Unlike most other issues of this series, I’m not head-over-heels in love with The Maxx #6. There are a few reasons for this, which I’ll address in a minute, but probably paramount amongst these is that it has not aged particularly well. Tied into that is the fact that this issue surprisingly feels too conventional, almost preachy, like an addled 1990s after-school special, bereft of the nuance that makes this series so unpredictable and extraordinary. I understand that might be the point of this issue as an exercise, but for me, it just didn’t work. To explain, The Maxx #6 is a story set in three parts, the first of which sees Julie and her friend Tilly (the nouveau-hippie mother of Sarah) discussing - ad nauseam - the prevalence and dangers of violence in the media, video games and really just the world in general.
Now, it’s important to remember that this was first published in the early 90s, right when the Mortal Kombat-ization of pop culture (and the mass and angry dialectic it inspired) was reaching its peak, pushed as it was to the forefront of the American censorship debate.
This, however, was not relegated to video games, and it was a discussion that prevailed heavily in comics - particularly at The Maxx’s original publisher, Image, which was getting a name at the time for being much more graphic than the remaining (yet admittedly diminished) Comics Code Authority-regulated fare at the big two.
With that in mind, it’s pretty clear that the creative team was collectively attempting to address the censorship situation, not just by lampooning it in the Mr. Gone-meta-narrated brouhaha between Maxx and Mako (the bloodthirsty man-shark), but at the same time offering what they hoped would be a serious dialogue in the form of the confab between Julie and Tilly. Unfortunately, everything here stank of not even thinly-veiled Purpose, and it was every bit the transparent treatise you might expect at the time: heavy-handed, poorly-handled and stiff.
They do try to salvage the book’s exceptionally surreal conceit that gives this series its unmistakable feel by taking Julie into the Outback (not the steakhouse) and opening up a conversation with multiple sides of her psyche, but this came across as too little/too late by the book’s end, and the head-spinning narrative thread that I so love in The Maxx felt largely like an afterthought to the “let’s talk about violence in the 90s, everybody” feel of this book.
However, coupled with Mr. Gone’s strange, disembodied and oddly-voiced “return” this story does manage to maintain its interest long-term, but even with those setups of things to come, it was much more of a challenge to get past this issue than it should have been.
The art continues to be THE classic Kieth, with rare figure work that is instantly recognizable. I love his visual commentary on “pin-ups,” and the way he is able to weave in and out of styles is amazing. Honestly, I could look at his “bad paperback cover” stuff all day, as well as the way he juxtaposes it with an almost childlike cartoonishness on the same page. It’s seriously great stuff.
My only problem with this issue is the look of his superhero action, and the backgrounds upon which it takes place. It felt oddly lifeless and hurried. There are, of course, flashes of that Kieth brilliance (especially when Maxx gets thrown into a cord shop ... which was really strange), but overall I’d say this issue was an inconsistent animal, and not always necessarily on purpose. If anything does bring it all together, it is the colors of Ronda Pattison, who proves just as capable as Kieth in working with the many varying styles this book employs.
This was not a great issue of The Maxx, unless you’re looking at it purely as a treatment of the attitudes and style of a bygone, misbegotten era in comics. Give it a flick-thru just to stay with the story, but don’t feel the need to dwell. Do, however, come back next month!
Writers: Sam Kieth & William Messner-Loebs Artist: Dave Feiss & Sam Kieth Colorist: Ronda Pattison Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/9/14