"Seven years before The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay, Rick Veitch married the larcenous history of the comics business to the outrageous themes and characters of his infamous Brat Pack universe, creating one of the most startling and uncompromising visions of the super-hero archetype ever put to paper."
I consider myself pretty knowledgeable on the realm of comics, even if I haven’t read ever one of the major “must reads” of the industry, I’d say I have a basic working knowledge of them and could hold my own in a conversation about them.
So it came as a surprise when a friend handed this book to me. I’d never heard a thing about it before, and while I’m familiar with some of the higher profile books that Veitch has worked on, I’d never really heard his name before. Having read this book though, the obsession is locked in, and I need to read more.
The Maximortal is a deconstruction of the superman mythos and seems to have fallen under the radar somewhat, eclipsed by superhero deconstructions like Watchmen or more recent efforts like Kickass. It’s garned a cult appeal but it’s a real shame that it hasn’t reached a wider audience because there is some really interesting stuff in here.
The book centres around various incarnations of True-Man, the books analogue for Superman. It presents him in several different ways, one is a meatspace incarnation of the character, Wesley Winston, who takes the form of a (genuinely terrifying) overly muscular flying toddler, birthed by a hermaphroditic angel who conceives him after raping a hunter modelled on Freidrich Nietzche (….this book’s a little weird by the way), this version is used to explore the real world consequences of a superman character. The result, he’s horrifying, unaware of his superhuman strength he murders hundreds of people without realising the harm he is causing and is eventually has his power harnessed by the government to devastating effect.
Then there’s the comic book version of True-man, created by Jerry Spiegel and Joe Schumacher, two creators who are conned into giving over the rights to their character, making pennies on a comic worth millions, an obvious allusion to Siegal and Schuster, the creators of Superman, who engaged in many lawsuits over the years in an attempt to receive fair payment for their character.
And finally, there’s Bryon Reeves, another obvious allusion, this time to George Reeves, victim of the “superman curse”, an ill fated actor, driven to madness and destruction after landing the part of True-Man in a film serial adaptation of the character.
The book takes these themes and brings them all together to create a really unique look at the comics industry, tackling issues of censorship, corporate monopolising, creators rights and the philosophical idea of reality being born from belief. It’s a book that justifies multiple readings and will encourage you to read further into the topics discussed.
The art is great too, Veitch has a style that lies somewhere between traditional super hero artwork and pulpy noir comics and it works really well for telling this story. The original run was presented in full colour, while the trade paperback I read was in black and white which made the occasional sequence a little hard to figure out, but for the most part it does a great job of getting across the action.
The book isn’t perfect though, but my complaints are minor. There is a character called El Guano who pops up throughout the book and plays a part in the lives of each incarnation of True-man, the ending of the book goes someway to explaining his purpose to the narrative but I was still left wondering the significance of having him in the story.
He appears as a naked man, seemingly possessing powers like teleportation, flight and alchemy, but he is obsessed with faeces. He bathes in pools of bat droppings and boils effigies of True-man in pots of his own excrement.
Indeed it’s shown that exposure to faeces cause Wesley immense pain.
Despite repeated reference throughout the book though, I was never really aware of its grander significance or what it was intended to reference.
There are another couple of small issues, mainly sequences involving an aged Sherlock Holmes and a brief crossover with Veitch’s other series Bratpack. These sequences feel a little out of place and I found it hard to understand their place in the overall narrative.
None of these issues cause any real detriment to the enjoyablility of the book however, mainly they just made me want to return for a second reading and to analyse the book further in an attempt to understand the.
If you’re interested in superhero deconstruction or just different takes on the world of comics in general, The Maximortal is a hidden gem that deserves to be excavated. It’s a dark, disturbing alternate look at the Superman mythos which demands further investigation ad will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.