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On the Dark Side with Peter Milligan

Written by Jeffrey Haas, Outhouse Contributor on Thursday, September 01 2011 and posted in Features

Peter Milligan stops by the Outhouse to discuss Hellblazer and Red Lanterns!

There is a darkness that repels even the brightest radiance. It exists within the deepest regions of space, and ominously lurks within the corrupted souls of men. When this malevolence coalesces into tangible form, confronting it requires a special kind of guardian. A warrior angel with blood soaked wings. Within the vastness of the DC universe, our only hope against this magnitude of evil rests upon the shoulders of John Constantine, the members of JL: Dark and the raged fueled Red Lantern Corps. Only one man dares to chronicle their uncanny exploits, and his name is Peter Milligan.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with Peter Milligan about his work on Hellblazer and the upcoming Red Lantern and Justice League: Dark series. But first I wanted to understand the lure of comics for him, and what led to his genesis as a writer for so many well received titles. In his words, he was drawn into the world of comics, "[By the] combination of words and pictures. I was interested in art and in some experimental writing, and combining words and pictures in a narrative seemed to offer a lot of opportunities." Opportunities, that may have revealed themselves through the works of one Marvel legend in particular. As Mr. Milligan explains it, "In my teens - I was interested in the madness of Steve Ditko." Interestingly, Ditko's short lived series in the 70's called"Shade: The Changing Man would be a character that Milligan would reinterpret in the 90's for Vertigo comics, to great acclaim. Arguably, it was Milligan's work on "Shade" that ignited his career with DC. Perhaps it is also a reason why the character of Shade, appears in his new title Justice League Dark.

Shade: The Changing Man was not Milligan's first break into the comic's business, however. According to Milligan, "Oddly. Partly through 2000AD, but also through my relationships with Brendan McCarthy and Brett Ewins which produced things like Strange Days and Johnny Nemo for independent publishers in the USA." For the American readers who have not heard of 2000 AD, suffice it to say, that it is a very well known British comics anthology, whose former contributors include the legends Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. All of whom, at one point or another, also have worked with DC's Vertigo imprint.

Peter Milligan is currently writing one of my favorite series of all time- Hellblazer. I anxiously wanted to pick his brain about comic's most notorious mage named John Constantine. Constantine is a hard-drinking, cigarette smoking rogue who uses various forms of magicks to defeat the likes of ghosts, demons and other vicious entities. His title, currently at 282 issues, is now one of the longest, uninterrupted, series in American comics. What is the secret to the character's longevity? "I think one of the "secrets" (though it's not a secret) is that Constantine isn't a one trick pony. He doesn't have one main villain whom he battles, which could get tedious. He's a rounded, often contradictory character who ages and grows and changes. This has been helped by the constant change of personnel, all of whom put their own stamp on the old rascal." Other talents that have worked on Hellblazer include Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets), Garth Ennis (Preacher) and Mike Carey (Unwritten).

No writer may have made a greater impact on the status quo of Constantine than Peter Milligan. In Hellblazer #275, Constantine did the unbelievable...he married. The bride to be is a young alchemist, and daughter of a major crime boss, named Epiphany. As a fan. I was genuinely surprised by this turn of events and asked Mr. Milligan about his reasons behind this. He replied, " I hadn't started out with that intention. In fact Epiphany was just a new and fairly minor character I created. But she kind of grew and demanded more attention and I – and John Constantine – become more interested in her. At first I rejected the idea of them actually being married, I toyed with the idea of them living together but ultimately liked the idea that Constantine would do something so apparently out of character. I think it's Constantine's ability to do things out of character - yet still remain a believable John Constantine – that makes him feel "real". For those readers who ponder, "Why Epiphany?", Milligan responds, " I think she's his match, though she isn't some female version of him. She's young but she has all this baggage and an interesting "job" which kind of allows the two of them to understand each other."

So the question remains, is Epiphany destined to share the unfortunate fate of most women who marry the stars of a popular comic series? "I'm seeing it as long term but this is Hellblazer, and Epiphany is married to John Constantine, so clearly a lot can go wrong with the marriage and Epiphany. That said I think for it to have any meaning – and not be seen as some facile gimmick – it has to have a bit of longevity. Or if it does break up or something terrible happen to Epiphany that too has to mean something. What I'm saying is I haven't married them just to give the cheap thrill of seeing her killed by a monster and dragged down into hell. That will probably happen when the next writer comes along and he or she wants to clear out the decks a bit." In other words, hopefully Constantine has a nice life insurance policy on his wife.

But a marriage is not the only status quo change in the life of John Constantine. Recently, in the series Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing, Constantine has been re-introduced into the main DC universe, a place that does not share the same mature audience label as Hellblazer's Vertigo imprint. For fans of the more violent and unfettered nature of the Vertigo titles, there is nothing to worry about. As Mr. Milligan tells it, " Hellblazer is not affected. They exist independently." In other words, there is now a DCU John Constantine and a Vertigo one. However, if you cannot wait to see Constantine interact with the heroes and villains of the DCU, you also have a lot in which to look forward. Mr. Milligan will also be spinning the yarns of Constantine within the DCU in a title called Justice League Dark. This series will see Constantine fight alongside the likes of Shade, Zatanna and Deadman.

September will also witness another new series written by Milligan named Red Lanterns. Fans familiar with the last few years of Green Lantern continuity will know that the Red Lanterns are a Corps fueled by the red light of rage, and is led by Atrocitus. This corps is primarily concerned with battling grave iniquity, often manifested by a tragic loss. Their methods are ruthless, vengeful and decidedly bloody. A perfect fit for a writer whose credentials were compiled with Vertigo. I asked how his involvement with the new series came about, to which he replied, " Geoff Johns called me, we chatted, and he asked if I would be interested in Red Lanterns. Not a question you get asked every day...I hope expectations are high."

What can readers expect from the Red Lanterns? "Until now the Red Lanterns and Atrocitus have mainly been used as the bad guys. Insane bringers of bloody justice. There will be plenty of insanity and not a little bloody justice in Red Lanterns but now our angry guys are on centre stage we'll have different tones and moods too. We'll get to know some of the characters and some more of their backgrounds, we'll see the internal struggles and disputes, and this means the whole Red Lantern experience will be more nuanced than readers might be used to. But a series needs nuance. And you can quote me on that."

Red Lanterns also seems to be a project that can be equally enjoyed by fans of the other Green Lantern titles, and also by fans who prefer a standalone series. " I have to say, it feels a bit isolated—just like the Red Lanterns are isolated out there on Ysmault." But this does not mean that there will not be some continuity overflow between titles. " For instance, Tony [Bedard] and I have been and continue to be in contact about a few things, specifically the Red Lantern Bleez. She will assume an important role in my Red Lantern story. There are some surprises in store for Bleez which I think will excite people." With this title expect a lot of action, with a nice mix of moral ambiguity thrown in.

Finally, I asked Mr. Milligan if he had any advice new writers, which he answered in true Constantine-like fashion. " Learn how to hold your drink, don't piss on the carpets, and assume an air of mystery."

Written or Contributed by: Jeffrey Haas, Outhouse Contributor

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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