I just finished re-reading Sam Keith’s 35 issue comic THE MAXX. I had not read this book sequentially in over ten years, and even then it was not as ‘sequential’ as it was now, due of course to the intervals between issue publication (sometimes textbook monthly, other times with drastic waits between issues). Here is my reaction.
WOW. I did not expect to be affected the way I have been. The Maxx, never really being any kind of traditional superhero story, was at times more like a journey through the annals of abnormal psychology than anything someone would read for fun.
Not that abnormal psyche isn’t fun.
And not that The Maxx wasn’t fun. As with many great comics, movies, books or albums, what you think you’re getting into at the onset is soon no longer the case. The lights go out and when (and if) they come back on you’re traversing occult and tempestuous caverns of oddity and mayhem. This was, especially near the end, The Maxx.
Many of you who know The Maxx may have found it as I did, through empty-v’s ‘Oddities’ where it aired as several short-lengthed animated episodes. I was in the process of distancing myself from anything and everything Image comics in the mid-nineties (Youngblood? Phewww. Blow it out your ass Rob ‘it’s not X-force’ Liefeld) and The Maxx caught my eye sideways and at a glance. The main character’s strange shifting between realities played upon a concept I had become obsessed with after a high school career spent eating acid and reading Carlos Castenada, and this was the first comic I found to so overtly incorporate dual existence consciousness into its story.
One episode and I was hooked.
But it wasn’t just the psychonautical elements that anchored me so steadfastly to Maxx, Julie, Sarah and Gone. No, it was the utterly real and often terrible portrayals of the characters and their flawed humanity. Julie wasn’t the typical comic book boob-enhanced starlett, Maxx was usually more interested in toast or cartoons than figuring out why he was dressed in purple underwear in the first place (preferring to charmingly speak in boisterous cliches in moments of action, as if inspired by those cartoons he loved so much) and even the dastardly villain, Mr. Gone, pulled no punches in vocalizing the roots of his psychotic attacks on women. He felt punished for being attracted to women and so he turned his punishment into theirs.
Fucked up? Yep.
And then there’s Sarah. Wow. Too much there to even try to sum it up in a few lines or less.
Within the plotting of the uber story I saw the seeds of something both grand and yet private, and waited with baited breath for the ‘big reveal’ to come. There were moments that felt trying, but not ‘bad story’ trying, more like the uncomfortable feeling that Mr. Keith had gone through the backdoor of his own mind and come out with some profoundly mystical answers along with a means by which to navigate his own personal issues.
And I was reading them.
Now, by the time I started to read the comic, it was already well past the point covered by the first (and sadly only) season of the show. Ordering a ‘lot’ of I think 17 or 18 comics off EBAY I voraciously consumed the back story looking for more answers. What was the outback? Who was Maxx really? Why was Mr. Gone able to return, again and again, with next to no physical mass save by the end some pulped brain goo, to the physical plane and taunt and teach our heroes?
Answers did not come easily in Mr. Keith’s world, and just as Maxx and Julie’s story was becoming clear (well, clearer) the book jumped 10 years into the (then) future. 1995 to 2005. The story picked back up with Sara (now no ‘h’ on the end of her name), her psychic wannabe roomate Steve and a fixated homeless guy who dressed in a quilt named Norbert.
Oh yeah, and a trio of dysfunctional FBI paranormal investigators who were turned into sow bugs.
I’ll skip the details in case anyone out there would like to catch up and actually read this msterpiece in person, an undertaking I fully recommend. However, watch your step. Some works, whether music, film, book or comic, can have so much of the author’s psychic residue grafted onto them, often me thinks, from the absolute battle creating can be, that the stories themselves stick in your synapses and gum up the chemical balance of your brain. It is a fact that everything we do with our body releases a bevy of different chemicals inside us* and bearing this in mind I must say that reading The Maxx in such a short, concentrated burst kinda fucked me up. The tribulations of the characters, who are all, in Mr. Gone’s words, ‘Children of shame’ and the scenarios related about what made them who they are in the present tense of the narrative was enough to really kinda slow me down and make me a bit morose. I feel it even now, several days later as I write this, which will no doubt explain why my usual levels of piss and vinegar or absolute joy are probably missing. But, again and as in the Maxx, thus is life. Everyday may be a good day, I’m convinced of this on some levels, but at the same time not everyday can have the kind of momentum we often outfit ourselves with. We see this reflected back at us through the casual, hesitant, bitchy and often disturbingly lethargic interactions and moods of the characters in this book. At the same time here is where Mr. Keith shines, showing us these milquetoast segments of life as they occur in the ‘real world’, yet also translating them into archetypal meanings and intuitions in the inner, occult world of our still unmapped ‘psychologies’.
Does all this sound strange? Like I’m rambling on about nothing? My advice is to grab the trades and read The Maxx, and you’ll either confirm my rambling or find something that although disturbing and sometimes depressing, really speaks about levels of life and the mind that most consumer narrative does not.
Note: if you find that, in reading some Maxx that it’s not for you and that superheroes should be knuckle-grinding loud mouths, go pick up anything Mark Millar has written in the last 6 years or so.
This is knuckle-grinding loud mouths done right!!! The Ultimates would be a good place to start, but more recent is his ‘Old Man Logan’ storyline that began recently in the pages of a book I swore off years ago, Wolverine, and just from the first issue alone it reeks of kick ass-itude. And speaking of Millar and kicking ass, John Romita, Jr. and him are doing what may be the best book of the year, and believe me when I say that it is indeed, as its title advertises, KICK ASS!!!
* Opinionated Bastard Helpful Hint of the Day: Did you know if you are in a sour mood you can force yourself to smile and the actual, physical manipulation of those muscles employed in such an endeavor causes chemicals to be released in your brain that will actually put you in a better mood? Now you know, and (c’mon now, say it with me) BEER IS HALF THE BATTLE!!!