Peter Milligan has always been one of comics’ most subversive writers – from his early work on such series as Skreemer and Johnny Nemo to such Vertigo books as Shade the Changing Man and even superhero tales such as X-Force/X-Statix at Marvel. But now he’s taking on one of the most controversial subjects around – Wall Street.
In his new eight-issue Vertigo miniseries The Names, out today, Milligan and artist Leandro Fernandez take readers into a world where the rich are different from you and me – namely, they can kill people and sink entire economies. How is that different from our world? Well, in this case, someone fights back…and Wall Street is about to run red.
We talked with Milligan about the new miniseries.
Newsarama: Peter, tell us about The Names -- the basic premise and the characters.
Peter Milligan: The story begins with Kevin Walker - a banker - jumping out of a window of his Wall Street office. Or rather, being persuaded to jump out of his window. Kevin has clearly become involved with some seriously dangerous characters.
Kevin's young wife Katya refuses to believe it was suicide, and this sets her on a journey to discover the truth. But in trying to find out what really happened to her husband sets Katya on a dangerous journey into the heart of darkness, giant forces who control much of the financial world and who call themselves The Names. Katya already knows how to fight: she has to quickly learn how to kill. One “name” at a time.
The main characters in The Names are Katya, and her brainy but socially inept stepson from Kevin's previous marriage. The changing relationship between these two unlikely partners becomes almost as important as Katya's relentless and perilous search for the truth.
The journey is made stranger still by the messages that Kevin seems to have left Katya: weird clues from beyond the grave that seem to draw Katya closer to the heart of the behemoth.
One man's making it his business to stop our heroes; a full blown psychopath whose weapon of choice is a scalpel. This is the Surgeon, one of the Names' more disagreeable characters. Through him we'll meet more of “The League of Psychopaths.”
Thrown into this heady brew of revenge, mystery, and frustrated sexual ambition are the Dark Loops. A kind of Frankenstein's monster of the cyber speed flash trade generation.
The Names is a character-based story but one with twists and turns and bloody confrontations.
Nrama: How did the idea for this come about?
Milligan: It really came about through me getting pissed off and amazed at just how many thieving bankers and financial giants screwed so many people and pretty much got away with it. It's incredible that more people aren't more angry. Katya is a person who is angry and not willing to let those responsible for killing her husband get away with anything. It's her story.
Nrama: The premise sounds like you're venturing into similar territory as The Extremist, the twisted corridors of the elite -- though in a different manner. What's interesting to you about stories that deal with conspiracies, or the seamy underbelly of reality as we know it?
Milligan: From the outside it might look a bit similar to The Extremist, but The Names turns into something very different. The thing about The Names - and the re-life corporations and individuals upon which they're based - is that they're not particularly hidden. Some of their shady practices are but to a large extent these characters are hiding in the open, so much a part of our system that we're almost blind to them and to the crimes that they get away with.
This is a comic book, so everything - from the Dark Loops, the League of Psychopaths, and some of the Names' more hideous antics - is a sometimes little heightened, but only to show up these people for what they are.
Nrama: What's it been like working with Leandro on this, and what makes him a good fit for this book?
Milligan: Working with Leo is great. From the outset he had a lot of ideas about characters but was always ready to listen and be accommodating when I had specific requests. I love how a lot of the art is very realistic and gritty - but he's not afraid to heighten things and characters a little when the story calls for it. Leo and his art are a perfect match for this book.
Nrama: I am curious as to what sort of research you've done into the world of finance for this, and what horrible things you've discovered that people might not be aware of right now.
Milligan: I did a lot of reading. There have been a bunch of good books about different aspects of different financial skullduggery and craziness. I've also spoken to some economists, and met some people who made a very interesting documentary about the last and other crashes.
But I don't want to give the impression that this is a dry examination of the world of finance. The Names is about people. It's about Katya, her journey. And Philip, who goes with her, and becomes increasingly key to the entire thing.
Nrama: As you’re a British writer, I'm curious -- obviously corporate malfeasance is a global thing, but we're seeing a lot more of a focus on economic inequality in America the last few years, and I'm curious as to how this division, from one-percenters to the “Occupy” movement, looks from your end.
Milligan: I have a lot of sympathy for organizations like Occupy. More power to them. It's an incredible difficult position to maintain because the media - that same media who were so soft on so much financial malfeasance, as you call it - give them, and anyone else who stands up to the powers that control this world - such a hard time. I spent some time with some of the Occupy guys who protested outside St Paul's Cathedral in London. They all seemed highly reasonable people.
Nrama: Curious about your Vertigo series The Discipline – anything you can tell us about that, the premise or when it's coming out?
Milligan: It was decided the time wasn't right for the way that I and Leo wanted to push that story. It was all handled very well, no hard feelings, and to be honest I think it has all worked out well because the idea of The Names had grown, and I was really itching to write it.
Nrama: And as someone who's had many, many, many projects come out through Vertigo, what's been the most rewarding part of working with them over the past few decades?
Milligan: That's an almost impossible question to answer. Each has had its own rewards. Though I have to say I can rarely remember being so excited about a Vertigo project - or any project - as I am about The Names.
Nrama: Give readers the hard sell on this.
Milligan: The Names is Kill Bill meets The Wolf of Wall Street, with its pants on fire.
It's the classic story of one young woman who has the guts and determination to go up against a huge organization. It's a journey that has death, shocking violence, mystery, and a lot of heart.
Nrama: And you’ve always got a ton of projects on your plate – what else is coming up for you?
Milligan: I have a number of things in stages of development that are tough to talk about right now. But as well as The Names I'm working on Terminal Hero, a six part story for Dynamite.
Get to know The Names this week from DC/Vertigo.