||[Mar. 2nd, 2009|03:07 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
THE MAXX #1–12 – Sam Kieth, William Messner-Loebs
“Then it wasn’t all a dream! Unless I’m dreaming now.”
Maxx is a hulking purple brute with oversized teeth and claws who thinks he’s a hero even though he’s homeless and spends a lot of his time hallucinating in a cardboard box. When he’s not sleeping in an alley he’s crashing at the home of his social worker, Julie Winters. Spending all her time and money bailing out Maxx the superhobo and a variety of other hopeless cases, she’s the real hero of the comic, visually signposted in the first issue when she wears an outfit that makes her look like she’s got her underpants on the outside. The Maxx turns superhero comics upside down and shakes them to see what comes out.
These characters have another existence beyond the normal(ish) one, in a primeval, subconscious world called the Outback where Julie is a Frank Frazetta leopard-print Jungle Queen and Maxx her fearsome protector. Confused as ever, he thinks these strange dreams of a savage land are about Australia. There they get to live out the escapist fantasies that never work out properly in the real world, where Maxx is so incompetent he accidentally glues his claws shut right before a fight. The two worlds overlap so that Maxx, half-convinced he’s crazy, sometimes sees both at once – a massive airwhale floating over the verdant grassland becomes a Goodyear Blimp hovering over a city street, both occupying the same space. The panel edges are chewed away like jigsaw pieces or shattered mirrors as one reality intrudes on another.
In shaking out all of the genre detritus, Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs loosen layers of Jungian psychology and postmodern critique at the bottom. A random fight scene between Maxx and a shark-man villain happens at the same time as Julie and her Steinem-loving friend discuss representations of violence in media. The neighbourhood kids obsess over the finer details of the story that elude the main characters (“...that’s what we gossip about in school all day, the metaphysical and spiritual roots of everyday life, as manifested through the metaphor of super-heroic struggle.”) Confronted with the alter egos who manifest in the Outback, Julie starts trying to classify them according to id and superego. Everyone talks like they’ve been through therapy and if they haven’t, they should.
Pointing out that superheroes are a bit crazy, a bit sexist, a bit dodgy in the subtext, a bit blatant in their status as escapist fantasies – none of these things are original to The Maxx. It just happened that for 12 issues they were combined together in a pleasant stew along with artwork that varied from psychedelic crayons to inky grimness. Also, it had plenty of sublime nonsense like a Seuss-ian cartoon character named The Crappon In A Hat, a tribe of giants who only know one song and tiny monsters dressed in floral prints who look like your grandmother. That never hurts.