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Into the back issue box #7

by  in Comic News Comment
Into the back issue box #7

This week – make the weirdness stop!!!!

(As usual, read this if you want to know what’s going on.)

Egypt #6 (of 7) (“The Book of the Power”) by Peter Milligan, Roberto Corona, and Phil Gascoine.  Published by DC/Vertigo, January 1996.

There are some things I know about this comic book.  First, Peter Milligan is a weird dude.  Second, it’s the sixth book in a seven-issue mini-series, so the obvious assumption is that you will buy every issue and judge the book based on the entire series.  Third, Peter Milligan is a really weird dude.

But, as a first-time comic book reader, Egypt #6 presents some problems.  If I was picking this up on a lark and hoping to get something that would make me pick up the rest of the series, I might have to pass.  It’s not that it’s bad, and it’s not even that it’s incoherent (as it might be, as the sixth issue in a seven-issue mini-series).  It’s that, even within the context of a mini-series, the issue itself doesn’t do a very good job of making you want to get the rest of the series.

                

We are thrown into the action with no attempt at a recap, which is fine to a certain degree, as we’re smart people and should be able to follow along (the operative word being “should”).  Vincent Me is being attacked by mummies in the first panel.  Somehow he drives them off with his mind, and his friend, an old man named Hempa, wonders how he did it.  From the title of the book and the clothes the two are wearing and the presence of, you know, mummies, we can ascertain that we are in Egypt, presumably way back when.  Vincent seems to be someone from another time, and we can guess, through clues in the book, that it’s the present (late 1995, that is).  But that’s just speculation.  We find out that Hempa’s job for the government is hunting mummies, and then Vincent tells him he needs to get to “the land of the dead” to figure out what the mummies are.  Hempa takes him to a vast city and the exit from which the mummies come, and he tells him no one ever tries to get in.  Hempa makes an interesting statement to one of the workmen: “Don’t bother lying.  He can get inside your head.”  As with the mummies, we see that Vincent has some kind of power.  We just don’t know what it is.

   

A worker tells the men that some “beetles” are out, which freaks out the natives.  Hempa tells him that beetles are creatures who work for the temple and are only called out when something bad happens.  Just then a bunch of mummies try to break out, but the beetles aren’t after them – they’re after Vincent.  The beetles show up, and they’re downright creepy.  They have legs like a man, but their upper bodies are beetle-like.  Needless to say, they’re as big as men, too.  They ensnare Vincent, but then the mummies attack them, allowing him and Hempa to escape into the city.  This is the first of two times in this issue that Vincent mentions a background noise, a distant hum, that he can’t recognize.  It is not explained in this issue.  Vincent finds a join in the rock surface, and then he and Hempa fall through the floor.  This is where the issue gets weird.  Or, you know, weirder.

                                    

Vincent is unconscious for a while, and when he wakes up, he sees the god Seth playing a hand-held video game.  He sees someone called Soter, who mutters to him until some strange portal opens and he and Hempa go through.  He ends up in a bedroom with the naked goddess Isis on top of him, but she disappears and Orisis shows up.  He and Vincent wander through a garden, where Vincent stumbles onto the rotting corpse of Hempa, who managed to die and start to decompose in two pages.  Then Osiris and Vincent zip around and check out some of the common people, who are doing horrible things to each other (killing, raping, molesting nieces), and Osiris talks to him about how they are similar, even though Vincent doesn’t want to hear it.  Then they’re back in Osiris’ house, and Vincent confronts their sister, Nephthys, with the questions we all want to know:

                

We get no answers, however, because it’s off to the next page, and Vincent wakes up on another morning in a violent storm.  He goes out into the garden and finds a girl called Peshy, who has had her abdomen ripped open.  The wind seems to be concentrated on Peshy.  He then finds Kandi, a handmaiden, who is weeping over the torn-apart corpse of Nephthys.  Kandi says she can open a gateway for them to escape, but only if he gets aroused, because she needs his sweat.  Unfortunately, Vincent has been having sex with Isis all the time, and he can’t get aroused.  He even tries to fantasize about his sister.  He even tries to fantasize about his sister!  It’s not actually as creepy as it sounds, but it’s still pretty creepy.  But even that doesn’t work.  Finally, he gets aroused (more scared than anything, as Kandi threatens him, but I guess it works) and he and Kandi escape – and switch clothing.  Vincent mentions the background noise he hears again, and then he pulls open a large stone door to reveal … a giant statue of a pharoah, a cigarette clutched in its lips, with Vincent’s face.  Exeunt!

                            

Hmmm.  On the one hand, I understand this is like a chapter in a book, but Milligan still does very little to draw us into the story and give us any clue what the hell is going on.  Obviously, there is supposed to be some mystery about the proceedings, but there’s a difference between being mysterious and being completely opaque.  We have no idea what Vincent is doing in “Egypt,” who Soter is (he has tortured Vincent at some point), who Hempa is, what’s going on, why Seth is playing a video game … in fact, we get almost no sense of what has come before this issue.  We can guess some things – Vincent has spent some time in New York City, but we don’t know if he’s a native – but we get no answers.  That’s fine in a way, but it is so scattershot that it doesn’t really make us want to pick up any other issue in the series.  The statue of Vincent-as-pharoah is supposed to be some kind of shocking revelation, but we have no context for it, so we’re unimpressed with it.  Milligan’s writing is a bit jarring, as well.  When he’s at his, well, not worst, because that would be when he wrote Elektra, but when he’s not at his best, he seems to want to write like his contemporary, the God of All Comics, but that’s not really his strength.  Vincent’s loopy narration sounds more clever than it actually is.  Check it out: “To help prevent detection from the Division of the Jackal-Headed Ones, our costumes were made from, among other things, boiled mummy fat and grave mud … Our helmets were dead dog skin, our breast-armor roasted insect … Old papyrus inscribed with the opening hieroglyphs of The Book of the Dead was stuck to our genitals with the saliva of an abused cat.”  It’s quite a mouthful, and it drags us down.  Milligan is best when his characters are speaking, because they say surreal things that somehow make sense.  His narration, bizarre as it is, doesn’t work as well.  Someone encountering comics (and Milligan) for the first time would be put off by the archness of the narration.  Milligan is a tough nut to crack the first time you read him, and this issue does nothing to draw people in.

                      

This is not an awful comic book by any means.  It has some weirdly neat moments, and the overall story could be something that is intriguing, despite the lack of any kind of entry point where we can figure out what’s going on.  I can’t really recommend buying the other issues of the mini-series based on this individual comic, because there’s nothing that really grabs you and doesn’t let you go.  It has some interesting parts to it, but as a whole, it makes little sense and doesn’t really demand attention.

Has anyone read the whole thing?  Is it any good?

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