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#86 [Mar. 27th, 2008|04:08 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#86 ENIGMA – Peter Milligan, Duncan Fegredo

“I mean, you didn’t just think, hey! I’m gonna base my life on this comic book.”

Enigma is very much a post-Watchmen superhero comic. It’s revisionist, it raises questions about the sexuality of people who fight crime in fetish outfits, it features a comic within a comic and it stars a character whose godlike abilities distance him from humanity. The ways that it overcomes the debt of those similarities, avoiding the pitfalls of rehashing ideas that had already been very thoroughly hashed, are what makes it an entirely worthwhile read.

Compared to Watchmen and many of the superhero stories that followed it, Enigma is a much more playful work. It’s drawn with a free and loose hand by Duncan Fegredo, who improves his sketchy style dramatically over its course, depicting extravagant villains like The Interior League, who drive their victims mad by rearranging their furniture in unthinkable combinations while they sleep, and Envelope Girl, who wraps people in her stamp-covered cape and teleports them across the country inside boxes marked ‘This side up’. To add emphasis to the oddity, a mysterious and cynical narrator observes it all with disdain, the captions weighed down with sarcasm.

In contrast with the colourful supercharacters is the protagonist, Michael Smith, a man so normal it’s unusual. He lives his life by a schedule specific enough to dictate he has sex only on Tuesdays. Michael’s quest to seek out the Enigma, a comic-book character he was obsessed with as a child who has turned out to be real, takes an unexpected twist when he realises he’s in love with the guy. A fanboy’s obsession with his favourite superhero has never been summed up so succinctly. Michael’s realisation of his homosexuality is handled with a surprisingly deft and sensitive touch despite the surrounding bizarreness of the story.

Ultimately, Enigma is suitably ambiguous, circling around its subjects without interrogating them to make points. Rather than resolution, it presents only another enigma, but it’s one you’ll be thinking about long after the end.