Peter MilliganSteve Dillon
Medium: comic
Year: 1989
Keywords: gangster
Writer: Peter Milligan
Penciller: Brett Ewins
Inker: Steve Dillon
Format: 6 issues, 169 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 10 March 2021
I bought this at random ages ago, probably because I like Milligan, Ewins and Dillon. It won an Eagle Award for Best Continuing US/UK Series. Today, I finally got around to reading it.
Well, that was a downer.
It's a sort of pre-Vertigo book, with only its publication date stopping it from being published under the Vertigo imprint. It's a gangster story, set in a mildly post-apocalyptic setting with an apparently functional civilisation, but no visible law enforcement. There was a disease. Gang leaders call themselves "presidents". The important thing to know, though, is that it's a story of repellent people doing hateful things for 169 pages. No one stops them, except each other. The story hardly ever seems to be going anywhere. You flick the pages and wish you weren't. "Why am I reading this?" I wondered.
On top of all that, though, Milligan's also paying homage to James Joyce with quotes, plot structure and a time-jumping multi-generational narrative. We'll slide between the current generation, the parents and the grandparents so casually that it's hard to tell which is which.
Did I like it? No. Did I care? No. It's an intellectual work, but it's not easy even to stay on top of who the characters are (given the multi-generational thing), let alone care about them. The lead character, Veto Skreemer, is the most staggering stone-faced bastard in a city full of them, although one can give him a tiny amount of credit for not being a sadist. (Tiberius Whyte and his "performances", on the other hand, reach Imperial Roman heights of vileness.)
In time, the story grows a meaningful cast. Veto himself is titanic. He has two childhood friends who didn't deserve what happens to them, even after allowing for their own criminal activities. There's also a grandad who halfway through gives the book an emotional core.
All that said, the final chapter pulls things together. It's satisfying. Explanations come in a way I'd never expected, making sense of things I hadn't expected to see tied together. Despite having disliked the experience of reading this book, I thought the ending worked and was both ingenious and clever.
Would I recommend this book? Not to normal people, no. It's about as unpleasant as a comic can get, despite being deceptively thoughtful in its writing. It's not trashy. If it had been, it would have been easier to read. (Meanwhile, its art is a fascinating blend of two very loud and completely different artistic voices, which somehow blend into one without ever losing their own identity.) It's a tragedy, of course, but frankly the tragedy for anyone in this story's world would have started when they were born. I was deeply repelled by it... but, given all its layers, some day I might yet reread it for a better view of them.