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KANGAROO CURRY

A TRIBUTE TO PETER MILLIGAN

Part 1: The Early British Stuff - Part 2: DC/Vertigo - Part 3: The More Recent Stuff - Links

Skin, art by Brendan McCarthyPeter Milligan is one of the best writers of comics and graphic novels. There seems to be surprisingly little about him on the internet, especially compared to the likes of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, hence this brief overview of his career.

NEW in this update: I belatedly get around to looking at X-Force & X-Statix!

I've given the stories a rating (out of *****) to help you find his best work. The list is far from complete, and it could still do with a bit more "Recent Stuff". Some of the reviews are a bit short at the moment, but I plan to rewrite them when I have the time.

Sadly, relatively little of this stuff has been collected in graphic novel format, and some of those are out of print anyway. Good news though, the success of Milligan's run on X-Force/X-Statix seems to be leading to some of his earlier coming back into print. Recent collections include Hewligan's Haircut, Shade, Skreemer and Johnny Nemo. However, you will still have to search out the original comics to read many of these stories.

You can e-mail any comments or information to me by clicking here: Marcos

PART 1: THE EARLY BRITISH STUFF

STRANGE DAYS (1984-85)
Art: Brendan McCarthy, Brett Ewins
Format: 3 Issues (Eclipse)

This was the first time Milligan got to write a whole comic of his own. Each issue is made up of a trio of eight page shorts: Freakwave ('Mad Max goes surfing'), Paradax (a slobbish superhero in it for the money) and Johnny Nemo (see below).

Billed as 'New Wave', Strange Days reads like a 15 certificate 2000AD . Funny and irreverent with hugely inventive art work, it failed to find an audience at the time. It sort of continued as Paradax (see below). ***

JOHNNY NEMO (1985-89)
Art: Brett Ewins, Steve Dillon
Format: 3 Issues (Eclipse), Graphic Novel (Deadline Books)

Johnny Nemo is a cynical private detective, the twist being that he lives in a future version of London (which looks suspiciously like Mega-City One from 2000AD).

The Eclipse series was in colour, with a back-up story Sindi Shade (no relation). It wasn't a hit, but three years later the Johnny Nemo stories (plus some new ones) were reprinted in the first dozen issues of Deadline magazine. The graphic novel collects these short stories (in black and white, like the Deadline versions). ***

SOONER OR LATER (1986)
Art: Brendan McCarthy
Format: Serialised in 2000AD 468-499

Micky Swift goes time travelling. It must be more fun than signing on in Camden...

An early attempt to get their psychedelic madness into 2000AD, the editors only allowed Milligan & McCarthy one page per issue! A fun comedy that works despite the restrictive format. It was followed by Swifty's Return (see below). *** Kano, leader of Bad Company

BAD COMPANY (1986-88)
Art: Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy
Format: See Below

This long running 2000AD serial is collected in four slim graphic novels (Titan books, about 60 pages each). It was also reprinted as Best Of 2000AD magazine numbers 77, 78, 101 and 102. For the US market it was shrunk and coloured in to fit the standard comic format (18 issues, Fleetway/Quality).

Bad Company (Books 1 & 2): Earth seems to be losing the war against the Krool (aliens who are nastier than their comic appearance suggests). Ordinary soldier Danny finds himself recruited into the psychopathic ranks of a group of misfits known as Bad Company. Is becoming more like them the only way to survive?

Future war is a fairly routine 2000AD scenario, but Milligan adds plenty of plot twists between the OTT battle scenes. The unexpectedly downbeat ending is especially strong. ****

Bad Company II (Books 3 & 4): The company continue their war against the Krool, but without their leader Kano (missing, presumed dead). This is less essential than the original story. ***

Mirkin The Mystic (wig not pictured)PARADAX (1987)
Art: Brendan McCarthy
Format: 2 Issues (Vortex)

Paradax #1 is basically the fourth issue of Strange Days (see above), but with Johnny Nemo replaced by Mirkin The Mystic (his only ever appearance). Milligan's scripts are fast and funny, allowing the mind melting artwork of McCarthy to dominate. It's a shame the characters weren't given further issues to develop, but #1 remains essential for fans of McCarthyism.

#2 reprints the 3 earlier Paradax stories from Strange Days (it's titled 'Remix' because the strips have been re-coloured by McCarthy). ***

SWIFTY'S RETURN (1989)
Art: Jamie Hewlett
Format: Serialised in 2000AD 614-617

Micky Swift is sacked from his dreary job at MacDogburgers. The perfect excuse to go time travelling again...Rogan Gosh

A belated sequel to Sooner Or Later (by Milligan & McCarthy). Who else but Jamie Hewlett would dare follow Brendan McCarthy! Just 16 pages in total, this anarchic fun paved the way for Hewligan's Haircut (see below). ***

ROGAN GOSH (1990)
Art: Brendan McCarthy
Format: Serialised in Revolver 1-6, collected as a One-shot (Vertigo)

A wild slice of cod psychedelia, that is wonderfully dense and funny for parts 1-3, before the darker second half.
An extraordinary collaboration between Milligan and McCarthy, with words and pictures working together in a way that few comics have ever approached.
N.B. Revolver was a 2000AD spinoff that folded after seven issues. *****

Scarlet - obviously Hewligan is in love with herHEWLIGAN'S HAIRCUT (1991)
Art: Jamie Hewlett
Format: Graphic Novel (2000AD Books)

This slim volume collects a story serialised in 2000AD. A touching tale about mental illness and bad hair days. Q: What do you get when you cross Tank Girl with Rogan Gosh? A: Kangaroo Curry!

The story is short and slight, but Hewlett's art is wonderfully vibrant and anarchic. Forget Tank Girl and Gorillaz - this is his masterpiece. The graphic novel has just been reissued as a pricey hardback - shame it's not padded out with some more uncollected Milligan & Hewlett collaborations e.g. Swifty's Return and/or King Leon. ****

SKIN (1992)
Art: Brendan McCarthy
Format: Graphic Novel (Tundra)

This was going to be serialised in Crisis (an 'adult' 2000AD spinoff), but they got cold feet. It's easy to see why, because this tale of a thalidomide victim who joins a gang of skinheads is disturbing stuff. More great artwork from McCarthy. ****

PART 2: DC/VERTIGO

SKREEMER (1989)
Art: Brett Ewins, Steve Dillon
Format: 6 Issue Series (DC), collected as a Graphic Novel

A violent tale about gang boss Vito Skreemer, which has been described as 'James Joyce meets the Godfather'. Dark and compelling, the relatively crude artwork works well with the atmosphere of the story. ****Shade, cover of #33 by Chris Bachalo

SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN (1990-96)
Art: Chris Bachalo etc.
Format: 70 Issues (DC/Vertigo), 1 Graphic Novel

Shade is an alien sent to Earth to combat forces of madness that his superiors have accidentally let loose in the USA. His madness vest allows him to manipulate reality, but he never completed his training and the results are unpredictable. Cue some very psychedelic artwork...

Loosely based on the seventies character by Steve Ditko, this is by far Milligan's longest running story. Chris Bachalo is the main artist, but many others are involved at various times. Ideally it would be collected into ten graphic novels (like Neil Gaiman's Sandman, which was published by Vertigo around the same time), but it isn't. But if it was it might be split up like this!
Volume One (collecting issues 1-6 as predicted below) has belatedly appeared. Hopefully more will follow, but don't hold your breath...

Shade, art from #1 by Chris Bachalo01-06 Shade is sent to Earth, meets JFK, and visits Hollywood. An excellent start. ****
07-13 Shade continues his fight against madness, as embodied by the American Scream. Good but rambling. ***
14-19 The (overlong) American Scream storyline ends. Most of the important plot is in 16-18 if you feel like skipping a few issues. ***
20-26 Shade, Kathy and Lenny go on a road trip. This is a more focused storyline which allows Milligan to develop his characters. Bachalo's art is strong, but a "Rogan Gosh" style intrusion from Brendan McCarthy in 22 steals the show. ***
27-32
Shade needs a new body, and he ends up becoming the changing woman (briefly). 27 is great, but the rest seem like filler (various guest artists are used). **
33-39 Shade and co are drawn to a strange hotel. The series moves from DC to Vertigo, Chris Bachalo returns (stunning covers as well as interior art), and Shade comes back to life in more ways than one! *****
40-44 Two one-shots, plus Shade meets John Constantine in a Hellblazer crossover. ***
45-50 The six part "Season In Hell" is Bachalo's dark final story. Excellent, but the comic is starting to look suspiciously similar to Sandman. ****
51-57 Shade tries to come to terms with the grim events of the previous story arc. Meanwhile, his son George experiences accelerated ageing. ***
Etc.

ANIMAL MAN (1990-91)
Art: Chas Truog, Steve Dillon
Format: Issues 27-32 of the Series (DC)

Grant Morrison wrote the first 26 issues of this series (recently collected as 3 graphic novels), but this self contained story arc works even if you haven't read those. Animal Man is a B-list superhero who can take on the powers of any animal he focuses on. Milligan takes this vegetarian animal rights activist and fills him with a hunger for raw meat...

The story combines extreme weirdness with a breakneck pace. Though quite similar to Shade, this is hugely entertaining in its own right. **** Enigma, art from #4 by Duncan Fegredo

ENIGMA (1993)
Art: Duncan Fegredo
Format: 8 Issue Series (Vertigo), collected as a Graphic Novel

DC launched the Vertigo imprint in early 1993, an attempt to appeal to older comics readers. With titles like Enigma they got off to an excellent start...

The Enigma is a half forgotten 1970s comic book hero who starts turning up in real life. Michael Smith, who read the original as a kid, finds his humdrum life being transformed by events.

You could call Enigma the greatest deconstruction of superhero cliche since Watchmen. Or maybe you just find it funny, thought provoking and strangely moving. The art by Fegredo is scratchy and atmospheric, making him arguably Milligan's most sympathetic collaborator since Brendan McCarthy. Any criticisms? Well, like many Milligan stories, this arguably contains a few too many ideas for its own good. Some aspects e.g. the lovely gummy character Envelope Girl, are a bit underdeveloped. But given a choice between too many ideas and too few I know which I prefer. *****

THE EXTREMIST (1993)

Art: Ted McKeever
Format: 4 Issue Series (Vertigo)

When Judy's husband is murdered she discovers he had a secret life as The Extremist, a key figure in a secret order dedicated to extreme acts of sex and violence. She takes over his role so that she can discover out who killed him.

Always interested in taboo areas, this remains the furthest Milligan has pushed the envelope to date. A lot less exploitative than it sounds, Milligan creates likeable characters and dares you to continue liking them when their behaviour becomes increasingly immoral. McKeever's expressionist art is distinctive and powerful, though if you haven't seen his work before it might take an issue or two to get used to. The only real problem with this story is the structure: it moves backwards and forwards in time, making the last issue a real anti-climax. ***1/2

FACE (1995)
Art: Duncan Fegredo
Format: 1 Issue (Vertigo)

David Schloem, a brilliant plastic surgeon, is hired by famous artist Andrew Sphinx ("He dropped more names than we dropped bombs on Iraq" complains Schloem after their first meeting). Inevitably Sphinx is after more than a nose job.

This was the first in the Vertigo Voices series (see also The Eaters below). Face is an excellent horror story that completely bypasses the usual cliches of the genre. I just hope you get past the gruesome image on the first page! ****

THE EATERS (1995)
Art: Dean Normston
Format: 1 Issue (Vertigo)

The trouble with comics part 99: Write a rambling never ending series and eventually people think "Hey, it's been going so long, it must be a classic!". Write a brilliant self contained short like The Eaters (part of the Vertigo Voices series) and few people notice...

The Eaters is a black comedy about a loveable family of all-American cannibals. Gorgeous Cassy is getting frustrated because her hunky boyfriends keep ending up in the family stew before she's finished with them! This generous one-shot (which is about 60 pages long) is crying out to be turned into a movie, though Hollywood would no doubt sanitise Milligan's razor sharp satire.****

TANK GIRL: THE ODYSSEY (1995)
Art: Jamie Hewlett
Format: 4 Issue Series (Vertigo), collected as a Graphic Novel

Tank Girl seems a bit knackered by this point, but Milligan tries hard to breath life back into the character. The earliest Tank Girl stories are the best. **

EGYPT (1995-96)
Art: Glyn Dillon, Roberto Corona, Phil Gascoine
Format: 7 Issue Series (Vertigo)

Vincent Me is killed in an experiment and finds himself reincarnated back in ancient Egypt. This starts out great but loses steam about half way through, and the last couple of issues are pretty poor. Sometimes the comic feels like "Rogan Gosh" watered down for an American audience, but it's still quite tasty! ***

GIRL (1996)
Art: Duncan Fegredo
Format: 3 Issue Series (Vertigo)

15 year old Simone feels like a misfit in her working class family (who act like they're in an especially brutal episode of Eastenders). She escapes into a world of daydreams.

The starts out as a fantastically OTT black comedy, but as the story progresses it becomes increasingly grim. Fegredo's distinctive artwork is excellent, but the script's mix of realism and fantasy doesn't quite convince. Girl is ultimately less than the sum of its impressive parts, but it does take you places that Tank Girl and the Minx never dared to go. ***1/2The Minx

THE MINX (1998-99)
Art: Sean Philips
Format: 8 Issues (Vertigo)

Anna is a mild mannered young woman with a second, much wilder, personality insider her. Referred to as The Minx, she starts to take over Anna's life.

An interesting female character is a rarity in comics, but Milligan has stuck Anna in an over complex sci-fi storyline involving a telepathic monkey from outer space! The messy opening story arc (issues 1-3) recycles some ideas from (the far superior) "Enigma". After that the story starts to improve, and the character has definite potential. Sadly, the series was prematurely cancelled. The second story arc ends with issue 7, and this provides a more satisfactory conclusion than 8. ***

HUMAN TARGET (1999)
Art: Edvin Biukovic
Format: 4 Issues (Vertigo), collected as a Graphic Novel

Christopher Chance is a master of impersonation. He takes the place of people whose lives have been threatened in order to trap their prospective murderers.

Based on an old DC character created by Len Wein, this is a relatively mainstream and conventional comic. Don't bother if you want the weirdness and innovation of Milligan's best work, but this is a very entertaining series that could easily be turned into a superior Hollywood movie. Human Target has now become a regular monthly series. ***

PART 3: THE MORE RECENT STUFF

X-FORCE (2001-02)
Art: Michael Allred etc.
Format: Issues 116-129 of the series (Marvel), collected as 2 Graphic Novels

X-Force is one of the many spin offs from the X-Men. Milligan took over with issue 116, and after issue 129 the title was changed to X-Statix (see below). A combined total of forty comics make this Milligan's longest running story since Shade. It is also the biggest success of his career.

X-Force are a team of mutant superheros out to save the world from various baddies. But Milligan drags this cliched scenario into the modern world: his team are ego heavy celebrities who argue amongst themselves whilst being manipulated by their agents and the media (the missions are all televised). Allred's retro art seems rather garish at first glance, but it works well with the mischievous mix of soap and satire.

116-120 'New Beginning'
121-129 'Final Chapter': Several entertaining short story arcs are collected here, leading to the death of one of the most popular team members. ***Cover of X-Statix #12 - Dead Girl!

X-STATIX (2002-04)

Art: Michael Allred etc.
Format: 26 Issues (Marvel), collected as 4 Graphic Novels

The story of X-Force continues (see above).

01-05 'Good Omens': The team seems to be falling apart (as usual). Can new recruit Venus Dee Milo pull them back together? ***
06-10 'Good Guys & Bad Guys'
11-18 'Back from the Dead'
19-26 'X-Statix vs the Avengers'

LINKS:

The Strangeness Of Brendan McCarthy A stunning site about Pete's greatest collaborator.
House Of Vertigo Includes details about the unreleased Bizarre Boys.
Shade The Changing Man Tribute Site.
Girl Review by Shadow Gallery.
Rogan Gosh Sample pages.
Tom's 2000AD Page Includes info on Pete's work in that comic.
Hand Of Tharg More about 2000AD.
Sequential Tart have interviewed both Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo
UGO.Com A more recent interview.
Ninth Art Superior comics site which has reviewed lots of Milligan's books.

There was another excellent site, The League Of The Green Lizard. However, it seems to have died. For that reason I am mirroring some of its content below (I take no credit for this work).

Lizard Pages: Bibliography Inteview: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

This page last updated: December 2004