More Future War

*There is shocking news about the state of the world today underneath this post. But right now, we have a little something about a comic that's coming soon. The usual Tuesday features will be up in the afternoon.

The Programme #1 (of 12)

Strange that I should just mention Rogan Gosh earlier today, since this Wednesday brings us the newest non-work-for-hire project by writer Peter Milligan, this time from Wildstorm. As you can guess, it's not part of the proper Wildstorm universe, although it does allow the studio to play a role it's sometimes cast in: Vertigo with superheroes. See also Ex Machina, and especially The Winter Men, a still-unfinished series this little number does bear a passing resemblance to. When is that final issue of The Winter Men coming out? And would I cry if I knew the answer?

But while The Programme is indeed concerned with secret superhumans from the USSR, it's not so much concerned with world-weary dialogues and detailed settings - rather, Milligan favors jarring shifts in time and place, and bizarre flights of possible madness, not unfamiliar territory. This opening issue provides a splintered introduction to the book's world, in which the United States is already having enough trouble with a nasty war of liberation in sandy Talibstan (I am now imagining Wildstorm and Vertigo editors having long, liquor-soaked arguments over whether this or Army@Love has the best fake Middle East), only to have a mysterious Soviet-era superhuman pop up and wipe the troops' bones clean with amazing power. Meanwhile, an American bar owner and former folk singer suffers anxiety fits over his he-man sexual prowess and secret lust for combat. It all fits in to nasty shit that went down in the Nazi experiments of WWII, and (one presumes) later Soviet struggles in the desert.

I couldn't say this is a very original setup, but the particulars are sometimes striking. CP Smith and (colorist) Jonny Rench provide the book with a truly godforsaken visual feel - nearly every setting is drenched in its own vomitous hue, all the better for careful spotting of moods in-sequence and painful whips from color to color when strange energies are used. Check out this preview, and note how icky green is initially used to signify the weird battle occurring outside the windows, and how it ultimately overwhelms the toasted rust of the soldiers as doom draws near. You'll also notice that faces are rarely glimpsed without a cloak of shadow on top - this technique is used throughout the issue as a means of forcing human characters to behave visually as mere elements of omnious settings or extensions of uneasy moods. When faces are 'fully' glimpsed, there's usually a touch of red or some strange shift in hue used to emphasize moments of particular emotion.

Thus, the book's visual style is both heavily realist, yet distinctly playful, even witty, in its expressive use of color. Smith's page layouts favor stacked wide panels of variable height, giving the work an oppressive sense of pressing down, then relaxing. It matches Milligan's script nicely - while there's little that's terribly new to this onrushing battle, there's a potent undercurrent of evil wish-fulfillment, as if the world has been aching to give the US another grand Soviet foe to save it from the nebulous threat of terrorism. In comes a fellow tossing mushroom clouds around, and suddenly a nation's sleeping super-morality begins to wake to an old-fashioned clash of the superpowers, even if it can't quite parse out the dreams and the waking yet. But the book's too-smooth visual slips from past to present silently imply that war was always a bit quixotic, even in 'simpler' times.

A good spin on the subject matter for an introductory issue, with skilled hands behind it. Give it a look - a long Wildstorm series like this one will need a hit of fast attention, and this one deserves a shot at survival.