He’s purple and gold and protects his streets… but WHAT is he? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of The Maxx #1 awaits!
Writer: Sam Kieth
Penciler: Sam Kieth
Inker: Sam Kieth
Colorist: Steve Oliff
Letterer: Mike Heisler
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $1.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $20.00
Previously in The Maxx: When Image Comics launched in 1991, it was composed of artists who were frustrated by the policies and practices of the Big Two comic companies, especially as regarded work-for-hire practices. But there was also an element of artistic freedom that they were seeking, as seen when the seven core creators (all artists) began creating their own material. Some were very good at it and went on to create beloved ongoing narratives, some were not so much, but all were at least trying something new and different.
And then, there’s The Maxx.
We open in an alley, where our unseen hero crouches in a cardboard box in the rain, thinking of ‘Cheers’ episodes that may or may not actually exist. It’s a strange moment, but one that is undeniably fascinating to look at. I still can’t figure out what that panel design is, but I have to say it’s kind of mesmerizing. Not far away, a beautiful woman gets out of a cab, preparing to go to the threatre, only to get brutally attacked by a couple of thugs. Our hero reveals himself to save her, impaling one attacker with his strange clawed fists, musing that sometimes it’s luck or fate that saves the innocents of his city, but “sometimes, it’s me.”
The police would like to retort.
Rather than arrest the woman’s would-be attackers (one of whom just sort of seems to cease to exist?), the police capture “the bum in the mask” and leave the woman to a clearly gruesome fate. (It’s not the last innocent woman left to a terrible end in the pages of The Maxx #1, either.) Stuck in the back of the police car, our hero lies down with a pounding headache, only to open his eyes and find himself on a wide-open plain. Before he can get up, strange twisted hands rise out of the3 ground and try to entrap him, but he suddenly remembers… the woman.
Kieth has added grass shadows to the caption boxes in this part of the story for some sort of visual narrative effect, but sadly, they’re just dark enough that all they do is obscure the text, making it hard to read. Smash cut to an office, back in the city and/or the real world.
Meet Julie, crusading social worker whose sense of fashion is… We’ll just go with unique. Thankfully, the story addresses it (sort of?) right before she gets a strange quasi-obscene phone call with a familiar evil font. She hangs up only to immediate get a call from the unnamed city police department about one of her charges. She comes to bail out our hero, calling him Maxx for the first time and asking why he bit a cop. “I didn’t do it…”, he responds, “it was the mask.” She cleans him up, gives him some food and sends him out into the streets again, where Maxx finds a strange shadow creature and tracks it back to it’s master.
When this book came out, my roomate was fascinated by the entire thing. I never really found the taste for it, and this issue reminds me why: For every beautifully composed panel, there’s a bit of dialogue or a plot devlopment that muddies the waters (like the villain calling Maxx Br’er Lappin or Julie having the same face as the Leopard Queen or Maxx’s strange knuckle-spikes or…) and makes the whole thing incomprehensible. I’m also troubled by the multiple rape scenes and quasi-sexual threats aimed at Julie throughout the book, creating a very disturbing subtext for Maxx’s heroism, especially given the hyper-seuxalized portrayl of Julie/The Leopard Queen. Even years later, understanding what was coming in this book, The Maxx #1 is a confusing whirlwind of a comic, bursting with ideas and creativity but also showing how important the role of an editor is, earning a still better-than-average 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. Given the choice between a book that tries for something unique and doesn’t quite hit it and another retread of a popular concept, I’ll choose unique-and-confusing every time… but that still won’t explain this issue’s plot.
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THE MAXX #1
I have no idea what is happening in these pages, but it's fun to see the creative layouts and Keith's unique art style free of editorial constraints. If nothing else, it's hard to forget.