Peter Milligan Gets with "The Programme"

Peter Milligan is keeping busy at DC Comics. CBR News already talked to the former "X-Statix" writer about his upcoming stint on the new "Infinity, Inc.," and we caught up with Milligan again to get the skinny on his new Ra's al Ghul story in "Batman Annual" #26 as well as his new WildStorm series "The Programme," issue #1 of which is on sale now.

Everyone knows the Cold War is long over, but in Milligan's "The Programme," the superhero arms race begins again in earnest, stemming not only from the Cold War but also World War II. "It's discovered that the Soviets were working on a superhuman project -- in response a similar American project -- which was in turn the brainchild of Nazi scientists who sought refuge in America after the war," Peter Milligan told CBR News. "We live in a world now where suddenly it seems the old certainties are being (sometimes literally) blown away, and this is what the plot tries to look at.

"The 'hero' is an American called Max," Milligan continued. "On the surface he's a kind of anti-heroic everyman -- a likeable rogue who's worried about his sexual performance and who owns a bar in the south west -- two facts that might or might not be connected."

Max's life is turned upside when he comes to the realization that he is the product of a Cold War-era superhero program. "Something went wrong with Max's programming in the '60s, thanks to a 'turned on' guy called Mike Hinks," Milligan explained. "Other characters include a Soviet super creature with the less than zippy name of Spirit of Lenin, who's incredibly powerful but prone to epileptic-like seizures. An African American named Senator Joe -- after the commie-hating Senator -- assumes a pivotal role in deciding whether or not America as we know it will survive… or indeed whether it should survive."

Milligan had long been in talks with editor Ben Abernathy about doing a project at WildStorm, and "The Programme" fit the bill. The premise for the book came about through "watching America's military endeavors, reading a bit of Noam Chomsky and thinking about how America and Americans -- and anybody else in its position -- might act if all its military superiority was suddenly wiped away," Milligan said. "As has happened sooner or later to every other empire… even the wretched old British Empire, upon which the sun was never supposed to set, hah hah bloody hah!"

Abernathy played matchmaker between Milligan and artist CP Smith, and Milligan couldn't be happier with the results. "The collaboration was pretty intense, particularly at the beginning when CP was very keen on getting a handle on everything," Milligan said. "CP brings a lot of energy to the project and really seems eager to push at the boundaries."

Over in the mainstream DCU, Milligan is putting his stamp on the Batman mythos with a Ra's al Ghul story in "Batman Annual" #26. The story spans several centuries, and the Dark Knight himself plays a pivotal role in the present-day part of the narrative. "Don't want to give too much away here, but we learn something new about Ra's al Ghul and get introduced to a new character," Milligan teased. Batman's son, Damian, and the boy's mother, Talia al Ghul, are lynchpins of the story as well.

It was DC editor Jeanine Schaefer who first approached Milligan about the Batman project. "Jeanine phoned me, she seemed nice, we talked, a story about Ra's seemed interesting, things happened," Milligan said. "Let's just say the story went through a number of changes when I got on board."

Art for "Batman Annual" #26 is provided by David and Alvaro Lopez. "I really want this book to offer more than your average annual, to be something a little more vital than you might expect," Milligan said. "I've tried to do that with the story -- which I think offers something to fans of Batman and Ra's al Ghul alike -- and I hope and trust the artwork will also deliver some surprises."

"Batman Annual" #26 is not the first time Milligan, one of Vertigo's seminal authors, has ventured into the DCU, and it won't be the last. In the past, he's lent his talents to book like "Gotham Miserablist" and "JLA: Classified." The writer definitely enjoys playing in that mainstream sandbox, but Milligan never strays too far from his indie roots. "'Infinity, Inc.' is a mainstream book but I am approaching it from a pretty non-mainstream angle," Milligan remarked. "Its themes and ideas are those you don't usually get in the mainstream."

Milligan admits the process of producing a mainstream superhero comic book differs from that of a more indie bent. "But I think it's interesting to take ostensibly mainstream books or characters – 'Infinity, Inc.', 'Namor: The Depths' and even 'X-Force/X-Statix' -- and do something different or unexpected with them," Milligan said.

Also for DC, Milligan is working on a Vertigo crime series called "The Bronx Kill" and a Batman miniseries called "The Bat and the Bear." "Also, with WildStorm, I'm doing a miniseries about zombies down Mexico way," Milligan added. "My working title is 'Zombistas!' There's some politics in there, using the walking dead guys as a way of exploring some immigration and race issues."

At Marvel Comics, Milligan and artist Esad Ribic are working on a Namor series called "The Depths." "I'm very excited about that and think it'll go down as some of my best stuff for Marvel."

The first issue of "The Programme" is on sale now, and look for "Batman Annual" #26 on August 29.

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