Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh
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EnigmaIf you're looking for a puzzling graphic novel, Enigma is a good place to start. Unfortunately it's not a mystery in the classic sense, more a question of untangling a knotty mixture of fantasy meets reality. In Enigma we see a comic book literally springing to life, bringing a set of cheesey super-characters into a real world setting. The job of finding out what's going on is left down to the two main protagonists: the writer of the original comic and a telephone engineer fan.
It's a surreal journey of the imagination but it underachieves. The implausibility of the scenario is weakly justified by piling up more and more fantasy, not so much unraveling the mystery as weighing it down with bricks and sinking it in a muddy pond. That the plot has collapsed in on itself by the end was no great surprise - it left us with a post-modern but slightly unsatisfactory after taste. The only redeeming factor is that Milligan has been brave enough to include a sub-plot love story that lies outside the conventional (at least for its time), though by the end even this feels a little like it has been cynically thrown into the mix to add spice.
Fegredo's scratchy style is unusual but somehow fitting, happily handling scenes featuring both anatomically implausible characters and subtle human emotion. Van Valkenburgh's colouring adds to this, enhancing the grittiness without compromising Fegredo's lines.
But it isn't enough to lift the story out of the doldrums. The plot, despite its twists and turns, lacks anything for the reader to engage with. There are moments of comedy and philosophy, but they're drowned out by the detached absurdity of the situations. And if we had known how let down we were going to feel by the ending, we wouldn't have started reading in the first place.
DC Comics (US)
Titan Books (UK)
Originally published as
The Gay Comics List