Trouble with Comics
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Peter Milligan has been writing comics for a long time, some of his earliest work being for 2000 A.D. and other British comics until, like so many others in the late 80s, he wrote for Vertigo. I really didn't read much of his work until he caught fire again with Marvel's X-FORCE/X-STATIX and his retooling of DC's HUMAN TARGET. The popularity, or at least strong critical acclaim if not outstanding sales, has led some of Milligan's publishers to print new collections of his past work, so I figured it was a good time to catch up a bit.
JOHNNY NEMO by Milligan, Ewins and Dillon. Cyberosia Publishing. $12.95
Despite the stern, sinister chap on the cover of Cyberosia's recent collection, JOHNNY NEMO is really a lark for Milligan and artist Brett Ewins (a young Steve Dillon draws the last story here). It's a science fiction setting, but it's really more of a series of private eye stories, kind of like BLADE RUNNER if Harrison Ford's character took a lot of drugs and had a mohowk and a sense of humor. These aren't mysteries, really, as Milligan only reveals the key bits of info through Nemo's mouth, as he's dazzling us with how in control of the situation he is. A bit like Sherlock Holmes for Dummies, really, but quite funny and well-drawn, and Nemo is an appealing enough mad bastard (seemingly an inspiration for many Warren Ellis characters--Ellis provides a respectful blurb) that I'm hoping a Volume Two is in the works. This has been out for about a year, so maybe we won't have long to wait.
HEWLIGANíS HAIRCUT by Milligan and Hewlett. 2000 AD/Rebellion. $19.95
One of Milliganís lighter works, this is nonetheless a dazzling and committed collaboration. The commitment just happens to be, in part, to maximum silliness. Hewligan (a combination of the creatorsí names) wakes up to find his long, ginger-colored locks in a strange shape, and with a perfect circular hole in the middle of the mane. This hole defies the laws of physics, being visible from all sides, and Hewligan is set on a course of discovery -- discovery of the way the universe works and discovery of someone to love. All this is charming and delightful, and it would be a shame to spoil it, but with the verbal and visual wit and invention of Milligan and Hewlett, even digressions from the plot such as a spoof of Andy Warholís much-maligned Pop Art are vivid and fun and enrich the journey immensely. Philip Bond assists Hewlett here, and as fun as it is to see Bondís solo work these days, Hewlett is still better, and itís a shame he doesnít do comics anymore. The collection, a hardcover, is oversized and on good paper, showing off the riotous colors very well. This was a real oddball 2000 AD serial when it came out, as itís lighthearted and non-violent, but itís nice they recognize its quality and collected it, anyway.
SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN VOL. ONE: THE AMERICAN SCREAM by Milligan and Bachalo. Vertigo/DC Comics. $17.95
Steve Ditkoís Shade was reworked by Milligan in an obvious attempt to court the audience for Neil Gaimanís SANDMAN, itself a radical reworking of an existing property. As with that book, literally anything could happen in SHADE, because Shade was put on Earth to stop the kind of madness that warps reality. Coming from a real Area of Madness, he knew what he was doing.
The first story arc, collected here, puts Shade on the run and confused, stuck in the body of a serial killer escaped from the electric chair, on the lam with the daughter of two of the killerís victims. While getting to know each other and learning about Shadeís world, they have to stay away from the police, as well as dealing with a walking nightmare, The American Scream, a skeletal horror who manages to alter reality so that a movie shows the real lives of that filmís stars, with plastic surgery and abandoned children and gay sex and any other sordid detail Milligan can throw in. His disdain for celebrities and media manipulation are on good display here, and of course explored even further, and perhaps more compassionately, in X-STATIX.
Those who despair at the ungainly confusion of Chris Bachaloís recent artwork will find this earlier style refreshingly clear, though stylistically indistinct in spots. Brendan McCarthyís covers still retain their lurid power a decade later.
This is an entertaining first outing, with a few interesting ideas, but unfortunately, it really doesnít wrap up the American Scream problem in a satisfying way. Also, the characters just arenít that compelling yet. It may be worth picking up, but one hopes future collections find the creators continuing to grow and improve.
-- Chris Allen
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