Just as Millar remains staunchly supportive of his hometown, so too he’s always ready to challenge claims that his beloved mediums and genres are any way inferior and corrupting. As he underscored to Abraham Riesman in 2013 when responding to a playful suggestion that the very idea of the superhero is “fundamentally fucked up”:
“Actually, quite the opposite. I actually think the superhero is the ultimate in human aspiration. It’s brilliant. I think as a kid, it’s the best role model you can possibly have.”
It might, to a casual onlooker, seem like a very odd statement for a lifelong Catholic and Socialist to make. Don’t both Romanism and leftism contain vast pantheons of inspiring moral exemplars of their own? But for broad belief systems incorporating both the numinous and the communitarian, the superhero narrative can function very well as a kind of colourful and compelling mystery play. That’s especially true where curious and, by their very nature, impressionable young readers are concerned. In one way, the superhero tradition as Millar experienced it as a child suggested that the world is vulnerable and fragile, its survival dependent on the actions of a few self-sacrificng paragons. But at the same time, it insisted that the ever-threatening agents of evil are relatively few in number, and that the status quo can always be restored. Between these poles of imminent danger and perpetual stability, devilish threat and noble resistance, any number of values could be strung. In a general sense, both Christianity and Socialism could, to a youthful mind, be thought to sit very well with the battles between Luthor and Superman, the Green Goblin and Spider-Man. In all three, the social world is always threatened and the choice between capitulation and resistance is ever-present.
To BeliefNet in 2010, Millar explained that Catholicism had helped draw him to costumed crimefighter comics:
“… the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is about a man coming from the sky and performing miracles and standing up against the status quo. The story of Jesus really is, without sounding too crass, kind of like a superhero story.”
The relationship between the figure of the superhero and Millar’s religious beliefs has often played out in his stories and his conversations. Some of his tales, such as those featuring The Saviour, Swamp Thing, American Jesus and Superior, are relatively unguarded in their Catholic inspirations, while Millar has often discussed how the figure of Jesus has informed his understanding of Superman, his favourite superhero. The ways in which the Man Of Steel’s character and mission were and are informed by the Jewish heritage of his creators Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster have long been a matter of study and debate. While often celebrating the Jewish roots of Superman in particular, and indeed of the superhero genre as a whole, Millar has also grounded key aspects of his own take on Superman in a decidedly Christian tradition. In 2004, for example, he insisted that a well-informed and productive take on the Man Of Steel needs to express, by its very nature, the experiences of Christ while on his Earthly mission to First Century Palestine:
“Superman would have thought he was human until puberty. Until maybe 12. The easiest way to understand it is to think of Jesus in the temple and the moment where his mother has to tell him the truth.”
He went on to discuss the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane that DC Comics had established as canon in the mid-Nineties:
“Superman shouldn’t be married to Lois (Lane). It’s just stupid. It makes no sense and destroys the whole dynamic. Superman is God, Jor-El is the Holy Spirit and Clark Kent is Jesus. The Kents are Mary and Joseph and Lois is Mary Magdalene.” (*36)
None of this is to suggest that Millar has, as he’s aged, painstakingly created a singular fusion of politics, religion and (super)heroic fiction, although these are all clearly matters that he’s dedicated considerable thought to. Nor is to argue that Millar considers himself a didactic writer whose work is constructed around the transmission of a specific core of partisan principles. In truth, his stories often, if not always, resist any straightforward allegorical analysis. It’s certainly not to propose that Millar conflates the Catholic Son of God with the Last Son Of Krypton in anything other than certain broad mythic strokes. But the meaning of the latter is, it often seems, embedded in that of the former for him, and it appears to have always been so. There is certainly no record of Millar in his earliest years discerning any irreconcilable ideological conflicts between the values expressed in his favourite comics and those he otherwise absorbed in Townhead.
It is true that the teenage Millar of late 1984 had to hide the likes of his copies of Howard Chaykin’s outspoken SF/cop series American Flagg! from his mother, for fear that they might be mistaken for pornography. But that was hardly an example of comics inspiring him to reject the world around him.. (Puberty, Millar said in 2022, “kicked in for me with American Flagg”, a title famous not just for its brilliant, ground-breaking storytelling, but for its wholehearted embrace of an up-front Frederick’s Of Hollywood aesthetic when it came to scantly-clad and intimately involved cast members.) The stirrings of adolescence aside, the pages of the comics consumed by Millar came across, by and large, as compatible with the status quo surrounding him. Where some other comics creators found that exposure to the medium acted to shape them in ways quite contrary to their social surroundings, Millar understood it as a reassuring and reinforcing influence. Fresh perspectives undoubtedly came his way, and that was especially so when Millar developed his dedicated fascination with Alan Moore’s writing, but they never seem to have made an alienated outsider of him. He incorporated, as we’ll see, whatever was new and captivating into his existing worldview rather than stepping outside of the culture he’d been born into.
To encounter a single key expression of his core values could immediately evoke all the others, with religion and politics and fiction locked into a process of continual and mutual buttressing. As he said on Twitter in 2020, “Jesus would be hardcore. He’d be Old Labour – poverty and war his two big targets”. In return, Millar’s Catholic faith, as he reported to George Galloway on Russia Today in December 2018, informs his “socialism, the Christian side, which is there’s something more than the material world”. Similarly, he’s purposefully accentuated how compatible his beloved superheroes in their most basic form have often been with his politics and religion. As a boy in Church, Millar explained in 2017, even “the (Devotion of the) Sacred Heart looked like a superhero to me. It was somebody wearing a red gown and had an emblem on his chest”. In the same year, to Church Chat, he drew a direct line on the most fundamental level between his Catholic faith and his love for superheroes:
“you know, if you think about what a superhero is, it’s somebody that goes out and does good things every day, and I think that was just what we were taught (in Catholic schooling).”
For Millar to hail Superman as “the ultimate in human aspiration” is, in this light, to argue that the character speaks to truths far more profound than the surface fripperies of superhero punch-ups, as absurdly enjoyable as they may well be in themselves. To Millar, as he explained to Len Peralta in 2014, Superman had functioned as a “moral barometer … and I think it’s not a bad measure for your life”.