh? That sounds familiar.

And if the name Fantomas sounds familiar to you X-Fans, the answer is yes: Fantomex is also inspired by the legendary Fantômas by way of our next character…


Danger: Diabolik

Before we go any further – if you have not seen Mario Bava’s 1968 classic Danger: Diabolik, stop reading and immediately put it at the top of your Netflix queue. For those unfamiliar with the film, imagine if James Bond, the Adam West version of Batman and Barbarella had a three-way on an enormous pile of money and the resulting offspring was raised by Jim Steranko to become a master thief and Ennio Morricone scored the whole damn thing. Yeah, it’s that good.

Anyway, Diabolik was also inspired by and is something of a successor to the throne of Fantômas. A master thief with vast scientific knowledge (as well as wealth) and no compunction about killing those who stood in his way, he appeared in a series of Italian comic books in the 1960’s. Diabolik was an orphan raised by a secret criminal combine on a remote island. As the series became more popular, the character was softened and more often than not, only stole from criminals and never killed innocents. Insanely popular, Diabolik inspired a rash of characters in comics and film who featured a “criminalizing K” in their name, including Satanik, Kriminal and Papernik, the evil alter-ego of Donald Duck!

Back to the Fantomex connection… Diabolik was accompanied by his beautiful moll, Eva, on a number of crimes just as Fantomex’s external nervous system (and partner in crime) is named E.V.A. Clearly, Grant Morrison is a fan. But even more telling is the fact that the two look nearly identical. While Diabolik is most often depicted in a skintight black bodysuit, he will wear an all-white suit when the occasion calls for it.

A rich, billionaire genius villain wearing an all-white bodysuit, eh? Now that sounds familiar. Where exactly have we seen that recently?

And just because it’s so sweet, here’s a link to the Beastie Boys’ video for Body Movin’, which is heavily inspired by (and uses many clips from) the Danger: Diabolik film.


A Tradition of Evil

Again, none of this is intended to call out Mark Millar as a rip-off artist or insult his talents as either a writer or a shameless self-promoter. Our point is simply to educate readers to the fact that while Millar is busy patting himself on the back for all of his hard work and genius, he certainly didn’t come up with all of it on his own. There are too many similarities, both in terms of modus operandi and appearance, to think otherwise.

But hey, anybody who’s seen the Hidden Fortress or read Hero With a Thousand Faces knows that George Lucas didn’t come up with Star Wars all by himself either. Siegel and Shuster were clearly influenced by Philip Wylie’s Gladiator and if you’re ever curious about the true origins of the X-Men, dig up a copy of Children of the Atom by Wilmar H. Shiras at your local used book store. There are a lot of great ideas out there that were inspired by previous efforts and Nemesis is simply the latest in a long line of them. Whether or not it lives up to the standard set by its inspiration and its peers is up to you to decide.


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fenngibbon 3/31/2010 2:53:17 AM

"Well, everything's stolen nowadays. Why, the fax machine is nothing but a waffle iron with a phone attached." 


Trivia:  Danger:  Diabolik has the distinction of being the last film sent up by Mystery Science Theater 3000.

spiderhero 3/31/2010 4:26:34 AM

I read issue #1 of Nemesis, will not read #2. This book just confirms my growing distaste for Millar.

ChrisSmits 3/31/2010 6:52:15 AM

 Mark Millar plus success, multiplied by hype and divided by level of fanboy interest equals a lot like what happened to Rob Liefeld in the 90's.

Think about it.

cdale78 3/31/2010 7:23:42 AM

I believe there are no truly original ideas anymore, only fresh new spins on the old classics.  Conflict with self, conflict with father, etc.  Star Wars is basically the struggle for a hero to redeem his father, with fancy special effects.  I've never seen Twilight, but I don't imagine it covers any territory that wasn't covered by Buffy and Angel 10 years ago. 

ChadDerdowski 3/31/2010 10:55:40 AM

cdale78 - there's a lot of truth in what you just wrote.  To me though, the big difference is quality.  George Lucas may have liberally borrowed a lot of elements from that which came before, but the end result was something with a very unique quality.  Nemesis?  Not so much. 

Now, if you dig violence for the sake of boobs and murder for the sake of awesome, then Nemesis is for you.  If Michael Bay was a serial killer, this would be his book.  And honestly - that's fine.  There is absolutely nothign wrong with that.  My distaste for Millar doesn't simply stem from the fact that he incessantly proclaims that he is reinventing the wheel, but because of the millions of fans who lap it up as though it were the nectar of the gods.

Is Millar talented?  I believe so.  But don't tell me you're serving me an octopus sandwhich when all you've done is cut a hot dog four ways and boiled it, know what I'm saying?

Chris - we discussed it at length yesterday, but yes.  There is a lot of potential for a HUGE backlash down the road.  Fanboys are fickle and we love to kill our gods.  There are a lot of parallels to be made between the rise of both Liefeld and Millar and as it did with Liefeld, fame can be fleeting and turn on a dime.

agentkooper 3/31/2010 11:22:02 AM

HEY!  Watch it with the octopus thing.  If my kids find out my secret I'll be crucified.

cdale78 3/31/2010 11:28:34 AM

No, no, I'm not disagreeing with you, I thought Nemesis was a huge disappointment.  The story was something I've seen 100 times before at this point, even in comics, and even the art was surprisingly disappointing, as McNiven has been one of my favorite artists working in superheroes right now.  I don't know if it was the coloring or him inking his own stuff, but it was very average.  

I've said before that Millar's stuff is either enjoyably over-the-top, or ridiculously over-the-top.  Ultimates, Civil War, Kickass fall on the enjoyable side for me.  

I could see a parallel between Liefeld, as fans could eventually get sick of the, "hey, see how I invented the first Batman as villain comic, isn't it kewl" hucksterism and the constant late books.  I think we can safely say now that the bulk of the blame for the lateness on the Ultimates books can be put on Millar now.  If he can't even put Kick-Ass out on a regular basis with Romita Jr. on art, it's gotta be him.   

gauleyboy420 3/31/2010 11:30:56 AM

You can call millar a lot of thing, but A HACK?! Seriously???

Read more than just Kick-ass, Nemises, or Wanted...
Dude has NUMEROUS books, that are stright up FANTASTIC!

calling him a hack is just plain rediculous... AND to compare him to Liefeld is out of the question.
The diff between Millar and Liefeld is Millar has talent...
Read his work,
Read Red Son, Read his run on Wolverine (especially WOLVERINE vol 3 #32, such a great book)

Not all great books, are great from the start. Take Joe The Barbarian, I like it enough to keep reading it, but it was just OK, UNTIL tissue 3, issuee 3 has me hooked!

Same with a series by Millar called 1984, it was alright until the character developement was complete, then it was fantastic.

I’ll bet you both (Chris and Chad) by issue 3 this will be a fantastic story that may borrow from influences of the past, but will scream with Millars talent of telling a great story. We can’t say if Nemisis has a unique twist , all we’ve seen is an explosive introduction to the main characters... Just wait...


Make Mine Millar

gauleyboy420 3/31/2010 11:49:05 AM

ALSO , NO ONE ever gives him the credit he deserves when it comes to crediting his artist as Co-Creator, and the praise he heaps on them. THAT'S how you can tell Millar is not buying his own hype. He says what he has to say to make the $$$, but he knows what he's doing. 

Look at all these writers (and occasionally artist) that never give credit to the artist. Millar ALWAYS make sure to promote the hell out of the artist, and always bills them as co-creator. that speaks volumes about his character.

ChrisSmits 3/31/2010 11:53:55 AM

 Nope, Gauley, that's exactly the point I'm not trying to bring up. I'm saying that there are a lot of similarities right now between the attention and fame of both men's careers. Nothing to say about talent, who's cooler or better, strictly the fact that at one point Rob was the toast of the town in a lot of ways and now (though still successful) he's gotten the backlash of becoming an internet joke for the geek community to take sides over. I'm not insulting either one of them nor am I defending any work by them; I'm just pointing out that there are certain writings on the wall with what's going on with Millar that strangely mirror what happened between Liefeld and the fanbase.

It's actually more to do with the fans than with Millar or Liefeld. It's just an observation that struck me yesterday and it has no answer per se. Or, at least, one we won't know until 10 years from now. But there are very similar things happening when you look at that happened back in the 90's but it's almost generationally magnified now because of the internet, our role on the internet (like pages such as this one) and Millar's own bravado.

I'm just really curious to what this is all going to turn out as when the comic fan community looks back at this a decade from now.

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