I finished Madman Gargantua, and my final thoughts are the same (but enhanced) as they were yesterday. Michael Allred's Madman, contrary to popular belief, is a deeply religious quest for meaning in an absurd universe.
First, the popular belief. Here's a sample of some Amazon.com reviews of Allred's various Madman trade paperbacks, just to show what I feel is the way most of the comic-reading audience thinks about this series (even though three comments is by no means a truly representative sample--but the following statements seem to capture what I've heard others say about Allred's work):
"This collection is an excellent introduction to the bizarre world of Madman. Mike Allred delivers a brilliant homage to classic sixties 'silver-age' super heroes with all the staple campness and heavy melodrama but with enough early nineties indy-comic irony to keep it all in check."
"Combined here are four or five issues of absolute hilarity done in the pop-art style Allred fans have grown accustomed to. Also included is a little Madman finger-puppet you can cut out if you're in the nut-house. Definitely recommended for anyone wishing their comics to be as light-hearted as the super-hero books of the 50s."
"Fans of Allred's work on X-Force will definitely want to check this out. Madman lacks the cynicism and underlying complexity of X-Force, but Allred's optimistic, light hearted, hero shines in the Madman books. "
And then there's this guy:
"I read it and never got why people love it sooo much. And yeah, Alred is lame illustrator."
Now that last opinion is just wrong. I know some of you will say that it's impossible to be wrong with an opinion, but you too WOULD BE WRONG. Because Allred (or "Alred [sic]") is not a "lame illustrator" by any possible standard. He is one of the greatest comic book artists not only of his generation, but in the history of the medium. He's clearly superior in his artistic skills, but that's not what I'm writing about here anyway. (I just wanted to throw that last "review" into the mix to show you the variety of Amazon.com review standards--and that two sentence comment above was the guy's entire one-star review, by the way.)
What I want to discuss is the perception that Madman is primarily a fun, campy, light-hearted romp. After reading all twenty-seven issues collected in the Gargantua edition, I would say that perception is inaccurate.
True, it is a lot of fun, and it's campy at times and light-hearted at times. But Madman is PRIMARILY, first and foremost, at its core, essentially, a story about finding God.
Click on any of the images I've included here, and you'll see Allred exploring notions of a higher power, one that can by whimsically cruel, as in the top image, which shows the hand of God flicking Madman away from the gates of Heaven. Or as in the image on the left here, which shows a floating Dr. Boiffard describing his newfound perspective on the universe. He advocates a Transcendentalist doctrine--getting to "God" through sheer willpower, using your mind to rise above the physical bonds of the world.
Or, in this Neo-Existentialist splash page, as Madman, who has met "God" (or at least his cruel hand) questions the nature of identity, existence, and purpose in life. Throughout the series, questions are raised, and answers are teased. Just look again at the very top image I've included in this post. It says, in the NEXT ISSUE box: "The Truth about Everything and all the rest..." But, in the next issue, nothing definite is revealed. Just more theories and meditations and mysteries.
Madman as a series, and Madman, as a character, never finds the answers to these essential human questions. It's a story ABOUT the questions, and about the various possible answers, but it's not (at least not so far) about actually giving the answers. And for that I'm glad.
As a devoutly non-religious person, I don't want to read simple religious allegories. I don't want a creator to tell the reader what to believe or what not to believe. So I appreciate Allred's focus on the quest, on the eternal search for meaning in a meaningless world. And I hope the series never reaches a conclusion.