Be honest. You’re only here because you heard the news that Magic Mike himself was adapting some obscure indie comics for TV, or maybe as a movie, and you wanted to know if there was a chance he’d star in it himself and dance, half-naked, at regular intervals. Either that or you liked the pretty picture that accompanied this feature. A small percentage of you might actually be cool enough to know The Maxx already, but there’s always time for a refresher. Right?.
Whatever the reason is that you came here, we’re glad that you did. Hopefully, you’re as excited about a new The Maxx TV show/movie as we are, and would like to find out all about the crazy universe the character inhabits before delving into what this writer believes is the single greatest moment ever. But I’m biased.
Let’s begin our journey at the most logical starting point – the end. The setting is a high school. All our principal characters are well rounded, normal people. There is nothing out of the ordinary here. But that is because this is the end of the story and not the beginning. If we’d started there things would have been very different. But at least you know everything works itself out one way or another.
OK, so now we’ve got that out of the way, prepare to have your mind blown wide open as we delve deep into the multi-layered consciousness that is The Maxx comics. It’s a trip that will make even your most bizarre experiences with recreational drugs seem totally normal, so hold on tight as we open your minds and get to grips with The Maxx universe.
Our story begins with 30-year-old American comic book artist Sam Kieth. The year was 1993, and Kieth was working on a new comic idea, one that he would own himself instead of working for established publishers like Marvel and DC Comics. This new creation would be one of the first titles released under Image Comics, the fledgling publishing house created by Todd McFarlane and a host of other important names. After years working on established superhero fare like The Incredible Hulk, Sam decided it was time to unleash his own brand of hero into the world – and that hero’s name was The Maxx.
Kieth had obviously gained a lot of experience working with Marvel and DC and was able to harness this knowledge to bring his creation to life, like Dr. Frankenstein but with less electricity and more pencils. In March 1993 the first issue of The Maxx landed on shelves and a new benchmark for indie comics was born. This was also the moment that the Outback slowly began to infringe on our reality, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. More on that later.
There was no way you couldn’t be intrigued by the cover of the very first issue of The Maxx. The lead character popped off the front page, contrasted against a solid black background and a splodge of red – blood maybe? Everything about it screamed THIS IS NOT YOUR USUAL COMIC BOOK HERO, and thousands of kids more akin to picking up Spider-Man pawed through the pages to see what they’d been missing. Most of them (myself included) probably couldn’t buy it, as it wasn’t age-appropriate, but it didn’t matter. Sam Kieth had planted the seed. The Outback was now opening up within us.
Oops. That word again. Sorry. Well, it only seems appropriate at this point to discuss the story. I mean by even mentioning the O word I’ve forever tied you to this property. It’s as much a part of you now as it is the rest of us fans. Whether you chose to explore it remains entirely up to you – but it’s there. At the back of your brain. Festering. You might as well acknowledge it – it’s way more fun.
So … The Maxx. What’s it all about? Well, The Maxx is a series about the adventures of some homeless shlub who lives in a box. Exciting, hu? Wait, there’s more to it than that. The titular hero might spend his time in our reality living in a cardboard box in an alley, but on an alternate plane of existence, he is the powerful protector of a beautiful blonde known as the Jungle Queen. This reality is known as … drum roll, please … THE OUTBACK. The Jungle Queen is actually a freelance social worker called Julie Winters. She has a few clients, but her most persistent “customer” is Maxx, who she often has to bail out of jail. Julie has no idea about the Outback. Or her alternative timeline. Or the truth about Maxx … or his superheroic persona, THE MAXX. Despite being kept in the dark, the Outback is integral to the lives of everyone in both realities – and bit by bit, the two worlds begin to bleed into one another.
But just who is Maxx protecting Julie/the Jungle Queen from? The Outback sounds like a nice enough place to live, right? No. It is not. It is inhabited by all manner of monsters – but perhaps none so scary as serial-rapist and general son of a bitch, Mr. Gone. Gone is also an inhabitant of Julie’s reality, but has some vague telekinetic powers that have opened his mind up to the Outback and other such realities like it. As such he can move between both worlds, assembling armies of gremlin-like creatures called Isz, to use in his constant attempts to kill Maxx and get to Julie. Because Mr. Gone has a foot in both realities he is also able to unleash The Isz into the real world, which means there really isn’t anywhere Julie can go to truly be safe.
It is later revealed that the Outback is actually the product of Julie’s damaged mind. As a young woman, she was attacked and raped and to help her cope with the trauma she created an alternative reality in which she could reside safely. The alternative version of herself that she created along with this reality was an all-powerful Jungle Queen. When we meet Julie she’s not so much forgotten about the Outback, as spent so much time living in her own head that her physical state and her psyche have become two separate vessels. The comic attempts to repair the rift between the two, and does so across 35 wonderful, fascinating issues.
The Maxx would eventually go onto be adapted into an animated series. It ran for 13 episodes as part of MTV’s Oddities section, alongside the equally bonkers The Head cartoon. Sadly, poor advertising, a rubbish time-slot, and an audience that would rather watch Chris Hardwick’s Singled Out meant that a single season was all we’d ever get.
By 1998 the comic had ended, and the TV show was a distant memory. It seemed like The Maxx had taken-off into his own Outback and left us all for good. The character would reemerge periodically, most noteably as part of a cross-over with Batman. Perhaps this went some way to igniting the flame Channing Tatum apparently has for our favorite purple suited warrior?
This brings us back to where we began, which is to say the end. Explaining the plot and twists of the story is no easy task, and for the uninitiated, it might seem like a crazy choice to adapt – especially when there are much lighter stories out there, ones with a much more marketable hero and upbeat tone. But despite such deep, often harrowing themes, The Maxx does have an upbeat ending, a light at the end of the tunnel that will make for a perfect story-arc either as a movie or (preferably) a TV show. Explaining how we get there though requires us to traverse far too many spoilers. Spoilers are like the dreaded Isz. They look harmless enough but they’ll bite you in the ass if you get too close. It’s best we steer clear.