Sunday, August 05, 2007

The First Half of Madman Gargantua

Madman Gargantua is the 852 page hardcover collection of Mike Allred's Madman series, dating from the earliest Tundra series through the 20 issue Dark Horse run. I'm only halfway through the book so far, but the earlier stories are shockingly different than I remembered. I actually bought the first, perfect bound, two color issue of Madman when it first premiered, because I had been a fan of Allred's work from what little I had seen fifteen years ago. (He was known as M. Dalton Allred in those days.) I have bought every issue since, although I missed one issue of Madman Adventures that I was never able to track down at a comic shop or a convention.

Nevertheless, I read the issues when they came out, loved the artwork, and didn't really pay too much attention to the story, since I could barely remember what had happened in the previous episodes. I never bothered to go back and read the whole series. Until now.

I've been buying the new stuff, by the way, Madman Atomic Comics issues 1-3, published by Image this year. And I've seen some online criticism about the meandering nature of the plots, and the heavy introspection and metaphysical dilemma in favor of action and zaniness. I haven't felt that way, personally, because I'm just waiting to see where Allred is taking us, and the artwork alone is worth the cost of each issue.

But here's what everyone should realize: The early issues of all the other Madman comic book series (in fact, the first half of the Gargantua) is all about a metaphysical dilemma as well. The entire series is based on it, actually, in addition to other religious concerns.

Yes, I would say that Madman, in retrospect, is a deeply religious work. It's higly concerned with metaphysics and the nature of identity, and it's highly concerned with morality, with Madman, at one point, pondering if good and evil are necessary and what the world might look like if evil were abolished. The notion of God is raised more than once, and none of these concerns or ideas raised by Allred receive any answers (at least in the first half of the book). The series seems to be Allred's attempt to probe the nature of these religious questions, to pose them, to explore them, and to find out where these questions lead.

All the "wacky" yo-yo fighting, disc-shooting, ginchy fun is in the service of this much larger quest for meaning. In fact, the childish toys Madman uses seem to represent his naive, innocent nature.

Except for that one scene in the very first issue where Madman rips a guy's eyeball out and swallows it. That's a pretty wild character inconsistency that we don't see in later issues. But, Madman was trying to find himself back on those first few pages, I guess, and eating eyeballs as a way to intimidate a bad guy was his wrongheaded attempt. He learned his lesson, and so should we: no eyeball eating for us, especially on the path to religious enlightenment.

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