Page 45 Review by Stephen
Poor Michael. He leads a mundane existence. He doesn't really seem to count and nothing he does seems to matter.
"Sometimes he feels like a rumour drifting through a world of hard facts."
Speaking of hard facts:
"Jesus! Where did that come from?"
Michael's referring to his startlingly less than repressed hard fact poking out of his pants.
It isn't his girlfriend who's just turned him on. They only have sex once a week on Tuesdays and although it is indeed Tuesday night neither Michael's spirit nor flesh was willing; both mind and body were weak. Until a news bulletin alerted Michael to the latest manifestation of the masked man known as The Enigma. That certainly aroused his interest.
You're about to read a great many superlatives because this hugely underexposed work of sprightly wit and deftly delivered complexity means the world to me and I cannot tell you how euphoric I am that it is back in print. I re-read it today for the first time in over two decades and you know how sometimes you should never go back? How something which impressed you no end once upon a time then leaves you feeling like the younger you was more than a little jejune? Not this.
I want to talk to you about Duncan Fegredo first. This is where my love affair with the artist first began.
I've always referred to Fegredo as the Rodin of comics, and I rate Rodin right up there with Bernini. There is a weight to Rodin's neoclassical sculptures as well as an emotional impact that's often like reeling from a head-butt. I have been head-butted before so I know what that feels like and the whole of ENIGMA is like that, scriptwise and all. It is a revelation. It certainly will be for Michael.
Rodin's hefty hands upon wrists in particular blow me away. Hands, wrists and forearms are right up there with the stomach when it comes to male beauty and well exceed anything else. With Fegredo the wrists are often set at similarly expressive angles. His figures dance across the page like Nijinsky, so lithe and supple, acting out each drama as choreographically required, while his street clothes are like few others', their folds flopping or flapping in the breeze.
Duncan would be the first, second and third to not only concede but to bellow that the first couple of chapters here are overworked: way too many extraneous lines which do describe the forms but not like his later shadows sculpt them out. By the time we get to chapters six, seven and eight this relatively young artist (we're all young once and you have to start somewhere) has transformed himself in front of us from startling and thrilling to stunning and accomplished. The opening full-page spread of chapter seven remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of comicbook art and I don't think "startling and thrilling" is a bad starting point, do you?
On it Michael and The Enigma are post-coitally naked, and I know that I am telling you the plot but just this once, all right? Fegredo - in his gentleness of Michael's wrist and hand and his lolling of Michael's head - conveys everything you need to know about the dynamics of this sexual relationship. Milligan need not write a word.
He does, however, and every word he writes is delightful.
"An enigma is when a large chunk is concealed. An enigma is a riddle, a puzzle, an ambiguity."
The Enigma was a three-issue comicbook written and drawn by Titus Bird which Michael cherished as a child. He lost those comics along with his Dad who died in an earthquake which swallowed his household whole. Michael was then abandoned on the sidewalk by his Mum who sealed her betrayal with a kiss. Twenty-five years ago a woman rose in rage and shot her husband repeatedly in the face before ditching her infant down a well.
Now The Head is sucking out brains through a tube, The Truth is confronting those who don't want to hear it, The Interior League is redecorating lounges like nobody's business, driving their occupants insane and The Enigma - masked in pure white porcelain and clothed more exquisitely than matador - is hovering aloof above it all.
What could this possibly have to do with Michael? What could this possibly have to do with The Enigma original comic's creator, Titus Bird? What could this possibly have to do with Michael's massive erection?
Please do not adjust your sets after the following sentence until you've read my follow-up.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE's Kieron Gillen has referred to this as the greatest superhero comic of all time. High praise from an impeccable source. Completely merited, and I can see where Kieron is coming from so I wouldn't necessarily disagree. But to describe it as a superhero comic at all would be like describing Oscar Wilde's THE HAPPY PRINCE as a fairy tale. Which, umm, Oscar did.
My point is it will disappoint those looking for virtually pointless pugilism while putting the people it's perfect for off. It's closer to horror and romance and self-discovery. It's more like the metafiction of Satoshi Con's OPUS except that the meta is within the fiction itself, not pulling you out of it through its traditional, shattered fourth wall. Although I will concede that Milligan's authorial voice is chatty and chummy and will speak to you directly.
"It's like The Book Of Revelations but funnier. It's like The Last Trumpet but hopelessly out of tune.
"It's like the perennial battle between good and evil but no one can quite work out which is which anymore, and most people don't even know what perennial means."
Some of us can barely spell it.