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Welcome to Collect This Now, a weekly (or, if I’m hungover, semi-weekly) column where we look at good comics that for whatever reason have never been translated, archived or just collected into trade paperback.
Back in Vertigo’s heady days of the mid-1990s, when Sandman ruled the roost and a comic would be canceled if it hit below the $3,000 mark, writer Peter Milligan (X-Statix, The Programme) was the line’s go-to guy. At least that’s how it seemed at the time, since his name appeared what must have been weekly on one of their comics covers, be it a mini-series, regular monthly or one-shot.
Despite being one of the most prolific writers for the imprint, very little of Milligan’s work for Vertigo has been collected into trades. There’s the one, initial volume of his run on Shade the Changing Man, his lovely mini-series with Duncan Fegredo, Enigma, (which I believe is sadly out of print) and that’s about it. Really if I wanted to, I could change the name of this column to Collect This Peter Milligan Comic Now! and we’d have enough material to last us through the year.
But I digress. Today we’re looking at Egypt, a seven-issue mini-series from 1995 Milligan did with artists Glyn Dillon and Roberto Corona, Dillon doing only the first two issues and Corona filling in thereafter.
The series chronicles with the time-hopping adventures of one Vincent Me, a self-loathing, charming but completely irresponsible and utterly untrustworthy British slacker; the type who shacks up with any willing woman (and he apparently finds plenty) long enough to get a hand on her wallet.
After being thrown out into the street for the umpteenth time, Vincent gets meets up with a bunch of self-absorbed college students who it turns out are fascinated with Egyptian history and, more significantly, religion.
It turns out they’re conducting some experiments in after-death experiences a la the Pharoahs of old, and Vincent is their latest guinea pig, trussed up and sealed alive in a tomb. Apparently the experiment doesn’t go too well for Vincent however, because the next thing he knows, he’s actually back in ancient Egypt, inhabiting the body of one Vin Centhotep.
Vincent tries to figure out what exactly happened to cause this backward reincarnation, but there are … obstacles in his way. Centhotep apparently is even more of a bastard than Vincent, acting as a bit of a double-agent, fluttering between the city’s rebels who seek to overturn the authoritarian power structure and the high priests who would prefer everything to stay just like it is, led by one Soter, a “boo-hiss” villain if there ever was one.
Oh, and then there are the gods. Seems our archaeologists were wrong about a lot of Egyptian mythology, as Seth, Osiris and at several other members of the pantheon are alive and running around, at times laying waste to whoever gets in their way.
A good deal of the series has Vincent going back and forth across the time stream, dying and being reborn (again) and eventually figuring out what’s going on and how he ended up where he is (hint: things may not be what they seem). But Milligan isn’t as interested the story’s macguffinor offering hip retakes on Egyptian mythology (although there’s plenty of that) as much as he is in exploring Vincent’s ultimate redemption.
Because, if you haven’t figured it out yet, there’s a lot more to Vincent than his shallow and swinish exterior would indicated. At the core of his behavior is the guilt and shame he feels over his feelings for his sister — feelings that were compounded by her early death.
Egypt then, is ultimately a story about seeking closure and coming to terms with yourself. Those are words and phrases which are horribly overused in our society, but Milligan thankfully doesn’t trot out reams of psychobabble. His story’s odd enough as it is.
The series isn’t perfect. Milligan asks you to make certain leaps of logic along the way, entrusting tthat you’ll be more wowed by the fanciful metaphors and themes than worrying about how a character got from point A to B. More troubling is Corona’s art work. His characters seem stiff and oddly posed at times; quite unlike Dylan’s thick, assured inks, which are sorely missed as soon as he departs.
But ultimately Egypt works because Vincent is such a believable, compelling and yes, likable character. All the sci-fi stuff and remixed Egyptian tropes are nice and it’s fun to see Milligan to play fast and loose with ancient cultures just to make a point about the importance of accepting yourself, defects and all (I especially enjoyed the big revelation in the final chapter). But mostly I found myself moved and enthralled by Vincent’s journey. I don’t know if Egypt ranks up there with Milligan’s best work, but it certainly deserves to be back out in print once more.