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The Milkman Murders #1-4
By Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse
Published by Dark Horse Comics; $2.99 USD ea.

Horror stories are often set in Suburbia, with its shiny happy families and perky teenage girls that can be cut to ribbons by a masked villain or strange creature. But rarely does the horror come from the suburbs itself, as it does in Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse's The Milkman Murders, a four issue miniseries from Dark Horse. Casey is known as an offbeat writer of superhero comics, and was interviewed by Tom Spurgeon for The Comics Journal, which usually turns a cold shoulder to the costumed antics of the mainstream. Casey explores alternative ideas through the conventions of the genre, and this, his most recent work, is no exception.

Barbara is a typical housewife struggling to maintain her crumbling family. Her husband is an abusive drug addict, her daughter is sleeping with as many teachers as she can, and her son is one step away from the next Columbine. Through it all, the television is forever showing Mother Knows Best, an old-fangled sitcom about a perfect 1950s nuclear family, led by the Übermom. If it sounds over the top, that's because it is over the top. The family feels like a collection of stereotypes rather than characters, but the art says more about them than the story ever does.

Steve Parkhouse is a phenomenal cartoonist, and he brings the character types to life. I'm unfamiliar with most of his work, but he did draw my favorite issue of The Invisibles, (which, interestingly enough, deals with very similar subject matter as The Milkman Murders) and that's good enough for me. It's been a while since I've seen characters this ugly in a monthly comic book. Every person and place, every movement and moment is spectacularly drawn but grimy and repulsive. Parkhouse's style in this book is cartoonier than I've seen from him before, but with far more detail, and this really helps to create the characters, since all they do is act like a bunch of crazies. The art boasts a strong Jack Davis influence, and the splash page at the end of the first issue looks especially like it came out of the pages of Mad. Many of the establishing shots have a beautiful, painted quality to them, and the colors are as gross as the rest of the art, full of mustard yellows, lavenders and greens.

I've enjoyed a lot of Casey's previous work, having been turned onto him by his Comics Journal interview. I dug Automatic Kafka, Wildcats 3.0, and even Deathlok, but these works were often flawed. As far as I can tell, this is his first foray outside of superheroes, and although its not a failure, its not quite a success.

In a story that contains rape, animal torture, several graphic murders among family members, and an all around aura of decay, there is one pretty element to the story; the mother on the '50s era sitcom, whose shining example of perfect family life is a tyrannical presence in Barbara's fragile psyche. As the sitcom mother becomes more and more real, we see in her the repression and violence that gave the '50s family its space-age sheen. She encourages Barbara to act more and more irrationally until she can reclaim her dream of a perfect family at the expense of, well, her family. Interestingly, Casey is using the pop medium of comic books, a medium long persecuted for leading children down the path of wicked deeds, to show a woman being influenced to kill by the pop medium of television. It seems to me that he is saying that it isn't depictions of violence and sex that lead us to these evils, but the unrealistic expectations that are instilled in us that leave us discouraged, depressed, and downtrodden, and with nothing to lose. Sounds like a secret origin to me.

The Milkman Murders ends on a confusing and cliché note, and although I didn't see it coming, it still wasn't exciting or surprising and seems to lack a proper ending. The book definitely has an edge to it, and plenty of interesting ideas to go around, but its not enough to carry the story. While it is something different for Casey and horror fans, those looking for a dark tale of the suburbs with fantastic Parkhouse art, would be best to check out that issue of The Invisibles.

-- Jef Harmatz



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