Justin's Reviews > Greek Street

Greek Street by Peter Milligan
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Aug 07, 11

Read from December 22, 2010 to August 07, 2011

What writer Peter Milligan has always had going for him is an idea. And say what you will about ideas being a dime a dozen, if ideas were worth even that much, Milligan would be a millionaire thousands of times over.

He's the writer responsible for the Vertigo flagship title SHADE, THE CHANGING MAN. Among other things, he was also responsible for the Vertigo miniseries that included ENIGMA, THE EXTREMIST, and EGYPT, and even took a brave turn as a Marvel X-writer for the alternative hero mutant title, X-STATIX.

And currently responsible for the writing chores on Vertigo's HELLBLAZER (as well as the upcoming JLA: DARK series), Milligan is also responsible for running out of steam. Or, at the very least, running out of readers, as SHADE was unfortunately cancelled by Vertigo and X-STATIX didn't create the interest in pop-punk mutants that was intended.

His GREEK STREET series seems to have suffered the same, blinding fate. (Note: This particular critic is an incredible fan of Milligan's SHADE and looks forward to future collections of that long-running title.) The series, which, at its basest, is a modern retelling of Greek myth, stars the most prominent names from the mythology: Oedipus Rex, the Furies, Cassandra, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Daedalus, and Ajax, to name just a few, each of them updated and transported to the seedy streets of London in order to play out their classical tragedies.

On the heels of Vertigo's FABLES, which remains one of Vertigo's longest-running titles and re-casts characters of childhood stories against a backdrop of adult themes, character development, and contemporary concerns, GREEK STREET reads, on paper, like a $1 million franchise, and the first volume of the series (which was cancelled after only 16 issues ... and this volume collects issue #'s 6-11) was off to a brilliantly-constructed start.

What seems to rob GREEK STREET of the realization of the potential that it first demonstrated, though, is the manner in which Milligan chooses to build the suspense and tell these stories that may have been better orchestrated in shorter vignettes or self-contained stories. Here, Milligan chooses instead to connect the stories and each of its characters in a Paul Thomas Anderson-esque fashion that not only betrays the original myths themselves, but also creates a convoluted narrative that is often hard to believe.

Here, the mythologies of Oedipus and Ajax intersect. Here, the mythologies of Cassandra and Agamemnon intersect. And ultimately, the intersection is unnecessary and certainly demands a divergence of remaining at least a little more respectful of the original "texts". With that written, what Milligan has proposed is the same creative feat mastered by Bill Willingham with FABLES, but the trick that Milligan creates turns out, in the end, to look too much like a network television attempt to create what a cable television station does masterfully. (If this fall's NBC drama THE PLAYBOY CLUB doesn't look like mainstream TV's attempt to recreate the sex and seduction of AMC's MAD MEN, then the trick itself will be lost on most viewers.)

Luckily, the artwork of Davide Gianfelice manages to keep this volume (as with the series' first volume) incredibly entertaining. On the other hand, Gianfelice's pencils simply aren't enough to keep GREEK STREET from succumbing to the fatal conclusion that a number of Vertigo readers (and Milligan fans) could see coming, just as easily as theatergoers can anticipate the fate of Oedipus Rex himself in Sophocles' classic play: cancellation.

What perhaps may have worked to Milligan's benefit would have been an inclusion of the other cultural tragedies across time: not only Greek, but Roman, and perhaps even including Shakespeare. Too little too late, though, writer Neil Gaiman made use of the Bard in his literate work SANDMAN, and some critics would have more readily noticed that, like Willingham, who has started to make use of fable stories around the world, Milligan was simply following the lead of other writers who have come before him.

But had writers noticed a stark similarity in the storytelling of Milligan to Willingham or even Gaiman, had Milligan in fact taken the series into these arenas, they may also have forgiven him.

What the reader is finally left with is a narrative that is both creatively inspired and yet incredibly too contrived than it had to be. Where Scorsese reinvented Japanese crime with THE DEPARTED, so too could have Milligan transplanted Greek mythology (and others) more successfully to SoHo.

In the end, the deus ex machina at work is Milligan himself, and readers will not entirely find catharsis when the curtain inevitably drops on this very staged, very awkward reproduction of stories that you know you've read before .. simply never as strangely as these.
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