As if its Marvel series aren’t enough, Netflix is doubling down in the superhero space. The streaming giant’s first acquisition is an independent comic company created by Mark Millar, the writer behind Wanted, Kick-Ass and the Kingsman movie series.
Details of the purchase of Millarworld haven’t been made public, but a Netflix press release about the deal notes that the company plans to bring Millar’s “portfolio of critically and fan-acclaimed character franchises to life through films, series and kids’ shows available exclusively to Netflix members globally,” with Millarworld continuing to create new properties that will be published “under the Netflix label.”
In a statement published on his personal message board, Millar — described by Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos in today’s press release as “as close as you can get to a modern day Stan Lee” — wrote that meeting with Netflix last year “instantly felt like home.”
“Netflix is the future and we couldn’t be more thrilled to sell the business to them and buckle up for all the amazing movies and television shows we plan to do together,” he wrote. “This feels like joining the Justice League and I can’t wait to start working with them.”
That’s certainly true for Millar, who gets to add Netflix’s credibility to his burgeoning media empire — an empire that already boasts movies from Universal, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate, in addition to comics from both Marvel Entertainment and Image Comics. That’s an impressive resume for a company that’s a little over a decade old, but what does Netflix get out of the deal?
Well, Millar for starters, but also an existing catalog of comic book properties to develop for the screen. Millarworld launched in 2004 with the release of the Wanted comic book series — a comic that memorably ended with the line, “This is my face while I’m fucking you in the ass” — with a number of other titles following across the next few years. Those included Chosen (later re-titled American Jesus, to more easily show off its “Second Coming of Christ, This Time in America” high concept), Iraq war superhero series War Heroes and The Unfunnies, a superhero comedy about pedophilia.
While some of the more out-there concepts are less likely to show up on Netflix in the near future, Millarworld boasts its own superhero mythology that’s ripe for exploration and adaptation. That includes heroes like Superior and villains like Nemesis, for easy identification. Millarworld also has its own, Flash Gordon-inspired sci-fi mythology, just like Star Wars. (That said, Starlight is somewhat less beloved by the masses.) While none of these series have had the sales success to dethrone Marvel or DC, should Millar and his many comic book collaborators keep up this level of creativity — and this quantity of output, just as importantly — then Netflix could, potentially, have the material with which to transforming itself into its very own Disney.
The question is, is this Netflix’s aim? And, if it is, can Netflix actually handle it? After all, the company is reportedly $20 billion in the red and cancelling high profile shows to keep costs down, even its prestige Baz Luhrman project The Get Down. None of that lines up with the prospect of investing deeply in a Marvel-killer of a project — although, cutting ties with Marvel altogether might free up the money Netflix is currently spending on its own Marvel-licensed projects like Daredevil and The Defenders.
Beyond that, it remains to be seen if the Millarworld properties have the power to break through what continues to be Netflix’s barrier to growth: the limited reach of Netflix as a platform. After all, it took the ubiquitousness of Marvel’s characters across multiple media to translate that brand into the commercial juggernaut that it is today.
The Millarworld deal is another sign that Netflix wants to grow its customer base, but isn’t quite sure how to do so. Can more superheroes and other comic book properties really succeed where Sense8, Crazyhead and Marco Polo failed? As the best comic book stories put it, “to be continued…”