Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Names Review (Peter Milligan, Leandro Fernandez)


Spoilsies ahead! 

When Katya Walker’s Wall Street moneyman husband, Kevin, commits suicide by jumping out of his 51st storey window, she discovers he was part of a sinister organisation called The Names. Who are The Names? Sinister and… scheming and… rich? Um… they have names? Teaming up with her teenage stepson, Philip, a bona fide mathematical genius, the two set out to uncover the mystery of Kevin’s death – it wasn’t suicide, it was murder. 

Oy yoy yoy – what a garbled mess this comic is! 

I think Peter Milligan was aiming for some kind of satire on Wall Street/Capitalism, or maybe a sort of the rich preying on the poor metaphor, or… something! But he utterly and totally failed.

A lot of this book is an average cat and mouse story between Katya/Philip and the Surgeon, The Names’ bloodthirsty assassin. Then the Surgeon leaves the picture and another character becomes the villain. And then they disappear just as abruptly and it becomes about The Dark Loops – a financial program created by bankers that’s gained sentience and is about to smash capitalism (or something?) – and then it’s over?! It’s so unfocused and fails to fully explore The Dark Loops, the only really interesting aspect of this book. 

Mysterious plot elements appear, seem to be relevant, and then disappear for good, turning out to be completely irrelevant. The Tulips, a rival group to The Names, enter and then leave - what was their point again? Why was the phrase “Don’t forget me champion” emphasised so much? It’s one dead end after another. 

The dialogue is nothing short of abysmal. Here’s the Surgeon: "I am the Surgeon. I like to cut. Yes, I'm a psychopath. I took Hare's psychopathy test. I was off the chart. I usually hide my psychosis behind an engaging veneer of normality. But though I walk among you, I am different from you." – he’s attacking someone while telling you all about himself in that convincingly natural cadence. Later when the Surgeon slices someone’s face – which we can clearly see him doing in-panel – the character says “Fuck, my face!” redundantly. Peter Milligan’s been in comics since the ‘80s, has he learned nothing in his decades writing?! 

The villains’ motivations make no sense. The Surgeon has his targets bundled up and beaten but then decides to arbitrarily make a phone call demanding “more respect”, something that hasn’t concerned him at all up until that point (or will after for that matter!), allowing our protagonists to escape. A similarly nonsensical motive afflicts Tara who says “He wasn’t supposed to get over me so quick. People like me don’t have feelings, it’s a matter of principle. If they hadn’t killed him I would’ve done it myself.” – what?! 

These are questions for those who’ve read the comic (and even then I’m unsure if they would know): what does Philip’s mother want with him again and why? How did she survive a broken neck? Why does Stoker suddenly care about Katya and Philip? 

There’s a running joke about how attracted Philip is to Katya, his stepmother, which isn’t funny. And lots of beautiful young women throwing themselves at repulsive older men is a theme for some reason – or maybe just wish-fulfilment for old man Peter Milligan?

I didn’t care for Leandro Fernandez’s art. The ultra-long smart phones look awful and Stoker’s face is ridiculously exaggerated - honestly, he makes baboons look attractive. It’s a caricature amidst regular-looking characters and I’m not at all sure why he made that choice. 

Katya is heavily sexualised for one reason: so the “stepson wants to hump his foxy stepmother” joke can be trotted out again and again. So, so unfunny. Her skin sometimes changes from brown to white (she’s a black woman) through inconsistency, not design. Poor job, Cris Peter. And what the hell – the Dark Loops actually take the form of shadow creatures in one panel!? I thought they were a computer program! 

Perhaps anticipating what a clusterfuck his book turned out to be, Peter Milligan has bizarre-head-shaped Stoker turn to the reader in the last couple pages and intone: "I don’t expect you to be satisfied. But you should try to accept it. This is the world we all live in, Katya, this is… The Names." 

Interpretation: “Of course you’re not going to be satisfied, who would be? This was a disaster! But that’s me, Peter Milligan, crap writer extraordinaire (I mean, did you read my Doop book over at Marvel? What were you expecting?!), and here’s my latest nonsense… The Names.” 

Here’s a name to avoid when you see it on a book cover: Peter Milligan!

The Names

1 comment:

  1. Milligan is one of those guys that didn't transition out of the late 80s/early 90s very well. It's odd how some writers did better back when comics had more inner dialogue and narrative. In some ways the constraints on writers are more prevalent now, because some stereotypes and formatting "restrictions" are even more cemented in than in decades past, e.g. women are sexy and smart, male heroes are taut and brooding, and no inner dialogue balloons. Guys like Milligan, Claremont and a lot of other writers don't do so well as they try to fit themselves into these assumed "mature" guidelines as compared to some of the writing liberties they could take without criticism back in the day.

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