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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #310

No, I haven’t gone on strike; I’ve just been extremely busy. Yesterday’s Reason is up now, however, and it’s on one of the greatest graphic novels ever made, so be sure to read it.

Let’s talk today about an often brilliant writer with a love of the weird, shall we? (Archivin’.)

11/6/07

310. Peter Milligan

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Peter Milligan hails from the “British School of Comics Writing,” which is to say that he’s done some excellent, cerebral works, and he’s got a penchant for strangeness. It’s a stereotype, yes, but it’s one that lots of comics scholars seem to believe in. I say that there are some great comics out there that make you think and, yes, happen to be weird. Milligan’s written a lot of them.

His work began in the British comics scene, particularly in the pages of 2000AD with works like Bad Company and Hewligan’s Haircut, but also in anthologies like Strange Days and Revolver, where he teamed with Brendan McCarthy and spawned works like Rogan Gosh. He crossed over into the American market with Skreemer. Mostly, he worked for what would become DC’s Vertigo line, helping build the imprint’s unique voice. Such works here include Shade the Changing Man (perhaps his magnum opus), Enigma (a Comic You Should Own and also probably his masterpiece), Animal Man (another Comic You Should Own), the Extremist (yet another Comic You Should Own), Face, Girl, Egypt, The Minx, Human Target, and more, with artists like Chris Bachalo, Duncan Fegredo, Ted McKeever, and Sean Phillips. During the early 90s, he also had a short-lived but utterly fantastic run on Batman and Detective, with classic artists like Jim Aparo.

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His big splash probably occurred in the early 00′s, though, with a little book called X-Force that ended up becoming a little book called X-Statix. It was one of the only two good mutant books ever (well, in my opinion): an excellent satire on American celebrity in the guise of a bunch of messed-up-in-the-head mutants with short life expectancies. It was a wonderful little book with some great art by Mike Allred. Its flame burned bright, but not long.

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The overarching theme I’ve noticed throughout Milligan’s work is that of identity. He’s explored the concept in all its forms: gender, disguise, celebrity, sexuality, religion, society, and more. His characters are always headed towards actualization, but their journey to it is a hard one with a lot of twists. (As I’ve said before, he should totally write Martian Manhunter– it’s all about the nature and fluidity of identity.) His dialogue is always interesting– some might say it’s “a little off,” but then, so are his character’s minds. I dig its rhythms. And yeah, like I said, he’s not afraid of the bizarre. Case in point:

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Many readers are of two minds on Peter Milligan, and for very good reason; there seem to be two Peter Milligans! One of them writes some of the greatest comics ever, but the other one occasionally goes slumming on more mainstream fare, like, Elektra or X-Men or whatnot. Now, I don’t begrudge Milligan anything. He can write whatever he likes, and I shall await new slices of genius from him from every new project. His name gets my head to turn and look in the direction of a book. I’m always more likely to check out a Peter Milligan production than that of quite a few other authors, and it’s because he’s written some of the weirdest, most fascinating comics of all time.

Peter Milligan can currently be found writing the Infinity, Inc. and the Programme, along with a couple other things. Try ‘em out! And for more Milligan online, visit the Wiki and Kangaroo Curry.

15 Comments

Human Target is one of my favorite series of the past decade. I declare it a Comic You Should Own, even if you guys haven’t yet.

I’m only on ‘G’! Human Target and Shade and Skreemer and X-Statix will show up eventually! But not Elektra. Man, definitely not Elektra.

Milligan will always be a writer I love, if only because the idea of a naked Iron Man wrestling a naked Mr. Sensitive is made of total win.

X-Force was great, but I always found his other stuff to be underwhelming.

Shade was amazing, and I keep hoping DC will start giving us volume 2+ of the series in trades…

As you mentioned, what stops him from being known as a great writer is that he’s infuriatingly inconsistent. Most mainstream comics writers have periods of doing hack work, but in Milligan’s case they are sometimes not just anonymous, but awful.

Take this year’s Batman Annual for example; it was boring and obvious, with no distinguishing passages at all. From the writer of Shade & Enigma this is a crying shame.

Peter Milligan is my favorite of the large invasionary force of British comic writers that began to arrive on our shores in the mid-eighties. His Schade, The Changing Man alone cements his placement on a list of “Reasons to Love Comics”. When this series first appeared, I approached it with some disdain. After all, it used the name of Steve Ditko’s aborted title, and to me that was already questionable. Tried the first issue found it confusing and yes, off-putting. Stopped buying it for about the next 10 issues or so. While travelling to Washington, stayed with an friend who had the issues and was wildly positive about the title. I read them in one sitting and was permanently on board. It is a series that I have reread many times since, and always find it a delight. Great characters and a a plot, especially the early quest for America became a template of edgier series(think Preacher for instance). I have gone on to read nearly everthing he has written, even the mainstream stuff. Always interesting, sometimes flawed, but his flaws come from trying to reach for something extra, rather than settling for the mundane.

Good call – I love me some Pete Milligan!

I’m surprised to hear his Batman Annual isn’t good. His run on the character in the late 80′s is fantastic!

milligan&still...again

November 7, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Two glaring omissions from your list of Milligan’s admittedly large body of work:
Skreemer, an unusual blend of futuristic gangster story with James Joyce.
Skin, a deeply disturbing, deeply touching book with Brendan McCarthy. Hard to find, and a bit hard to take, but well worth it.

X-Force was one of my most favorite comics ever. It had everything I want in a book: Trippy, satirical writing, Allred’s pop art, and a floating green blob with an endless void in his belly.

If I was any good at costume-making, Mr. Sensitive is the one superhero costume I would actually go full geek for.

[...] Finally, however, Christopher Chance got his due when Peter Milligan started writing him, starting with a four-issue mini-series for Vertigo with art by the late great Edvin Biukovic. Milligan presented Chance as a man so caught up in the identities of the people he’s pretending to be that he tends to forget who he is. He literally becomes the person. Also in this mini, we meet Tom McFadden, Chance’s protégé, who is dangerously close to becoming as unhinged as Chance himself. It’s a terrific mini. Milligan followed it up with a standalone graphic novel, Final Cut, that brought Chance into another world of disguise and deception– Hollywood. It was also pretty darn good, and drawn this time by Javier Pulido. [...]

I hear some good things about most of his other work, but his X-men run is so bad that makes Chuck Austen look good, and every time I remember I end up losing lots of interest for his work. Yeah, it’s unfair, like being afraid of watching Coppola’s other movies because your first was The Rainmaker, but it’s going to take a while to take the image of Black Gambit out of my mind.

[...] Philip Bond has a habit of working with some of my favorite writers. He and Peter Milligan collaborated on a neat little mini called Vertigo Pop: London about an aging rock star and the young musician with whom he swaps bodies. I don’t think it was collected, which is a shame, because I think it would go over really well in the right circles– but then, I could say that about all of Phil Bond’s stuff. His style is “cool” and “hip,” as the kids might say– his comics are the kinds of things that could sell well in music shops. Bond also filled in for an issue of Milligan’s X-Statix run in a great one-shot story about Edie Sawyer. [...]

[...] Phillips was also part of “The British Invasion,” working for Vertigo on everything from Hellblazer (with, among others, Jamie Delano and Eddie Campbell) to The Invisibles (with fellow Reason to Love Comics, Grant Morrison) to The Minx (with Peter Milligan). Each was trippier than the last, and Phillips’ evolved as well, becoming looser and grittier. [...]

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