Despite my historic love of this title, there is something I must begrudgingly admit about The Maxx: it’s not for everyone. Of course, I am someone who it most certainly is for, and consider it to be one of the best books since its first release by Image Comics 20 years ago. However, in the last couple of weeks with the IDW’s recolored re-release of the series, I’ve heard folks call it “hard to follow,” “too weird” and “drunkenly plodding further into an inescapable emptiness,” to which I would emphatically retort: “Well ... yeah.” Now, The Maxx might first appear narratively aimless, and there are points further afield where it does become that, but for now, this is a grungy journey through sublime surrealism, and that’s why it works so well. Visually, too - especially with the color enhancements from Pattison - it’s a fucking treat, drowned as it is by the shadowy side of Pop. Don’t try to rush through The Maxx; to do so would miss the point. Calm down, explore its edges and enjoy its medicine-heady storytelling.
As I said before, though, we’re still in the early days of this book, and between sprawling fights, kidnappings and multiple beheadings, there is a metric “fuck-ton” going on in its second issue. In fact, despite having read it several times before, I’m always taken aback by how quickly things progress so early on in the story, especially the [SPOILER] “big death,” which is presented so powerfully, ironically mellow. It’s a ballsy move and just one of the reasons why The Maxx #2 is where the voice of this series really starts to make itself heard.
Okay sure, that voice may be a pretty clear echo from the 1990s, being what some might call “full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse,” but the cadence of this book, its meter and use of language in both the dialogue and narrative, still resonate as strongly today as they did those many years ago.
Whether it’s the proto-emo guy at the gas station pining over the woeful boredom in his life (and generation) as he watches a toothy-masked muscle man with claws and purple spandex do battle against a gun-toting madman with a sick beard and a living cape; or, a few pages later, when a serial wizard rapist and his ardent feminist captive argue the merits of Camille fucking Paglia, this entire thing is thick with the collision of dark matter-of-factness and painfully heavy purpose. And it just works, especially in the characters themselves.
I’ve always loved the Julie Winters character, and she still stands as a sort of blueprint in the industry today. Kieth and Loebs somehow manage to write her somewhere between a self-hating righteous babe and a no-bullshit hard-ass; she’s pretentious, sure, but likable; brazen, but delicate. She is dangerously fragile in her fracture, and in a story peopled by progenies of the insane, that makes her perhaps the most intriguing of the lot.
She is perfect because she is imperfect; in the beginning, she defeatedly sucks in the jelly rolls she later rocks unabashedly as she sits suffering the pretentious diatribe of Mr. Gone. All of this, especially when set alongside Gone’s own frailty, is tremendously well-written, cleverly playing with the dynamic of good and bad, victor and victim.
The art, again impressively enhanced by the modern color work of Ronda Pattison, was always pretty avant-garde, even for its time, and continues to be impressive today, not only in the way it knots and unravels between pages, but also within the borders of those pages.
I love the canter of the panels in this issue, especially in the scene between Gone and Julie. They heave, billow and contract in odd forms before, during a very pivotal scene, shifting into the outline of a microscope and then its slides, shrinking further, tumbling into a page, which, with its interplay between texts and visuals, was ahead of its time. Pun intended.
Panel-play was something I remember being very well manipulated in the MTV series, which again, if you haven’t checked out, is a fantastic compendium to the reading of this series. That adaptation was fucking superb, which stands to reason, given Kieth’s heavy involvement with its production.
For something that (somewhat justifiably) has a reputation for being so chaotic, The Maxx #2 really is a well-planned tapestry of tense and jumpy pacing, high-minded pseudo-psychological banter and fights that see teeth and clawed fists clash with bullets, all of which gel to tempt a further tumble down the rabbit hole. I was hooked before, and I’m damn well hooked again.
Writer: Sam Kieth & William Messner-Loebs Artist: Sam Kieth Colorist: Ronda Pattison Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/11/13