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‘The Madness TPB’ (review)

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art by ACO
Published by AWA Studios

 

Now, that was refreshing!

This nasty piece of work combines a razor blade of a revenge tale, a bloody mix of super-powered moral decay and horror elements, and hardcore action David Ayer would kill to direct onscreen.

Frankly, this comic is delightful.

The story bursts through the page/screen just like all the times Raven crashes down into whatever building. The Madness is here to smash everything and take no prisoners.

The story remixes several things you’ve seen before: the thief who takes on “one last job” that goes awry; a league of superheroes called in to perform wetwork in hopes of averting a geopolitical flashpoint; the family killed; the methodical plan of vengeance.

But on top of all that, The Madness still finds enough time to slow down and fill in just enough of these characters’ lives in ways that deeply illustrate the people they are, and who deserves what they get. It’s just the right amount of backstories and conversations – before, after, and during the ultra-violence.

And thematically, The Madness tries to investigate not merely physical violence, but the systemic injustices that invite more violence.

Straczynski – an absolute OG legend in genre fiction now 69 years old – turns in this nasty, bloody and intense story reminiscent of George Miller dropping Mad Max: Fury Road on us eight years ago at 71. It’s not simply that the story drips with raging drama, sicko action and screenplay-precise character work, but that who knew JMS had this in him?

Alex Cal Oliveira aka ACO also comes into this story with a studied display of classic and modern sequential storytelling.

Zoom out on his pages and enjoy those layouts: Widescreen panels and tall vertical panels live alongside ovals and circles; illustrations within giant, Simonsonian sound effects (here a THOOM, there a KRAKOOM, everywhere a BRAKOOM); smooth draftsmanship and heavy black shadows and so many double pages. ACO prepares a feast.

The only small gripe I find with this book is that ACO doesn’t quite “go there” with depicting the ruthless, super-powered violence written in this story. There is plenty of it to read. Yes, we get a disemboweling, a flaying, and a magnificent sequence in which Sarah/Raven/The Madness breaks the limbs of 98 mercenaries virtually in one shot.

However, Darick Robertson’s gross-out work on The Boys and Ryan Ottley’s wickedly gore-happy stuff on Invincible hang over this book, and there’s no way JMS and ACO didn’t consider that when scripting and laying out The Madness.

Perhaps, knowing that, these creators decided to pull away and give you more of that Hitchcockian remove to allow the suggestion to play out in the readers’ minds.

Thematically, JMS tries to throw some wrenches into this revenge story and moral culpability.

Your mileage may vary on how much sympathy you have for Sarah, or how good-natured her relationship with her presumed imaginary friend Raven is. You may even find yourself questioning both ends of the tragic event that set off Sarah’s revenge as The Madness, given how Sarah’s “one last job” triggers an international incident.

Or you can sit back and watch this avenging angel dole out punishment. It’s all quite enjoyable.

 

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