Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review #35: I Accidentally Ripped This Comic and Now Owe the Library Money

The Maxx, Volume 1
Writer: Sam Kieth & Bill Messner-Loebs
Artist: Sam Kieth
Published: Wildstorm, 2003

While the previously-reviewed Orion was wacky in a pseudo-scientific kind of way, The Maxx is wacky in a wacky way.

The titular Maxx is a large, purple-spandexed fellow who fancies himself a superhero and lives with Julie, who is a sort of self-appointed social worker, trying to help out people that are down on their luck. Maxx gets in a scrap with Mr. Gone, a villain with mysterious motivations. Mr. Gone knows why Maxx and Julie are having weird dreams and seems to want to help. But he also seems to be a psycho. We also meet the young, troubled Sarah, who struggles with depression after her father's suicide. She gets caught up the weirdness that surrounds Maxx after Julie tries to help her out, as Sarah's mother is a friend of Julie's. In the last act, we get to see a mutant shark beat the living snot out of Maxx [who takes it rather well, by all accounts] for some reason and then disappear and things return to “normal”.

Our protagonist reminds me somewhat of loveable psycho, Marv of Sin City [I just realized I have yet to review any Sin City... I should get on that]: huge, muscly, violent and easily confused, but a tendency toward protecting the innocent. We never get to see the face of our self-declared superhero, however, as he is always wearing a goofy-looking mask.  

Speaking of easily confused, it is easy to get a bit disoriented about what is what. We go from dream to reality to dream, then both simultaneously. A lot of time is spent in a place called “The Outback”, which seems to exist in Julie's subconscious. It gets a little convoluted.

The layout of the panels gets pretty creative and interesting, and the art style changes based on what is happening in the story, like in the Seuss-esque dream sequence based on a fictional cartoon called The Crappon Inna Hat. It becomes more detailed and starts to look like a surreal painting when they introduce Julie's alter-ego, the Jungle Queen. It is also somewhat reminiscent of Spawn [they had the same publisher] at times, especially the way Mr. Gone's massive cape billows all over the damn place.

There are a lot of  funny, little, background details [post-it notes on Julie's wall read “throw out milk” and “buy milk”][and I saw a guy wearing a Butthole Surfers t-shirt!] to dazzle the eye. There's even a visual reference to Neil Gaiman’s Death! We also get a cameo by Savage Dragon [another publisher-mate] and a parody of Calvin and Hobbes in a boy named Henry, with his pet ocelot, Nietzsche.

With its endless references to other comics, music, television and brand names, The Maxx is a bit of a cross section of pop culture. Maxx keeps talking about Cheers and is deeply affected when he is told it's been canceled. It shows how deeply pop culture can become engrained in our lives, to the point that, like the characters' struggle with what is real and what is not, society has a hard time figuring out what actually matters.

I feel like I can't give it a full endorsement because the story [issues 1-6] raises more questions than it answers, but it is so entertaining, charming, and kinetic that I don't really mind so much. I would like to see where it goes from here.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I'll take it for a spin when the library gets a new copy.