Classic Vertigo Comics: Enigma (1993) - Reviewed
Now that I am in my mid-thirties, I am seeing more and more of my peers succumb to feelings of ennui. Thoughts like: "What have I been doing with my life?" "Does anything I do matter in the long run?" start creeping into their daily thoughts. Many lament choices that they made early in life and struggle with feelings of regret. I personally think that it is never too late to change the trajectory of your life, or even to completely reinvent yourself. In Peter Milligan's postmodern comic book series Enigma, the idea of breaking out of the mold or the "rat race" as it is called is the main theme of the story.
The main character, Michael Smith, is living a structured and joyless life as a telephone repairman in California. He has a girlfriend (who only has sex with him on Tuesdays), enough money to live a satisfactory life, hangs out with his friends--all the things that signify a "good" life. However, he feels like something is missing, and that uneasiness lingers at the darkest recesses of his subconscious. In his childhood Michael was obsessed with a comic book character known as The Enigma, a mysterious superhero that fought improbable and bizarre villains. The Enigma has come to life which has Michael questioning the fabric of his own personal reality.
Enigma means a puzzle or inexplicable occurrence or situation, and this is exactly what the narrative of this comic entails. The story is set up in layers and every detail no matter how small or insignificant builds upon later events in the story. Milligan has set up a puzzle box of sorts that forces the reader to look at the plot from different perspectives--turning the story around in their mind not unlike a metaphysical Rubik's Cube, trying to line everything up in order for it make sense. There is something that Michael is trying to uncover about himself, something he has been repressing his entire life and The Enigma is the catalyst for setting it free.
Duncan Fegredo’s art for this book is absolutely wonderful. He has this scratchy, impressionistic style that whirls through each panel making each one a mini story. At first it looks haphazard and messy, but upon further scrutiny you discover that every line that is drawn has a place and a purpose. Fegredo's work directly parallels the structure of Milligan's narrative and towards the end, as the story reveals itself, so does the art. There is also something extremely sensual about the way Fegredo draws the human form, and he is not shy about depicting men in erotic clothing and positions usually reserved for female characters. I find this idea to be refreshing and visually interesting.
Milligan is a master of incorporating surreal elements into his work without making it completely inaccessible to most readers. He explored similar themes with his series Shade, the Changing Man though that story is even more out there than Enigma. If you are a fan of weird '90s comics, or authors like Grant Morrison you will find much to love exploring Enigma and the rest of Peter Milligan's bibliography. Dive deep into the waters of the British Invasion my friend, you might find out something new about yourself.