SDCC: Peter Milligan Talks "Terminal Hero" At Dynamite

For the better part of the past 20 years, writer Peter Milligan has kept his particular brand of comics in one of two sandboxes. But today, Milligan let it be known that he's traveling outside the boundaries of the "Big Two" publishers for the first time in years to create a new series for Dynamite Entertainment: "Terminal Hero."

Announced as part of Dynamite's roll up towards Comic-Con International 2013 in San Diego, the series looks to be classic Milligan. "Terminal Hero" focuses on one man's struggle against death, reality and the big questions in life while the action reverberates with twisted versions of reality and the music of Bob Marley. The series tells the story or Rory, a kind man who learns that he'll soon die, but an experimental drug treatment that may keep him alive affects his brain in unexpected, science fictional ways.

CBR News spoke with Milligan about the news, and the writer explained that his moving away from his longtime publishing homes of DC and Marvel Comics is the result of luck and a changing market, shares how "Terminal Hero" fits into the framework of his weird and wild works past, teaming with Jae Lee on the series design and the very personal side of the series' inspiration.

CBR News: Peter, before we get into the specifics of the new series, I had to ask about the fact that this is one of your first American projects outside the big two in a long while. I think the way Publisher Nick Barrucci put it was "the first non-DC, non-Marvel publisher since the days of 'Paradax' and 'Johnny Nemo.'" What in your eyes has brought about this step out of the publishing situation you've worked in for so long?

Peter Milligan: It's just a matter of timing, the right story, and the right publisher. I've known Nick Barrucci at Dynamite for a few years, and we've talked about doing something together, but for a number of reasons it never worked out. My situation freed up a little, and I had a story that was starting to form and burn away at me, and Nick contacted me again. We threw ideas around a little, and "Terminal Hero" was born. The nature of "Terminal Hero" -- the plot, the themes it deals with -- is such that it needs a lot of creative freedom to be realized properly. Dynamite was happy to give that freedom so it all fell into place.

At the same time, you've been more successful than others in launching original projects that fall out of standard superheroics through Vertigo and WildStorm especially but also over time in the DC and Marvel main lines. Would you consider this mostly a result of your personal creative drive, and are the kinds of stories you're best known for harder to get out in the marketplace now than they have been in years past?

Both of the above, I think. Stories that fall out of the standard superheroics are certainly the stories that appeal to me most. And I suppose it follows that these are the stories I'm best at.

And yes, it is probably a bit harder to get these kinds of projects out in the marketplace than before. This is where a smaller, independent but creatively bold company like Dynamite really comes into its own.

"Terminal Hero" has a premise that seems to mix medical science and kind of Stephen King psychic sci-fi in some weird ways. What inspired this story, and how would you describe it to the uninitiated?

Looking back at a story's "inspiration" often isn't as straight-forward as it seems. The truth is, I think this is a very personal story. In the last couple of years I've had two close friends diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. Actually one was my guitar teacher, but he'd become a friend. Both of these friends died, but before they did I'd had quite a bit of that hospital/hospice experience. All that talk of x-rays, radiotherapy and prognoses. Clearly all this was on my mind. More recently I was aware of an acquaintance who'd got into trouble with online gambling and drugs (a bad combination). The latter got me thinking about the modern world, how it seems increasingly designed to make it easy for our "demons" (for want of a better a world) to be released. Out of these experiences and thoughts emerged a story of a good man who's given a short time to live. But this man has access to a medical treatment that was abandoned because of shocking and unpredictable side effects.

How far would you go to save your life? How good are you really, if you scratch the surface? These are some the questions that "Terminal Hero" explores. To the uninitiated, I'd describe "Terminal Hero" as a kind of sexy, rude punk SF/Horror fable about modern life. It's also a very fucked up take on the idea of the hero.

On that concept of a good man without enough time, what's the attraction in a practical sense to telling a story with a ticking clock?

I've probably given away a little more than I should about the story so I'm not going into much more detail here. The obvious benefit of a ticking clock is that it adds tension and context to all of the action. But "Terminal Hero" is about a guy who tries to smash through the ticking clock -- but he might not like what he finds on the other side.

In many ways, Rory strikes me as a haunted man as well. How do you feel hit fits into the canon of characters you've created in the past?

Certainly there's no conscious or deliberate fit. Rory is haunted, but in ways you probably wouldn't expect. If there's a "fit" with my earlier characters, it's that I've tried to put aspects of my own experiences into Rory.

As I understand it, two themes rolling under the surface of "Terminal Hero" are a more flexible view of the definition of reality and the music of Bob Marley. How do those two concept play off each other in the story?

Bob Marley, or the music and the idea of Bob Marley does play a part in the story on a thematic level. And there is a certain degree of flexibility of reality in "Terminal Hero" -- this is a Peter Milligan comic, what do you expect? -- but how they relate, and why Bob Marley becomes important to Rory, is something that will be revealed in the story.

We may be early in the game, but what can you share about the artists who will be working with you on this series or what kind of visual world you want the comic to present when it lands?

I'll be working with Jae Lee on the design and look of the characters and the covers, which is great. The visual world will go from the normal - UK to USA - to the wildly strange. We are all just one step away from the wildly strange, a random hiccough away from the sudden collapse in the fabric of our life to reveal a sometimes horrific new reality.

"Terminal Hero" is on tap for later this year from Dynamite Entertainment. Stay tuned to CBR all week for more announcements from Comic-Con International in San Diego.

EXCLUSIVE: Secret Life of Pets #1

More in Comics