There are lots of good comics out there, but some clearly stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. “Don’t Miss This” shines a weekly spotlight on the books our staff writers think need to be on your pull list. This week we look at “Human Remains,” a frenetic, genre bending tale from Peter Milligan that will keep you in the edge of your seat.
Who Is This By?
“Human Remains” is written by acclaimed British author and screenwriter Peter Milligan. Milligan has been pushing the boundaries of the comic medium for decades, giving his peculiar slant to well-known characters and properties like “Shade the Changing Man,” “Tank Girl,” “Hellblazer,” various X-Men titles and plenty others. The series is illustrated by breakout artist Sally Cantirino, whose artwork also dazzles in another current series from Vault, “I Walk with Monsters.” Colors are by Dearbhla Kelly and letters are by AndAorld Design.
What’s It All About?
Milligan’s high concept conceit centers on human emotions. In short, if you feel anything too intensely – fear, anger, love, lust, humor or joy – there’s a damn good chance you’re gonna end up dead. We see this process unfold in several graphic, splattercore panels early in the first issue and throughout the serie.
In this alternate Earth, a horde of invading “life-forms” is attracted to strong emotions – or “the display of those emotions” – and what happens next isn’t pretty. Milligan’s narrator describes the first attack we see in almost poetic terms: “Suzie Moore doesn’t need to look to know exactly what’s happening to her husband. That high-pitched screech. That whoosh of the air being rent. Of something unspeakable being born. The arrested scream. The modern sound of death. Somehow she does not cry or wail. She looks at what remains of the only man she’s ever loved. And goes home.”
By the third issue – which drops today – the story has bifurcated into two separate plot lines. One follows a newly wedded couple, Bisa and Dax, as they begin their married life together in a world of sudden, violent death and repressed emotions. The other track closely follows Professor Anjali Sharma, a leading virologist who heads an organization called Oxford-Biotech. Naturally, Dr. Sharma is desperately searching for a cure and trying to understand what the hell’s going on.
There are also numerous subplots that lead to dramatic, gory endings as they intertwine with one or both of the main two threads. In virtually every case, these small subplots resolve the same way: an intense display of emotions leads to a violent, bloody death. At the same time, Milligan keeps the reader guessing. Sometimes it’s all over quite quickly. Other times the scene intercuts with the main story two or three times before it resolves. The monster is always out there. We don’t know when it will strike.
What Makes It So Great?
Milligan’s work tends to bend and mashup different genres. With aspects of urban fantasy, science fiction, horror and splatterpunk, “Human Remains” toys with genres to the Nth degree. Much of the plot also echoes the COVID-19 pandemic. As Dr. Sharma notes, for some inexplicable reason the life-forms “don’t register” children who are age five and under. Similarly, there’s a bold proclamation by the military about “Operation Fightback.” And, of course, there are factions who think the whole thing is a hoax. A group called the Free Thinkers, for example, “think the whole thing was created by Elon Musk. Or the Israelis. Or the Illuminati. Or the European Union.” If they’d included Bill Gates and George Soros it could be a statement heard on several cable TV channels.
Genre bending aside, the tension is palpable. Milligan keeps you turning pages, dying to know what comes next. A gruesome attack could come at any moment, but there are also scenes full of raw emotion. Either way, Milligan’s timing is pitch perfect, especially when he’s dropping snarky comments or comedic asides. A military general, at home, stands up and says, “I’ve got to go.” “But dinner’s ready,” says his wife. “Kim, what’s more important?” asks the general, rhetorically, “The future of mankind or your admittedly-excellent meatloaf?”
In conjunction with Milligan’s rock-solid script, Cantirino’s strong, clear lines and frenetic compositions; Kelly’s bold, bright colors; and AndWorld Design’s effusive letters raise the stakes even higher and crank things up a notch. All the art works well together, playing off each other’s strengths, but the kill scenes, especially, see all four creators at the top of their game. Not coincidentally, these scenes overflow with emotion and explode with color, expertly enhanced by AndWorld’s effusive letters.Continued below
Whether you look at the series as a work of horror, sci-fi, fantasy or post-apocalyptic fiction, it’s a raucous ride that speeds along at a fever pitch. It’s the kind of series where you read the current issue the day it comes out, read it again and again, and start counting the days until the next issue drops.
How Can You Read It?
The third issue of “Human Remains” hits shelves today. You can find it at your local comic shop. Use the Comic Shop Locator to find an indie retailer near you. Of course, you can always get it from your favorite online retailer or digital comics platform, too. It’s sure to be dazzling in either form.