The Secret Service. When it comes to the work and persona of Mark Millar it’s next to impossible not to have strong reactions to the man’s work and the man himself. On one hand, he has written some truly great works over the years. Superman: Red Son, for example, is a book that I’ve heard nothing but good things about as well as his work on Superman in general. It’s also arguable that he, along with Brian Michael Bendis, were the people who made Marvel’s Ultimate Universe work as well as it did at the start even if it did go off the rails later on. Old Man Logan, as we’ve previously established here on The Nerd Hub, is easily one of if not THE greatest Wolverine storyline ever written and remains one of the highest praised comic books ever published by Marvel. The man does, in fact, have a great resume is what I’m getting at and he might very well be one of the better writers working in the comic book industry today. But he also happens to be one of the most problematic.
Despite sharing an initial premise with the popular Captain America film, Civil War, for example, is a book that tends to be very divisive among fans and I’ve always been hard pressed to find anyone who has anything positive about it. His work on the Trouble miniseries is some other kind of horrifying that has to be seen to be believed. And then we have his Millarworld where literally every single one of Millar’s insecurities and less than politically correct views come out in full force. From the Kick-Ass comics to Nemesis, they all display a huge amount of cynicism, misogyny and a general hatred of not only the industry that Millar has been so successful in but of the very people who made it so successful. And today we’re going to be talking about the book that highlights every single one of these things. This is Comic Book Spotlight shining a light on The Secret Service or Kingsmen: The Secret Service as it’s currently printed.
Now before I go any further I have to make a few things clear. I have never met Mark Millar and I don’t know what his political/sociological views are and quite frankly they’re none of my business. But when looking at the man’s independent work and to a lesser extent, his hired work you start to notice certain reoccurring themes and troubling views. While it is very possible that the man has some of these views this is article is not meant as an attack on him or his character. Anything that might be perceived as such an attack is intended to be directed at his work and the themes implicit and explicit within it. But with that having been said the man’s works have a reputation for a reason and its next to impossible to properly critique his work without making assumptions about the man.
The story takes place in Millar’s Millarworld and kicks off when a large number of celebrities go missing for reasons that no one can explain. Leading the investigation is Jack London, MI6’s (or The Kingsmen in more recent printings) top agent who finds himself distracted by family problems, mainly with his nephew Gary. After a long streak of legal problems, Jack decides to send his nephew to MI6’s boot camp while he continues to investigate the disappearances which turn out to be related to a massive conspiracy to stop global warming. And the whole thing is one giant middle finger to nerd culture, intellectualism, brains over brawn and those who prosper in it while giving a thematic blowjob to golden age James Bond and the more troubling themes that were always an implicit part of that franchise.
You see the thing about Mark Millar’s independent work that people find troubling is that it’s full of what can only be interpreted as personal insecurities on Millar’s part and a complete contempt for people who unironically enjoy comics and nerd culture and possibly himself for being an icon in it. All of which is very prominently shown in both Kick-Ass and today’s subject matter. The main antagonist of the book, for example, is quite literally an offensive, left-oriented, obsessive stereotypical nerd character. He made billions in the tech industry at a young age, is a fanboy for anything science fiction, believes that global warming is a problem and is actively trying to do something to fix it. The problem is that the character is presented in a light that indicates that none of these things are good and are synonymous with all the negative traits that are associated with people of these interests. He gives his henchmen insensitive nicknames that highlight their handicaps for no other reason than they sound cool while they actively tell him that they find it hurtful. He’s socially inept and can’t seem to satisfy his girlfriend physically or emotionally because according to this book you can’t be a nerd and have a healthy relationship with a woman. And of course, all of this is highlighted by the fact that our protagonists come off as high school bullies, constantly calling the villain a F$#&ing nerd and sees all of his geekier traits as a weakness to be taken advantage of.
Additionally, the book is clearly unaware of how hypocritical it is about all of this. You see, our protagonists and MI6/Kingsmen are all direct or indirect lifts of the Connery era of James Bond. It has its own version of Q, M, it’s main car is directly lifted from Goldfinger and the main character Jack London pretty much IS Sean Connery James Bond in appearance and mannerisms and it does all of this with zero irony. As you continue to read the book and think about it, the message becomes quite clear. According to the books worship of a post WWII avatar of British Imperial Supremacy and masculine martial overcompensation is okay but if you like other nerdy stuff you’re just a dork who deserves to get beaten up and taken advantage of by the REAL MEN of the world and the book is never aware of how hypocritical all of this is. On one page, you have our main antagonist geeking out over the fact that he’s about to meet Ridley Scott displayed as a negative thing and yet on another, you literally have a protagonist who IS Sean Connery James Bond. It’s a very bizarre decision for the writers and artists to make and ends up coming off as if they’re saying “The stuff I like is better than your stuff you like” more than anything else.
There is also a very strange undercurrent of hatred for lower class families going on as well. A number of characters of the story are of England’s underprivileged and the book portrays all of these people as either bums cashing in on welfare checks, criminals or both. Additionally, the book goes out of its way to show these people as ignorant trash who deserve what’s coming to them, openly mocking their tastes in entertainment and lifestyles. On the other side of this, you have the upper-class members of society who are shown to be intellectually and physically superior to their lower-class counterparts in nearly every way. Every time Gary tries to use his street smarts or skills acquired growing up, for example, almost always ends in disaster and only seems to be successful whenever he discards his skills and mannerisms from his old neighborhood and fully embraces the culture of the British Aristocracy. Yet once again, they can’t help but be hypocritical about all of this. Despite all of the books worship of the British Aristocracy and disdain for all things lower class, the book seems to forget that its main characters both happen to be from the slums and turn out to be the best in the secret agent business and the book never finds a way to reconcile these two contradicting ideas.
It’s not at all helped by the fact that Millar felt the need to throw in additional themes regarding civil service and how wealth isn’t any key to happiness. If we are to go by what the book says we must abstain from worldly wealth and possessions and dive into civil service. Apparently, the only way to live a fulfilling life is to give our all to Queen and Country, other careers and lifestyles be damned. Once again, it’s very hypocritical given its worship of the wealthy and of the entitled British Aristocracy. And I hate to be this person but given the fact that Millar has, to my knowledge, never served in any military branch and that he’s had seven films based on his comics released over the past ten years, he’s the last person that I want lecturing me about the nobility of a spartan lifestyle and the fulfillment of civil service.
Now all of this was stuff that I found infuriating. It just showed an unconcealed contempt for the kind of people who literally made Millar’s career while being unaware of its own hypocrisy in its blatant worship of Connery era James Bond. But you know what the worst part about it all is? It’s actually a very well written, well-drawn book. Despite all the horrible, hypocritical themes the book has, I can’t deny that its storytelling is actually pretty good. Millar and artist Dave Gibbons do a great job of making antagonist Dr. James Arnold into an even more evil and unlikeable version of Sheldon Cooper. Our two main protagonists do have arcs that are fully realized and it’s hard not to feel some emotion when a major character bites the dust. Gibbons artwork is consistently good and keeps things visually appealing even as the writing remains consistently ugly. It’s well paced, knowing when to take its time and when to move things along quickly so you’re never bored and does have some genuine entertainment value. It’s just a shame that I was so blinded by rage while reading it to have fun with it.
In the end, The Secret Service is just one nasty mean-spirited book. It’s just a giant middle finger to nerd culture, intellectualism and the people who have an unironic apricating for them, but it doesn’t seem to be aware of how hypocritical it is on this position given its worship of Connery era James Bond. It seems to hate the lower class but its main characters were born and breed in it. It preaches the value of a spartan lifestyle full of civil service from a man who has never served in the military and just sold his company to Netflix for God only knows how much money. I’m not entirely sure why Millar thinks writing like this is okay or why people actually buy and like this stuff. But after reading this I can honestly see why Millar has garnered such a bad reputation in recent years and this is a book that encapsulates all of the man’s negative writing traits. Skip this one and just watch the movie again. It is a far better way to spend your time.
Trey Griffeth is the Head Writer of The Nerd Hub's Comic Book Spotlight section as well as a contributing writer to Video Game Spotlight. In addition to his work with The Nerd Hub, he is also a Staff Writer for Heroic Hollywood.