Friday, October 8, 2010

A Brief Intro to Peter Milligan

I feel like there isn’t a whole lot I can write about Peter Milligan in terms of providing an introduction to the man. I mean, his Wikipedia entry provides a good overview of his works.

As far was the man himself, I’ve never met the dude. His internet presence isn’t as large as, say, Warren Ellis, and he’s not as famous as guys like Grant Morrison. Still, you can do a Google search and find some interesting interviews and such. Most of his interviews are about his work. I don’t really know much about him, the person; I only know what I can glean from reading his work.

Instead, I’ll just tell you why I enjoy his writing so much that I’ve been inspired to make a blog dedicated to covering as much of his bibliography as I can.

I didn’t discover Peter Milligan until fairly late in the game. When I was a kid, he had a brief run on Detective Comics, one that I’ve since owned, read, enjoyed, and appreciated, but at the time it was current I was oblivious. I was more into Marvel’s comics at the time, and by the time I became interested in Batman he had left DC’s flagship title. It wasn’t until I was in college, probably around 2002 or 2003 when I was getting back full swing into reading comics that I became a huge fan of his work.

The first Milligan comic I consciously remember reading was The Extremist. The Extremist was a four issue Vertigo miniseries which was originally published in 1993. I found it during my college years at the local comics shop in Davis. I picked it up because all four issues were being sold as a two dollar lot. The covers have really striking Ted McKeever artwork, kind of a grimy, subtly sexual image of the Extremist, which to my mind at the time, looked sort of like an offbeat and rather twisted version of a postmodern superhero costume. I bought the comics because the group of them was two bucks. I entered a world of fetishism and psychoanalysis, with revenge and coldness at the very heart of its core.

The Extremist blew my mind, and ever since then, I’ve been doing my best to look out for anything with Peter Milligan’s name on it. (By the way, I understand that DC is reprinting these issues as part of their “Vertigo Resurrected” initiative. Look for it in the coming months!)

From The Extremist, I moved on to his other works such as X-Force/X-Statix, Enigma, Skreemer, Egypt, and, of course, Shade, the Changing Man. I’ve since gone on to track down as much of his comics as I humanly could. A number of his older or more obscure works still elude me; I know I’m missing a lot of his ‘80s British comics, a few random one-shots he did in the ‘90s, and likely some short stories he’s done for various independents or anthologies. I’ve also never read Hewligan’s Haircut, his collaboration with Jamie Hewlett (creator of Tank Girl and Gorillaz). I’m also slightly lagging behind in some of his current output, as I wait to look for cheap deals. (His Hellblazer work, for example, I have yet to fully read as I wait for the trade paperback collections. The same goes for the recently begun After Dark for Radical Comics.)

There’s a whole lot I like about Peter Milligan’s writing. He sort of came to prominence during the British Invasion of the ‘80s. While he certainly doesn’t have the recognition that peers such as Morrison or Neil Gaiman have, he is a writer on par with anyone. I think the reason he doesn’t have the recognition of other famous U.K. writers like Morrison, Ellis, Garth Ennis, et al. is because when he has tackled mainstream superhero properties, they have either somewhat flopped or were totally under the radar.

I won’t deny that his creator-owned work and his Vertigo work put much of his superhero work to shame. However, I also feel that a lot of his superhero stuff is unfairly maligned at times. Even X-Force/X-Statix, which was probably his most acclaimed “mainstream” (in quotation marks because it was sort of a Vertigo-ization of an X-Men franchise book) had its share of foolish detractors. Yet to me, a huge Milligan fan, even his lesser works are fascinating because I view all his comics in the broader context of his entire career. It’s fun to see what sort of themes and ideas crop up time and time again, even in the comics where he could simply be writing to cash a check and pay his rent.

At some point, I’d like to discuss those “unloved” books. Books like Infinity Inc., Toxin: The Devil You Know, Wolverine/Punisher, and his run on the actual X-Men title. I have a few random issues of his Elektra series from the ‘90s lying around somewhere. I even own the comics adaptation of The Punisher movie (the one with Tom Jane and John Travolta) he wrote. (Spoiler: it’s not better than the movie.) (But I hope he enjoyed a month’s rent off of that work.)

But, to begin, I’d like to start off with some write-ups of one of his better-known works: Human Target.

Human Target, like Shade, the Changing Man, was an old DC Comics character that Milligan dusted off and revised in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s. I’ve never read any of the original Human Target comics, so I have no particular loyalty to it, but Milligan’s version of the character is likely the definitive take.

I’ve chosen to begin with Human Target because it’s one of Milligan’s more renowned works, and is currently being reprinted by Vertigo in new trade paperback editions. Though the ongoing series was canceled before it had fully run its course, Milligan had the foresight to prepare for such an eventuality and did wrap up his storylines. Through Christopher Chance, the titular human target, and sundry other characters in the series, Milligan explored the facets of identity and psychological being, probably some of his favorite themes. It’s very strong work all around and his artists throughout were top quality.

Also, there’s a TV show on Fox based on the Human Target, so I figured the time is ripe. With the brand name out there, the title’s profile is about as high as it’s ever been. People might actually be interested in reading Human Target comics, so they might be interested in reading someone write about Human Target comics.

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