Sam Kiethâ€™s the Maxx remains my all-time favorite comic book run: 35 issues of some of the most emotionally-charged, intriguing characters and stories Iâ€™ve ever read, which were anything but the standard superhero formula. As a matter of fact, I would debate whether one can even qualify the Maxx as a superhero title at all, seeing as the only thing he shares in common with the superpowered crimefighters is a gaudy costume.
The Maxx: the animated series, run during Mtvâ€™s â€œOdditiesâ€ block (along with â€œThe Headâ€) was pretty much the Maxx comic book brought to vivid life, panel-for-panel. The cartoon so strictly adhered to the source material that it even went so far as to use actual artwork taken directly from the book itself, using various animation techniques to breath life into the static art. Indeed, the only moments in which the cartoon compromised accuracy was in situations involving copyright issues (like cameos from Pitt or the Savage Dragon and Mako) or where moments of additional humor were needed.
But before I continue to get ahead of myself, let me try my very best to break down the story of the Maxx for you. The Maxx is a bum who lives in a cardboard box in a dank alleyway. He wears an irremovable purple costume with big yellow claws and likes to think he is a superhero. However, in reality, he is nothing but a homeless loser who screws everything up and never actually fights crime. In his dreams, however, he roams the Outback, an astral plane where he battles wild monsters all to protect the safety of the Jungle Queen. But eventually he always awakens back in his smelly cardboard box, just the same old Maxx.
And thatâ€™s only for the first few episodes. Things change quickly with the Maxx, as characters discover more about themselves and their own personal inner-workings. Itâ€™s only a superhero/supervillain story for the first episode, which was really just the bait. The superhero action lures the audience in while the following episodes keep them hooked with emotional depth and strength of story.
His social worker, Julie Winters, is the only one who cares for him, but even her patience is limited. In reality, she is the Jungle Queen the Maxx dreams of; her inner selfâ€™s subconscious form. Complicating matters is the mysterious Mr. Gone, a serial rapist who knows the histories behind Julie and Maxx and what incident first brought them together, though neither can seem to remember what that is. Gone wishes to help Julie and Maxx learn of their origins, as he has an emotional investment in both characters, though his methods of making them remember isnâ€™t always the most subtle. Then thereâ€™s Sarah, a nerdy average teenage girl who feels she isnâ€™t special in anyway. Julie acts as her therapist, trying to help her work through her troubled family life. But what Sarah doesnâ€™t know is that sheâ€™s deeply connected to Julie, the Maxx and even Mr. Gone in ways she canâ€™t possibly imagine.
The animated series only lasted long enough to adapt the first 11 issues of the series and thus had to create an ending which wasnâ€™t present in the comics (the Maxxâ€™s own personal Outback and identity as revealed in the show are nothing like in the comics). Yet, even though it only gets through less than a third of the total story, what you have is one of the strongest arcs in the entire run of the comic and manages to hold together all on its own. Unfortunately, not all the answers are revealed in the show itself, but if youâ€™re really interested, Wildstorm has released the entire 35-issue run of the series in trade paperback form. I canâ€™t recommend them enough.
I like Batman, I like Spawn, I like the Ninja Turtlesâ€¦but I donâ€™t like them the same way I do the characters in the Maxx. They feel like real people. There are no cosmic battles or doomsday scenarios; every conflict takes place within the personal life of the character with the consequences sometimes coming down only to the loss or revelation of memories. The characters, as bizarre as they appear, are so incredibly human you canâ€™t help but identify with them all in a way. I hate speaking so vaguely about them, but I really donâ€™t want to ruin some of the strongest moments in the story, such as Julieâ€™s origin; what defined her spirit animal and what made her the woman she is. Itâ€™s very tragic, very disturbing and all very real.
The Maxx isnâ€™t all spooky and depressing all the time, though. Not by a long shot. It balances out the soap opera material with a steady dose of humor. Thereâ€™s an episode (based on an issue drawn by David Feiss of Cow & Chicken fame) where the Maxx overdoses on PEZ while watching Saturday Morning cartoons and has a surreal dream sequence of the wackiest varietyâ€¦yet even *that* serves a purpose to the story. The Isz, these little black gooey critters from Julieâ€™s Outback which serve the will of Mr. Gone, are the standard outlet for comic relief, with their antics being genuinely funny. Several humorous gags featuring the Isz that werenâ€™t present in the comic were added to the show and really do enhance it. Yet, as funny as they are, they can be damn sadistic at times, even going so far as to kill a few people.
The voice-acting for the show deserves some serious credit, as it sounds like they cast the voices within my head. Michael Haley provides a gruff, solemn voice for the Maxx, but at the same time knows when to interject a tone of humor. Barry Stigler is genuinely threatening as Mr. Gone, with a great villainous voice that still sounds â€œrealâ€ and not very â€œcartoonishâ€. Amy Danles breathes a terribly depressed life into Sarah, sounding like such an average, ordinary, mundane teenager she couldnâ€™t have been cast more perfectly. Glynnis Talkenâ€™s Julie also hits the mark, sounding very strong and independent while also falling into a sense of vulnerability at just the right moments.
The animation isnâ€™t something to really write home about. Much of the actual background artwork and even character cels were taken directly from the comic. Iâ€™d say over almost half of the artwork, really. At times, the animation can seem a bit flat or lifeless, despite how wonderful Sam Kiethâ€™s art can be. Moments of actual animation almost feel out of place, seeming a bit too bright and full of life when compared to the dark, almost depressing appearance of the rest of the show. I suppose thatâ€™s my only qualm, though it isnâ€™t really much of one. Well, that and the fact that the show was so short-lived.
There were a total of 13 episodes produced (14, if you count the recap episode), each at the length of 15 minutes. Itâ€™s a relatively short series and thereâ€™s absolutely *no* excuse for it not to be available on DVD, yet. Still, there are â€œother meansâ€ to acquire this series, and I canâ€™t recommend it enough. Thereâ€™s nothing else like it. The Maxx is disturbing, funny, exciting and sometimes very, very sad. One of the finer works of animation to come from American shores and with a comic series thatâ€™s even better.