Madman Atomic Comics #11 (Second-Take)

Either Mike Allred is on the brink of gumming up one of the most satisfying, longest-running independent comics series in recent memory or he is just a bit cleverer than many of his readers give him credit for being. On the surface, the biggest "story" in issue 11 of Madman Atomic Comics appears to be the impending separation of Frank's erstwhile portmanteau wife. Or, wait . . . maybe it is the now completely unvarnished insertion of Mormon cosmo-theology into the Madman universe. Or perhaps it is neither of these things and instead relates to the revelations of Franks true, true identity.

Though it is ultimately of lesser importance to the direction in which the series is going, the wholesale infusion of Mormon theology into the Madman series is nevertheless significant and deserves attention. The fact of the inclusion of such intimate details of Mormon cosmology seems more a reflection of how neatly these fit into the structure of the science fiction and fantasy genres (see also the novels of Orson Scott Card), rather than any sort of attempt to turn Madman into a vehicle for the propagation of Allred's own religious beliefs. Having said that, the sequence in which Madman is knocking on doors in an attempt to get a telephone call through to Dr. Flem's lab is an obvious allusion to the response thousands of Mormon missionaries receive as they canvass neighborhoods seeking converts.

Brandon is definitely on to something when he suggests that Allred treats the issue of the impending separation of Luna Joe as something of an afterthought, which leads one to ask what is really going on with this issue--or the whole series for that matter. One possibility comes from the revelation of Frank's pre-mortal identity: Prometheus. Of course Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein is sub-titled The Modern Prometheus; and this, for the first time, identifies Madman with the title character of Shelley's novel, rather than his creation.

This seems like an academic detail, but if one pays attention to the last several issues in this series, Frank is continually going on about making things go back to how they were. Does this simply mean that he wants Joe and Luna to be individuals again? Or that Allred wishes to return the comic to its roots as a forum for "strange adventures that are wrapped around the very affecting relationship between Frank and Joe and Frank’s personal journey away from innocence?"

The problem of course is that you can't go back to the way things were and any attempt to do so would seem the height of hubris. Perhaps in this sense Frank is being compared to Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, who, with the arrogance of his genius tried to give the world the ultimate gift in the form of creating life, only to spend the rest of his life trying to undo what he had done, to his ultimate destruction.

Of course the more obvious comparison would be to Frankenstein's creation, and this not only because Frank was brought back from death. The creature, having been created by Dr. Frankenstein only to be rejected as a monster, spends the course of the novel looking for acceptance--in effect, seeking a replacement for the 'father' who scorned him. This sort of mythical search for a father is one of Frank's obsessions and variously takes the form of his questions about his past as Zane Townsend, his still unresolved issues concerning the loss of Professor Boiffard, and his strained relations with Dr. Flem.

One could also interpret this pregnant choice of names in terms of the Promethean myth itself. Prometheus stole fire from the gods to benefit mankind and was made to suffer eternal torment for his efforts. Frank has touched the hand of God and has the ability to see and know things that the rest of his associates cannot. This knowledge gives Frank insight and understanding, which ultimately allowed him to save the universe from destruction, but it is also a great burden.

There is clearly some rich, if somewhat obvious symbolism to the choices Allred is making in this issue and the series as a whole. The question becomes, then, does this make for a good comic, particularly in light of Madman's history? Readers who judge Madman Atomic Comics solely through the lens of what has come before are likely to come away disappointed. This is understandable, but equally understandable is Allred's insistence on his prerogative in taking his character where he wants to take him and using him to ask the questions that he wants asked.

Despite the somewhat ambiguous response this issue seems to be getting in this forum, there is still a lot to be celebrated about the book. In his weekly haul notice, Sammy mentioned the "dirty, blurred-crayon style drawings" of many of the backgrounds. There is some of this in the series' earlier issues, but it has never been as overt as this and it somehow strikes the reader as a great way to frame in illustrative terms Frank's visit to his childhood haunt. Similarly, the choice of presenting Frank's pre-mortal pal in the guise of Bowie's Aladdin Sane persona, as with substituting Audrey Hepburn's likeness for Haley Fou Fou, allows Allred to maintain something of Madman's fun, pop-cultural legacy in what is ultimately a more serious comic.

No comments: