(IDW Publishing 2015)
Written by Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs
Art by Sam Kieth
Colors by Ronda Pattison
Letters by Mike Heisler
So, I’m buying The Maxx again. Let me get it out of the way that The Maxx is a huge deal to me. I love it and have loved it since the 90’s when it first came out. The Maxx, Usagi Yojimbo and AKIRA are like the comic holy trinity to me. So. I’m a complete Maxx fanboy. Reading a book like the Maxx when you are in high school will encapsulate it in your life unlike casual readers reading a shallower book will.
Here’s the deal for anyone not in the know. The Maxx was originally an Image book in the early 90’s. It was on the shelves next to stuff like Youngblood and Spawn. WildCats. Pitt. Savage Dragon. It was nothing like those other books. It was a complete outlier in terms of what you expect from an early 90’s Image book.
As I understand it, Sam Kieth wrote the plot and drew the book. “Finishes” were done by Jim Sinclair, and I have to admit, I don’t know really how that works. I think he basically polishes Sam’s art in places. It’s not a penciller/inker relationship, as I understand it. It must be something more collaborative. Honestly, I would love to see behind the scenes what Sam did and what Jim Sinclair did. After art was completed, William Messner-Loebs wrote the script (meaning the dialogue mostly, as I understand it) and Steve Oliff would color it.
What is interesting about this to me is that Sam is doing some of the writing, most of the art, and then some of the coloring to boot. Because Sam’s art is very mixed media, panels vary from ink drawings with computer coloring to fully painted panels or pages. Sometimes colored pencils, markers, you name it will make it’s way into the art. Sometimes found objects, like cloth, little pieces of metal or whatever. Feathers, who knows. Just like the new cover to this issue, which has fabric and some kind of rusty piece of metal incorporated. Anyway, what I am getting at is that it is a very Sam Kieth driven book. His chores bleed over into the other creator’s chores quite a bit. And yet, Loebs’ words, Sinclair’s finishes and Oliff’s colors complimented perfectly. It really was a diamond in the rough in my eyes.
So that was then. The early 90’s. In many ways a vast wasteland devoid of worthwhile comics that have any sense of depth. I’m overstating it. Slightly. So now, 20 years later or so, The Maxx is back? I didn’t know how to take this. When I found out that IDW was re-releasing the entire run of The Maxx I hesitated. Very briefly. I looked into what was different. Sam has re-scanned the original pages at high resolution, and they are re-colored, re-lettered, and printed on better paper with both the old covers and also new covers offered as well. Being a Maxx fanboy, I was drawn into this idea of a new presentation of my old favorite. I read the first few issues side by side with the originals to get an idea of what really was different. It’s basically a cleaned up, spiffier presentation, and it looks gorgeous.
I have to talk about Ronda Pattison’s colors. They are really good. Her re-coloring is a huge reason why the new presentation of the book looks so cleaned up and nice. I know a big part of it is the improved scanning and paper stock. But man, Ronda does a bang up job. It reminds me of finding out that Bone was going to be colored. As a fan of the black and white book, I was pretty skeptical. Until I saw it and was blown away. The same thing happened when I opened the first issue and saw Pattison’s beautiful coloring work. I have no complaints. Top-notch stuff.
So I am here to discuss #17. I’m not sure how to go about this. I’ve already professed my love for both the original book, and the representation. I guess let’s get into the nitty gritty of this issue. I won’t worry about spoilers, because this book has been available in some format for 20 years. If you haven’t read it yet, that’s on you.
So #17. We are getting really close to the #20 issue where the original Maxx/Julie storyline ends. Reading the issues leading up to #20 is kind of bittersweet for me, because I know the end is near. I also like the Maxx/Sara story, and then the third, weirder phase where storylines were started and never finished, Mr. Gone becomes a protagonist, and everything generally goes all left field. But really, 1-20 is what people mostly think of when thinking of the Maxx. It’s the defining arc, and the part of the book that was presented in the MTV show, which has it’s own following.
In #17, things are quickly moving forward towards the end of Julie/Maxx. Maxx is put in motion to finally remember his past and unravel the mystery of his relationship to Julie and the Jungle Queen. It all stemmed from Mr. Gone telling Sara through recordings who Maxx was before the accident that made him the Maxx. Sara then helps Maxx control the process of entering the outback, and he goes there while staying his normal city self. Meanwhile Julie is back home sick and throwing up.
If that paragraph didn’t make sense to you, then you aren’t reading this book, and should go back and start from the first issue. This issue is striking for the desert of Isz skulls in the outback, and funny mostly from the interactions between Maxx and the Jungle Queen. I feel like the whole purpose of this issue was to get Maxx and the Jungle Queen in place to awaken the Hooly in the next issue and start the process of revealing Maxx’s identity. It works, in that the plot is functional while entertaining us with Maxx’s typical silly and snappy dialogue.
The interactions between Maxx and the Jungle Queen are fresh. He’s never had this much page time with her at once, and with his city mind intact which is different. Trademark Maxx weirdness ensues. Like breaking off a piece of rock to float across the outback. We see Maxx as a rabbit for the first time in this issue. Tension is raised through the issue, as there is constant mentioning of sacrificing, and death. There is a lot of forward momentum. They are traveling for most of the book, there are pieces that start to become clear. The tone of the series is shifting with this issue, from holding back all the time to finally starting to let things be known.
A big strength throughout the run of the early issues of the book is Bill Loebs’ contribution to the scripting. I think he lasted only into the 20’s or so, and after that Sam was full on writing for the rest of the run, with the exception of a guest spot by Alan Moore. If memory serves that is. Bill Loebs is very talented. He is an excellent writer, and an excellent illustrator to boot. His masterpiece, “Journey”, which he both writes and draws, is phenomenal. His work writing for various DC books is stellar. “Epicurus the Sage”, an earlier collaboration between Loebs and Kieth is equally good. I have heard that IDW may re-release Epicurus as well, which if true, my wallet and I will line up for that as well.
The few times I have been privileged to speak with Bill Loebs, he has struck me as a very intelligent, funny, cunning, and gentle person. He is very high on my list of people to follow anything they do. I feel the same about Sam Kieth. Their work together is strong, and a double dose of goodness in my eyes. I also can detect a lineage of sorts. Bill is highly influenced by Will Eisner, and Sam is highly influenced by Bill Loebs, but also Frank Frazetta, and others. So you can see parts of the art that are like flourishes and echoes of these past creators that aren’t with us anymore. The art oscillates through these different influences, at least to me. But it becomes something all its own.
Really, The Maxx is a book like no other. The presentation in the case of these new IDW issues is really nice. But really, you can buy an old trade, you can find the old Image issues probably pretty cheap, and no matter how you chose to consume this series, I think you will not be disappointed. If you are like me, you will fall for this sometimes elegant, always quirky, and beautifully done comic series.