“Punk Mambo” #0 by Peter Milligan and Robert Gill is a one-shot origin for the punk voodoo priestess from “Shadowman.”
The story is self-contained, beginning in the present day. Milligan bookends the issue with attempted visits by a pair of a student journalists, but the framing device has little to do with the origin story. Milligan just uses the frame to give the reader information about Punk Mambo’s powers, and to show off a little of her attitude, before sending her down memory lane to England and back.
While the scenery is wild, the full trip that Punk Mambo takes is mostly predictable as a coming of age story fused with revenge. Victoria discovers the Sex Pistols and then runs away to the big city. She seems fond of her bourgeois parents, and little reason is given for why she is attracted to the punk movement except for youthful enthusiasm and the contrast to her preppy schoolmates and the aspirations of her parents. Milligan seems content to suggest that rich parents and school are worth rebelling against intrinsically, without making an explicit case. This might have worked, except that the rest of the story also doesn’t do enough work to flesh out Punk Mambo’s personality or motivations.
Punk Mambo’s internal narration and even her speech are too bland for a punk. Her appearance is more counterculture than her thoughts are. “Punk Mambo” #0 lacks any serious commentary about politics, music and even the superficial verbal texture of the book is hindered by the total lack of profanity. The restaurant scene with its appalled onlookers is funny, though, and feels like the most authentically punk moment in “Punk Mambo” #0. Her consultation scene with the laconic Sid Vicious was also amusing.
Otherwise, the punk elements are window dressing. Punk Mambo’s revenge feels lightweight; it doesn’t ultimately change anything except within her own head. Despite the goriness of her illusions and her magic techniques, she shies away from damaging people physically or permanently, thus preserving her antiheroine status. The arc of the story is a morality tale along conventional lines. It’s not punk at all, if punk is about revolution and rebellion in music and society.
The biggest twist of “Punk Mambo” #0 is what Mambo realizes about herself and why her revenge isn’t satisfying. Here, the plot takes an unforeseen twist: the narrator has a revelation about self-acceptance and self-actualization. To Milligan’s credit, it does not come off as being as cheesy or New Age as it could have been, but the moment also doesn’t have a lot of emotional potency or philosophical originality.
Milligan doesn’t get into how this fusion of punk and mambo occurs in the first place, nor does he account for or justify the cultural appropriation in any kind of thoughtful manner. Sure, Victoria learns everything from Joe Mayhem, but that doesn’t explain anything about how Mayhem knows voodoo magic to begin with or why punk music provides usable energies for this magic. Milligan skirts these issues, which are admittedly difficult, but had he chosen to take on those challenges and succeeded, “Punk Mambo” #0 would be a richer and more original read.
Gill’s artwork is attractive, particularly his background details. Villarrubia’s colors enhance the story with a complex array of cool tones. The psychedelic vision sequence looks good and the buildings, streets and clothes all have great polish and composition. Gill also does his homework, including the exact outfit components of the Cheltenham boarding school girls’ uniforms. His level of attention to detail breathes some life into the settings, whether it’s an office, a fancy boutique or the club scene of London. His facial expressions are adequate, but they also don’t give Punk Mambo any more dimension past her Mohawk and leather jacket.
Punk Mambo was a nice surprise when she first appeared in the pages of “Shadowman” because, as Milligan intended, she wasn’t a stereotypical mambo. “Punk Mambo” #0 has smooth storytelling mechanics and superficially fulfills the function of an origin story, but it actually adds almost nothing her characterization.