Monday, 1 July 2013

The Maximortal review

Rick Veitch is very underrated in my opinion. For nearly two decades he was at the forefront of comic book experimentation, creator rights and intelligent deconstruction of the superhero myth. Even his comics didn’t exist in a vacuum (nothing does), he played a pretty important part in the development and the deconstruction of superheroes. I won’t really say much more on the matter since I don’t feel I have the appropriate background and information on Rick Veitch’s career to give a comprehensive look at his achievements. I do know a few things for a fact, his comics are important works that challenge readers and the industry but they are, unfortunately, rather unpopular among the comic reading masses.  

It’s not all bad though. The more I read comics by Veitch the more I get the feeling I need to read more of him. Sometimes that feeling is mixed with the thought that he is largely underrated and that motivates me to read more of this stuff. The first work of his that I read was The One and it was glorious. It was simultaneously a wonderful and terrible experience. There was such venom seemed into the pages of the comic. There was also a sense of glee to be found in the dark lines of the black and white collection, as if Veitch was having a grand time creating a comic that could be, at times, so vile. Partway through the comic though, I started to pay attention. Veitch was saying something and it shocked me as a comics reader to find out that there is much more than just the latest superhero issue to comics. I’ve had similar experiences in the past but this one was mixed with a sense of taboo. I shouldn’t have been reading and enjoying a comic that seemed to take the genre it was exploring as a joke.

Fans of Rick Veitch will notice that when I first read The One I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t understand the creator, either. It’s after reading Brat Pack that I understood Veitch loves superheroes. It’s also because of his long time admiration of these modern myths that he was so good at tearing them apart to see what lies beneath. He fearlessly and unapologetically ventures into uncharted territory and it’s that exploration that results in such comics as The One, Brat Pack and The Maximortal.

The Maximortal is about two things. The first is about The Maximortal himself, a Superman copycat that’s done with a significantly darker and satirical twist. The second part of the comic is about the creators of Superman and, you could say, the modern myth of the superhero as we know it today. The story of Maximortal, or True Man as he’s actually known in the story, is intermixed with the history of the first half of the Twentieth Century. We see how he played a part in World War II as well as the Manhattan project. We also see how he influenced the works of physicists of the time (specifically Oppenheimer and Einstein). Veitch also has True Man’s existence preceed his creation at the hands of this story’s Siegel and Shuster analogues.

The Siegel and Shuster part of the comic is that one that strike’s an emotional chord in any regular comic reader. Their abuse at the hands of their publisher is upsetting not only as a fan of their work or the genre or the medium in which they worked, but also to readers who support creator rights. In short, they were taken advantage of and it’s still a legal battle that’s relevant today. Having recently read The Comic Book History of Comics, I was able to pinpoint the parts of the story that are based in fact and it’s upsetting how poorly Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were treated. Veitch masterfully combines both story to increase the level of depth of both stories. I don’t think they would have worked as well had they been told independently of one another.

A significant part of the comic is based in fact, even outside of the Siegel and Shuster portion. Veitch meditates on the idea of superheroes and their origin. He also argues as to why he thinks the creation of Superman (True Man, whatever) was a product of its time and why it endured. He supplements those ideas in The Maximortal with an essay about humanity, the superman, the rise of fascism and other strong nationalist movements and the works of Nietzsche.  Much like Veitch’s important contributions to comic books weren’t created in a vacuum, Superman wasn’t created out of thin air either.

One more thing of note, Veitch introduces another thought provoking element in his comic. He includes the notion that ideas are themselves alive, even to the point of having their own physical bodies. The idea of the superman became so prevalent to the mindset of the first half of the Twentieth Century that it resulted in the idea becoming real. Sure, Superman isn’t the same as Nietzsche’s Übermensch, but the idea of a superior human has become and intrinsic part of our modern culture.

It's not my favourite of Veitch's works but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. So far, I’ve enjoyed every comic by Veitch that I’ve read. Even if you don’t like his comic, they will always give you plenty of things to think about a long time after you put the book down. One of the things I wanted to review on my blog when I was toying with the idea was comics by Rick Veitch because there aren’t a whole lot of places that have offered interesting discussions of his body of work. I know that the above isn’t really worthy of much praise but it’s a step in the right direction. I’ll have to follow up this review with more reviews of his other comics. Well see, maybe along the way I’ll start better understand his contribution to comics and even if I don’t, it’s a good excuse to read some good comics.


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