I first become aware of the work of Peter Milligan thanks to the superbly bizarre Bad Company series in 2000AD, which saw a group of fucked up soldier have to battle sadistic aliens known as the Krool on a far away planet. It was quite unusual stuff and the kind of thing that I hadn’t seen before (much like a lot of the fare in the comic at the time, admittedly), but it was Hewligan’s Haircut which made me fall in love with the man.
Also published in 2000AD the comic had a long history of humour within it’s various series, from the dark irony of Judge Dredd to the daft adventures of Ace Trucing Co. to the crazed violent antics of Alan Moore’s D.R. and Quinch, but this was something new, a completely out there absolutely insane joke packed piece of madness, and it is indeed a thing of absolute beauty. Told in eight parts (or partings, as Milligan doesn’t miss a hair related joke if at all possible) the series starts in black and white as Hewligan’s in a psychiatric hospital, but bursts in to colour Wizard of Oz style as soon as he cuts his hair and accidentally creates a shape that’s identical to the sigil that sends the Guardians of Reality (who turns out to be the statues found on Easter Island) to sleep. Which causes various realities to bleed in to each other, and Hewligan has to do his best to survive and possibly repair the situation. So it’s your standard by the numbers comics stuff, just like the kind of thing Batman and Robin get up to on a daily basis. Or the complete opposite. It’s definitely one or the other.
Hewligan’s initially in the hospital because he’s hearing voices, music and hallucinating a fair deal, but it turns out he’s not crazy, just affected by the other realities that we’re soon witness too. After lying to the Doctor that he’s fine now he’s released from the institution, but discovers that the world has changed enormously, initially unaware it’s all due to his brand new haircut unleashing all manner of insanity. It’s a world where rather than helping people policemen do magic tricks, trees with eyes are bouncing around all over the place and some people are part space hopper. And that’s just the beginning to the craziness that Hewligan’s subjected to. Shortly after his release he’s accused of robbing a bank after a gun jumps in to his hand and the police are after him, and just when it looks like he’s going to be caught Scarlett O’Gasmeter turns up on a rocking horse called Dada to save the day. Scarlett’s a reality hopping type who occasionally borders on the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl side of things, but she’s far more likeable than most examples of such a character and kicks ass and pretty much all other body parts in an extremely fun way.
Scarlett also provides a handy exposition dump to let Hewligan (and any / all confused readers) know exactly what’s going on, as we discover that due to Hewligan’s haircut realities are crashing in to each other. Which includes a cubist dimension making the characters appear in that particular style, and then they’re soon looking all rather Warholian, with Milligan unable to resist making an amusing dig at how boring that is. There’s also some cute piss taking off sixties cult tv show The Prisoner, and the strip takes on various other pop culture subjects as well. When everything’s finally resolved in the eighth episode and life (and the comic) becomes tragically black and white again it looks like we’re going to be presented with an unhappy ending for poor old Hewligan as he’s booted back in to the mental hospital after attacking a man who had the same haircut as him. But it’s not that sort of story, and on the final page Milligan gives us the happy ending I’m pretty sure everyone wanted.
Throughout Milligan writes some fantastic lines, like “It’s not every day you’re spoken to by a brick wall whilst being pursed by a squad of Policeman forming a human triangle on a push bike. Then again this wasn’t every day. This was yesterday. At least it would be yesterday, tomorrow, which as I speak was some days ago, I think”, “Just then it started raining nuclear warheads. And there we were without an umbrella”, and “Scarlett O’Gasmeter’s sweet perfume of roses and cheese and onion crisps bore me like the golden wonder wings of scented succubi”, I could list about a thousand others (okay, nine hundred and seventeen then) but that’d spoil some of the delights this comic has to offer. It also has a smart line in satire, for instance when Hewligan goes on the underground he’s shocked to find that “the escalators and chocolate machines were working, station announcements were perfectly clear and staff were polite as well…Talk about surreal!” and it targets a great deal of other things during the ride as well.
Back in the eighties Milligan played around with the idea of madness effecting reality in a couple of series, most notably his critically acclaimed DC comic Shade The Changing Man, and though that series definitely has a sense of humour about itself at times (at least when Shade isn’t in one his famously morose moods), this is out and out comedy and whilst I wouldn’t say it’s better it’s definitely a far more fun read. With stunning art from Jamie Hewlett (who also created Tank Girl and then achieved massive fame with the band Gorrilaz), throughout Milligan and Hewlett’s unparalleled brand of insanity is incredibly captivating, it’s the kind of comic you’ll spend ages looking at the art because so much is going on. It’s a rip-roaring read, a daft, surreal, romantic affair which will make you grin from ear to ear from start to finish, at least when you’re not laughing out loud. It’s easily one of the greatest British comics ever created, and makes me long for the days when 2000AD published material this unique.