Just How Fast Did Mark Millar Go Through Detroit For MPH #1, Anyway?

One year ago, Mark Millar asked a question on a now-deleted Millarworld thread.

In the middle of the next big Millarworld book, coming out at the end of the year, and need a couple of quick checks.

What courses are open to someone in prison on a massive drug offence? In the UK you can do a degree from behind bars. Does anything exist like this in the States where prisoners can improve their skills for release?

What's the absolute smartest way to reduce your sentence ethically if you're in on a 15 year drugs charge? What would good behaviour get you down to and what other actions could be taken to get out ASAP?

It would be a little later, but he was talking about MPH, the first issue of which is out today. And the responses he got showed up in this scene in the first issue, out today, drawn by Duncan Fegredo.

Most of the responders stated that, unlike the UK, it was really hard to get time off your sentence, especially for a drug dealing conviction. Mark asked,

Hmm. No state with an especially generous program for getting people out early?

User garjones wrote

Many state have mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences and the only way you can have them reduced is to turn informant.

But jefferson l.o.b. sergent said,

You can claim to be a drug addict and enter a drug rehabilitation program. That reduces your sentence.

Michael Vick used it to serve less time by claiming an addiction to marijuana.

As well as,

Good behavior usually results in serving half the time.

And Johnny Henning threw in,

Overcrowding is the guiding factor in a lot of cases. Essentially, here in Cali, it's a very broken system that needs a lot of reform as people who get released early often fit no seriously comparable criteria and the involvement of private prisons just

complicates the matter. It's a tough topic to tackle in any serious work of fiction from books to television.

And they all turned up in one scene.


mph1When you post on Millarworld, you're playing with live ammunition. But the question from Mark about the indeterminate choice of the state got me thinking. Could it have been set elsewhere? Because in publicity for the tour, Mark is very specific that this was always a Detroit, Michigan story, after visiting there.

He posted in February that,

It's certainly the most adult and emotional superhero comic I've ever attempted, the result of a ton of research I've been doing for the past eighteen months on Detroit, including a visit last year when I was in the States to take an endless amount of photographs…..This is about kids who have NOTHING, each one based on a real person I met in my research and I've got about 200 pages of notes on their thoughts on America crammed into these five issues. What happens when the most powerless suddenly have power? That's what the series is about, told through the eyes of America's poor (an ethnic mix of white, African American, Hispanic and mixed race teenagers) who look beyond the aspirations of their friends and try something a little different.

Last years trip/research/interviews/photography became more refined subsequent interviews. In March he wrote,

It's probably the most sophisticated thing I've written. It's about power shifting from the affluent to the forgotten. I traveled there and researched the Hell out of this. Detroit is capitalism's biggest failure and the book is about that.

On Comicosity yesterday however, it goes back further.

I nailed it a couple of years back and started working on MPH after a trip to Detroit where I felt like I was walking in a movie set. I saw trees growing through the roofs of banks and the entire thing came to me

And in today's Spectator, he gets very detailed.

But a couple of years back, on a book-signing tour that took me all over the US, I visited somewhere that really had quite a profound effect on me. On a trip to Michigan I took a drive to Detroit and saw the America that those superhero movies never talk about.

But nothing compares to actually standing there and looking at it with your own eyes. Driving through the middle of Brightmoor was like being on the set of I Am Legend or The Walking Dead. How could the richest country in the world allow so many of its people to live in such abject poverty?

That same book-tour took me through Arkansas and Kentucky and all those other parts of the country often described as fly-over states and where one friend told me he was giving up his car because he didn't have anywhere to buy gas anymore. I know this sounds odd and such a small detail, but the idea that a town suddenly didn't have enough people running cars for a gas station to exist struck me as apocalyptic. I couldn't understand why a bigger deal wasn't being made of this social and economic catastrophe right  on our doorsteps.

But what book tour? Millar last, and only, 'cross country tour' that we can find was in 2008 and didn't go anywhere near Michigan or the other places he notes. And had a very different vibe…

All we've been doing is writing our names for 4 hours, sitting in first class on a plane and going out drinking every night.

Mark Millar has a habit of some kind of fakery for every comic he launches. The Kick Ass "viral" video that he faked. The Times Square ad for Nemesis that wasn't. The photo of Obama with a copy of Superior. The fake granny fan with a fake back tattoo for Starlight. So when exactly did Mark go to Detroit? When did this book tour take place? Anyone get their comics signed by Mark in any of the places he mentions in the last two years?

Dennis Barger of Wonderworld Comics in Detroit has never heard of Millar doing a signing in the state, he posted "I've been dying to get him detroit in any way shape or form for years. Invited him pre-Kick Ass at his drunken panel at wizard world but he was just way too busy (figured a drunken yes would be a start)"

Now, of course Mark may have conflated a few events. He may have gone to Detroit for other reasons and just sh0rt-cutted it into a signing explanation. He may have gone at a different time and just brought it forward to have greater impact. Maybe he has the MPH superpowers himself and just sped through there one afternoon. But given Mark Millar's propensity to cry wolf, who knows? Either way, Barger would welcome him with open arms.

I will personally invite him to this years re-branding of Detroit Fanfare V as a comics pure convention. Announcement in June, hope he can make it.

Another intriguing production aspect of the process of the comic may address allegations of racism. Ra'Chaun Rogers wrote about his discomfort reading the preview and publicity, saying,

I'm not saying that drug use in the U.S.A doesn't exist, and I won't say that black folks or anyone else for that matter don't use and sell drugs here. But a lot of what I'm getting from this comic reads like "what I know about black people I learned from rap circa 1994". None of what I just mentioned helps the fact that this budding super-criminal is a man of color, a group already associated with illegal activity and bad intentions nationwide, if not worldwide.

The fact that Mark Millar is a white writer could make this bad look for him in many eyes, and he really should've known better at least in terms of how sensitive of a subject this could become. I'm not going to throw out any harsh words at him, or brand him anything, (I'll leave that for Black Twitter). My fear that this comic has racist undertones stems from the fact that the main character is a man of color from Detroit, a city already beleaguered with crime and gang violence, and he chooses to add to that crime when granted the ability to lessen it.

Millar himself states in the Spectator piece,

I also wanted to write a big superhero comic with a mixed-race cast because in a decade when the biggest golfer, the biggest movie-star, the biggest racing-driver, the richest pop-star, the richest television executive and even the president himself were all people of colour, superheroes still looked very suspiciously like a white-boys club.
I'm pleased to say that's changed a little in the last couple of years, but I felt it was important here, given that African-Americans are the biggest racial group in Detroit. That said, I also felt it was important to mix up the ethnicities a little too because MPH is a book about poverty more than race and the collapse of a system we expected to exist forever is a fear that stretches right across America. The principal characters in this book needed to be as diverse as America itself and I've based each of them on the people who were kind enough to lend me their time when I spent a period hanging out in their city. I hope I've done them justice.

It's an easier sell to just create the same old safe, cookie-cutter, military-approved Caucasian heroes for the mass market, but I feel oddly complicit and guilty to be working in fantasy right now and maybe distracting people just that little too much from what's happening in the real world.

But intriguingly the character appears to have been whitened from the previews… compare and contrast the previewed version and the finished version…


Might this change stem such criticism? But a step back towards the cookie-cutter? Decent comic though. Bet he's glad he got it out just before X-Men Days Of Future Past went on general release..

Mark Millar was contacted without response.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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