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The Programme #3

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2007
By: Matt Brady




Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist(s): C.P. Smith, Johnny Rench (c)

Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm

With this third installment of his Wildstorm maxi-series, writer Peter Milligan continues to craft a fascinating political look at government-created superheroes in the post-Cold War world. So far, the series has seen a crazed Russian superhero (or really more of a superweapon) named the Spirit of Lenin begin to slaughter American troops in the fictional nation of Talibstan. In this issue, he wakes a female superhero named Pravda, and they proceed to kill more troops and take down some airplanes. We haven't learned too much about them yet, but they seem to have been in stasis since well before the end of the Cold War and, having been reactivated, they're not too happy with the current state of their home country.

On the American side of things, protagonist Max Keane continues to chafe at what the government is telling him, that he was created to be a superhero by ex-Nazi scientists. Now they want him to go up against his Russian counterparts. Interestingly, while he was raised to be an ultimate patriot, he received some counter-programming from a peacenik scientist. So he's conflicted, wanting to march against the war but being called into service to defend his country. He gets even more upset when agents imply that his girlfriend is cheating on him in order to provoke the emotional response that might trigger his powers. It's a conflict that should be interesting to watch play out over the rest of the series.

We also see the agents' quest to recover Max after he escapes, using harsh, torturous methods. Some of the scenes seem like something Warren Ellis would write, with the hard-assed agents confronting a pedophile scientist who worked on the project, and they can barely contain their disgust for him. When they find the superhero, it seems that he's also been in stasis, so it should be quite interesting to see what he does when he wakes up and sees the state of the world.

On the art front, C.P. Smith provides a unique photo-referenced look that effectively situates the story in a real-world setting, rather than a slick superhero universe. He effectively captures some facial expressions that really communicate the high level of emotion that these events provoke, and creates some creepy effects, like the mangled face on the Spirit of Lenin. Colorist Johnny Rench adds a lot to the atmosphere, with dark browns, gritty tans, sickly greens, and deep reds that communicate the mood perfectly. He also uses an interesting pixellated effect in the colors that lends a purposely sterile, artificial feel, similar to what characters like Max must be feeling when they find out they exist only at the behest of greater powers.

It's been a fascinating series so far, and hopefully it won't go off the rails before it's finished. Milligan can be pretty inconsistent in his writing, sometimes delivering phoned-in scripts when working on mainstream properties, but often coming up with fascinating, unique work in his more personal projects. So far, this seems to be one of the latter types of stories, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Milligan has in store.



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