Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The MAXX: Maxximized Volume 2 Review (Sam Kieth, William Messner-Loebs)

The Maxx looks like your typical ‘90s superhero comic – ridiculously proportioned hero, lots of bombastic fighting, etc. – but Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs' comic brilliantly uses the superhero medium to tell the story of a traumatised woman working through repressed memories. The superhero of the title doesn’t actually have a story and the character plays second fiddle to the woman, Julie, and her very down-to-earth problem, which makes The Maxx easily one of the most interesting superhero stories ever!

IDW continues its reprint of the series with the artwork re-worked, or “maxximised”, in this second volume but here the balance between plot and weirdness is a bit too skewed toward weirdness than in the first book. It’s an episodic volume that doesn’t really have an arc, where one chapter focuses on Maxx waking up as a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon, to Maxx fighting a Savage Dragon villain, to Julie and Maxx going to the grasslands of Pangaea, to Maxx and Pitt (a Hulk-inspired ‘90s creation) shrunk to the size of toy soldiers and battling an Isz in Julie’s apartment.

While the concept of the series remains interesting, there seem to be too many pages of overly silly goofiness that don’t really go anywhere or add anything to the overall story. The Saturday morning cartoon chapter seemed to be an excuse for Kieth to play around with different artistic styles, while the fight with the shark villain from Savage Dragon felt like an overlong joke – Julie and her friend are talking about the gratuitous violence in media today which Kieth juxtaposes with, yes, gratuitous violence. Ha… ha. And the whole fight between Maxx, Pitt and the Isz too was bonkers – the miniature angle made it feel a bit like the Monster in My Pocket (remember those ‘90s toys?) comics that were published for a spell, but overall kinda pointless.

However there are some excellent moments too when Kieth gets around to exploring Julie’s story. The whole grasslands setting is visually arresting and compelling, and also very revealing of her identity, and I like how Kieth’s teasing details out but not giving away too much. Like who Mister Gone (the villain of the last book) really is, and what’s under Maxx’s mask – is Julie the Maxx? Is Julie all of these characters or are they real? Has Julie gone too far or can she save herself?

Kieth’s art has never looked better than it does in this series. This second volume really sees him take off so that there are some superb layouts, wonderful panels, and varied experiments with different drawing styles. The grasslands remains my favourite art of the book, though Julie is still a bit too overtly sexualised to be uncomfortable (but maybe that’s intentional, hinting at what her trauma has to do with?), but every page is spectacular. Savage Dragon and Pitt make cameos as do, surprisingly, Calvin & Hobbes!

The Maxx Volume 2 is a little too meandering, a little too hallucinatory, for its own good and I’d like Kieth to rein in his artistic whims and focus more on the story, because when he does, it’s really great. But despite that, it’s still a decent addition to the series which I’m still interested in following – The Maxx is an entertaining, alternate take on the well-defined superhero genre that’s definitely worth reading.

3.5 stars

The MAXX: Maxximized Volume 2

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