At around the same time as the much-hyped Spiderman “Brand New Day” story arc, over at IMAGE, Mike Allred was busy working on an equally radical comics “event” in Madman Atomic Comics.
The two arcs are an interesting contrast with one another. One is the brave, artistic way to radically change your series and the other, the kinda cheap, hedging-your-bets, maybe briefly pique your monthly sales way to change your series.
Additionally, the “Brand New Day” story arc is way more bizarre and outlandish, involving memory erasure and Devil-dealing and other junk. All Mike Allred did was kinda kill of a major character in an uncheap way.
Joe’s death—and subsequent Joe/Luna Girl merger--was just sort of dropped on readers at the end of issue 7. It was perfect that #8 was word-less, as long-time readers of the series were as blown away and speechless as Frank Einstein himself. “Brand New Day” was announced, harped-over, and justified; Joe’s death was palpable.
In many ways, reader reaction to both continuity shifts was similar though. Readers of both comics were pissed, but Spiderman readers were upset because it was bullshit, Madman readers were upset because something crazy and a little too real had entered their comic book world.
Since then, we’ve had three issues of Madman Atomic Comics, which while successful and highly affecting, have also taken a little bit of a cheap, Marvel-like turn between teasing readers with how this “death”/merger is going to play-out.
This is especially true in the latest issue, which takes a vague, piecemeal approach to dropping information on both Frank’s past and leaves us on a cliffhanger about the de-merging of Joe and Luna. Undoubtedly, Allred’s got something real big in store but it’s getting tedious waiting for it to happen.
It’s also just not really the main pull or appeal of the comic anyway and it seems like maybe Allred doesn’t realize that. The pull of the comic is the strange adventures that are wrapped around the very affecting relationship between Frank and Joe and Frank’s personal journey away from innocence. Sure, all that’s directly connected to who and what Frank was in his former life, but it’s really not why Madman’s interesting.
There’s still plenty to enjoy and what looks like a half-assed, in-betweener issue upon first read, does reward more thoughtful readings. And I think thoughtful re-readings are what Allred’s looks for at this point anyway and I guess that’s cool.
I prefer comics to just be sort of viscerally awesome and affecting, but there’s some of that too. As Frank’s entering the home and the God-like voice begins speaking, we’re met with Frank questioning his like, core sanity for maybe the first time since those first three eyeball-eating TUNDRA issues.
A few pages later, as the Mormon Religio-Cosmology stuff gets really heavy, Frank quips, “Call me a cab. I need to get to the funny farm as soon as possible.” It’s interesting because even as Allred’s sort of tossing out this heavy religious stuff and it seems advocating and asserting its importance to Madman, he’s not afraid to joke about it and in a way acknowledge the reader’s thinking of “What the hell is going on here?”
Framing Frank’s journey as a visit to his boyhood home, each frame moving us deeper and deeper into the home, and having it all build to a meeting with a God that just happens to look a lot like David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane character is a brilliant, weird culmination of the issue and Allred’s long-standing merge of--to quote Sammy-- “existential insanity” and goofy fun pop-culture and comic book stuff.
And so, it’s almost an afterthought when he races back to Dr. Flem’s to witness the apparent de-merging of Joe and Luna Girl because none of that stuff needed to happen or really seems all that important to the issue or the series.