Although it's much loved by people like Grant Morrison and Kieron Gillen, I found Enigma a bit underwhelming when I finally got around to reading it. It's grouped alongside Watchmen as a superhero deconstruction job, but whereas Alan Moore was channeling Nietzsche to destabilise the ethical certainties underpinning the genre, Milligan takes an existentialist approach. The Enigma's all-powerful consciousness develops in a universe he finds absurd and meaningless. His response is to meet absurdity with absurdity, girding his environment with the plot structures gleaned from an obscure, hastily written superhero comic. But the plan backfires – the violence he unleashes fuels a supervillain that he will be unable to defeat. He has to change tack, writing over the mind of a regular shmoe called Michael Smith to make him love a real person as much as he loved superheroes as a child. Milligan ends the book before the final showdown, so we don't know whether the ploy succeeds. Instead the focus is on the act of narration itself, and indirectly on the role of culture in shaping our (moral) selves – if only we'd listen.
But actually, the most powerful development in the book is Michael's abandonment of a 'straight' – in every sense of the word – existence. The fact of his favourite superhero stepping out into the real world triggers a wholesale collapse in the parameters that have governed his life. Michael leaves his job, girlfriend and city. The Enigma transforms his sexuality. The most powerful moment in the book is when he is given the option of going back – of becoming a straight, regular ol' member of society again. And he doesn't capitulate: "It doesn't matter how or why I had those experiences, whether it was something within me or you changing me... This is how I am now. And I like myself this way."
This rather lovely interview with the creators highlights the loose feel of the book. The artist was learning on the job, and some of the early issues are extremely scratchy and impressionistic. Milligan also seems to be winging it – I wouldn't be surprised if the idea for the twist at the end only occurred to him mid-way through the series.* Rather than wanting more structure, I almost wished there were less. My fave Millian piece is probably Screemer, a comic that gets close to Bulletproof Coffin-levels of inscrutability. That vertigo-inducing (pun-intended) fall into the strange is tempered here by the need to comply with the strictures of the superhero genre.
* Rather embarrassingly, this blog was tweeted at the creators by a book group as a "review", and Milligan has made clear that this was not in fact the case: "no payoffs were made up half way through". Apologies for my suggestion to the contrary – I made it because the idea that the narrator was somehow embedded in the story is introduced half way through. In any case, it wasn't intended as a slur – I liked the loose feel of the book.