1986. THATCHER’S BRITAIN. THE FINANCIAL ‘BIG BANG’ SAW THE RICH GET RICHER. RIOTS ERRUPT IN PRISONS ACROSS THE COUNTRY. AND MICKY SWIFT IS STILL ON THE DOLE!
Sooner or Later is something of a lost masterpiece, occupying the back page of 2000AD. But while most writers and artists would struggle to do anything interesting in one page, Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy aren’t most writers or artists. A perfect pairing, they seemed to bring out the best in each other. I’ve always felt Peter Milligan should be considered an equal of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Over the years, he proved he could revamp classic American superheroes, breathing new life into old concepts. His Batman/Riddler story Dark Knight, Dark City did what had (until that point) been an impossible task: he made The Riddler a terrifying force every bit the equal of The Joker at his worst. But more than that (and more impactful on the lore) Peter made Gotham City into a character every bit as important as The Bat and his gallery of psychos, freaks, and weirdos. Peter Milligan also took on Shade, The Changing Man and made him into one of the best characters in the DC Universe. His American Scream arc is my favourite graphic novel that isn’t Watchmen, Zanardi, or…Sooner Or Later.
Britain in the 80s was grim if you were poor, worse if you were young and poor. In Scotland, we had the Poll Tax before the rest of the country. Even as a young child, I remember the impact. Such things never leave you. It’s in this setting that Peter set Sooner or Later. Micky ‘Swifty’ Swift is our hero. He’s cool. Has dreadlocks. A leather jacket. He listens to The Smiths. And he has no money and no job. Nothing is going to happen in Micky’s life…until it does! Thanks to a mistake in the far flung future, he accidentally ends up in another time, a place that’s every bit as strange as Britain in the 80s. Unfortunately, Micky can’t get back home because time travel is expensive. Which means…he needs to find a job!
Sooner or Later is clever. There’s lots of word play, which I appreciate. Peter is enjoying himself, clearly. The back page has freed – not stifled – him. The art is never boring, even in black and white. Brendan McCarthy’s psychedelic style is quirky and beautiful and absolutely punk. Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz/Tank Girl) owes him a clear debt, and he later pops up in the collected edition with his own distinctive Sooner or Later spin-off following Swifty’s adventures. Swifty. He’s likeable. He’s fun. But most of all, he’s deceptively resourceful. He eludes capture and wins elections. But you’ll have to buy the book to see if he manages to get back home.
Sooner or Later zipped by, making the hours fly, and I found myself reading it again and again. All the little details in each panel makes a re-read worthwhile. It seems more relevant than ever, if only because of the recession and the joblessness all around. I don’t know if that’s depressing or not. Buy the book anyway. It really is worth it.