Summary: ENIGMA is a thought-provoking post-modern tale of self-discovery and sexual identity told against the backdrop of improbable super-heroes and villains. Michael Smith lives a meaningless life of routine and boredom. But when Enigma, his favorite childhood comic book hero, inexplicably comes to life, Smith finds himself on an obsessive crusade to uncover the secret behind his improbable existence. Teaming with Enigma’s comic creator, Smith encounters an insanity-inducing psychopath, a brain-eating serial killer, and a suicide-inciting clown posse as his quest uncovers hidden truths about both his idol and himself.
Enigma, by Peter Milligan, Duncan Fegredo and Sherilyn Van Walkenburgh 7.75
‘Enigma’ is the first Peter Milligan book that I haven’t found effortless. It’s not that it’s an especially difficult read, it’s just that it’s more cryptic, more unclear, than the others; we don’t really know what is going on, and it takes until the very end to understand what is happening and what the ultimate implications are.
But it’s also quite rewarding. In fact, it may prove a more fulfilling read the second time around, with more insight and perspective to ease things along.
The problem is that a lot of what explained in the end impacts what has already taken place. For instance, we don’t know who the narrator is until the last few panels, but knowing who it is changes the way one reads the text and how it plays in juxtaposition with what we’re seeing. Hence why re-reading it may have its virtues.
I especially liked that it’s a superhero story that is more psychological than action-oriented; it takes firm root in our characters’ many personality disorders and this fuels everything that takes place. Thankfully, Milligan does a tremendous job of fleshing them all out and we fully understand why these people are behaving the way that they do.
This kind of makes up for not knowing what the heck is going on.
What would have been nice would have been to have a more pleasing artist to work alongside Milligan on this one. While Fegredo is strong on detail, he’s slightly sloppy on execution, which makes it very hard to make out what is going on sometimes. Combined with a less forthcoming story, it made for a gruelling read; I sometimes felt I was plodding through.
Ultimately, though, ‘Enigma’ was a pretty good read. It’s extremely dark on so many fronts, but it’s filled with tons of redeeming qualities:
One of the things I am most impressed with is Milligan’s approach to homosexuality – especially considering that this was originally published in 1993. It must have been one of those rare books with a supremely progressive attitude back then. Even now, I don’t think that there would be the same kind of acceptance that our heroes have here.
I also enjoyed the villains quite a bit. They were so weird and wacky, with bizarre names like The Head (who kills by literally tasting his victims’ consciousness), The Truth (who made victims face the truths of their lives), Envelope Girl (who would absorb victims in her belly and teleport them elsewhere – postage-fee, in a cardboard shipping box) and The Interior League (who would redesign their victims’ homes in a way that made them homicidal).
In the end, though, the journey perhaps felt a little untrue to me. I couldn’t believe some of the final twists and the last page left me wanting. But ‘Enigma’ is nonetheless worth the time. I just wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is looking for a Superman comic. This is not it. This is darker. And much more enigmatic.