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Mad, Bad and Depressing to Know: Graeme on Allred, 4/4.

Graeme McMillan

Continuing the trend from Brian’s last post: Something else that Annalee liked? Grindhouse, which she and the lovely Charlie Anders invited Kate, myself and a theater row of others to watch at the Bridge last night. Perhaps because I am young, innocent and Scottish, I’m not so familiar with the whole grindhouse thing – I’ve seen some of the movies and trailers themselves, but outside of the context of grindhouse culture, so the whole package that surrounded the movie last night (Including about half an hour of trailers for genuine grindhouse movies) was both surprising and very, very enjoyable. The actual movie was both only moreso, especially the Rodriguez half, which just piles more and more over-the-topness throughout itself to give you the feeling that This may be the greatest achievement in cinema history more than once. Tarantino’s half starts slowly, but just when you’re getting worried that you’re going to be bored by the whole thing, kicks in the awesome to such an extent that you’ll be cheering along with the best of them. Kate’s and my love of Rose McGowan aside – and that’s a pretty big thing to put aside, let me tell you – the best thing in the movie for me may be the trailers between the two movies: “Don’t!” being something that makes me laugh much more than it should even a day later. Consider the movie Very Good… But anyway! Because I said I would yesterday!

MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS #1: Wow, what a spectacular misfire. Whenever I think of Madman, I tend to think of absurd, colorful, retro fun that occasionally strays into the existential, sure, but fun nonetheless. Maybe I’ve only got this impression because I’ve not read enough Madman in the past, and the series itself has actually always been a downer with a surface glee, because if there’s one thing that this opening issue of the new ongoing series isn’t, it’s fun in the slightest.

The plot of the issue, such as it is, is the following: Frank Einstein, the eponymous Madman, finds that everyone in the world is dead. After reliving his past in the exposition-heavy bulk of the issue, he’s told that that past wasn’t real, and he’s not a superhero at all, he’s actually the personification of one of the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse; he’s actually Death. The end. I’ve got quite a few problems with this, the first one being – You spend an entire issue on exposition summing up the character’s history, only to spend the last three pages saying that none of it is true? Then haven’t you just wasted everyone’s time and money…? That really seems like the case here, especially considering that the exposition isn’t particularly inventively done; it reads more or less like a Marvel Saga issue, but less so, not focusing on recurring themes or the big events but apparently just recapping almost every issue (with the exception of the cross-company crossovers, although Superman, Nexus and the Savage Dragon all appear in there). Why spend so many pages building up a history that doesn’t matter for, I assume, new readers like me, only to pull it away at the last moment? The shock “That’s not who you are” reveal doesn’t work, because we’ve only really been told who Frank thought he was, instead of shown, and the shift in tone (Frank isn’t a fun superhero, he’s Death!) doesn’t even seem particularly jarring, because the book started with the horror theme of Frank finding rotting corpses everywhere. It just seems… dull, kind of.

I almost wish that I had been reading the series long-term, just because I wonder what the reaction of longer-term readers would be to the ending of the issue. Would it seem more dramatic? Or would they, as Brian seems to be, have been turned off by the essentially-issue-length recap of things that they already knew up to that point?

(Also, for that matter, if we’re to believe that the end of this issue isn’t a giant swerve, hasn’t Mike Allred just killed demand for his expensive Madman Gargantua collection by saying that none of it happened in continuity? Or don’t people care about things like that?)

It’s a strange move, I think, spending your first issue more or less spinning your wheels before trying an “everything you know is wrong!” ending – You haven’t earned the gravity that that ending should have because, hey, it’s a first issue (Yes, the book has been around in many other incarnations by this point, but you don’t fill an issue with recap unless you think that you’re reaching new readers who haven’t read that stuff before, so obviously on some level Allred is treating this as a first issue – “First smashing issue! Jump on for the ride of this life!” as the cover blurb screams), and so it feels like a cheat and kind of like shock for the sake of shock, which tends to kill goodwill from the reader. There’s something oddly reminiscent of early ’90s Image in it, the way that Liefeld and Lee and all the rest tried to pull X-Men style reveals on characters that they’d introduced at most two issues earlier, so maybe the whole thing is some meta joke now that this book is being published by Image, but… I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong, the new direction, if it takes (and I kind of hope that it does; not that I like the new direction, because either Frank goes along with it and becomes Death which is, you know, not what I want from this book at all, or he doesn’t, and becomes the cliched “monster who denies his destiny and tries to do good” that Hellboy has had covered for the last decade and a bit, so… But at this point, I feel like Allred can’t just reveal that this is an entire fake-out because if it is, then he really has just wasted that first issue entirely) may end up being the best thing since sliced bread, and the book is still pretty damn pretty to look at. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a very disappointing first issue, not only because of the lack of fun, but also because of the worthlessness of pulling the rug out from people who weren’t standing on it in the first place. Crap.

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