Friday, August 12, 2011

Peter's Mulligan or On Milligan

This will be a bit of an odd one for "debriefing" (have I always put them in quotes? I don't remember...I might have to go and check someday when I care). We are at the end of comix week. Applause from the nonexistent masses who think this whole week has been a waste and nothing from the nonexistent masses who didn't care; it's kind of a you take two halves of infinity and they're both infinity sort of thing only with zeros. This is a reflection on the Peter Milligan issues that my dad had and that I've read. I'm through most of them now but I've got a few set out for the weekend. But if you want to hear more you'll have to follow me after the jump...

One of the cool feelings about comics for me is the result of the immense collection my father accreted. To exaggerate as I tend to do about myself, I felt like an archaeologist digging up all these books from the late '80s and early 90's, surprised by my good luck: not only did my father collect during this specific time frame but my favorite comic writers were beginning to be active then, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison...

One of the things that I could've told you about me and comics was that I wasn't going to go looking for new writers. And I didn't. Not at first. I had always planned on reading the rest of Morrison's Doom Patrol and had finally gotten back to it. Through I'll just call them shamanistic means I had completed my collection of the run and now started rereading always wondering where it was I had stopped off. I'm still not sure where I had let off. I could write on and on about Morrison's Doom Patrol, both positive and negative. It's a great read but I think it show itself to be something that the writer will leave for better things. It doesn't show the tightness of New X-Men for example. But this isn't a post about Morrison.

One of the first three paragraphs will self-reflexively reference the fact that they've all started with the same phrase. Even though it was just probably maybe weeks ago, I can't exactly remember how I first started reading Peter Milligan's Wikipedia page but I was thinking about zany comics and the more I read, the more it intrigued me. Milligan follows up Morrison's seminal run on Animal Man with as Wikipedia puts it "a 6-issue story featuring several surreal villains and heroes, exploring questions about identity and quantum physics and utilizing the textual cut-up technique popularized by William Burroughs. Maybe that was what attracted me to him first, reading about Animal Man and then just reading another sentence of the Wiki post Morrison. I've only read one issue of the Animal Man run so far, however. When I finally decided to change my mind and go back on "one of the things I could've told you about me and comics," I went for Milligan's work with the caped crusader as well, pulling up about twelve issues of Milligan's various Batman titles (rather Detective and Batman but "various" sounds better) as well as a Catwoman graphic novel (an actual gn mind you). I've now read quite a few issues of his Batman, as well as the first issue of not only the Animal Man run but of two miniseries, Skreemer and Enigma. Unfortunately of these latter two, my father only had the "collectible" first issues. There's something about him.

Milligan is probably the most comic-book-esque writer I've latched onto. Moore is generally considered a novelist, no one really doubts his talents as a writer, Morrison is more of a zany magic guy than a writer really, Warren Ellis could and does write prose, Crooked Little Vein is amazing, and he's currently writing his first truly science fiction novel which probably surprises anyone who looks at his comic output (Ellis is the one place where I was unlucky, he burst onto the comics scene just as my dad burst out of the collecting business. However my own first brush with comics caused me to go out and get a lot of Spider-Man 2099 comics for some silly reason I don't entirely understand. They were written by Peter David. He's good. I'll give my past self that. And in one of these comics, an anthology called 2099 Unlimited that happened to feature the future Spidey that month, I would run into an early Warren Ellis back-up story, a sort of...I keep saying "archaeological"...treasure to have found when I didn't go out and buy it looking for the Ellis bit), and Neil Gaiman is mainly a novelist these days, plus his Sandman is the farthest from superhero comics as you can really get, and the most removed of magnum opuses for any of the writers (although if Moore never wrote Watchmen then Swamp Thing would be right there). Maybe it's just because the most of the Milligan I've read is Batman that I think this, but it's a sort of kitschy feel I get, the same way I think about The Mentalist. Like I'm totally into it but when it's bad, it's awesomely bad, I delight in that too. Explaining the plot of a four-issue two-series Batman crossover that Milligan did to my friend it sounded crazy, it something out of a comic book.

What amazes me about Milligan is the uncertain perspective he gives us. In "Dark City, Dark Knight" there is a panel refrain that I read as Milligan playing the reader as Batman. Referring to the Dark Knight in the second person, I like to think of it as calling out to us. This is a personal interest, admittedly. Reading the comic I was surprised, as I had just spoken of a comic being in the second person in a work of fiction here. Milligan had already done such a thing and it truly took me aback, as if my idea had somehow time traveled. The oddity of course being not that it was thought of before me (everything has been thought of before me), but rather that I had just come up with the idea like half a week before I dug up the comic and read it. The timing was everything.

Before reading that Batman story, I had read the first issue of Enigma, my second issue of Milligan (my first was the somewhat pedestrian Detective Comics #629). The villain of Enigma is a brain sucker. Or at least the villain of the first issue is. I'm not going to go into more detail, it's a very good comic and I'm sure you might have a comic store near you which has it or (the much more likely scenario) you might be left to your own shamanistic rituals to summon it to you. Then I read "The Idiot Root" whose villain is a brain sucker. He must've been preoccupied by them. I love that. The way the actual stories of writers coincide with each other. It's the feeling I get from a Joan Didion or Don DeLillo book, as I've written about here. Obviously I feel they are more literary than Milligan, but he doesn't need to be literary.

I actually went to a comic convention the other weekend thinking I might find some Milligan comics. I ran into a friend of mine there who knew his name. He's still in comics today so this makes sense. But it was no luck on the old comics I was looking for. The next series I will be reading will be either Ellis's Planetary or Milligan's Shade, the Changing Man which for some reason my father doesn't even have the first issue of. I found no Shade or Enigma and wasn't at the time looking for Skreemer. I found this odd. I still do. I am entirely surprised by the minimal presence of DC's sub-branch, the much acclaimed Vertigo, at the convention. Vertigo in the early nineties was one of the most amazing things in comics--a major producer helping to create an alternative to the status quo.

As I think about it now, perhaps I lied. It's very possible, with next month creeping up ever faster (conflicting verb/adverb I know), the next comic I could be reading could be Justice League Dark. I really did make a mulligan on Milligan when I first thought to myself, reading Morrison's Doom Patrol, that no, I wouldn't even want to read anyone I hadn't read before. Reading him, I've realized that Peter and I share more than first names, we have a similar outlook on our arts. Or at least I think we do. I'm sure I'm wrong. I'm always wrong. Always wrong, always bored, and always a paragraph or two long...

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