The Maxx

I have long seen animation as an underutilized and undervalued medium for telling stories. I suspect part of this comes from early encounters with animation that didn’t talk down to kids. One early example was Star Trek: The Animated Series. Even though it appeared in the Saturday morning kid’s cartoon slot, it was produced by the live action show’s staff with writing of a similar caliber. The show’s only real writing shortfall was that stories were constrained to 30-minutes instead of a full hour. I also encountered anime, like Space Battleship Yamato at a fairly young age. Another real eye-opener was the French science fiction film, Fantastic Planet based on the novel Oms in Series.

So, in the 1990s when cable station MTV came along and introduced an animation block called “Oddities,” I was rather interested to see what stories they told. This block was introduced while I lived in Tucson, Arizona, when I first worked for Kitt Peak National Observatory. TV watching was somewhat intermittent and I don’t remember details from many of the shows that aired during the Oddities segment. One did grab my attention and held me enough that I still remember it fairly well some 25 years later. That show was The Maxx.

The animated adaptation of The Maxx was based on Sam Kieth’s comic book of the same name. The title character is a large, purple-clad homeless superhero who lives in a box in a large city. A young woman named Julie Winters is a social worker who looks out for the Maxx. Meanwhile, a serial rapist called Mr. Gone is on the loose and he’s stalking Julie. As the series progresses, we meet a teenage girl named Sarah, whose mom is friends with Julie. Besides Maxx being homeless, what made this different from the normal superhero fare is that Maxx popped back and forth between two separate realities. One was the “real world” city where he’s a superhero and Julie is a social worker. The other reality was a place called “the outback” inhabited by surreal, Dr. Seuss-inspired creatures. In that reality, Julie is the Leopard Queen, in charge of the realm.

As the series progressed, it became clear that the outback was a manifestation of the subconscious shared by Julie and Maxx. Something about their past bound their subconscious realities together. Each individual episode only ran for about 12 minutes, but they contained enough character development to engage me and make me want to see where the story led. Not only were the characters interesting, but the series explored the intersection of dream reality and the real world, plus had some serious discussions of feminism, missing from more mainstream entertainment. I especially appreciated that the series didn’t try to sell me on a viewpoint, but just gave me some issues to think about. I recently discovered that the series is available on home video. It only takes about two hours to watch all thirteen episodes, but it was worthwhile to rediscover this animated gem.

What was perhaps even more fun was that I discovered the original comic run is all available digitally at Comixology. It turns out the thirteen episodes of the animated series are almost a frame-by-frame retelling of the first twelve issues of the comic, which was remarkable. I only noticed minor variations in the story. I have continued on to read more of the story. The tale of Julie, Maxx and Sarah in the 1990s wraps up in issue 20. In issue 21, the story leaps ahead to the (then) near-future of 2005 where Sarah takes center stage as the comic’s protagonist. During this time, we continue to learn more about how the characters are interrelated and Kieth continued to explore interesting ideas and sometimes uncomfortable topics in comic form.

Given my recent experiences dabbling in the comic book form, it’s been fascinating to revisit Sam Kieth’s creation from the 1990s. The comic is available at: https://www.comixology.com/The-Maxx-Maxximized/comics-series/12331

8 comments on “The Maxx

  1. rich1698 says:

    Fantastic planet is really trippy

  2. *The Maxx* sounds vaguely familiar to me; now I’m motivated to check it out.

    I long avoided watching *Star Trek: The Animated Series*. I didn’t want to watch “some stupid cartoon that ruins Star Trek.” Then one day I was trying to take a nap while someone in my household had it on. Listening to it instead of sleeping, I thought, ‘Say, that sounds like real Star Trek!” I then started watching it, and was pleased with its quality.

    Related to the homeless Maxx, one of the odd realities of American Golden and Silver Age supers was that they didn’t use their incredible abilities to make lots of money. The super villains did, but not the heroes. Frankly, that was a real oddity considering those comics were popular in capitalistic America….

    • Yes, the scripts in Star Trek: The Animated Series are really top notch. They did cut corners in the animation at times, but overall, it did the job of telling the story.

      Your observation about Golden and Silver Age heroes is interesting. It seems to me we often misunderstand how long “capitalism” has been an ideal in American culture. Investing capital and profiting from it wasn’t really considered something that everyone did until after World War II. Before that, it’s more correct to say that “free entrepreneurship” was the American ideal. Owning your own farm or business, or being with a company and moving into management where you had a comfortable income were more ideal than getting “wealthy” through investment. I think Clark Kent, the farm boy who moved to the city and worked his way to notoriety through his hard work at a newspaper fits this ideal pretty well.

      That noted, there are no shortage of rich Golden Age superheroes. Bruce Wayne (Batman), Alan Scott (the Golden Age Green Lantern), and Wesley Dodds (the Golden Age Sandman) are all examples of rich men who donned their outfits to help those less well off than they were. Of course, Alan is described as a “self made millionaire,” so he fits the ideal of someone who made his money from his hard work and entrepreneurship. Bruce and Wesley both inherited their fortunes.

      • I admit I am far from being an economist. But my understanding is that the concept of capitalism existed long before the formation of the United States of America. I do believe the most popular forms of it changed during the economic boom of the post WWII period. But protection of ownership of property, a fundamental principle of capitalism, is an important part of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

        As for Golden Age superheroes, certainly there are some rich ones. My statement was “that they didn’t use their incredible abilities to make lots of money.” There may be an exception I missed; if so, I would be interested in learning about it.

      • Oh sure, the concept of capitalism has existed for a long time, but most Americans wouldn’t have thought of themselves in those terms. As I understand it, modern textbooks would distinguish between “free market capitalists” who invest in their own business and “venture capitalists” who seek investments from others. That said, people in the United States didn’t really start calling themselves “capitalists” until the rise of the venture capitalists in the post-Civil War years. Until World War II, venture capitalism was seen as a party only for the very wealthy. So while the ownership of property is an important tenet of capitalism, it is not necessarily capitalism in its own right and it’s not exclusive to “capitalism” which I’d argue most people in the Golden Age of comics would have equated with “venture capitalism.” “Free entrepreneurs” would also see ownership of property as a fundamental right.

        Like you, I can’t think of any heroes who used their powers to make money for themselves. That said, it goes back to the original point, being super rich wasn’t necessarily seen as a virtue in its own right back in the Golden Age. If you were rich like Alan Scott or Bruce Wayne, the virtue was giving your time and resources to fight crime anonymously.

  3. erichagmann says:

    I had a similar experience. I watched The Max as a kid, found myself completely enthralled, and remembered it many years later. My curiosity lead me to purchasing the entire comic book series so I could learn more about these characters. I wish they would have continued to animate the rest of the story – I’m hoping that we might see it re-envisioned into a new series or movie(s).

    • I agree. It would be awesome if someone would animate the rest of the Maxx. There was some news floating around some websites just before the pandemic about a feature-length adaptation being explored. That could be interesting if treated as respectfully as the original series.

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