Or – “Sometimes It’s So Good To See An Old Friend, You Don’t Notice That He’s Crazy…”
Mike Allred is one of those creators where even the people who don’t enjoy his art don’t say it’s bad, they say they don’t “get it.” The stylization and animation influences in his drawing can be off-putting to some readers (Hi, Tom!) but the same can be said of Frank Miller’s Sin City work, which draws on many of the same influences (film noir, Hong Kong action movies, ultra-violence and movie romance) but in a completely different way. I may be the first person to make this connection, but if you like ‘Sin City,’ then Madman may have something for you.
Previously, on Madman: Zane Townsend was a very bad man. Immoral, vicious, nearly beyond redemption… When he died, his body was subjected to experimental procedures by Doctors Gillespie Flem and Egon Boiffard, who managed to raise him from the dead, but with no memory of his previous life. Dubbed “Frank Einstein” (after Boiffard’s idols Sinatra and Albert) he built a new life, fell in love with Josephine Lombard, and created his new identity after finding himself fascinated by comic-book hero Mr. Excitement. Walking the Earth, having adventures, Frank lives a life many of us would find desirable: palling around with aliens, encountering mutant street beatniks, fighting killer robots, and generally acting very heroic. That is, he USED to, until he woke up and found everyone in the world dead. Frank goes on a journey to the center of his mind (Come along if you can!) and finds only Warren, a robotic majordomo of Dr. Flem’s, acting as his spirit guide. Warren very convincingly demonstrates to him that the entirety of his life is just a fiction, even his beloved Joe. After an awesome fast-forward recap of last issue, (in which the every page of the book is reprinted on the first page of this one, it really has to be believed) we find a demoralized and confused Frank trying to deal with these horrifying revelations…
As anyone might be, Frank is terribly confused, and tries to talk his way back to reality… “So, is the universe a complete creation of my will and imagination? This form I’ve taken… Is it of my choosing? If all human history… If the history of the UNIVERSE is of my making, just to entertain my infinite loneliness, then why don’t I remember the worlds and realities I’ve created before?” Kierkegaard himself would have a hard time wrapping his mind around concepts like this, and Frank realizes that he can’t put it all in perspective without help. “Warren! I will you BACK!”
Frank isn’t sure that’s the way to go. “What if I don’t want to? What if I want to go back to the way things WERE with the people from before?” Warren doesn’t understand, but Frank doesn’t want a new universe if it means that he doesn’t have Joe anymore. Suddenly, she appears before him, (And he didn’t even have to TRY to do it? Something’s wrong here…) but fades away. Warren suggests that he needs to create an entirely new reality FOR JOE, and I suddenly come to the realization that Warren isn’t a figment of Frank’s imagination at all. But I don’t know what his game is, and Frank doesn’t catch it. “How long with that take?” he asks. “How long do you got?” replies Warren. Heh. Frank doesn’t want to wait for eons as things completely reform from the cosmic ether, but Warren thinks he’s limiting himself unnecessarily.
Aww… That’s pretty sweet, actually. Frank creates a huge mansion, filled with all manner of convenience, but isn’t quite satisfied. “It’s all kind of empty if I know none of it is real.” Warren pshaws, reminding him that HE creates reality, even his own brain. “When you want to forget that none of it is real, just cut the threads in your head. That is, what you perceive to be your head.” Frank ignores the warning inherent in that remark, and replies that, for a part of his own brain, he doesn’t like Warren at all. Entering his opulent mansion, Frank is angered to find that things aren’t all that different after all…
Suddenly, Frank stands in the middle of the fight, as a Stinger missile flies at his face. With a swipe of his hand, it disappears, and he tells everyone to go home. In his new world, he continues, everyone will be allowed to live, love, work and be happy. “That sounds boring,” says Warren ominously. “What about world leaders, and their various ambitions and agendas?” Frank replies that they can stick it. Warren grows the face of George Bush and asks, “What about the war on terror?” “If I want to hear from an ass,” Frank replies, “I’ll fart.” I’m not thrilled with political commentary, but at least Madman deals with it on his own level. Warren’s response triggers the same worries in Frank that I had four pages ago… “You stole that line from Saturday Night Live!” Frank is suspicious, since if Saturday Night Live exists, he CREATED it… Warren talks in circles, repeating Zen koans and non-answers, and Frank finally screams, “I WANT TO REMEMBER EVERYTHING, TO RESET, AND TO SEND YOU INTO OBLIVION!” This wish only wipes his memory again, and Frank screams horribly into an empty void that he can’t remember ANYTHING, despairing that his friends are gone forever… aren’t they?
Joe tries to awaken him, but Frank cannot respond, as strange tendrils of ectoplasm come out of his eyes. “I don’t have any other way to describe what’s happening, except to say that it’s as if he soul is being YANKED from his body,” says Dr. Flem. When Joe despairs, he thinks aloud that there is still ONE thing they might try… Flem and company don’t realize it, but one of their suppositions is 100% right, as this entire charade has been the work of the evil Mondstadt.
“Why? Because I HATE YOU, you idiot!” Plus, the “terror spell” he cast on Frank’s mind will allow him access to the waking world, to rejoin his physical form. Monstadt laughs and (as Adrian Veidt might say) acts like a Republic Serial villain, explaining his whole plan, to turn all of Frank’s own terrors against him, and trap him in a horror movie of his own making forever. “You must have had a REALLY lousy childhood!” is Frank’s response. Heh. Monstadt laughs, and steps through a corridor which, when it closes, will seal the Madman’s mind off from the real world for ETERNITY. But as with any good comic fan, simply being stuck in your imagination doesn’t necessarily mean you’re trapped. “If everything is my own creation, then I’ll take CONTROL!” Frank decides…
Mr. Excitement! It’s a team-up! Wheee… Can one crazy mixed-up creature who stopped living and one imaginary superhero save the day for all mankind? Probably. It’s comics, after all, but it’s still neat for me, as someone who’s been reading since almost the beginning a while to see Mr. Einstein team up with his superhero idol. Madman has previously teamed up with Bernie Mireault’s Jammer, Rude & Baron’s Nexus as well as Superman (who is ALSO, I believe, a comic book hero in Frank’s world) before, but this has more personal investment for Frank.
As for me, I’m not precisely a Mike Allred zombie (I didn’t buy “Red Rocket 7” or “The Golden Plates”) but I’m enamored enough of his writing and art to stick around as long as the book does. While the political commentary seemed a bit juvenile, it came from an honest place, as the main character is himself less-than-sophisticated. Madman is always a joy, and the “brainscapes” were easily on a par with Steve Ditko’s legendary Doctor Strange magical landscapes in freaky brilliance. I love the art, I’m intrigued by the writing, and was only a little put-off by the use of Dubya, ranking Madman Atomic Comics #2 a well-above-average 3.5 out of 5 stars. If you’re not reading it, at least give it a shot… I think you’ll be glad you did.