Financial disaster gives rise to a tale of one woman vs. a powerful secret society.
The global financial crash of 2008, the subsequent government bailout of banks and the power of Wall Street and the 1% were hard for British writer Peter Milligan to ignore.
He saw a lot of stupidity and blatant crimes perpetrated by people and institutions, yet what really galled him was when he heard a banker say a year ago, "Isn't it time we stopped saying sorry?"
"I thought I must have been off the planet when that particular apology was made," Milligan says.
However, his awe that people could be so flagrant in their actions gave him the germ of an idea for The Names, an 8-issue Vertigo Comics series debuting Wednesday that dramatizes rather than gets preachy about the evils of capitalism.
"The world of finance — or in this case a kind of warped Vertigo version — becomes a backdrop to a story about someone searching for the truth behind a shocking event that makes no sense and rips the heart of her life," says Milligan, the Hellblazer and Shadowman writer who teams on The Names with artist Leandro Fernandez.
The revenge tale begins with the Surgeon, a psychopathic ex-neurologist with serious connections who tells 40-year-old New York City stock trader Kevin Walker to write a suicide note and take a header 51 stories to his death.
He obliges, but his wife, Katya, who's half his age and teaches martial arts and fitness at a gym, just can't fathom that he'd kill himself. She embarks on a violent mission to find out who's responsible.
"It's her feisty New York mentality and her all-around kick-ass nature that allows her to become the kind of person she'll need to be," Milligan says. "When we first meet her, she knows how to fight. She has to quickly learn how to kill."
A "great and unusual" team forms between Katya and her stepson Phillip, a 16-year-old hormonal math whiz, according to Milligan, and they set their sights on the true enemy, a secret society called The Names made up of the world's most influential and disturbed individuals.
There are plenty of shadowy groups around, the writer says, but what makes them different is "they're happy to largely 'hide in the open.' They remain shadowy because we've become used to accepting their practices."
"They exert massive influence over the financial system. They make or break currencies or countries. And for a long time they've simply been getting away with it."
Buyouts and hedge funds act as background setting for The Names, but Milligan promises that the comic doesn't hang around Wall Street too long, though he does return here and there.
"This is anything but a staid tale set inside a trading room," he says, teasing that there is also a supernatural element with strange entities called the Dark Loops.
"The biggest challenge has been to give an idea of this vast financial behemoth, to give enough financial detail to make it feel real without weighing the book down with information about flash trading, junk bonds and quantitative analysts."
And because Milligan is interested in all the characters involved, from good guys like Katya to sickos such as the Surgeon, The Names isn't going to be a gore-fest on every page.
However, the writer still has some bile left over from that banker's statement.
The series is "a pretty violent and bloody journey, full of twists and turns and reveals," Milligan says. "In The Names, people do die. People do get hurt. Usually — but not always — they deserve it."