Lost Gems: Some Comics You May Have Missed the First Time


Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo took the Steve Ditko character, completely twisted him around and came up with something totally new, brilliant and original … for the first 50 issues, at least, and then it went down the tubes.

Rac Shade is sent to Earth from the planet Meta in order to track down and fight Madness, which has invaded America as the Scream. Shade used his Vest, which allows him to turn thoughts into reality, to take over the body of Troy Grenzer, a murderer in the electric chair. But the only one he has a chance to convince to help him is Kathy, the daughter of the couple Grenzer killed. In a beautiful twist of type at which Milligan excels, when Kathy finds her parents freshly murdered, her boyfriend Roger wrestles Grenzer and is killed by the police because he’s black and the cops automatically assumed he was the criminal.

Shade and Kathy (and eventually Lenny, Kathy’s sometimes lesbian lover, and the ghost of Roger) travel America attempting to battle the insanity that has taken over, and Shade’s own internal struggle as he tries to keep Grenzer’s personality from taking him over.

Milligan also deals with gender issues and confusion. This was at the core of Milligan’s Enigma (patience, dear reader), but he ponders it here in ways such as Kathy going back and forth between Lenny and Shade and, when Shade is killed and must find a new body, he uses a woman’s body. For the first part of the series, Shade is quite introspective, always thoughtful of the moral and ethical aspects of what he’s doing. But with issue #33 (the first Vertigo issue), the book goes through a radical change. Again, Shade dies, but this time his soul is left in an area of madness between the two planets and he goes completely insane with the new body given to him by “angels.”

For long-time readers, it was like reading a totally different story; the character who had been a soulful poet became a raving lunatic prone to outbursts of debauchery and violence. Milligan had the three characters become unwilling agents of the angels, who force them to stay in “Hotel Shade,” which acts as something of a weirdness magnet, with things that the angels want taken care of being drawn to it. This doesn’t make Shade any happier.

Again, with stories like an insane killer inside Shade’s mind, trying to get out, angels with armpit scabs, a road that goes endlessly nowhere, a heart Shade doesn’t want inside his body and Shade creating clones of himself by masturbating on the ground, Milligan has a flair for the outrageous, but he doesn’t let it get too much and he is able to draw things together in a touching, poignant, most-of-the-time funny way.


This was one of the earliest Vertigo titles and it definitely set the tone for the imprint, but it was also so good that not much has come close since.

Milligan and Fegrado crafted a story about Michael Smith, an extremely ordinary guy who’s having problems with his girlfriend. At this point, Enigma enters into the picture, a superhero come to life out of a comic book that Smith read as a child.

But Enigma also brings with him some of his old villains from the comic … some really nasty folk like the Head, who sucks people’s brains out with a straw; the Truth, who drives people to suicide when he forces them to face a deep secret about themselves; and Envelope Girl, who swallows people and “mails” them to distant locations. Enigma also has some new baddies to fight against, like the Interior League, who break into houses and rearrange the furniture into the precise pattern that will drive the occupant insane.

A summary of Enigma is particularly sensitive to revealing too much since a lot of the fun comes from not knowing exactly what is going on and trying to keep up with the plot for eight issues. Like much of Milligan’s work, the story gets pretty wild, but he’s one of the few writers who can work a sequence of events like this and not let it get away from him.(The complete Enigma trade paperback and the earliest volumes of Shade are available where fine comic books are sold.)