Maximortal was created, written, and drawn by Rick Veitch and published by his own King Hell Press in 2002. All characters created by Rick Veitch, even those that are transparent pastiches of actual people.
Notes on Maximortal
- The greatest comic shop I’ve ever been a regular customer at—Tardy’s Collectors Corner—had a customer loyalty program that meant when you spent approx $200, you got a gift card for $25. I think that’s how I came to own the Maximortal trade paperback, something I bought when what I really wanted was the Bratpack book, also by Rick Veitch. Maybe that’s why it sat in a box for five years without me reading it.
- Like Bratpack, this book is a deconstruction of comics tropes; Bratpack worked on ten sidekicks, and this book goes hard at the Superman character, as a character, a cultural force, and as a publishing and creative phenomenon. The back cover lists Maximortal as #1 and Bratpack as #4 in the “Heroica” line of books. I have no idea what books #2 and #3 might be. Is The One in there someplace?
- Rick Veitch is incredibly smart—I remember reading his follow-up comics to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run and feeling bad for him, a sense that changed to being deeply impressed by the depth of Veitch’s thinking about the series and his ability to use the conceit Moore introduced in “The Anatomy Lesson”—essentially, a shell that can be animated by a lot of different thematic concerns—to explore his own interests.
- Those interests traditionally consider the relationship between the unconscious creative-generative urge—both a personal and a cultural unconscious. Veitch is, in some way, a deep Jungian, though I think he’s pretty flexible with that. Here, Veitch explores Maximortal as the personal exhalations of a couple creative characters—Ball-less Wallace, Spiegal, etc.—and for a culture, which maybe overstates the importance of Superman to our history. After all, the real Superman did not bomb Hiroshima, and the success of the early Superman serials was, to my knowledge, fitful and less absolutist than it is here.
- Veitch likes to work crude—this is the counter to Veitch’s professorial side, but he loves a dirty joke. So, the arch nemesis for Maximortal is El Guano, or as we are told, The Shi. Multiple characters find themselves wearing a hat full of shit. There are other, similarly crude elements to this story—for example, “Ball-less” Wallace, or the “long shlong” on the weird celestial male archetype that turns up periodically. Veitch’s cartooning develops this as well, skewing broadly into the realms of caricature in terms of character design, etc. My first impulse on reading these kinds of elements is to see it as juvenile, but that’s probably not fair. It’s probably more rightly understood as Veitch kind of peeling back the scrim of sophistication to show us the deeply archetypal elements of the work. In other words, you’ve got to stop and think about those things that slap you in the face before you judge if you’ve been offended.
- The pacing of Maximortal is pretty weird: the first fifty pages are almost straight narrative, setting up the arrival and status quo of Maximortal in the new world. But from there, it fragments, showing a variety of different perspectives that complicate our relationship to the story we are reading—here’s where he first encounters Spiegal and Shumacher, Uppenheimer, etc. But still through this series of shorter elements still breaks cleanly in fifty page chunks. Then, the last section of the book pulls all these threads together, and the last strophe tries to pull it all together and loop us back to the opening sequence.
- I wonder a little at the choice to deconstruct Superman here, and kid sidekicks in Bratpack. I wonder because Veitch doesn’t have a history of working on either kind of book. In other words, I think that he’s reflecting on a kind of comics narrative that he doesn’t do. I think he’s smart enough to dredge up interesting ideas. But I wonder what a book would look like that was more in Veitch’s wheelhouse: why do we love to read about monsters to much? I think Veitch must have some insight into that genre, and I‘d love to hear it. Some of the material here feels overly familiar, after books by Gerard Jones, Michael Chabon and others—Veitch’s work in many cases predates theirs, but the stories themselves are old and well-travelled before any of them brought them up.