REVIEWS

Madman All-New Giant Size Super Ginchy Special

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.

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20 Responses to Madman All-New Giant Size Super Ginchy Special

  1. Erik says:

    I know trying to argue against a critique in the comments section of a comics website is bordering on… well, something not particularly positive, but I nevertheless felt the need to say three things:

    1. Yes, that ToZo story was great. First exposure to his work, and I’ll now seek his stuff out.
    2. Being ignorant of the fact Image actually does, yes indeed, publish good comics is so very early 2000s. King City and Orc Stain are great, but so too is a wide variety of series and mini-series and one-shots (including, I’ve just learned, more work from ToZo). On the whole, there collective output rivals (or bests) that of DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse.
    3. Subjectivity be goddamned: Matt Kindt is one of the ten best cartoonists working today. For reals.

  2. I would defend pretty much everything said in this article in any form of verbal or physical combat. Beautiful.

    I do, however, think that the Image series deserves further scrutiny. Not because it was good or successful (it was neither), but because it was interesting. The high concept stuff Allred was trying (an issue that’s one continuous panel, an issue where every panel was drawn in the style of a different artist) was all fine, but what really drew me to it was the very, very strange impression that it gave me of Allred himself. The proceedings (a range including the grisly death of one of the main characters to the protagonist being a full grown man who straight-up plays with action figures) were made exponentially stranger by a strange sort of emotional detachment that overshadowed the entire thing. I could never quite put my finger on what it was. I remember Surgeon saying that he found the series deeply weird.

  3. Allen Rubinstein says:

    Yes, reviewing the reviewer is a bit silly, but I think the writing here is somewhat below the standards of The Comics Journal. I realize we’re all being hang back and vernacular and mimicking to some extent the rambling nature of Madman itself, but I’m not sure that justifies grammatical errors and run on sentences. Just saying.

  4. norman hathaway says:

    A bit harsh in my opinion Allen.

    Seems like Gazin’s heart is in the right place and I learned quite a bit from his review as well.

  5. Joe Keatinge says:

    Really?

    Really?

    REALLY?

    This is what passes for a Comics Journal review these days?

    Really?

    I don’t give a damn if people agree or disagree with my tastes.
    Everyone has an opinion. That said, this reads like a sad, angry and frankly
    ignorant preteen with a Livejournal. Dated reference?

    Hell yeah. It’s how this reads.

    Don’t like something? Fine. Learn what critiquing means.

    Very disappointed to see this coming from TCJ.

    Do better.

  6. DanielJMata says:

    It doesn’t matter if his heart is in the right place or not. Is it really so bad to want a grammatical standard from the best american comics magazine? There have been A LOT of problems in many articles, and I wish they’d tighten up.

  7. Dan Nadel says:

    I like Nicholas’ approach a lot, which, of course, is why I asked him to write for us. It is certainly high personal, but that’s precisely what draws me in. I learned a ton about a series I hadn’t thought about in years, and Nicholas succinctly describes what works and what doesn’t. Is it informal and offhand, and even dismissive? Yes, and all the better for it. Are there a few things that slipped past the editing process? Yep, and we’ll improve in the future. But to my mind it’s perfectly up to the fluctuating standards of TCJ.

  8. vollsticks says:

    Finally! Someone who agrees with me about Matt Kindt! His character designs are all the same! His figures are all really weedy and skinny-looking! BUT I did enjoy that recent (ish) Strange Tales story he did with the female superhero whose name escapes me at the moment…

    I’m not too mad for Mr. Gazin’s writing and also think he needs to “tighten up”. Reviewing comics for a self-appointed hipper-than-thou “style” magazine with pretensions and doing the same for the best, most erudite publication devoted to the art-form are, clearly, two very different things. Although his enthusiasm for stuff he likes is always palpable and there’s a genuine, almost child-like sincerity that I get from his reviews (I always read the writing on comics he does for Vice, he seems to have a playful, antagonistic interviewer/interviewee relationship with Johnny Ryan that seems to have a great malicious undercurrent!). Please, try and lose that “Vice voice”, Mr. Gazin! I mean when you’re writing on here (obviously).

    His effusive description makes me want to read the original Madman mini-series. I do like Allred’s work and buy it whenever I see it but I’ve never gone out of my way to acquire his stuff. I’ll do that for this fabled mini-series, though. And the first issue of the third series that Mr. Gazin holds in such high regard. I just hope they’re not stupidly rare and/or expensive.

    As an aside, did anyone see those photos of Mike Allred’s work-space? All those amazing original pages! Silver Age Kirby, Jaime Hernandez, Steve Rude….suffice to say he had some lovely, lovely pieces.

  9. I think your criticism of Gazin rings a bit true, but I think Gazin uses these things to make create an engaging, personal voice that has been drawing me in for years. It’s certainly not for everyone, and I would advise you to either keep an open mind or not read his pieces.

  10. I would use the word “evolving” over “fluctuating”.

  11. Pat says:

    Like Colin, I totally understand somebody having this reaction (especially a person who has worked with people whose work is being discussed), but I’m not sure how exactly this isn’t critiquing beyond “this isn’t critiquing that I like”.

  12. LWV says:

    I don’t really see what the issue is.
    He talked about how the work relates to other pieces by the artist and larger trends across comics, while forming opinions about the relative validity of those things. Which is basically what this is supposed to be, right?

    I mean, I take less issue with the slightly gnarly grammar/structure here than that Chester 5000 press release from last week.

  13. ceepee says:

    My goodness, either get an editor or get a writer who can construct an intelligible sentence. To join Joe in making outdated but apt references, I would only expect writing this careless to appear in a xeroxed zine that was pressed into my hands by some douche at an “ironic kegger.”

    And I am glad that everyone where you live has moved on to being cool and cheerful, but Emi lives in Portland. Complaining about emo kids is still very, very relevant here.

  14. Nicholas Gazin says:

    Thanks for sticking up for me, dad. I may be a talentless hate-monger but I have feelings and these eyeballs cry one at a time just like everybody else’s.

  15. Allen Rubinstein says:

    I think this is the best comics review I have ever read.

  16. Brendan T says:

    There’s something hilarious about the level of criticism on this piece in the comments being higher than the level of criticism within the review itself. For future reference, saying something is shitty isn’t criticism. Explaining WHY you think it’s shitty is.

  17. Matthew Jeske says:

    not to the level of Comics Journal criticism? Some TCJ criticism is great, some TCJ criticism is piss-poor. And it has always been that way.

  18. I liked the review, and think Gazin is a welcome addition to TCJ. There is a definite need for a kind of irreverence that’s more blunt than that kind of Groth pith (which I like when he does it). To my mind, Gazin had some insightful takes on the early Madman, and for the most part DID tell us why the new special is shitty, though maybe Kindt deserved a little more attention. I do agree he should have gotten into the Image series, because it’s really fascinating how far Allred’s star has dropped from X-Force/X-Statix. It’s not that he’s pandering, as most of his projects sound fairly interesting or out-there on paper; they just haven’t worked, and clearly Madman has become for him something far different than it started, which is of course his right as an artist. The last Allred work I read had such bad hand lettering I thought he’d lost his mind, it was so sub-professional. He’s almost like Miller, where you want to go back through old work like an FBI agent to spot the early signs of nuttiness.

  19. I prefer Gazin’s perspective on comics and shoot-from-the-hip, gut-level writing style for his reviews. It feels authentic. Reminds me of talking about comics with dudes at the comic shop on Wednesdays, as opposed to other more formal reviews which recall analyzing comics at an academic cocktail party, in a book-lined den, wearing an ascot, lightly clutching and gesturing with a snifter of 12-year brandy.

  20. I respectfully disagree, because I think we comics critics should be awarded book-lined dens, ascots, and brandy as a matter of course.

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