The nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.
Sam Kieth’s wonderfully surreal series, The Maxx.
The Maxx is a difficult comic to describe to the uninitiated. Is it about a mentally ill homeless guy and his social worker? Is it about an alternate reality called the Outback, and its Leopard Queen’s protector? Is it about the battle between the titular hero and his arch-nemesis Mr. Gone? Yes, it is all three.
The series is about Julie, a rape survivor and social worker, whose subconscious created an alternate reality she could escape to. When she hits a homeless man with her car, he somehow taps into this other world, merging with her rabbit spirit animal, and decides to be her protector.
The Maxx jumped back and forth between these two disparate realities, as he battled the Isz, eyeless egg-shaped creatures with sharp teeth, set upon him by the evil Mr. Gone. The Isz were generally docile in their white form in The Outback world of Pangaea, but once they crossed over they became black and bloodthirsty. They could assume different appearances depending on the clothes they wear, transforming into elderly women at one point to blend in.
See? Freakin’ bizarre, yet brilliant, stuff. For over 30 issues, Sam Kieth played with the question of reality versus perception, and in the end proved both were important.
Sam Kieth was let loose to create a fantastic and psychedelic series that looked like no other, and I for one was hooked from his very first proper appearance in Darker Image #1. Kieth’s style was so original, so nuanced, being photo-realistic one moment, and cartoonish the next, and his intricate and beautiful page composition was incomparable at the time, and still is.
Kieth really took the time to make The Maxx something special, and you could tell that this story was very personal, one that he was compelled to tell. He put so much into it, making sure that I as a reader got as much out of it.
The series was a runaway success, capturing comic reader’s imaginations, and dollars. It was so popular that it was not only turned into a cartoon series for MTV’s Oddities program, but also arguably the first comic audio drama called MAXXimum Sound produced in 1993! The cartoon only lasted a few months, but it fully captured the surrealist nature of the comic, jumping through animation styles as often as alternate realities.
The series is available on DVD exclusively through amazon.com‘s manufacture-on-demand program, including every episode of the series, as well as commentary on each episode, and interviews with Sam Kieth and director Gregg Vanzo. You can also stream the entire series for free on MTV’s liquidtelevision.com. Does it hold up? Hell yeah it does, but don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.
The character had his fair share of cameos in other books as well, crossing over with other characters such as Image stable-mate Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon, Rob Liefeld’s Bloodwulf, Gen 13, and even Sonic The Hedgehog!
The Maxx was one of only a handful of Image properties that came out relatively on schedule, or lasted for as many issues. Luckily for us, most of the story is still in print and available as re-mastered and re-colored trade paperbacks and hardcovers, with a gorgeous new Artist Edition showcasing Kieth’s exquisite original line-work, all from IDW Publishing!
Sam Kieth was already producing amazing work on characters such as Wolverine and The Hulk, but fans will always remember him for this quirky little Image book, and that is why The Maxx is one of the reasons it was great being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week I’ll bring you another.