The ’90s saw a drastic change in the comic book industry. Gone were the days of campy superheroes and damsels in distress, and instead a new darker tone was introduced. While the ’80s did give us some dark storylines, it was in the following decade that the writers fully expressed themselves, accompanied by a much edgier art style.
The forefront of the comic book industry was still lead by superheroes, with titles from the likes of Superman, X-Men, and Spawn. However, writers and artists also started putting more enthesis on psychological and philosophical stories. With all that said, we will take a brief look at one of the most underrated comics from the 90’s The Maxx, written by Sam Keith.
The First Act
Though at first conceptualized as a superhero comic book, The Maxx was anything but that. Writer Sam Keith, who previously worked as an inker and artist, wanted to branch out with a more relatable narrative. Keith had previously worked with Neil Gaiman and Marvel Studios and felt the need to create his original project. In 1993, he published his series of comic books under the Image Comic banner.
The main story was comprised of two parts, yet they both followed the comic’s titular character, The Maxx. The first story arc was written by Keith, and it introduced us to the world and its main cast. Center stage was Maxx, an amnesiac man with superhuman strength, Julie Winters, a social worker who accompanies our hero, and Mr. Gone, a serial rapist who targets the young girl. Halfway into the first story, we are introduced to another character, Sarah, the supposed daughter of our villain.
Diving deeper into the world, readers found that the psychological twists and turns were its most beloved element. Keith introduces us to the Outback, a place that we humans create in our minds. An imaginative world built on each individual’s real-life experience, but for the sole purpose of using it for ourselves. However, what happens when certain elements cross from the Outback into the real world? Turns out, you can invite multiple things that can cause havoc and mayhem.
In the first act, we are introduced to Julie’s Outback, a land only known as Pangea. Inside Pangea, she establishes herself as the Jungle Queen with Maxx as her loyal protector. However, Maxx exists in the real world as well. Furthermore, he seemingly has no memory nor an Outback of his own, and yet is tied to Julie somehow. In the real world, he does his best to protect her from the enigmatic Mr. Gone, while also trying to figure out his purpose in life and remember his past.
Keith’s Magic Touch
One of the reasons why Keith’s comic is so compelling is due to how well-connected all the characters are to each other, driving the story forward together. By the end of the first arc, Julie reveals that in college she was raped by a hitchhiker, and ever since, she has locked herself in her Outback. Interestingly, her Outback is shaped by stories of her father’s good friend, known as Uncle Artie. The identity of her father’s friends turns out to be Mr. Gone, who seeks out Julie to help her understand the Outback and the Maxx. While still on bitter terms, Julie accepts his advice to learn of her savior’s past.
The idea of a spiritual protector is not a new thing in literature, but it has never been explored to such a degree earlier in comic book fashion. The Maxx is just that, a spiritual protector, that resonates in each person. However, it is revealed that Julie’s protector was different. After returning from work one night, Julie panicked at the sight of a homeless man. She ran him over with her car, and in that moment accidentally let a part of her Outback into the real world. Thus, the spirit merged with the homeless man and created her Maxx.
The end sees our characters go on with their lives. Julie moves out of the city to start a new life and leaves her heartbroken protector behind. The Maxx adopts his previous life, a homeless man by the name of Dave. Later issues saw a different protagonist and writer, the comic book veteran, Alan Moore. Moore would continue on the story, setting it a few years later, and putting Sarah in the spotlight. The titular hero would also return but with a new identity and against a new evil.
The Second Act
The second part saw Sarah trying to reconcile with her father, who has suddenly resurfaced as a happily married man. Though a changed person, his daughter still has a hard time forgiving him for all he has done in the past. This second part puts the relationship between a parent and his child front and center. While Gone has done terrible things in the past, leaving Sarah and her mother was the one thing she could not forgive. All of this happens while in the background, a mysterious giant slug attempts to find and kill Julie.
As the story progresses she discovers her spiritual protector Norbert as well as the identity of the giant slug, named Iago. Turns out Iago is a murderous creature, that originated from Sarah’s Outback, and is out to kill Julie and her son Mark. Alongside Norbert, Gone, and the original Maxx, they set out to find and stop Iago before he hurts someone, all while exploring Sarah’s Outback. Along their journey, readers witness the reunion between father and daughter and learn the tragic past of Mr. Gone.
What makes a good villain, his demeanor, his hunger for power, or the way the audience relates to the character? In a twist of events, it turns out that the main antagonist is instead a troubled soul, trying to get over his past. Being sexually tortured by his aunt, Gone started to resent women at a very early age. His first wife killed herself and their child, which left him with severe trauma. His second wife continued to abuse him, and he spiraled into depression even more. It was finally with his third wife he found happiness and had Sarah, who he genuinely loved.
However, due to his past experiences, he found it difficult to lead a normal life and decided that it was best for him to disappear than to hurt his family. He is later corrupted by his Outback and his hatred for women consumes him. The end sees him redeem himself and find happiness with his daughter. The epilogue saw all the main characters start new lives after their numerous struggles, a fitting conclusion to an amazing tale. Moore carefully expanded the story of each character, but out of all of them, Gone was one of the most well-developed in the series.
It’s worth noting that after the 30th issue ended, the Maxx was barely ever mentioned. He had a couple of spin-off stories and collaborations with other comics, most recently Batman. He also received a cartoon adaptation, that covered the first act. Despite that, a new Maxx comic hasn’t been out for over two decades. While it rests safely in IDW publisher’s hands, there is no sign of him returning anytime soon. Keith stated in multiple interviews that it was one of his favorite comics and that it is an essential read to all real fans of his work. We highly recommend this underrated classic a look at, even in 2019.
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