The Programme: Book 1

December 29, 2008

programme-1Peter Milligan is the forgotten member of the much-lauded British invasion of American comics in the late 1980s which made famous writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman. He may not write the kind of stuff that sells or amasses hordes of fanboys (and, in Gaiman’s unique case, fangirls), but he writes what he wants to write: intelligent, gritty, and dense dark stare at today’s reality. For that, Milligan has yet to fail to deliver and almost always gives his reader a powerful intense experience. To know what I mean, you need to go pick up some other titles he has done so far: Skin, Skreemer, Enigma, X-ForceThe Human Target, etc. I still can’t believe that Vertigo hasn’t released more than a token trade paperback for Shade, The Changing Man. Come on, DC: if you can put out nonsensical volumes of Douglas Rushkoff’s thankfully ended Testament, you can do us all a real favour and collect more Shade volumes.

The Programme is Milligan’s take on the dominant -isms in your 21st-century newspapers: terrorism, fundamentalism, neo-conservatism, patriotism, militarism, and anti-Americanism.  In an age whose most influential Western cultural theorist is Slavoj Žižek, a philosopher highly critical of American capitalist imperialism and sympathetic towards the old Marxist dream of revolution, Milligan knows what he is dealing with. This story begins with a secret Nazi-made superhuman foetus handed over to the US military after World War 2 and allowed to grow up incognito until his appointed time for duty and indoctrination. But the Soviets also had what was referred to as “The Programme”, a scheme that produced 4 superpowered “dolls”: the Spirit of Lenin, Stalingrad, Pravda, and Revolution. When, during the paranoia of the 1960s, the CIA decided to activate Maximillian, his scientist-caretaker Michael Hinks had a bolt of conscience and messed up his programming, making him a deadly pacifist and war-hater. His subsequent escape revealed things to be a lot greyer: the CIA also had its own “programme”, one creating a superhuman who looks like a fat Indiana Jones called Senator Joe.

Like a cauldron waiting to boil over, the clash of simmering ideologies opens with the 4 dolls’ reactivation and the Spirit of Lenin’s emergence as the local hero in Muslim anti-American Talibstan. The distinction between communist revolution and anti-West revolt is blurring and leads a CIA chief at one point to explain that the Talibstanis love their communist Superman because “they hate us”. Now’s that’s post-9/11 paranoia when the Russian who activated the dolls is a more worldly creature, one who seeks not so much to eliminate America as to overpower its economy. As such, he is in grave delusional error of the real spirit he has unleashed and believes that he can tame… Read all the political allusions you want: Milligan dreams up a completely ideologised universe where the only way out for America seems to need its isolationist-pacifist ego and ultra-conservative militant ego to work together and defeat the past that has spawned them both. 

Gweek programmes himself to visualise a Perfect 10 here.

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