Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Leandro Fernandez
The Names opens in an executive office on the top floor of a Wall Street skyscraper. Its the type of place that evokes the shady back-room deals and reckless behavior that have come to characterize the American financial system of our collective consciousness. However, we’ve walked in on a scene that even that image hasn’t prepared us for: Kevin Walker, a hapless investment banker, is instructed to scrawl out a suicide note to his wife, before being forced by a maniacally grinning superior to leap to his death from a 51st story window. The picture it paints is unequivocal: Wall Street puppet-masters are an evil lot and you and I are helpless in the face of their whimsical greed.
I’m usually put-off by such black and white representations of good vs. evil. Reductive as this dichotomy may be (I think the more accurate picture is an industry full of self-serving, and not always terribly bright, sycophants and opportunists who run amok thanks to governmental complacency and fear), the fact remains that these are the people whose reckless and irresponsible behavior led to some pretty widespread misery and unemployment, and who saw virtually butkus in the way of consequences. It does leave one yearning for some sense that comeuppance has been served. In Lieu of any real world closure, Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez have stepped in to provide some fictional catharsis, and you know what? It feels pretty damn good.
In The Names, it’s the victim’s widowed wife, Katya, who strikes out for revenge. Katya, is young, beautiful, and athletic, she knows that the suicide story doesn’t add up; and furthermore, she can take care of herself. It’s not hard to see where this one is going: a proper revenge story, wherein the heroin will not rest until she kills everyone who wronged her.
Despite the cut-and-dried premise, the story is more complex than meets the eye. Contrary to the overused notion of the Wall Street trophy wife, Katya’s relationship to her husband was by all indications, intimate and sincere. It’s hinted that they shared a significant experience in the past that I expect will be explored in future issues, but for now the mystery is compelling. Katya’s other primary relationship is rockier. Her step-son is a selectively mute math-wiz, and its clear that she will have to bridge that gap that’s grown between them before any real closure can be had.
Meanwhile, the villainous traders have another foe to deal with in the enigmatic group of high-frequency traders referred to enigmatically as “the dark loops” who are slowly chipping away at their profit margins. The role they will play in the larger story is still yet to be seen, but the implied old-guard vs. new-guard narrative lends an added layer of depth that has me hooked.
Fernandez’ art plays a crucial role in balancing the more outlandish and operatic elements of the comic with its subtle emotional relevance. His villains are pure hyperbolized evil – impossibly wide, toothy grins, grotesque features, wildly exaggerated gestures, but when the script calls for a deeply emotive expression, he can shift on a dime. In the moment when Walker realizes there is no way to escape his fate, and when Katya views his body in the morgue, and her stoicism breaks, just for a second, Fernandez’ art has the effect of stopping time momentarily. He forces the reader to dwell on the personal human elements of what is, at other times, a pretty baroque narrative.
The Names is an 8 part maxi-series, and if issue #1 is any indication, readers who get on board now are in for a wild ride.