2 out of 5
Ouch. A bit harsh for a generally celebrated pre-Vertigo series, innit? But even during my Milligan fandom days – around when Human Target and X-Statix were happening – Skreemer bummed me out. In part because it is, quite frankly, a mess of overbaked narration, but more directly the experience of reading it: it’s a fantastic, moving first issue that leads to subsequent issues peeling away what was initially so great. It’s a letdown, and moreso than a usual “first issue good; the rest, not so much…” trend because Pete doesn’t exactly change his approach in issues #2 – 6, he just… Milligan-izes it. It gets away from him, but he dresses it in poetry and metaphor that gives off a good scent of quality… covering up the guy underneath reading his quotes from crib notes and unable to support his flowery language if questioned on it.
Skreemer, narrated from some point in the tale’s future by a man with the last name of Finnegan – a tolerable bit of Pete whimsy that allows him to quote from and nod to James Joyce quite often – sets the stage of his father’s and grandfather’s time during ‘the age of Giants,’ a period after ‘the fall’ – some type of mass plague – during which gangs, led by presidents and protected by bodyguard ‘Skreemers’ took over. Slicing up three relevant points of focus during this age – on grandpa, on dad, and on an eventual Skreemer named Veto, who’d come to power during the various flashbacks for some mysterious, grandiose plan to take place in (what we’ll essentially consider) the present – Pete’s tale hops around these timelines quite frequently to mostly chronicle what has birthed the all-knowing Veto, and what has prompted whatever will likely peak in the fifth or sixth issue. And what initially comes across as a contemplation on the curse of destiny – the first issue is magnificently negative, testing a daring point of view in which nothing matters, and no one wins – “expands” to more typical topics for Millie of fathers and sons and destinies and love.
Veto’s babbling of mystic incantations that cross over and through the timelines crops up soon after, hinting that we’re not getting our sobering study of morals and societal expectations; Veto “reads” the future in splashes of blood, explained to us in typically overwrought Milligan metaphor. Familial responsibility creeps into the mix, but it’s shallow; there’s now some type of agenda guiding this thing to a twist and a conclusion. A big “turning point” for Finnegan’s grandfather is completely illogical, and it’s where I started to lose taste for the book: it’s Milligan forcing “wisdom” by ignoring everything else in a scene. Characters and plotpoints follow suit thereafter, only existing as checkmarks on the way to some final contrived proof, which Milligan tries to prop up by doing his reveal early: issue five explains Veto’s plans, giving Pete a whole issue six to justify it with backtracking nonsense. It’s ridiculous and underwhelming, and the complete mess of concepts the book ends up juggling simply leave me wondering what Skreemer was aiming for. Yes, perhaps if I was so inclined to do more with Finnegans Wake than read the wiki summary, I could fall in love with the series as some ultimate tribute to that book, but that shouldn’t be a prerequisite for my comicy enjoyment.
Brett Ewins, Steve Dillon, and colorist Tom Ziuko deliver, mostly, a compelling look. Ewins and Dillon are pretty boring layout guys most of the time – straight shots, mostly six panel grids – but however they balanced the art duties here suited the story as a grounding juxtaposition to Milligan’s dramaturgy. Tom Frame’s lettering similarly syncs, using big, blocky tails and thick connections between bubbles that certainly fits the big and stocky look of Veto and gang. But the real star is whoever designed these things: the neon framing of a diagonally-cut cover image is absolutely eye-grabbingly off-kilter, and the title design is super cool.
It’s neat to think that this wholly non-DC-connected tale came out under their banner in ’89, with naught but a ‘mature readers’ label, but that – and an impressive first issue – are its mainly notable elements.