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Mark Millar is ushering in Netflix’s new superhero universe with ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’

Leslie Bibb, Josh Duhamel and Ben Daniels star as superheroes protecting a world that is beginning to question their worth in “Jupiter’s Legacy.” (Steve Wilkie/Netflix)
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The moment that Netflix arrived in Mark Millar’s life came decades before he thought it would. Three decades, most likely.

“I thought I’d have a few more gray hairs before this happened,” Millar, 51, told The Washington Post.

Millar is no stranger to Hollywood. Through his stellar run as a writer at both Marvel and DC Comics in the early 2000s, he became one of the biggest names in the industry. His stories sparked much of the modern comic book movie boom, including “The Ultimates” series, which he wrote for Marvel with artist Bryan Hitch and is widely considered to be the inspiration for the first “Avengers” movie. Millar later created his own works, such as “Wanted,” “Kick-Ass” and “The Secret Service,” which have been the basis of hit films.

For years, success at the movies didn’t change how Millar conducted business as a comic book creator. He was head of his own company, Millarworld, which he ran with his wife, Lucy Millar, while collaborating with some of the best artists in the field.

Marvel Comics began in 1939, but Disney didn’t purchase it until 2009. Warner Bros. bought DC in 1969, 35 years after its 1934 debut. Millar assumed Millarworld would have a similar fate.

Things changed when Netflix came to him in need of superheroes. The company and Marvel had spent years building a connected universe of characters, through “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Iron Fist and “Luke Cage” and combining those series to form “The Defenders.” But Disney was readying its own streaming service, an eventual home for new Marvel Studios shows.

So in 2017, Netflix reached a reported eight-figure deal for ownership of Millarworld and the rights to adapt its comic books into shows. The message was clear: Millarworld was set to be Netflix’s biggest comics-inspired universe. And now, finally, that plan has come to fruition, as the partnership’s first series, “Jupiter’s Legacy,” began streaming Friday.

“It was like a dream, because what they wanted to do was exactly what I wanted to do, which was to create the next generation of pop culture,” he said of the Netflix deal.Not reinvent things. Just put some new stuff out there. And not just one thing a year or two things a year. There was a budget and a platform to actually get everything out there. It was just a no-brainer for me.”

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The eight-episode “Jupiter’s Legacy” is based on the Image Comics series of the same name that Millar created with veteran comic book artist Frank Quitely in 2013. The plot is as Shakespearean as it is superheroic. It features a team of heroes, led by the Superman-esque Utopian (played by Josh Duhamel), who were endowed with superpowers almost a century ago after a visit to an island not on any map. There is conflict between those heroes, who feel a responsibility to use their powers for good, and their superpowered children, some of whom want to do anything but be their parents. And there are old sibling rivalries, as the Utopian doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his telepathic brother Brainwave (Ben Daniels), frequently disagreeing on how they should impact the world and what lines can’t be crossed.

Two timelines exist in the story. The present-day, where many of the citizens are unsure about these old-fashioned superheroes. And the past that holds the secret to the origins of their power.

Millar serves as an executive producer on “Jupiter’s Legacy,” a result of he and Netflix becoming so fond of each other during negotiations that he was asked to stick around. It’s a deal he equates to selling a house and then the new owner handing the keys back to the seller and saying they can do whatever they want with the property.

There are also plans for Millar to produce new comics that will connect to Netflix’s live-action Millarworld adaptations, including a new “Jupiter’s Legacy” comic due in June.

“I’ve always avoided having a job. Like most writers, the idea of a job horrifies me. They knew I was never a guy who was going to come in and sit at a desk all day,” he said of the company. But his new arrangement “basically makes me feel as if I’m still running my own show, which is a perfect environment. You don’t feel like you have a boss watching everything you’re doing. It’s a very relaxed and chill environment.”

On a normal work day in his native Scotland, Millar spends most of his morning and afternoon writing, while he waits for Los Angeles to reach a Zoomable hour for calls with producers. Millar was a huge fan of Netflix’s “Daredevil” and was thrilled to have its original showrunner, Steven S. DeKnight, on “Jupiter’s Legacy” (even though DeKnight eventually exited).

Another point of pride for Millar is “Jupiter’s Legacy” embracing its comic book roots, and not hiding from them as some properties do when they hit mainstream screens. He advocated for comic book art-style opening credits and characters saying things like “supervillain.”

“As a comic book guy who’s been a comic book nerd since I was 5, I almost can’t remember not reading comic books. It’s in my blood. I bleed comic books,” Millar said. “The idea of not leaning into that would be crazy. The costumes are very bright, proper superhero costumes. Nobody is dressed in armor or anything. It’s very out and proud as a superhero thing.”

Marvel Studios’ success has created the blueprint for ongoing, interconnected storytelling through multiple properties over a long period of time, a feat DC has not had nearly as much success duplicating. Millar says the possibility is there for Millarworld to achieve something of that magnitude, but it would have to be earned.

“The huge mistake Hollywood has made in the past is to take the audience for granted and tell the audience there’s a universe there,” Millar said. “You can’t go into it thinking about the universe. I think you have to look at each project and make it as good as it can possibly be, and then maybe years down the line you start to think about crossovers.”

The debut of his first Netflix series Friday won’t be the only milestone for Millar that day. It’s his and his wife’s wedding anniversary.

“I’m trying to pass [the premiere] off as a gift to her,” Millar said. “But she’s not buying it.”

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