By Peter Milligan, Leandro Fernandez & Cris Peter
Peter Milligan’s new Image series opens on a disorienting note which announces its genre blending. Artist Leandro Fernandez lays out the first two pages as a set of thin, rectangular panels, each of which offer a constricted view of the action. Fernandez also sticks with close-ups, providing only details of what is occurring. Cris Peter’s colors highlight the occasional feature, such as the yellow glow of skyscrapers at night or a bright green cat-like iris. Such an approach draws the reader deeper into the page, trying to sort out what exactly is happening. The bodies involved are unconventional (monstrous to use a less polite term), while their behavior appears to be more conventionally sexual in the nature. Next Fernandez pulls back for a full page view of the aftermath. The angle remains skewed, the atmosphere menacing, though the figures are now human. Scattered (and shredded) clothes litter the foreground. Milligan’s intentions to mix sex and horror are immediately clear. For those familiar with Milligan’s sizable body of work this should come as little surprise.
After this eye-catching prologue, Milligan flashes back to see how his protagonist reached this moment. Melissa is a 23 year old New Yorker, who fits a familiar type: young, well-off, yet emotionally unfulfilled. Readers first see her arguing with her less affluent sister Krystal regarding the care of their mother. Krystal does not even make an effort to conceal her resentment towards her sister, Meanwhile, Melissa’s husband may have provided material comforts but is distant, probably pursuing an affair. Melissa spends most of her time talking to her dog Hemingway, despite having one friend in whom she can confide. These traits may be cliché, yet, Milligan does do a good job scripting Melissa in such a manner that they do not become rote. The reader is drawn into her story.
That story takes a twist when a strange young man named Orlando enters her life. She quickly becomes infatuated, consumed with the possibility of a renewed passion for life. At the same time, Orlando is a shadowy character, awakening in Melissa morbid visions along with boiling sensuality. When he finally invites her to a rendezvous, it is a townhouse which is not his. What Melissa encounters next takes her far beyond the titillation of borrowing a stranger’s bed.
Milligan seeds hints of the supernatural throughout the issue, so that when the beast-like creature comes crashing in, it does not cause tonal whiplash. Unfortunately, it is not overly clear what exactly happens in the reminder of the sequence. The action is hectic; scene shifts are abrupt. The division between “real” and hallucination blurs. Milligan may have been going for a sense of dislocation, however, it stops the momentum of the narrative dead in its tracks. The reader loses their connection to Melissa’s story. It does not help that Melissa also sheds any agency she had, coming off as an overwhelmed victim.
What it would appear that Milligan is working through are ideas of perverse sexual attraction. Melissa is drawn to the darker side of humanity, her own included. A vision of her body strung up like a bloodied piece of meat in a cold storage locker draws her closer to Orlando. Melissa is fascinated with a painting Venus and the Satyr by Francisco Goya. The image depicts a leering, grotesque satyr fondling the naked goddess who is either asleep or lost in bliss. I have been unable to locate any reference to this painting either in my art books or online, suggesting that it is a creation of Milligan and Fernandez. If so, it does fit within Goya’s style.
Goya is arguably one of the three most important Spanish artists (in this reviewer’s mind, he is simply one of the greatest artists to ever raise a brush). He lived (1746-1828) through a particularly tumultuous period of Spanish history. He witnessed the mass executions of the Inquisition, a bloody civil war which ended with a tyrant on the throne. Dreams of constitutional liberties were squashed and society grew more repressive than ever. Through it all, Goya painted, drew and recorded his times. He often turned to the macabre to explore the plight of his country. He created hyper-naturalistic paintings of witch’s covens. His late “Black” paintings are gory, pessimistic works by a man seeing his country devour its children and caught up in petty fighting while sinking deeper into the quicksand. Within this context, it is easy to imagine Goya creating something like Discipline’s Venus and the Satyr. Though where Goya would have been concerned with social commentary (he kept his knifes ever ready to belittle the superstitions of his day), Milligan has something else in mind. He is delving into the darker recesses of sexuality, playing with ideas of repulsion/attraction and submission. This is potentially fertile territory, though, at present, it remains to be seen how deeply Milligan intends to go with it.
Fernandez’s art does a good job of conveying the spirit of Milligan’s script. His loose lines emphasize the emotions of the characters, while Peter’s alternation between dark shadows and bright primary colors heightens the atmosphere of the scene. Their work helps keep the reader engaged in the proceedings.
In the end, The Discipline #1 is a mixed bag. It gets many beats right, while dropping the ball on others. It is a more intriguing start than Milligan’s recent Vertigo series, New Romancer. Milligan has long been an uneven talent bouncing between strong and bland. The Discipline could go either way, though for now, it does leave me curious to see which path it will pursue.