Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Greek Street #1

DC Comics/Vertigo, 32 pages, $ 1.00

Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Davide Gianfelice
Colorist: Patricia Mulvihill
Letterer: Clem Robins
Cover artist: Kako

Greek Street is a reimagining of many of those ancient [Greek] tragedies,” Peter Milligan explains in his editorial, “played out on these modern Soho streets, with modern Soho and British ‘types’ unconsciously living out the roles of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Medea and more. It’s a complex story of incest, murder and clairvoyance.”

As it turns out, though, that’s not quite correct. The book’s protagonist, a character named Eddie, may be living out a role similar to that of Oedipus, but it’s also one that differs from its mythological model quite significantly. In the original myth, Oedipus sets out to avoid the Oracle’s prediction that he will kill his father and marry his mother. The tragedy being, of course, that his very zeal to defy his fate leads to its ultimate fulfillment. It’s a very human story, with the potential for profound insights—the fact that it’s still carried on, after thousands of years, is not an accident, after all.

In Greek Street, now, the plot takes a very different turn. For one thing, whereas his ancient predecessor didn’t know who his real parents were, Eddie is well aware of it, at least in the case of his mother. For another, Eddie seems hellbent on fulfilling the “prophecy,” instead of running from it. I’m fairly confident that this is not a careless blunder on Mr. Milligan’s part, granted, but a conscious decision that’s going to pay off somewhere down the road.

Still, the mythological Oedipus’ ignorance and his desire to escape his fate are the crucial parts that inform his every move, and it’s precisely those two aspects that ultimately enable the audience to care about the character’s fate, and that make it, well, tragic. If you take all that out, then you better have something worthwhile in mind to replace it with. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing the story?

Unfortunately, that something is missing here. Eddie clearly doesn’t want to avoid any prophecies—nor, for that matter, does he seem to want anything else. The character just stumbles around and does a whole bunch of wildly unsettling things that should, by any means, be wreaking all kinds of havoc with his mind. But they don’t seem to have much of an effect at all on him. There is a brief scene in which Eddie has a nightmare, but immediately after, it’s back to business as usual: He goes to work and does more weird things without a discernible motivation. Everything Eddie does appears random and perfunctory, rather than the consequence of something.

There are at least four potentially traumatic experiences Eddie goes through in the story, and each time, instead of exploring what could be an interesting and significant moment for the character, Mr. Milligan just skips ahead. When Eddie finally does crack, ironically, the occasion just seems phony—after everything he’s been through in the previous 30 pages, this is driving him over the edge?

Maybe I’m supposed to be shocked by a character having sex with his own mother or cutting off his dick with a piece of broken glass. If so, the story fails. It’s hard to be shocked when you’re given no reason to care about the characters; random, vaguely outrageous misery is no substitute for character development. It’s hard to be shocked, for that matter, by a comic that purports to be “for mature readers,” but is so obviously and so terribly afraid of regular male and female nudity that no hoary old comic-book cliché is too contrived or silly to cover it up. (Bring on the extra bras and linens and convenient awkward poses.)

The panel-to-panel storytelling by Mr. Gianfelice has its own share of kinks, meanwhile. In the strip-club scene in the first two pages, one of the patrons, sitting on a bar stool, puts his hand on a stripper who just stepped next to him. She immediately tells him to remove it, but it takes her six panels, various camera shifts and a lengthy monologue before she changes her position. Instead of just stepping out of reach, or of simply turning around while addressing the guy, she’s just standing there, implausibly, talking to the offender over her shoulder for six panels straight.

On top of page 29, I’m still not entirely sure if a scream coming out of a window is meant to be connected to the previous scene. It has to be, logically, because otherwise, why put a random scream in the panel? The problem is, it’s clearly not the same window as the one depicted a page earlier. It’s pretty easy to tell, too, because there’s a big neon sign just below the window on page 28, but not the one shown on page 29. That’s pretty basic stuff, and you’d think somebody would catch it—particularly since it obscures a plot point.

Ultimately, though, the main problem with Greek Street is the same one that many other mainstream comics share. Its set-up, “modern characters unwittingly reliving ancient Greek myths,” is a sound one, but that’s not what makes a story. It’s just an engine, and it needs both a direction and compelling characters to become a story. In this first issue, at least, Greek Street has neither.

Grade: D+

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