by Peter Milligan & George PerezDC Comics

(reviewed by The Beast Must Die)

Having danced the tango with Shade over in Hellblazer not so long ago, Peter Milligan takes the floor with his old flame again…but what’s this? It’s happening in the Jeansverse?!?! So I assume no menage-a-trois comedy of manners, and psychedelic sex/death ruminations are on the cards here? You’re in the Jeansverse now boy – we expect decapitation, mutilation and mind-rape. ALL THE TIME. You best not bring any of that late 80′s shoegazey, English faggotry with you here Milligan! Otherwise you’ll be hauled into DiDio’s office for some Jordan 101 classes:

“LOVE IS THE PREDATOR!
LOVE IS THE PREDATOR!
SAY IT! SAY LOVE IS THE PREDATOR!!”

So.

I guess there has *maybe* been a bit of hand-wringing about the fact that Swamp Thing, Shade and John Farkin’ Constantine have been dragged into the Jeansverse (wasn’t that whole ‘Nicest Day’ thing basically a way of bringing Sprout Bollocks back into the DCU? Wow. Wish I’d read that.) But you won’t find any of that angst here in Mindless HQ. No sir – I couldn’t give a fuck. The fact is, that ever since Alan Moore left Swamp Thing, the character has been treated like some sort of sacred pot-plant – no writer can use him unless the story is a load of wooly, tepid hippy bullshit about Elemental Quests and Cajun domestic disputes. It was like Gentle Ben with less bear. What people seemed to forget was that

a) the Bearded One set Swamp Thing firmly in the DCU, and had a lot of fun playing with the toys there

and

b) he could write an entertaining story.

Bringing Swamp Thing back to the DCU is not a problem. Making good use of him – well that’s a different issue. (James Robinson, for example, made particularly elegant use of parts of Moore’s Swamp Thing mythos in Starman, back when he could write and wasn’t trapped in the Jeansverse).

Ergo, there’s no problem with Shade being used in a similar way, especially if chaperoned by Milligan. There’s absolutely no reason that Shade superhero comics couldn’t be a lot of fun – Meta, the Madness Vest, the fact that he’s a temperamental little shit, the utterly psychedelic nature of his powers all could = heap big fun. In fact the DCU is in theory the perfect looniverse for such a character to work. But this ain’t the DCU as you remember it Grandad. It’s the Jeansverse.

But suffice to say I came to Flashpoint: Secret Seven with relatively high expectations. Milligan’s run on Shade holds a very special place in my heart. At it’s best (the ‘Hotel Shade’ arc, culminating in the genuinely devastating ‘Season in Hell’) it was a brilliant soap opera – surreal, literate, frightening rude and raucous. The art by Chris Bachalo was career best, and the fill in art by the likes of Glynn Dillon and Philip Bond was sublime. Shorn of the fairyland bollocks of most of his Vertigo peers, Milligan wrote comics that felt personal without being trite. Shade was the work of a man who loved comics, but wasn’t a slave to them. It was ace stuff. So any opportunity for him to return to Shade is going to be worth nosing out. His recent brilliantly self-pitying, pathetic cameo in Hellblazer was a joy. Troy Grenzer was back in all his narcissistic insane glory, ready to receive a spiritual kick to the balls from John ‘job’s a good ‘un‘ Constantine. How, then, would he shape up in the confusing splatter of Geoff Jeans’ not very good at all Flashpoint world?

George ‘suck my disco, bitch’ Perez drawing it too. Interesting. Perez’ hyper-detailed realism is a long way from Ditko’s confident psych swirls and Bachalo’s queasy distortion, but the motherfucker can draw. Out of all the Flashpoint bullshit, this was the only comic that was ever going to get my money.

Shame then, that it just wasn’t all that good.

There are definitely two Milligans. The one who writes shit that’s funny, weird and engaging, utterly unique. And the one who writes shit. I don’t want to sound harsh – I could never, never write off the man who gave me Strange Days, Bad Company, Shade or X-Statix. And it’s not that superheroes are a problem for him – on the contrary, the elastic, silly spandex world offers endless opportunity for a writer as idiosyncratic as him. Nor is he incapable of turning in serious superhero work – his deeply under-appreciated run on Detective Comics and the Enigma are testament to this. But there’s the inescapable feeling that sometimes he’s treading water, that his heart’s not in it. And it genuinely surprised me that Secret Seven fell into the latter camp. Sadly though, I simply couldn’t locate Milligan’s voice in this comic. If someone had handed me it uncredited, I think I would have felt it could have been written by any of the Tonys or Judds that currently fill up the DC litter tray. Notionally it looks fun enough – Perez draws pretty, garish but ultimately contained looking craziness and does a decent enough job of storytelling (I mean seriously, what the fuck would this read like if Ed Benes or someone got their claws on it? Jesus Murphy!) but it’s hardly inspiring. And the sad fact is that he doesn’t draw the whole thing which bodes badly for the rest of the mini. I’m not going to rag on Perez for this – I think he has issues with his eyesight – but it does once again indicate the clusterfuck incompetence of the overall DC editorial.

The only genuinely Milliganesque aspect of the comic was Enchantress’ name – June Moone. And he didn’t even invent that.

It’s not as though it was terrible, rather that it was perfunctory. And as I unfortunately currently have no time for 98% of mainstream supercomics, perfunctory makes me want to throw the fucking thing down the shitter. It’s just a lot of wooden dialogue, shouting and whizz-bang. Like every other bloody thing. There’s none of the real weirdness that I expected. Maybe it’s those Didio correction sessions? Maybe Milligan has had his brain Jeansified to the point where Secret Seven will culminate in Shade punching his fist through Kathy’s resurrected face, screeching ‘SEXUAL AMBIGUITY IS PAIN!‘ I don’t know. I won’t be around to find out I’m afraid.

————————————————————————————

(reviewed by the Botswana Beast)

Well, that’s one view. However, the M-Vest allows Mindless Ones “to occupy more than one reality simultaneously.” This is my truth, tell me yours; alternatively, skip the second clause, likelihood is I’ll not give a fat one.

I’ve been through a lot this week – with DC, with the Jeansverse, oh the Jeansverse; a lot of pubescent rage, we all have. We all have. It’s been exhausting. Not a day ago, Amy Poodle, who – lest it be forgot – is the Zoo Crew of Earth-26′s Wonder woman, and presumably therefore as dedicated to pacifism as the Themysciran Amazon of clay wanted to “punch Didio in his face”. I kind of wanted the publisher to die and/or disappear up its own fundament. It may yet.

But then they said Batman Inc. was coming back, then they announced some magic or “dark” is it(?) titles that sound pretty alright – that sound like you’d maybe rather have a swatch of than gouge out your own eyes, anyway. Which is more than can be said for, etc. And now, we’re – you know, sorry, I don’t think the reviews here, either of them are really going to concentrate terribly much on this particular comic, on the technical aspects, so much as a… I don’t know, a battlefront, in which one periodical publisher may be about to do reasonably well in against their main competitor. Which is the occult. DC is winning the occult war, as of today. I’m as surprised as you are.

Plok was talking to me on twitter this week, you know, just sometime superhero readers, shooting the shit, and he was like “OK, you can publish 15 titles between the big two, they have to sell reasonably well, be plausible teams – so no Alan Moore – what are they?” and I got so far as 6-7 or so (Miller on Batman, Millar/Hitch on Superman, Morrison/Jimenez on Wonder Woman, Adam Warren on X-Men, Morrison/Marcos Martin on Spider-Man, Milligan and his best artistic partners – Allred, McCarthy, Fegredo, Ewins – on some tangential X-book where he does what he likes…) and then you’re kinda running out of space, so you go “Oh! Anthologies!” Immediately I wanted a magic one for both publishers, because those characters have been utterly ghettoised – or written by Bill “I ♥ Israeli Apartheid” Willingham, which is a damnsight worse – at DC and Marvel still can’t fucking do a good

Doctor Strange book, which is perhaps the sorest indictment of their evermore tedious “socially relevant, urban” editorial direction. Can’t do it. I’d prefer China Miéville or John ‘generic name, wrote some of the best 2000AD strips, Karen Berger does not like’ Smith to write them, but yeah, Milligan, a man who seems thoroughly capable of processing a metaphor. On this Justice League Dark; shit name, probably a stupid way to try and franchise the JL like Marvel have the Avengers, I’m not sure about the artist and the above-reviewing Beast has a billion times better title in Justice League Nowhere, but it’s something the continuity-obsessive, rulebound comics that have pretty much dominated superhero publishing from since I was born, in 1979, have been apparently terrified to foreground.

Milligan, though, it’s hard to place him – TBMD gives a rundown of his highlights above, which are pretty imperious, something you could stand against any one other writer of Western serial comics’ best – my own collection and taste is heavily accented toward him, behind the other two Ms, the mages Moore and Morrison, but he himself remains literally an enigma, and certainly one with an equally great amount of lowlights; moreso in the latter days of his career, too. I own the Toxin trade collection. I take ownership of my Venom/Carnage miniseries. Part of the pleasure of peripheral big publisher work, to me, is how it can work through, or around, or even transformatively with terrible banner events – Andrew Hickey details this with Morrison’s Animal Man doing so with Invasion, and the afore-cited Moore Swamp Thing with Crisis on Infinite Earths; this, and probably even simpler editorial dictat, has proven one stumbling block in Milligan’s career, his apparent inability to really do so. The other, and when you look at the British Invasion school and their progenitor, Moore (who, interestingly, is to my mind a massive and telling influence on all of except Milligan) is an inability to really develop a cult-of-personality, a persona; this is not because he’s necessarily almost invisibly craftless, like Ed Brubaker is, but likely because his central and continuing thema is the Shiftlessness of Identity, which is more exciting than it sounds in action, typically. It’s even in Toxin; it’s certainly here – a lead whose friends and loves are dead seeks to redefine himself again (Shade was always the perfect Milligan protagonist) with the aid of a woman who is two women. Whilst he is extant simultaneously in several realities. This is quite certainly a Milligan comic, despite its having a quote from Shakespeare instead of James Joyce. The only palpable difference is – and we could debate, is it witty enough, is it wry or playful enough? It kind of is, I think, without ever reaching the social satire zenith of his X-Force and even moreso, now knowing it’s leading up into something more than two disposable tie-in to an event I don’t give a stone damn about, I’m interested to see where it’s going – the only difference is, he seems to have demarcated a corner to do his own thing, to reconcile with whatever it is this month, God knows. If there’s anyone… apart from John Smith – if there’s anyone working in US serial comics meriting a breakout success or whatever the terminology they use is, a “game-changer”, it is Peter Milligan; this is a relatively humble beginning, but I hope it’s it.

17 Responses to “In Mass Mind: Comics Reviews”

  1. bobsy Says:

    The Beast with two backs! That line about Gentle Ben will be rememebred longer than Shakepseare if there is any justice.

    Ennis is the other UK writer wearing little trace of Moore influence, no? His inescapabale deity is John Wagner.

    Thanks for the John Smith hints too – we must get on at him!

  2. James W Says:

    A Milligan/Bachalo Dr. Strange has been my fan-logic stunt-casting of choice ever since Bachalo drew ol’ magic fingers in 4 pages of Bendis’s Daredevil.

    Sorry to blunder off-topic, but I’m interested in what people think about the tail-end of X-Statix? It fell off abruptly for me with the abortive Diana thing (I know there were troubles), maybe picking up a bit at the very end. Just wondering how wrong I’ve got that.

  3. Thrills Says:

    “This is my truth, tell me yours”, says Botswana Beast, perhaps making a reference to the fact ‘Shade’ was Richey Edwards’ favourite comic, but the character might now be in post-richey territory? Maybe.

    I used to love them Marnics, me.

    Milligan’s ‘Toxin’ is excellent. He really is capable of doing superhero stuff that you wouldn’t really expect him to invest any of himself in, but hey! Toxin is a “What If Peter Milligan was a sad cop”, so hey!

    The Hellblazer trade-with-Shade’s still not out yet, so I don’t know about anything. It’s true. So painfully true.

    Probably still pick this comic up, anyway.

    ‘Justice League Nowhere’ is a very good title for a thing, incidentally.

  4. James W Says:

    Oh yeah, meant to say: JL Nowhere is an utterly perfect title, someone should tell DC.

  5. J_Smitty_ Says:

    As someone who obsessively dug through back issue bins to find all of Milligan’s Detective Comics work I was very hard hit when it was announced he’d be doing the “Red Lantern” series.

    I couldn’t be the only one who thought it was something of a joke.

    I’d hoped the re-tool would have thrown that premise out behind the woodshed for Gentle Ben’s “tenderness” but, alas, it was announced as part of the new line.

    http://irrelevantcomics.blogspot.com/2011/06/dcs-52-new-books.html

    At any rate, and TBMD hinted around it, Perez is QUITE the odd choice for Shade book. His structured art, formal and nice to look at, makes almost as strong a stylistic clash with the IDEA of Shade as anything that might have been chosen.

    In the end, though he can disappoint, he is also UNIQUE enough in the capes landscape that I will likely support his work where I can precisely because he stands to the left or right of THE FOREFATHERS and his peers. Milligan’s Batman gave me something I’d never seen from the character and for that (and of course all the other highly laudable work) he’s earned a measure of my patronage and admiration.

    http://tougherbetter.wordpress.com/ (my own thoughts on Milligan’s Batman)

    Smitty

  6. Botswana Beast Says:

    Bobsy – while it’s true that Moore probably isn’t Ennis’ primary influence, there are at least strong indications, particularly on his early Vertigo work that he has at least read Moore and taken something from it. I’m sure Pete M has read some Alan, but I’d be damned if I can trace any route of influence; given also Strange Days began in 1984(!! it still looks like a more modern comic than 99% of 2011′s output) they’re closer to contemporaries than any of the others, Morrison’s juvenilia notwithstanding.

    James – The Diana arc is eviscerated, but the closing one vs. The Avengers features the finest fisticuffs in comic history (between Mr. Sensitive and Iron Man) and, yeah, and of course, there has been one good Dr. Strange comic in the last decade, which was called X-Statix presents: Dead Girl and written by Pete M, as a postscript to his legendary run on Marvel’s merry mutants.

    Thrills- the Manics… they certainly were a proto-Vertigo band, stealing Octave Mirbeau quotes out of Scarab for The Holy Bible, an album which featured a track (‘She is Suffering’, one of the weaker ones on a great LP) about Desire of the Endless. Wasn’t Doom Patrol Richey’s favourite, though? didn’t he wade into the chilly Severn like Kay Challis, DP #63 rolled into the sleeve of his German army surplus, thinking – maybe saying under his breath “There is a better world. There must be.”?

    Smitty – thanks for the read on MilliBats. You should do more.

  7. bobsy Says:

    ‘She is sufering yet more than Death’

    I never knew that before – makes total sense, thanks B’B.

  8. Thrills Says:

    Ha! I should have made that connection, what with my teen years being very Holy Bible/Sandman-obsessed. OBviously, there’s the whole Nemesis The Warlock/Torquemada-quoting thing as well, which I only realised a couple of years back. Teen Me was missing out on so much! I should listen to ‘Comfort Comes’ on repeat, while performing hail mary passes (or whatever repento-people do).

    Incidentally, I am a fan of the X-StatiX Not-Diana arc. It is just a stream of on-the-hoof absurd jokes, and I enjoyed them all, darn it! I can only dream of how good it would have been if the real thing was allowed to eXist.

    That later Iron Man/Mr. Sensitive fight is ACE, also. Perhaps it is reread time.

  9. amypoodle Says:

    I think you’re pretty much on the money about X Statix, James. Can’t remember much about the Diana arc, but the last issue was fabulous. Perfect. It could’ve been inserted anywhere, at the tail end of any storyline or maybe even in the middle of one, and it would’ve made sense. It was one of those endings you get the feeling, like with Six Feet Under, that the writer had in the bag long before the book even opened, and perhaps this was especially likely in Milligan’s case considering X Statix caused such a furore amongst fans. The Sword of Damocles must’ve been hanging over that book since pretty much issue one.

    Not only was it a perfect, free floating bubble of an ending, but I loved the sense of menace to it, that behind the machinations of all the characters and all the higher ups there was something else….. I’m sure most criticism around the issue reduced this something else to the faceless ravenings of the market, blind capitalism eating its babies, etc., but that, I think, doesn’t do the tragic eerieness of the last issue justice. There’s something uncanny and just plain wrong about the blank bug carapaces of those gunships. The whole thing feels very pinteresque, actually. The shadowy powers underneath the – well stocked – cocktail cabinet finally showing their hand – their actions inexplicable and arbitrary, their judgement final.

  10. The Beast Must Die Says:

    There were so many gems in that series – remember the Edie Sawyer origin issue?

    Arguably one of the very best 21st Century supercomics. certainly one of the most unique.

    Allred’s blank pop-ism was perfect too. I’ve always found his work weirdly unsettling and menacing despite it’s apparent groovy sheen.

    Plus – and I know that it was a cheap joke – I loved the idea that Wolverine and Doop were long-time buddies. Logan cracking jokes with this amorphous sexual blob like they were war-time comrades…just very fucking funny.

    Plus, plus – the letters page, with people’s absolute bewilderment at where Boom-Boom and Cannonball had gone and when they’d be back…just priceless.

  11. amypoodle Says:

    I recently reread the Edie Sawyer issue. Very good. He writes such… detailed characters.

  12. James W Says:

    BB – Here’s how wrong I am, then: I’d somehow got it into my head that X-Statix vs. The Avengers was pre-Dianot, despite it clearly being the last trade on my bookshelf. Cuh. (Because I knew I liked it, probably.)

    Thrills – Obviously my memory is not to be trusted, but I’ve always felt that Our Guys suddenly seem one-note and paper-thin – to the point of interchangeability – in that story.

    amy – Well, I’m definitely gonna have to re-read it now.

    <3 Mindless ∞

  13. El Gostro Says:

    Is beggining to guess that the current “older/mature/tired” milligan approach to DC has been “you’re paying me?fine. What color do you want your wall?Ok,fuck off now and let me get thsi job done”.
    Indeed one coudl argue this about several greats of our respective generations (mine was the end of the 80′s n the moor morrison firmamented 90′s)…

  14. Botswana Beast Says:

    The thing with the Dianot (thanks thrills) story is – and I’d agree with James, even though: Surrender Monkey is in it – there obviously was a far better story that had to be, as I say, eviscerated.

  15. amypoodle Says:

    Also, that stuff about SAY IT! LOVE IS THE PREDATOR! had me in lollinglolallyloolollahah ah aha hah LOLLLLLLLLLLLLYLOLOLLLLLY

  16. Illogical Volume Says:

    LOVE! IS! THE! PREDATOR!

  17. Zodiac Firebroom Says:

    God Secret Seven sucked!

    Milligan is without doubt a brilliant writer when he’s working with an artist – McCarthy, Fegredo, Allred, Ewins, Bachalo – that he can spark off. Some of the best comics you can read. But it always amazes me the shite he is prepared to put his name to when he’s not interested. He could at least put a middle initial in there or something as a coded warning.

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