The Programme: Book 2

December 30, 2008

programme-2It is immediately clear that something is different about Book 2: the colours by Jonny Rench have been replaced by C. P. Smith’s. Smith, to be sure, has delivered consistently striking lines in Book 1 which emit the most sublime effect when touched by Rench’s most beautiful psychedelic colours and innovative palette use I’ve seen in comics for a while. With Smith’s takeover in Book 2, it’s just not the same: his can’t match Rench’s amazing template, and, worse, his inks now appear scratchy and rushed, losing further the impact Peter Milligan’s gripping latter half deserves.

Book 2 takes such a shocking full swing into race issues that only Milligan has the cheek both to make and to follow to their logical conclusions. I didn’t notice this before — and the concealment is probably intended — but Senator Joe is actually black, part of the US government’s secret racist experiment to produce miltarily useful but expendible citizens. The scheme’s horrific strength shows its weakness through the Russians’ simple retaliation of making Joe face his own condition through a lesson in racial oppression. Suddenly, the US’s Great Black Hope becomes its greatest threat, the ideological battle it furiously externalises through all resources including the media turned into one over the all-too-American cause of civil disobedience. As such, Milligan gives the notion of a “programme” its last and most haunting historical definition: America as a nation has allowed problems of race to be sublimated systematically into those about national glory, might, and security.

The series then further changes familiar perception by allowing pacificist Max to be reprogrammed completely, and so destroyed as a critical individual, for the sake of free America. If there is a hidden truth here, it is that you make the strongest unthinking militant from the strongest unthinking liberal, one whose best dreams are ultimately selfish, defined by a wish to be left in self-absorption. It is perhaps Milligan’s answer to why liberalism was ironically the quietest force in the wake of 9/11 and why, when it came to deciding on patriotic war, again many institutional liberals pushed ahead with the plan. Conversely, the tainted wrong-minded Joe, for all his destructive struggles, fights in a way that leads him — a punch at a time — away from true darkness. The story’s ending is one that upholds eternal vigilance and struggle and could not have been bettered for a plot stacked so high in terms of ethical relevance.

Gweek gives this volume 9 blasts of his explosive light vision.

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