Greek Street #1

Greek Street #1 by Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice.
Greek Street is a typical high concept Vertigo book that self-consciously draws from and blends myth, fantasy, horror, and genre pulp fiction. These books are in some ways the mirror image of the super-hero universe titles that DC (and Marvel) maintain. Both fetishize violence and power in their own ways. And both can take too much pride in regurgitating their respective traditions. Vertigo's serials just prefer citing the likes of Lovecraft, Brothers Grimm, Sophocles or the Bible to Julius Schwartz or Stan Lee. This reinvention can certainly work. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have built their careers on it and have written some brilliant comics in the process. But over-reliance on any formula can also be used to mask a lack of originality or narrative weaknesses.

Set in modern-day London, Greek Street starts off on an unfortunately pedantic note when a stripper fends off the unwanted attentions of a patron by revealing that history is composed of "eternal recurrences" and people are like "Medea and Agamemnon...still playing at the temple of Dionysus." The scene shifts to the main protagonist and Oedipal figure as he reconnects with his long lost mother. Their story is a complete reversal of the classic myth in that the hero knowingly tracks down and manipulates his mother before their blood relationship is revealed. But after accidentally killing her, he becomes a latter day Orestes fleeing to Soho's Greek Street, but unable to escape his guilt over his dead mother.

The decision of veteran Vertigo writer Peter Milligan and artist Davide Gianfelice to reinterpret ancient mythology as noir fiction is on the surface a pretty self-evident choice. There's plenty of sex, violence, and general brutality in those old stories that can be easily transposed to the present, not to mention that the themes of murder causing an endless cycle of revenge make for great drama. But the compelling power of these myths have more to do with the immortal works that convey these stories than the basic ideas found in them. Greek Street contains some rather effective and disturbing imagery. But their impact is blunted by dense plotting and a brisk pace that leaves that little room to develop the dozen or more supporting characters that are thrown at the reader. Most of them only get to occupy a few panels before the story moves on to the next character. The action isn't actually helped by the Vertigo preference for moody monochromatic coloring or the interchangeable grimacing faces. As this is a first issue, it is mostly set-up for the rest of the series. But the overall impression I get is that of Milligan trying to cram in as many Classical references as he could within the forty pages of the issue. The resulting narrative doesn't quite mesh.

While it's always premature to judge the success of a series on reading just the first issue, Greek Street's #1 seems a bit too aware of its ancient predecessors to stand-out as a work worthy of being regarded on its own merits. The series might eventually prove to be better than this premiere suggests, but I doubt it will be turn out to be a particularly memorable achievement for Vertigo.