Monday, September 20, 2010

Greek Street - This old detour

Taking a shortcut through the oldest stories will always be rewarding, but there is no guarantee it will find a stable audience. Greek Street lasted longer than anybody really expected it to, but it still died in its second year.

The comic is coming to an end with a hurried two-issue wrap-up and some jarring revelations. It set up all sorts of developments in its limited shelf life and few are going to be adequately resolved by the time those final pages roll around.

It’s no surprise to see it go. If anything, it was notable for how long it lasted. After reading the first issue, it looked like it would be lucky to go longer than The Minx, which shared this current sense of shaky resolution, but it had enough legs to last longer than a year. That’s better than some.

After all, it started with the main character sleeping with his own Mum and then accidentally murdering her. That might be another iteration of one of the oldest stories, but it’s still fucking gross. It’s hard to blame anybody who gave it the $1 #1 treatment and decided that this was quite enough.

It was a typically blunt and brutal start from Milligan, who has always done well out of this sort of thing. Despite the ultra-cynical exterior, Milligan’s work is stuffed with blatant sentimentality and a real fondness for his main characters. Shade The Changing Man only lasted as long as it did because people genuinely liked Kathy and Lenny and all the other weirdos that came and went. Milligan still has an ear for cutting dialogue, and occasionally did a nice little subversion of the clich├ęs that had been built up by these old, old stories.

And he’s still one of the great Angry Young Bastards that came out of the UK ‘80s comic scene. Back then it was all bloody Thatcher’s fault, and while the world’s moved on, there are still swine in power. The penultimate storyline – Ajax – was a brilliantly indignant rage against the war machine. The waste of the past decade’s conflicts and the terrible tragedies that will continue to unfold in their wake is one of the eternal stories, revisited all over again.

(It’s like listening to Bill Hicks in the past few years. In his routines he was spitting at George Bush for fucking about and wasting lives in the Middle East, and a full decade after he died, it was still an absolutely relevant scream for reason.)

Milligan’s deft touch for character building was sometimes missing from the residents of Greek Street. It wasn’t as bad as he painfully mediocre superhero comics he occasionally writes, and there was still some there. Chirpy geezer gangsters stopped being interesting a long time ago, so Greek Street’s criminal side are hard and brutal and driven people that fall victim to the same old tragedies.

Now that it’s ending, the pacing is shot to hell, and the jarring appearance of the apparent Gods in a sadly predictable and colourful humanoid alien blobs feels like it was meant to be some kind of proper revelation, three or four years down the line, but they have been shoved out onto the stage an act too early.

Even as it ends, Milligan is still stuffing the story with pop philosophy and sharp suits. Greek Street was a noble experiment, but it was a failed one.

The old stories still have resonance, humans are still driven by the same primal lusts as their ancient ancestors – we’re just better at hiding it. There will always be warriors and victims, tales of vengeance and honour have the same meaning they always did. I’ll always still listen to those stories, if anybody is willing to try telling them.

There is still plenty for the creators to do elsewhere, including Milligan’s satisfying Hellblazer stuff, and they’ll always be worth following, away from this dark end of the street.

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