The Best of Milligan & McCarthy
Dark Horse Comics
Review by Seth
I deliberated over buying this for ages. In my obsessive compulsive collector impulsive type way, I’ve just about got all of the contents of this volume in one form or another. BUT!!! NOT IN ONE HANDY OVERSIZED HARDBACK PACKAGE!
Here Mr. Dark Horse – have £15 (or whatever it was). “Repackage, repackage” as Stephen Morrissey once sang.
Anyway, Milligan & McCarthy are one of the great comic creator double acts, up there with Wagner & Grant, Mills & O’Neill, Lee & Kirby. Occasionally, they veer into pretentious arty nonsense. Nevertheless, together they have created some of the best work that either party has ever worked on, and certainly some of the most inventive.
Though this hardback is quite comprehensive, some of the strips in here are precis’d /abridged. It can only be considered an introduction to their work, though for that purpose it’s ideal.
It includes some of their earliest strips from Sounds (where some guy called Moore also started out), wearing their art school roots on their sleeve , through to their work for Eclipse and Vortex inspiring Grant Morrison’s late 80s and early nineties output on the way and Kevin Costner’s turkey “Waterworld” with “Paradax”, “Mirkin the Mystic” and “Freakwave” respectively. “Paradax” was their take on the superhero genre, posing the question how would super powers change an ordinary guy? Mirkin was Dr. Strange by Noel Coward and “Freakwave” started off as “Mad Max”, but soon developed into something completely surreal, Milligan and McCarthy’s imaginations off the leash.
‘Course, this is a 2000ad blog, and both creators worked on the Galaxy’s Greatest for many years. Mainly working independently of each other, they came together for the bizarre, “Sooner or Later”. “Sooner or Later” was introduced in Prog 468, in a 5 page episode, before heading to the back cover in single page episodes. Sooner or Later followed the temporarily displaced Mickey Swift, sent thousands of years into the future to Ether City, which occupies 6 feet of space in the UK, but due to a clever bit of science appears of infinite size, the rest of the UK being given over to a toxic waste dump. To get home Mickey has to find a job. The strip is a highly topical satire of Thatcher’s Britain. As a 13 year old this was a complete turn off. 30 years on I think its brilliant. Word has it that a complete collection is on the Rebellion release schedule.
Next they headed off to make their contribution to the UK adult comics bubble (soon to burst) with “Skin”, inspired by Brendan McCarthy’s time as a skinhead. The strip was famous for being “banned” , or rather withdrawn from publication in Crisis: the publishers followed advice from their lawyers not to publish, and consequently undermined Crisis’s credibility. “Skin” follows Martin ‘Atchet the Skin of the title and a victim of the anti morning sickness drug thalidomide. Martin is not a nice fella, and we follow him in on his bloody quest for revenge on the drug company that produced the drug that caused his condition.
After some delay it was published by Tundra. The story was an anti climax after the hype, it remains coarse & unflinching. It’s easy to see why it was deemed to be controversial when it was first published, but I can’t see there being so much fuss 20 years on. It remains a worthy story with some wonderful art, and even though Martin is not the most pleasant of chaps, you are sympathetic with his plight.
After the rather linear Skin, the next major strip for Fleetway was the ever so slightly incomprehensible, but beautifully illustrated Rogan Gosh originally published in Revolver (fated 2000ad spin off from the 90s) and reprinted by Vertigo a few years later. Completely mad, it’s a tale of finding identity and spirituality.
Still, even if you can’t work out the plot it’s lovely to look at.
Any road up. Milligan’s recent “Bad Company” work pales into insignificance compared with the work here, inventive, witty, original and everso slightly crazy. McCarthy’s art and design is amazing, and although some of the work here verges into pretentious nonsense territory, there is some work that we should have seen more of, particularly “Freakwave”, “Mirkin” and “Paradax”. You could never say that you would enjoy “Skin”, but it is a powerful piece of work. “Rogan Gosh” is like a fever dream, “Sooner or Later” remains relevant, despite some dated references.
Throw in some lost strips from a failed Sunday Paper, a handful of “Shade, The Changing Man” covers, some one offs from A1, a great package and a worthy introduction into the madness of Milligan and McCarthy.