[25 March 2013]
PopMatters Comics Editor
On his best day, Peter Milligan can go round for round with Bob Dylan. And on his very best day, Milligan might even come out ahead.
It’s no secret that Bob Dylan remastered popular folk songs of the day back in his early career. Some have pointed to this as theft pure and simple. For them, the jury’s out on Dylan. But they’re also at a loss to explain or even understand the quintessential magic that is Bob Dylan, the high art of reinvention (and later in Dylan’s career, almost perpetual reinvention) and the creative work of putting a unique imprint on the work you put out, even if you’re not the original author of that work. Long before Larry Lessig, long before the high art of the remix, Bob Dylan worked under the perpetual spotlight of some very watchful eyes. His isn’t a story about Picasso’s famous quote, that good artists borrow while great artists steal. It isn’t the story of endless cover versions.
In the opening few pages of Red Lanterns #18, writer Peter Milligan shows just a little of his talent, one card at a time. It’s a high creative spirit that has won him numerous accolades on such landmark titles as Shade: the Changing Man, Animal Man, the Extremists, Enigma to name but a few. Milligan picks up on the prime Red Lantern Atrocitus’ almost spiritual quest to paint the universe red with rage. Naturally there was an inciting incident, the death of Atrocitus’ family and his entire world at the hands of malfunctioning Manhunters, the Guardians of Oa’s original cosmic police force. But this inciting incident is Atrocitus’ whole story, that fuller story is the story of how he leveraged that terrible event into something of purity, a pure anger at injustice, a pure defiance of the status quo.
Atrocitus’ story isn’t very much different from the story of Paul Atreides, boy-hero of Frank Herbert’s scifi epic Dune. There’s initial loss, new circumstances, and the leveraging of those circumstances to transform the self into something unimaginable. It’s the same narrative vector, even if many of the details are vastly different. Paul’s leveraging of his personal myth follows a logical evolution to grow even bigger in the sequel Dune: Messiah. The tale then falls to the next generation where, in their ennui, Paul’s progeny walk the fine line in Children of Dune of either inheriting their father’s world, or overthrowing it.
On his best day, Peter Milligan can go round for round with Bob Dylan. Because Milligan doesn’t just borrow from Frank Herbert. He games Frank Herbert against himself. In the space of just a few panels, he articulates Atrocitus’ quest, a spiritual quest easily recognizable as Paul Artreides’ own, and almost immediately follows with Volthoom’s raison d’être which mirrors that of Paul’s Children. Yet Atrocitus and Volthoom are not connected by an easy, logical progression. Far from it, they tied together in essentializing, polarizing conflict.
So on his very best of days, his very best, Peter Milligan could go toe-to-toe with Dylan, and perhaps even come out tops.
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Red Lanterns #18.