As someone who’s worshiped Mike Allred since I was eleven, I found this fifty-something page comic book pretty disappointing. It starts off with an eighteen-page Madman comic by Mike Allred, followed by shorter comics about Madman by Emi Lenox, Matt Kindt, and Tonci Zonjic and then twenty-three pages worth of fan art by various well known comic artists. It’s a lot of comics for six dollars but feels kind of like a really big greeting card from someone you hadn’t thought about in a couple years.
Madman‘s main character, Frank Einstein, started off in Grafik Musik and Creatures of the Id as a green- or blue-skinned re-animated corpse with psychic abilities. Allred expanded the character in the beautiful black, white, and lavender Madman mini-series, in which Frank was given a costume and robbed of his memory. I’m told that Dan Clowes drew some of the backgrounds for a couple of issues of the original Madman miniseries. This three-issue series shared more with Clowes’s sensibilities than anything Allred put out afterwards. The main character wasn’t typically having fun in the comic. He was either alone or reviled as a creepy vagrant and his costume was seen as a sign of his mental instability. One of the scenes that sticks out to me is of Frank smiling at a kid a staring at him on a bus who then tells him he looks stupid. He also has an acquaintance with an old man who hangs around sitting on benches. The lavender spot coloring Allred used in the series is also pretty similar to the light blue spot coloring that Clowes used on Ghost World.
The series involved Frank having a series of grim adventures while obsessing over a woman named Joe, struggling to remember who he is and most of all, trying to bring back his adoptive mad scientist father back to life. There’s some adventuring and fun, but the series highlights the idea that Frank gives a lot of the other characters the creeps. He’s a lonely weirdo who spends a lot of time by himself, and the comic manages to focus on a lot of very funny and odd moments. Madman remains something of a weirdo. But the uncomfortable vibe of the first mini-series doesn’t return in later Madman comics.
The next Madman series, Madman Adventures (1992-1993), features Frank having adventures through space and time in full color. He’s no longer a loner and a vagrant; he’s now working as a guinea pig for mad scientists and dating Joe Lombard, a red headed babe. Both the original Madman series and Madman Adventures feature a decent balance of the character of Frank Einstein interacting with other characters and spending time alone with his thoughts appearing as narration. One of the most defining parts of the Madman comics is Frank’s inner monologues. He’ll philosophize on the nature of day to day life, God and all sorts of shit while walking around or fighting a guy.
The third official Madman series was Madman Comics from Dark Horse. I consider the first issue of Madman Comics to be one of the best comics ever made. It showcases Mike Allred’s art during my favorite period of his, the story keeps moving forward, and all kinds of neat things occur. There’s a good balance of quiet moments and chase scenes and Frank explores so much of the city he lives in that it feels like a real place and he feels like a real guy. You like him and you want to exist in the universe of the comic.
Madman was probably best known from the comics that Dark Horse put out and there were also some attempts at shoving in a larger story that readers never got the details of, possibly concerning the main character as a stand in for one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which was a pretty decent MacGuffin to intercut with the fun adventures that the comic provided. After issue #11 Allred took a a three year hiatus which seemed like forever when I was thirteen. When the comic returned in 1999 It felt different and like it had lost momentum. There was a decent storyline in which Frank’s surrogate father left our planet and ascended to some other form of existence but the series went out on a downer. The Ghoulash story from Allred’s Grafik Muzik, which Frank Einstein had appeared heavily in, had been turned into a crappy movie called Detectives from Hell and the final four issues of Dark Horse’s Madman series were primarily a tracing of the original comic. As with the final issues of most of Allred’s comic series it ends with a teaser for a next issue that never came out.
Mike Allred took his Frank Einstein character to a new company with each new series but Madman made sense as a Dark Horse comic. It was amongst comics like Sin City, Hellboy, Concrete, and The Mask, comics about superhero-ish looking characters who weren’t really superheroes. The classic Dark Horse lineup of characters were too hip to be on DC, Marvel, or Image but not hip enough for Fantagraphics or Anglophilic enough for Vertigo. It feels wrong to see Madman now being published by Image, but I don’t really know what Image is about these days since they don’t tell me and I don’t see anyone writing or talking about what they make with the exception of the Walking Dead. (I’ve heard that Orc Stain and King City are good.)
Madman had a new comic series with Image that ran at least ten issues which I know because I just discovered that I own the first ten issues. Although I must have read them, I have no memory of what happened in any particular issue. It seemed to take place entirely inside Frank Einstein’s mind which made it hard to focus on or care. It no longer felt like a Madman comic to me. It was a very professional looking comic, but there was nothing that resonated in it for me.
And now we’re caught up on the history of Madman’s comic book history and the new thing featuring Mike Allred’s Madman is this special issue I’m reviewing which is a sequel to a Madman special issue that Oni put out eight years ago. In Mike Allred’s contribution we see Madman talking to a villain that I don’t remember who’s stolen a character’s ear. It seems like this plot point was created just so that Allred could recreate some scenes from Blue Velvet. Frank falls into a booby-trapped pit and spends the majority of the comic in a void with his thoughts. Most of them don’t seem too important except for one where he looks in the mirror and notices that he’s old. He also tries on his old costumes and briefly mentions his impending death. In the end everything’s okay but it doesn’t feel like much happened or was learned.
There’s a shitty backup comic by Emi Lenox which is mostly about what a drag emo kids are, which is a complaint I stopped having about ten years ago when I stopped hearing people talk about emo. It’s weird when comics are that out of touch with youth culture. I remember when Marvel put out a comic called NYX about hip X-Men in 2003. The rave scene came and went and then follow up raves came and went and then that movie Go came out and then there were rave themed Burger King commercials which seemed to solidify that, whatever rave was, it was dead. Then five years passed and NYX #1 comes out and there’s the main character with a pacifier as a necklace wearing ravey fashions.
Remember that comic, Killapalooza, about a high paid rock band who are actually a team of high paid assassins? There was a scene in the first issue in which they make fun of Marilyn Manson as he looked and acted around the time that Antichrist Superstar came out. I could write a whole article about instances when comics struggled to make hip references and failed hilariously and I probably will but I’ll tell you more about this Madman comic
The next shitty backup comic is by Matt Kindt who can’t even fucking draw. He’s not even a hack. I don’t get why he’s in there. The highpoint of this book is Tonci Zonjic’s nine page story, “Bang!” I’ve never heard of Tonci before but he (she?) has a beautifully tight European style that reminds me a lot of Alex Toth. Even his signature looks like Toth’s. This guy’s a master. He’s got great lines, great use of black, great color sense, great composition and draws great faces and poses. He’s so good that he seems out of place in this book.
Then there’s some okay pin-ups of Madman by various cartoonists.
I feel exhausted. It’s not fun pointing out that your heroes may have made some missteps.