By Rick Veitch
The Maximortal feels like a comic that should be much more better known and widely regarded. I mean yeah maybe that’s partly just me – I somehow managed to get my hands on Issues #1, #3 and #4 when I was a kid and read them so many times that the images ended up being burned directly into my new soft pink brain (which yes probably explains a lot). And well yeah it’s obviously true that the stuff you read when you’re young is always much more potent simply because it’s always so fresh and making pathways through your skull where nothing has ever ventured or drilled it’s way in before.
And well yeah – even now with the benefit of adulthood – and a much more jaded and burnt out palate I’ve gotta say this is still pretty strong stuff. I mean the image on the front cover of the first issue is pretty direct at telling you everything you need to know:
Speaking personally – apart from the look of complete and abject horror on the guy’s face (not to mention the fact that the kid has his hand going inside his eyesocket) it’s the look of pure and blissful glee on the kid’s face that really sells it for me. Looking more like an expression that you’d see on someone riding a pony in a funfair than a… well…
But hey for those of you who’ve never even heard of this book I should say – it’s not really a Crossed-type thing full of evil gory nastiness. No sir. It’s actually about – well – Superman. You know: the big boy scout. Champion of truth and justice and all that good stuff.
Except well – it’s a retelling of the Superman myth in a way that ends up making you feel that the official Superman story that everyone knows and loves and can recite from heart is a cover-up and sanitization of something that’s a lot more primal and dark and strange.
How to put it? It’s as if your whole life you’ve been told the story of how your parents met and fell in love and then you read The Maximortal and it’s basically like watching them having sex. And then there’s this whole thing where the American government get involved…
Like I realise this may be me building the book up to a level that it can’t possibly hope to match but there is a part of me that feels like The Maximortal deserves to exist in the same kind of orbit as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. I mean yeah ok lol – it’s nowhere near as good and as well crafted as either of those two books. Like both of them are marked by precision and focus that The Maximortal doesn’t have and it’s a lot more messy and raw in how it’s thrown together and towards the end it basically collapses into little pieces which is a shame (it also kinda helps itself to some of Watchmen’s tricks in a way that ends up feeling cheap).
But that being said the way it tackles the notion of a superhero is entrancing in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before or since and does it in a way that comes from the completely opposite direction of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Those two books after all were all about deconstructing superheroes and making them feel modern and realistic. The Maximortal is reserve of all that – instead it’s about making superheroes mythic and embedded in something that feels like a manifestation of something much more ancient and timeless.
It’s also interesting (in probably the best sequence of the whole book) that unlike Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns which take place in alternative worlds with alternative histories (The Vietnam War won and Nixon in his third term etc) The Maximortal tells a story that matches much more precisely on to our own world to the point where it feels like you’re reading a secret history. I mean – there’s a part of me that wants to get into the way that this works itself out but like I said – it’s probably the best sequence of the book (not only for what happens but the graceful way it plays itself out) and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.
But yeah like I said – it feels like this is a book that more people should have read (or at the very least heard of). But then maybe that takes away from it being a deep dark little secret that no one has ever heard about – which is also kinda cool too. It’s just kind of interesting to image a world where The Maximortal had been injected into the cultural bloodstream and what kind of strange mutant creatures would have been born in it’s wake…
Then again – maybe there’s some things that the world just isn’t made for. Maybe there are some stories that are better left secret and hidden away.
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