“They’re your fears, they’re your terrors and they live in a cave... in the pit of your psyche ... and they all are named Dave.”
In case you were somehow still wondering after reading the above quote, The Maxx is a weird book. Perhaps because of that, and even 20 years after its first release under the Image comics banner, this title (here now re-released by IDW with new colors from Ronda Pattison) continues to be one of the Greats. However, if anything is readily apparent after rereading The Maxx #5, it’s that this shit right here just ain’t gonna be for urybody. Luckily, it is most definitely for me.
The majority of this issue of The Maxx encapsulates a pretty kooky little existential tangent for our titular hero, as he falls into a child’s cartoon-inspired fever dream ruled over by the Dr. Seuss-ian character, The Crappon Inna Hat. As Maxx is transformed into an “off-model, flatter, blue-lined” cartoon (drawn by contributing artist this time, Dave Feiss), he is quickly set upon by the aforementioned Daves (imp-like manifestations of his own insecurities), and forced to address what is really eating at his conscience: the true face that hides behind his mask.
Written in what is basically an extended limerick, this issue addresses the nature of Maxx’s “reality” using the same cartoonish childlike sense of wonder with which he approaches most situations, existential or otherwise. In so doing, with its jaunty meter and innocent approach, things are kept tantalizingly ambiguous, while at the same time fun.
It’s definitely a departure in terms of presentation, but the narrative thread and style of this book both remain (oddly) maintained, yet are given a new visual and textual wrinkle. After all, you knew this book was bat-shit crazy going into this issue, but after its reading, you’ll appreciate even more just how dynamic this series can and will be going forward.
One thing I will say (and this comes with the caveat that it is questionable journalistic practice to compare adaptations) is that this particular slice of Maxx’s story worked better as an episode in the MTV show. I think the lyricism of the Crappon portion is simply more resounding when read aloud, whereas in print, its rhythm gets a bit lost.
That’s just the nature of the beast, but it does show the issue’s limitations by comparison, although you can feel free to read it out loud yourself (at the risk of ostracizing yourself from those around you). Even with a few lines that feel a bit hammered-in, which honestly makes sense in that it’s a children’s show, it’s a credit to Kieth’s range of storytelling abilities that this works at all in the context of what is a very adult “superhero” adventure, especially given that the two worlds exist in the same issue.
In terms of art, Sam Kieth bookends the story of Maxx trying to achieve a tenuous grasp of Self with his own iconic grittily-rippling visuals, and they remain great, especially in contrast to the cleaner simplicity of Feiss’ work. I’m not sure, even in today’s day and age, anyone conducts a page quite like Sam Kieth. It says a lot, for example, that Feiss’ work, which illustrates a dreamscape, appears more linearly-structured than Kieth’s. I just don’t think the latter is capable of being mundane in this series.
It’s been a real hoot revisiting The Maxx, and not just because infamous issues like this bring about a heady nostalgia. This is a book - and indeed an issue, as weird is it is -that holds up, even after all these years. It’s a strange place to take an already strange series in its fifth issue, but it proves its nerve and resolve to be different. Not a lot of books then - or now - can say the same thing.
Writers: Sam Kieth & William Messner-Loebs Artist: Dave Feiss & Sam Kieth Colorist: Ronda Pattison Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/19/14