The Dead
Medium: comic
Year: 1987
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Massimo Belardinelli
Country: UK
Keywords: 2000 AD
Format: Progs 510-519, ten episodes, 49 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 23 August 2021
Mankind's conquered death, so everyone is two and a half thousand years old. Of course, immortality was great fun at first. It was one big party, lasting two hundred years... but, after a while, building stopped. Art stopped. Everything stopped. Everything except life.
It's pretentious, divisive and utterly Milligan, but also utterly Belardinelli. Good grief, that guy. It's as if Hieronymus Bosch had returned to drop acid and draw comics. This story has demons, limbo wraiths and things so deformed that they take a little time to process visually. Your eye doesn't know where to begin. You look at it, boggle and then try to work out what the hell's happening.
This is an intriguing story, but it's the opposite of happy and it might take a reread to get your head around it. It's thinking dark Milligan thoughts about the afterlife. If we conquered death, might the limbo worlds get overrun by demons for lack of reinforcements from the mortal realm? Does this mean we should go back and kill everyone, then? There's also a light sphere which sounds like a good place (heaven, nirvana, take your pick) and so of course we don't go there. Would alien species all have their own alien heaven? Could you get into alien heaven, then? If not, is that racism? Could you sneak into a heaven that belonged to a species that happened to look the same as you?
And, of course, Milligan has a bone or two to pick with immortalities. (There are different kinds.)
"The longer you are a limbo wraith, the more difficult it is to bear being near someone else. I'm sorry, Fludd."
"No, you're right. Soon, we'll start to make each other's flesh crawl."
In other words, Fludd's about to stay goodbye to a friend and companion... who's also the last friend and companion he'll ever be capable of having. While being immortal. Let's look at how the story ends. "That's my story. I am Fludd! And how long have I been looking for the duplicate race of humans? Millennia? Thousands of millennia? Earth has probably run its course, but I still look. Root was right, all those aeons ago. I wander, I search, dying each minute of loneliness, only to be reborn, more lonely still."
All this is original and fascinating, but... ahem, not guaranteed to be loved by the whole readership. This is 2000 AD. They're not afraid of weird stuff, but most of their output is straightforward and violent. Judge Dredd, that kind of thing. This, on the other hand, creates a multiverse of afterlives so big and yet also so intricate that it can seem a bit abstract.
At the same time, though, it's also funny. One of Milligan's gifts is the ability to be mind-bending and philosophical, but in the same breath also cynical, snarky and prone to bathetic comedy. Our hero, Fludd, doesn't really give a toss. (And thank goodness for that. This story would have been indigestible without its down-to-earth protagonist.) He cracks bad taste jokes. He gets murdered by self-serving gits, then eventually comes back as a complete and utter bastard to kill everyone. (I'm not exaggerating.) As he repeatedly says, he's not a hero. He couldn't care less about being heroic.
"I had nothing better to do."
This story isn't fun, happy or even necessarily entertaining. What it is, though, is fascinating. I love Peter Milligan's brain. You'll also see gross physical transformations drawn by Massimo Belardinelli.