Madman Atomic Comics #1
“Jumping Silent Cars That Sleep at Traffic Lights”
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Michael Allred
Colors: Laura Allred
Letters: Nate Piekos
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.50 CAN
You know, I never really got Madman.
I’ve read numerous Madman comics, spinoffs and crossovers, but I’ve never understood the character. Michael Allred’s surreal storytelling has always been diverting and rather charming with the somewhat innocent tone that dominated some of the issues. Mind you, after reading this latest relaunch, I’ve come to realize that I was trying to delve into a bizarre world without knowing all of its weird history. Allred provides a look back at the life (afterlife?) of the zany hero of Spin City in this new first issue, and I certainly appreciated the greater context. However, I know I’m not picking up on all of the metatextual references here and the more philosophical side of the property. Still, Allred’s ultimate purpose here seems to be about self-awareness, of determining one’s own identity in the face of influences that would steer one in a different direction.
Frank Einstein, better known as Madman, awakens to find his city unnaturally silent, and it doesn’t take him long to realize why. Every man, woman and child in Spin City lies dead, struck down by some kind of mystery disease. The only other thing moving on this horrific deathscape is Warren, a sentient drone created by his friend, Dr. Flem. Warren challenges Madman to remember his past, and he starts at the moment he awoke in a lab, a modern Frankenstein monster with a much better attitude. Madman remembers his short career as a psychic, his adventures a super-hero and his encounters with other special champions. he even remembers who he was before his Shelley-esque resurrection: a criminal and a killer. But after all those trips down memory lane, he is still left with one nagging question: who is he?
While Allred’s plotting and characterization may confuse me at times, there’s no denying the strength of his visual craftsmanship. His style is one that’s simple on the surface but actually boasts a strong degree of realism (ironic, given the surreal qualities of the property). Allred has a great eye for anatomy, but more importantly, his off-the-wall eye for design is what steals the show. This retrospective of all things Madman serves as an excellent showcase of those designs. His characters are quite expressive as well, with both over-the-top moments of exaggeration and subtler depictions of emotion as well.
Laura Allred is well known in the industry today as a talented colorist, and those talents are quite evident here. Her bright tones capture some of the Silver Age charm of the title character quite well, but she also uses computer colors effects to achieve a more realistic, textured or high-tech look in key scenes. For example, she tweaks the line art in the opening sequences to convey ghostly figures walking around in a mustardy fog. It helps to reinforce the eerie tone that’s integral to the story.
Michael Allred provides a pretty thorough retrospective here, even going so far as to include a reference to Superman/Madman Hullabaloo; not an easy feat when you can’t depict the super-hero icon outright. This origin/history story won’t be an easy read for people who are new to Madman. It’s a challenging script, but ultimately, the writer fills his audience in not only on the events of the character’s life but the odd qualities of him and the world around him. At times, it feels as though Allred’s construction of the character’s adventures and supporting characters are almost random in nature, each element representing a different synapse firing off in his mind at different times. Maybe there’s a plan, a greater design for the bizarre and odd assortment of characters and events, but I can’t see it.
This was the first time that I saw Madman’s story as one of a simple soul’s search for purpose. This reanimated adventurer is really in the midst of an identity crisis, and that’s something to which anyone can relate. We’re all looking for our place in the world, and it’s a comforting thing to have found it. Perhaps this is Allred trying to reconcile radical changes he made in the character over the years due to directions he chose and decisions he made that might have seemed to contradict earlier ones. In any case, that broader theme is intriguing and serves as a solid hook for this new beginning. 6/10