Psychological Damage

The Maxx: Maxximized #1-2
Art by Sam Kieth
Writing by Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs
Published by IDW

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Dulled and muted by a modern, shiny coloring process, this remastered version of 90s series The Maxx is slightly less tour de force. It was, after all, Sam Kieth’s surrealist vision, tinting the muscle art of contemporary Image Comics, which made the series so well-received. The way Kieth uses vertical space–particularly sequences of long, thin panels–burrows into the troubled psyches of social worker Julie and seemingly-delusional homeless man Maxx (dressed in a purple and yellow superhero costume, sporting bladed claws) as they flip between their conscious reality and the fantastical “Outback” (calling to mind native Australian beliefs in Dreamtime). With veteran William Messner-Loebs scripting, Kieth had solid footing to exploit this tension between reality/fantasy and waking/dreaming: Maxx only seems to experience the Outback when he falls asleep in a police car or on Julie’s couch in issue one (after a brawl with muggers and police) or knocked out during a fight with mysterious rapist/murderer Mr. Gone in issue two; yet hints given by Gone, as well as the presence of oily creatures known as Isz, suggests truth within the dreaming realm. Kieth and Messner-Loebs connect aboriginal Dreamtime to Freudian psychology: Maxx sees himself as barbarian hero, protecting Julie (the “Jungle Queen” in the Outback, clad in leopard-skin bikini). Julie herself dresses provocatively–she’s first wearing denim chaps over her underwear in her first appearance–and blames Gone’s victims for being “stupid,” suggesting emotional scars of her own. Later, when she’s kidnapped by Gone and bound with leather straps, Maxx sees her Jungle Queen self in the Outback, cutting the head off a doll and babbling to herself (potent imagery of trauma). Julie and Maxx, in essence, are both parodies and deconstructions of grim ‘n’ gritty, 90s-era super-people (particularly those of Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and their imitators), digging up their dysfunction through the comic book worlds they inhabit in body and mind. This aspect pops more with the brighter palette of Steve Oliff (The Maxx‘s original cartoonist), which has the effect of a lucid dream; Ronda Pattison’s digital gradients are more sophisticated but lack Oliff’s clarity, with several images fuzzier and browner than the original pages. It keeps the menace and mind-fuckery intact (Gone and the Isz seep into shadowy backgrounds, rather than pop), while weakening Kieth’s examination of the way the psychological and the biological connect.

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A Voice in the Dark #2
Art and Writing by Larime Taylor
Published by Top Cow/Image

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Terry Moore’s endorsement on the cover, while well-meaning, does A Voice in the Dark no favors. While Larime Taylor is following Moore’s fascination with femininity and the way it is expressed in American culture and how women relate to that and each other, he focuses more on thriller technique than people interacting (Moore’s specialty). Most of the comic isolates its characters, College DJ Zoey (harboring a secret desire to murder people) and rich high-schooler Heather sighing and shifting as they speak over the phone, into small, claustrophobic closeups. The only time Taylor’s space increases are for revelations–Heather’s cycle of abuse at the hands of either her parents or a sleazy rock singer her father represents (related while she holds a pistol between her legs) and the taking out of her frustration by bullying a nerdier girl–or the few instances more than one character inhabits a scene (flashbacks and forwards, primarily). Zoey and Heather’s angst, Taylor suggests, crosses race and class, allowing them to connect (though Zoey thinks she’s “poisoned” Heather. Given the tragic outcome of her saying “Don’t let them get away with it,” she may not be wrong).  Moore mistakenly likens this to a combination of his Strangers In Paradise (which explored the effect people can have on each other) with serial-killer melodrama Dexter, ignoring how Taylor doesn’t revel in violence the way that TV show does. And with Taylor’s too-literal script (Zoey and Heather outright state their place as representatives of different racial/class sides of women’s issues), the praise colors what could’ve been an exploration of psychological damage as an exercise in cheap thrills. Trauma deserves better than pitch-speak.

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