Milligan Gets Weird with Erotic Thriller "The Discipline" at Image Comics

Writer Peter Milligan and artist Leandro Fernández's series "The Discipline" was originally announced in July 2013, as part of a refreshed lineup from DC Comics' famed mature readers imprint, Vertigo. Proclaimed a "dark, erotic thriller," it was scheduled for release in December of that year -- but that didn't happen.

Since that time, Milligan and Fernández collaborated on another Vertigo series in 2014 -- "The Names" -- and Milligan himself declared "The Discipline" to be on the "back burner." That changed in a big way in December, with the news that "The Discipline" had a new home -- Image Comics, who has dubbed the series a "controversial and erotically-charged tale of sex, death and metamorphosis" -- and, at last, a release date for the first issue (March 2).

As it turns out, CBR had actually completed an interview with Milligan on "The Discipline" back in August 2013, which has remained in a dusty digital drawer for two-and-a-half years until now. Below is CBR's original article on "The Discipline," with slightly updated quotes provided by Milligan, along with a brand new Q&A with the writer on how the delay and publisher shift affected the final product. [NOTE: This article contains illustrated depictions of nudity that may be considered NSFW.]

Just from the description, it's clear "The Discipline" is a story different from the superhero and independent fare Milligan has written for mainstream comics publishers. While Milligan is no stranger to dark material, the writer said "The Discipline" actually fits in thematically and tonally with his early Vertigo work.

"'The Discipline' is actually a return to something closer to the vein of some my earlier work like 'The Extremist,' 'Enigma,' 'Face' and even 'Shade the Changing Man,'" Milligan told CBR.

Similarly, he did not think the label "erotic thriller"completely matched the tone of what he was doing.

"I didn't sit down and think, 'I want to write an erotic thriller,' but as this story evolved, as I mapped out the characters and the strange, frightening world they inhabit, it took on the shape and form of what could be called an 'erotic thriller,'" Milligan said. "But this is one with a difference: 'The Discipline' takes place over many centuries and involves some pretty horrific and weird stuff."

The story begins with protagonist Melissa, a formerly working class young woman who gets swept up in Orlando's charm and the strange underworld of magic and secrets he represents.

"I've always been interested in what you might call 'chameleons,' people who transform themselves or move from one class or 'set' to another," Milligan said. "Melissa is someone who comes from a pretty white trash kind of family and now inhabits a wealthy New York world. In 'The Discipline' we see her being sucked into a world even more foreign and strange, and being forced to undergo her greatest ever transformation."

"Melissa is trying to straddle two worlds," Milligan continued. "The one she came from and the one she now lives in. But she's unhappy about how her current life is going."

Speaking about the themes of the book, Milligan clarified that while his story was not erotica, it was more adult and sexually explicit than some readers might expect.

"This is an adult comic book," Milligan said. "The nature of the story demands that we see some sex and some pretty graphic and edgy sex at that. This book isn't about sex per se, but sex is something that's used by a lot of the characters or groups in the book."

Explaining that seduction and magic was central to his plot, the writer continued, "Sex plays such a central role in much of human activity through the ages. It's used for pleasure and procreation and seduction. Many forms of magic and ritual have used sex as a means of transformation or revelation. It's also used as a tool of control or fear. 'The Discipline' tries to taps into some of this. So never to see any aspect of the sexual act would seem strange, twee or ridiculous."

While erotica and paranormal romance has been undergoing a renaissance in the US for the last couple of years -- with a lot of attention being paid by mainstream audiences thanks to mega-hits such as "50 Shades of Grey" and the "Twilight" series -- this trend was not on Milligan's radar while writing "The Discipline."

"Off and on, I've been working on it for a few years, though at the beginning it was all more nebulous. I haven't consciously tried to tap into any trend," Milligan said, joking, "Paranormal romance sounds horrible! It reminds me too much of some of my earlier relationships. I'm not sure if this is a trend in the UK. Maybe 'The Discipline' will begin one!"

Similarly, Milligan told CBR that the magic, the world and his main character Melissa came out of an "organic process" and his own life experiences.

As Milligan explained, the idea began by thinking about Melissa and a situation he once found himself in. "I'd become involved or acquainted with a few groups or 'sets' of pretty dangerous types who were using sex, drugs and physical danger in strange and at times exciting ways," he said. "If I'd gone too far down certain roads I might have changed my life forever. Maybe it did change me forever.

"After a lunch with then-Vertigo Editor Will Dennis, where we talked about doing a sexy, dark project, some of my earlier thoughts came into focus" he added.

"The Discipline" is illustrated by Leandro Fernández, whose previous work includes "The Names," also written by Milligan. Milligan praised his artist and his work on the title.

"It took us a while to decide on an artist for 'The Discipline' -- it's an unusual book with unusual demands -- and I'm so happy that Leo is the artist we went with," Milligan said. "I have to say, from the very beginning, it's been fantastic working with Leo. From the out-set he has been keen, creative, willing to take on-board thoughts and suggestions, and always ready to throw out good ideas of his own -- and more importantly the work he's been producing is brilliant."

Looking at the potential audience for the series, Milligan believed that fans of his previous work would respond well to the series, though it is much more sexually graphic in nature.

"I really think that readers who responded well to Enigma and Shade will dig The Discipline. In fact I know they will. But we're hoping that this book pulls in a new audience too," Milligan said. "And I don't believe that a sophisticated clued-up audience will be put off by the graphic nature of a story.

Here's CBR's new Q&A with Milligan, on "The Discipline" delay and publisher shift:

CBR News: Peter, what prompted the delay in release of the book?

Peter Milligan: DC exercised their contractual right not to publish. It was a shame but probably the wrong book at the wrong time. I have to say, once they decided not to publish it, I felt we were treated very fairly. No complaints.

In what ways -- if any -- does shifting from Vertigo to Image change "The Discipline"?

It hasn't changed because it's Image and not Vertigo. But a few years have gone by and in that time you re-read what you've done, scenes that maybe troubled you a little can be changed.

Has the story itself changed much at all since it was originally announced in 2013?

Not much, but there are some scenes that have been altered. Also, we're starting this series with six episodes so I've tweaked a few things so everything hangs together.

In many ways it's useful that a little time has gone by: I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea that this would be seen as some kind of homage to "50 Shades of Grey." It was never intended that way. I tried reading "50 Shades" but couldn't get far (clearly, I was not its target audience) so it's better that a bit of time has passed. Anyone reading this book with an open mind will see that it's its own story, a very Milligan mix of weirdness, darkness, and sexuality -- with a bit of working class angst thrown in for good measure.

"The Discipline" #1 is scheduled for release March 2 from Image Comics.

[CBR Managing Editor Albert Ching contributed to this article.]

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