There’s always been something indefinably “other” about much of Peter Milligan’s comics output. Sometimes his work can be disquieting in a vaguely unsettling way – an unease that subtly wheedles its way into the reader’s mind – but, on other occasions, that discomfiture can be delivered with a pronounced ostentation.
He’s a writer whose work has always felt a few steps ahead of many of his contemporaries. Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man at DC in the ‘90s was as pivotal a book in establishing the eventual Vertigo sensibility as the work of Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison and yet often gets slightly overlooked in appraisals of that vitally exciting time for US “mainstream” comics.
So his name attached to Kid Lobotomy – the debut offering from the new IDW Publishing Black Crown line of books, overseen by former Vertigo showrunner Shelley Bond – seems a most natural fit for this most individual of comics voices. Teamed up with Tess Fowler, one of the breakout star artists of recent years, the duo welcome us into the world of what the publisher describes as “a dark, demented, monthly satire that follows a dysfunctional family of hoteliers.”
And, of course, that soundbite barely begins to describe this wonderfully bizarre, occasionally puzzling and utterly off-centre book. The titular Kid Lobotomy is a one-time rockstar whose career crashed on stage for reasons that he can’t quite entirely remember but are clinging tantalisingly close to the corners of his memory. He’s also a practising lobotomist providing the most specialist of services to his clients.
After years of trying to cure him of his delusions, and only exacerbating them, his hotelier father Big Daddy gives Kid a chance at rehabilitation/redemption by appointing him as the manager of the strange environs of The Suites hotel. There he performs his strangely ritualistic lobotomies on willing guests in need, clashes with his sister and embarks on the oddest of relationships with shape-changing hotel staffer Ottla. In a hotel apparently full of extradimensional entities, ghost-children, monsters and supernatural beings we are left to wonder which parts of Kid’s world are “reality” and which are seeping from his mind…
Milligan’s opener throws out far more questions than it has any intention of answering any time soon, positively immersing the reader in the madness of Kid Lobotomy’s world. This is an entrancingly patchwork book on so many levels. The narrative is splintered not just by this most undependable of unreliable narrators but also by the jumps in time and the unexplained (and possibly inexplicable) events that happened unseen between panels. It’s also a comic that sews together literary themes and motifs with an unashamed abandon and sets up an urban dynastic power struggle as an added pull on the reader’s attention.
Fowler’s visuals have a fluidity and a quiet authority that emphasise that sliding sense of anxiety at the edges of this fractured tale. Her visual characterisation is acutely observed – from Kid’s contrasting recklessness, uncertainty and confusion to Big Daddy’s casual pomposity. Kid Lobotomy is a book that needs an artist who can juxtapose the pedestrian and the everyday with the relentlessly outlandish and eerily haunting, and Fowler delivers throughout, aided and abetted by Lee Loughridge’s moody and evocative choice of often muted colours.
Sometimes serial comics establish their narrative approach from the outset and sometimes you have absolutely no idea where they’re going to take you next. This comic fits firmly into that second category and it’s all the more splendid for it. An insubordinate graphic manifesto for the Black Crown imprint, Kid Lobotomy is at the forefront of a new line of titles that look worthy of keeping a very close eye on indeed in the next few months.
Peter Milligan (W), Tess Fowler (A), Lee Loughridge (C), Aditya Bidikar (L), Frank Quitely (Alternative CA) • IDW Publishing/Black Crown, $3.99