In issue three of this classic Image series / IDW re-print, we get a clearer yet simultaneously evermore opaque view of what in the bluest of hells is actually going on in this book, and it’s a lovely goddamn muddle. We follow The Maxx as he flits between either different realities or varying degrees of dementia, chasing a first black, then white isz from our world into The Outback. While he struggles to maintain his “city memories” in this savage otherworld long enough to figure out what is wrong with him (or indeed it), he must also contend with the might and machinations of a character who apparently died last issue, not to mention a hungry, stained-teeth isz horde.
Speaking of which, one of the things I like best about this issue is the way it begins, introducing in its first 10 pages quite a few more creatures of The Outback. Imaginative yet simply designed and briefly introduced, these are perfect appetizers to get you whet to see more of this world. None of these, however, gets as much camera time as the isz, acting here as a terrifying (yet kind of adorable) “super-organism” swarm of psychotic sperm, which, incidentally, is also [SPOILER] my origin story.
Fictional fauna and flora exploration aside, this story delivers on a lot of different levels. The writing team here does a killer job of further defining The Maxx’s character as an ignorant yet innocent bystander in all this, with Gone and especially Julie being the main players, or indeed architects. Along with his boss use of invented expletives and jibes such as “Eat droppings Puckwallow!” or “Meat-breath! Ant teekler!” and who could forget “Hairless Sucking,” it’s kind of impossible not to fall in love with The Maxx.
He’s entirely oafish; sweet yet dangerous. One minute he’ll be trying to puncture a naked man in the shower with an unbreakable claw, and the next he’s positively squeamish during the act of cutting toenails. I love the way Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs define The Maxx’s relationship with his nemesis against that which he shares with the object of his responsibility; each one is both worryingly obsessive, yet also (even in the case of Gone) kind of sweet, and that’s what makes him work.
The Maxx is a strange dichotomy. Built like a brightly-colored brick shit-house, he’s a mix between Hulk and Wolverine, two volatile characters that leap far too easily into battle. But every time Maxx attempts the same, he is almost always stopped, convinced not to continue, talked down to like one might a child playing too dangerous a game. He’s a ridiculous outcast exiled between two ridiculous worlds, each of which thinks it knows better. It’s the ultimate comic book superhero trope, done in a completely different, hugely intelligent way.
The art this issue is par for the course, which is to say (since we’re talking about Sam Kieth here), pretty unbeatable. Again, it jumps all over the place in consistency, but that is done with relentless purpose and quite literally illustrates the vacillating nature of the story. Sometimes deeply-grooved and painstakingly textured, at other points almost cartoonish in its cleanliness, it jumps just as quickly as Maxx’s mind does between realms, with each page telling its own visual version of what might be going on in our characters’ heads.
The lettering, as with every issue of The Maxx, demands mentioning, as it is nothing less than a hallmark of his book’s visual style and equally as important to setting its tone as the figure work or atmosphere. Its ominous and all-too-familiar CHUNG!CHUNG!CHUNG! rips through the page in one panel, lurks like the path of a setting sun in the distance of another and builds the impenetrable barrier around the reality of still one more, each time puncturing the story with palpitating pulse. The other sound effects splat across the page in perhaps less clinical, but no less evocatively-rendered text.
The new colors from Ronda Pattison again shine through this issue, as our lunatic hero’s signature purple spandex bruises the page in vibrancy. Saying that, even her handling of white-on-white is noteworthy, a perhaps more impressive task, but one she handles with dexterity in the ivory avalanche of isz.
Some of this story does feel dated - and not just because there’s a Butthole Surfers t-shirt floating around - but I feel like that’s also part of its charm. This drips with the grunge, attitude and nonchalant aloofness of 90s youth culture, sure, but it’s still a timeless story and in my opinion deserves just as much praise today as it did back then. If you’re not reading The Maxx as a monthly, you really need to CHUNG! your mind.
Writers: Sam Kieth & William Messner-Loebs Artist: Sam Kieth Colorist: Ronda Pattison Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 1/15/14