A couple of days ago, a customer at Comic Zone asked me, “So, Andy, what is The Maxx about, exactly?” And I had no answer.
The Maxx was a comic book series created by Sam Kieth and published by Image Comics in the mid-90s. There was a 13-episode television series that ran as part of MTV’s Oddities, along with shows such as Aeon Flux and The Head.
Okay, sorry about that.
The Maxx is probably the most successful existential comic series. It questions and blurs the lines of reality, all while telling the story of a purple-clad superhero who calls himself “The Maxx.”
Maxx exists in two worlds, simultaneously – the “real world,” which greatly resembles New York City; and “The Outback,” a land that resembles the Australian outback, but is littered with strange creatures, such as the Great Northern Crabbit.
In the Real World, Maxx is a homeless bum super hero. “Super hero” may not be the right phrase, as Maxx really just stops everyday criminals from picking on the innocent. But in comics, nobody is just a “hero,” so “super hero” it is. Anyways. Because he’s a bum, Maxx is constantly being taken in by the police, and is always being bailed out by freelance Social Worker Julia “Julie” Winters. The two have a very strange relationship that is beyond conventional explanation.
In the Outback, Maxx is the protector of the Jungle Queen (occasionally called “The Leopard Queen”), who bears more than a passing resemblance to Julie. Maxx also adorns an amazing headdress in the Outback.
The enigmatic serial murderer Mr. Gone knows the truth behind the relationship behind Julie, The Maxx, and the Jungle Queen, and he could just explain it to them. But he’s a sick bastard and has far more fun messing with everybody’s head. For some reason that is not immediately obvious, Gone refers to Maxx as “Br’er Lappin.”
And then there’s Sara. Or Sarah. Kieth isn’t terribly consistent on how her name is spelled. Sara is a high school girl who’s self-described as fat and covered in zits. Also, her hair is kind of amazing. She wants to be a writer, but has no self-esteem. Sara’s dad committed suicide years ago, causing her mom to regress back into her days as a hippie, 20 years after the movement ended. Sara’s mom is friends with Julie, even though the two disagree about seemingly everything. Julie acts as a counselor to Sara, though Sara sees Julie’s life as a freelance social worker to be nothing more than a way to have control over her life and the people in it.
So what is The Maxx about?
It’s about the relationship between these characters – Maxx, Julie, The Jungle Queen, Mr. Gone, and Sara. How are they all connected? What are any of them thinking? And how will the truth affect them?
It took Sam Kieth 12 issues to set everything up, and another 24 to explore what it all meant. Unfortunately, the cartoon only told the first 12 issues, plus the Wizard Magazine The Maxx 1/2 issue, and the few pages from Darker Image #1 that introduced The Maxx. So once all the pieces are in place, we basically have no idea what in the world is going on.
The cartoon was still awesome, though. The animation was a mixture of traditional animation in a variety of styles, as well as taking exact panels of Kieth’s artwork directly out of the comic and utilizing them for animation, in addition to including CGI elements and even some live-action silhouettes. It certainly belonged as part of MTV’s Oddities, not just in-story content, but also in its animation style. While it was FAR better-looking than Aeon Flux or The Head, it was a bizarre way of animating a cartoon. As far as I know, it was done in a manner that both was never done before and has not been done since.
The Maxx isn’t for everybody. A serious modicum of intelligence and willingness to question your own life as well as reality itself are absolute necessities to even begin to understand what anybody’s talking about. But if you’re willing to go into it with an open mind, a magnificent mindfuck is awaiting your brain.