I don´t know how much ground I´m going to cover and since this is probably one of the few titles that is going to remain on my pull list - which I will have to reduce pretty heavy this year - no matter what it´s difficult to say if it belongs to the stuff that was good in 2008 or to the stuff I´m excited about for 2009.
Because I was in Spain for the biggest part of last year there is a huge pile of comics waiting for me every time I come to my comic shop. Which makes it a bit difficult to write my review of 2008 since I´m way behind on my regular series. On the other side it´s good because I read the comics just before writing the review ( at least some of them ) and then they are still fresh in my mind.
So every time I go to the comic shop I decide which series or two series I´m going to pick since I want to get 20 issues maximum. I think next time I´m going to take all the TEEN TITANS and USAGI YOJIMBO issues - or maybe all the ECHO issues. Anyway, last time I took all the THUNDERBOLTS and MADMAN issues which meant that I could read six issues of MADMAN in a row.
Which was kind of difficult because I wanted to read just one issue when I started but the first issue I read was issue 7 - an all silent issue. So since I read that rather quick I went right to issue 8 which was divided into two parts. The first part is a retelling of the main characters history which was also very quick and a second story about something else ( it´s not important now and I don´t want to spoil it ).
The next day I popped open issue 9 which was a complete double spread issue - at least at first glance.
Now all this sound pretty negative but to say the truth it´s one of the reasons why I started reading the book in the first place. There is this old cliche that all superhero books are the same and no matter how many books like MADMAN, TOP TEN, ASTRO CITY, INVINCIBLE or SAVAGE DRAGON come along it never dies.
I think that part of it is that while there are tons of readers out there who say that they want different superhero comics only a select few really have the cojones to put one of these titles like MADMAN on their pull list. In the case of MADMAN I think it´s this weird " not flesh nor fish " thing were people who want to read something different are repelled from the outer appearance of yet another superhero comic while the more mainstream superhero fans immediatelly dismiss it as an independent book because it´s not drawn in the regular superhero style.
For me the art of Mike Allred was always something of an acquired taste. While many comic readers don´t like his style because it doesn´t fall within the regular perimeters for superhero comics people who don´t read much comics ( we need a word for comic - muggels ) accept it much easier because it somehow reminds them of Roy Lichtenstein´s art. And like it or not that´s what most people still think of first when they think about comic art.
Mike Allred´s style has evolved in a big way since my first encounters with the MADMAN books waaay back when it was still published by THUNDRA. Older comic readers may remember it newer comics readers never heard of that publisher. There was an interview in the ordercatalogue ( of which I totally forgot the name ) back when you got one catalogue for all publishers. At that time there were interviews in it and at that time I was still working and always looking for new interesting comics to add to my reading list.
The art didn´t make that much of an impression on me but it also wasn´t garish as in other articles I had read and the story sounded interesting. In the preview art there were some dinosaurs if I remember correctly and you can´t go wrong with dinosaurs. I think it was around that time that DINOSAURS FOR HIRE came out which was a total hoot. Can´t go wrong with dinosaurs. Anyway, I put the comic on my pull list but I think it didn´t last long till THUNDRA closed it´s doors.
Shortly after that DARK HORSE began continuing the book and with the collection of the first stroyline THE ODDITY ODDYSEE I could read it from the beginning. And the rest is history.
Well, you might ask yourself where am I going with all this ? My point is that I´m reading the adventures of Frank Einstein a.k.a. MADMAN for a long time and for me it was always about the story of MADMAN. Sounds weird coming from a guy like me who puts more emphasis on art then on story. But there are artists who write and draw their own comics which I mostly put in three categories.
First - artist who write. These are artists who either I get to know as artists first and as writers later or artists who start drawing and begin writing their own stuff later in their career. Even Mike Mignola or Walter Simonson didn´t write the stuff they illustrated from the get - go.
Second - writers who draw. These are artists who I get to know as writers first or artists who are mostly known because of their writing and not for their art. And of course artists who are far better at writing than at drawing.
Third - artists who make comics. Since the underground comics and the rise of independents in the 80s there are artists who have always done both and which I also haven´t known as doing just one thing. Jaime Hernandez, Robert Crumb and for me Mike Allred have always been doing " their own thing " in providing their readers with their original vision of the world in which you can´t seperate the art from the story without breaking it.
Both are an integral part of telling their stories and I couldn´t read the one without the other. Sure, Mike Allred did an incredible job on X - Static and even if the story was much more intriguing then I originally gave it credit for - it isn´t MADMAN. That´s 100 percent Mike´s baby and even if there are a lot of nice pin ups by the Who´s Who of comics in the back pages I couldn´t imagine it with somebody elses art.
Having said that I have to add that MADMAN is not really 100 percent Mike Allred´s since a big part that defines the look of it and which in fact has become one of the main attractors for the title ( at least in my humble opinion ) are Laura Allred´s colors. They have a distinctive look in Today´s world of computer colored comics which all try to look alike while the colors by Laura ( as somebody wrote in the lettercolumn ) really look like it was colored by a living person. It´s like something you expect to find on a painting instead of in the pages of a comic book.
Back to the issues I read. I think the part that was a bit discomforting for me was the accumulated impact of MADMAN crazyness that hit me all at once. Normally you read the issues with one month to catch your breath and digest the whole issue mentally. And this is also how you have to look at the issues. Because yes, Mike is always experimenting with the storytelling and the art. But it´s all for a reason. Apart from the obvious - which is his constant evolution as both a writer and comic artist - it´s a nice break from all the other comic books that tell the stories in the same way month after month.
Like I said issue 7 was an all silent issue......something you may know as " NUFF SAID month " from Marvel. But that´s because in issue 7 MADMAN is in space.
And as we all know there is no sound in space. Normally comics circumvent this with communicators but Frank´s helmet is damaged so there is no sound in the issue. And one of my favorite issues is issue 9. Which like I said looks like an all double page spread issue. Which it isn´t.
In reality it´s an one panel - panorama issue which means that all the double page spreads together give you one big picture which depicts the town in which the story takes place. And it´s not a cheap trick to make all readers buy various issue to put them next to each other and see the complete picture. That would be the case with a Marvel book. I only realized this when I began to read the next issue because on the second page of every MADMANS ATOMIC COMICS issue ( or the inside front cover how some people call it ) there is a short recap of the last issue with all the pages.
That is a nice way to see if you read last issue because you only have to look at the recap and see if it looks familiar. I wonder why none of the big publishers incorporated that into their comics. Anyway that´s were I could confirm that all the double page spreads could be combined to one big image. Now the reason why I liked the issue so much was that it reminded me of a thing we used to have in Germany back when I was young called " Rubbelbilder " which could be loosely translated to " rub on pictures ". Rubbelbilder were small pictures you could buy at the bakery or in a paperstore which had the two sides folded in.
The pictures depicted scenery like a town or a city or the inside of an apartement. Together with the picture there was a little foil with a thin paper layer on one side that had little pictures of animals, plants, things and of course comic characters on it. By removing the thin paper and rubbing the foil on the picture with a coin or some kind of plastic you could transfer the small things to the picture.
I remember going to a nearby village to buy them and making my own pictures with the town of Asterix, Superman fighting aliens, Batman catching thieves or Popeye belting some bad guys. I must have spent hours rubbing laserbeams, rayguns or nunchakus on pictures and I guess that´s were my love for comics was reinforced with my first layout compositions. So that´s what was going through my mind while reading the issue. If you want to see the full panorama picture of issue 9 here is a link where you can see the complete version. I would have included it on my blog but the size is really big and all you could see would be a looong black thing.
Another thing I must add is that the issue also shows Mike Allred´s strength as a storyteller as you have no problem in reading it even if your eye goes up and down on the page. There are other comic artists who have trouble with double page spreads or double pages in general. In some cases you don´t know if you read the part on top before the part on the bottom in other cases you don´t even know if it´s a double page or two seperate pages. I have read the first 8 trades of POWERS and to this day I´m not sure if I have read them the right way.
So one of the appeals of MADMAN is that Mike Allred is always experimenting with the form of telling the story. I mean in issue three he pays homage to all the great artists in the comic industry. Not just a few - all of them. If there is an artist you like or an artist you think is important....or even if it is just an artist you know - there is a panel in issue 3 that looks like it was drawn by him. American artists, french artists, european artists, comic book artists, animation artists - they are all there.
And not only is it an homage to the great comic artists that have made the comic medium what it is today. Since the issue deals with the issues of identity and selfawareness it helps to show how peceptions can change by showing the characters in different art styles. MADMAN has always been a comic that stands apart from other superhero books because of the topics of personality and identity. Frank Einstein has always been a man in search of his past not only because he has been brought back to life after his death and the resulting loss of memory.
In MADMANS ATOMIC COMICS the whole issue of finding out who we are, where we are coming from and where we are going to becomes the center of the story. The first issue in fact questions everything the reader ( and Frank ) took for granted and it does it in a really intelligent and intriguing way. I would like to go into further detail but I don´t want to spoil it for those who haven´t read it. If you want to know more just click the link below :
But MADMAN is not only one giant headtrip into the frontiers of human existence, a rollercoaster ride to unknown metphysical and religious heights. It´s also an adventure full of weird science, rocket ships, space aliens, superhero teams like the Atomics, birth, death and rebirth ( and cloning ).
It has action, drama, romance, adventure, phylosophy and spirituality. It´s full of crazy ideas, wonderful concepts and a pure love for life and the comic medium which you can see on every page. No wonder it´s numer 14 on Comic Book Resources Timothy Callahan´s Top Twenty books of 2008 :
This comic seems to fly under the radar, even though Mike Allred has been one of the great comic book artists of the past fifteen years. I think the average comic book reader dismisses Allred's "Madman Atomic Comics" because of a superficial awareness of its contents. Either they think that it's all about camp nostalgia or they think, maybe after reading the first few issues of this series, that it's going nowhere. But what Allred is doing here -- what makes it a bit different than his previous Madman comics -- is bringing his metaphysical explorations to the fore. Frank Einstein has always been a character in search of answers to philosophical questions, but Allred tended to couch those questions in "ginchy" superhero tropes and wacky situations. He's still doing that to some extent, but he's not forcing conventional plots on his story anymore. He's letting his characters explore their universe at a slower, more thoughtful pace. And, to make it more enticing, Allred's been experimenting with his drawing style or layouts in nearly every issue. This comic is about the big questions, and it approaches those questions with grace and charm.
If I have managed to pique your interest and you want to find out more about Mike Allred and the MADMAN comic series here are some links. But be careful since there might be spoilers :
New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN :