Sunday, 11 May 2014

The MAXX: Maxximized Volume 1 Review (Sam Kieth, William Messner-Loebs)

I love superhero comics but they’re usually pretty formulaic fare: good guy fights bad guy, good guy wins. This usually takes the form of the bad guy stealing something valuable or threatening innocent lives and the good guy having to retrieve the items, save lives and punish the villain. There are variations on this in the many, many superhero titles out there but, for the most part, the song remains the same. 

Then there’s The Maxx. 

Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs’ long out of print but highly regarded series from the early ‘90s has been re-released, with newly remastered pages. With The Maxx, Kieth uses the well-defined superhero genre to unexpectedly explore abuse and mental illness in an original, very imaginative and entertaining way (plus any comic that has a cow bathroom in it deserves your attention!).

The Maxx looks like a Spider-Man villain - a large, muscle-y chap in a skintight purple costume with middle-finger spikes - but immediately subverts readers’ expectations. He’s homeless, he suffers from amnesia, he hallucinates, his voiceover dialogue is actually the character unknowingly speaking out loud, and he allows himself to be arrested by police - not exactly the usual superhero M.O.! 

In this introductory volume, a crazed lunatic (not Maxx) is murdering women and Maxx’s friend, Julie Winters, may be next. Julie is a freelance social worker working out of her dingy apartment - but is that all she is? And who is the sorcerer Mr Gone and the Isz? 

There are parallel worlds as Maxx jumps from our dimension to another, and characters take on different roles and identities. It is a crazy, off-the-wall story to say the east, and for the first couple of issues you’re definitely going to be disoriented as to what the hell is going on, but things do become clearer sooner rather than later, certainly by the end of the first volume. 

The way Kieth has drawn Julie in several pages of this book could put female readers off as she’s stripped down to her underwear and tied up into provocative poses but it does play into her real character and why everything is happening the way it is - I suppose it is gratuitous in parts and you’ll feel sleazy reading these sections, but there is a reason behind why it’s done. 

Kieth’s cartoony, free-wheeling art style is perfectly suited to the barmy narrative, taking in the dingy realism of dark alleys and living in boxes, before embracing the ‘90s superhero aesthetic of giant, flowing capes and bombastic fights with gangs who look like the Mutants from The Dark Knight Returns, and then sling-shotting into pure D&D fantasy. 

The Maxx is a superhero comic for readers looking for something a little different from the usual superhero comic. There’s plenty to recommend it from the unique art and strange script to the colourful cast and original story. Superheroes tend to have personal pain at some point in their careers - with Batman, his personal pain defines his entire character - but you’ve never read a book that explores it quite like The Maxx does. This is a series I’m pleased to say lives up to its reputation - well worth a read!

The MAXX: Maxximized Volume 1

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