Read This Book: Mark Millar Returns With a Fresh Take on an Old Genre in “King of Spies”

To be perfectly blunt, I’m not a huge fan of Mark Millar.

I don’t know why it is, but his works generally tend to rub me the wrong way. It’s not that I think he lacks talent. I’m the first to admit he is an incredibly dynamic story teller, and he clearly has an audience that loves everything he does.

And it’s not that I’m particularly squeamish either. Some of my favourite books were the Preacher series from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Sex, gore, and violence are not the things I mainly look for in the books I read, but I also don’t avoid a title just because those things are part of the story.

But still, I don’t like Mark Millar’s work.

If I had to put my finger on it, I guess I would say that most of his works have a streak of meanness to them that I find grating and off putting, like he is deliberately trying to be as offensive as he can be more to get a rise out of the audience than to actual develop the story.

Who is your least favorite comic book writer? - Quora
Imagine Mark Ruffalo saying this and weep

I also tend to be less interested in ultra macho alpha male type characters, which tend to permeate a lot of his books, but that’s not really a fair thing to say in the world of comics, where alpha males are kind of the norm.

But still.

So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I read the first issue of Millar’s newest title King of Spies. I went in expecting nothing but the usual Millar-verse excesses (and fear not loyal fans of Millar, those are here in full force), but I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment, and am always willing to give a new book a shot no matter who wrote it.

The verdict?

I really like King of Spies. Like, a lot.

How did this happen? How did Millar win me over? Let’s crack open this book and find out!

Here’s the blurb:

The world’s greatest secret agent has six months to live. Does he die quietly in a hospital bed, or does he make up for a lifetime of bad decisions? He’s been propping up an unfair system for over forty years. Now he knows where all the bodies are buried and has nothing to lose when he turns his guns on everyone who ever made a buck creating the mess we’re in right now.

Now, before I go any further I want to back up a bit and clarify some points about my relationship with Mark Millar’s work. I think the first time I really became aware of him as an author was when I read his Old Man Logan storyline. At the time I thought it was a fun little What If?… tale that lacked in many areas, but ultimately had some interesting ideas and was worth the read. It wasn’t my favourite, but it did spark enough interest in me to check out his other work.

Since then I have dipped in and out of the Millar-verse. I hated Wanted, both the film and the comic, despised Nemesis, was bored by Kick-Ass, and felt generally let down by most of his DC work.

At the same time I really enjoyed his run through Marvel’s Ultimate universe, with a few notable exceptions (see above). I also really enjoyed Supercrooks, Jupiter’s Legacy, and Sharkey the Bounty Hunter. Like I said, when Millar decides to focus less on shock and awe, and more on telling a solid story, he tends to put out some really fantastic books.

King of Spies is that kind of book.

The story focuses on Roland King, an obvious James Bond stand-in who spent most of his life fighting for what he felt, at the time, was Queen and Country. He drank, smoke, and womanized his way through the world, and loved every minute of it, or at least that’s what he’s told himself.

Mark Millar and Matteo Scalera's King of Spies #1 Launches in December -  Graphic Policy

But now, in his mid 60’s Roland’s life has changed. He’s divorced, estranged from his son, forgotten by his country, and worst of all, he has time to sit and think. Roland looks at the world around him and realizes that the very people he spent his life propping up are the ones that have destroyed the world.

Mark Millar And Image Comics Offer Up A First Look At 'King Of Spies' #1 –  COMICON

Spurred on by a fatal cancer diagnosis, Roland decides to make things right, in the only way he knows how: Kill everyone that has ruined the world, and leave it a better place for the son that hates him, and the grandchildren he’ll never meet.

Mark Millar And Image Comics Offer Up A First Look At 'King Of Spies' #1 –  COMICON

As I said, King of Spies has a lot of action and a lot of violence. All the usual hallmarks of Millar’s earlier work is there, but there is also a heart to the book. This is a reflective book that holds a mirror up to the very same brutal alpha male characters that Millar has made a name for himself writing about, and gives the reader pause to reflect on them, and just what they actually have done to make the world a better place.

If you love Millar, you’re going to love King of Spies, and if, like me, you find him to be a bit hit or miss, I’d still recommend you check this one out. If I found a lot to love, I’m sure you will too.

That’s all for me! Until next time, stay safe!

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