By: Nick Spencer (writer), Riley Rossmo (art), Jean-Paul Csuka (colors) and Kelly Tindall (letters)
The Story: A maniacal mass murderer goes kinda straight.
A few things (with minor SPOILERS): 1). Very creepy and unsettling - I don’t know about you, but I’ve been exposed to too many types of media to be easily unsettled. I guess I’m just desensitized. But, this was a very eerie comic book and it all stems from the nasty/creepy main character. In this issue, Spencer and Rossmo introduce us to a horrible serial killer named Madder Red. He’s just freaky as all hell. When we first meet him, he’s in the middle of a horrible killing spree involving dead kids and the horror continues throughout the issue as we alternate between seeing his crimes and following him has he (perhaps) tries to recover. It’s a great example of creators really using the medium of comics to its fullest. The concept and the words for Madder Red are horrifying, but when that combines with the visual of his creepy death-mask and odd body shape it really goes to another level of unsettling. Even the red word balloons are a nasty touch. From he first scene, you are pulled into the story. Very nicely done!
2). LOVE Rossmo’s art. - THIS is the Rossmo I really like: vibrant, with mess lines, ink washes, some dot-overlay and a mostly monochromatic color scheme. I love this and it all fits the mania of the story. Madder Red is a crazy man; he shouldn’t be drawn with tight pencils. It reminds me of the work Rossmo did on Cowboy Ninja Viking (which I still miss). If the art is going to be this good, this will be a powerful series.
3). Very smoothly written. - Remember those motor oil commercials where the ran the car engines until they exploded? They called it the “ultimate torture test” for a motor oil. Well, a wordy comic is the ultimate torture test for a writer. This comic is long (more below) and also very wordy. If Spencer weren’t such a gifted writer, I guarantee I would have gotten bored somewhere in this issue and just started skimming ahead, but that never happened; Spencer kept me hooked on every word. Look, I appreciate comics that are quick and punchy as much as anyone else, but it’s nice to see a writer than has another gear. Sometimes the story needs some exposition and Spencer is lucky that he can write well enough to not bore us. It isn’t just the concept that keeps you hooked. How the writer strings their words together has a big impact too! I read a comic like this and think, “God, this guy is just a much better writer than I’ll ever be. I shouldn’t quit my day job.”
4). Hefty - This is a 45-page comic…..and it’s only $3.50. I’m not much of a fan of buying comics “by the pound”, but this truly is a double-sized issue. If Marvel sold us this same material, it would cost $7.98. More importantly, the extra length allows Spencer and Rossmo to fully dunk us into the world of Madder Red. It’s an insane place and we wouldn’t have gotten the full experience if this was divided over two issues and a month’s time or if they covered the same material in half the pages. Bravo to the creators for choosing to tell the story this way!
5). Example of why I love creator-owned comics - This totally could have been a Joker story. I can’t peek inside Nick Spencer’s brain and I don’t really know him well enough to ask, but I can completely see this being “his Batman/Joker story”. Perhaps if he was still working at DC and ended up on Batman, this would’ve been his Batman/Joker story, but I am so glad to be getting it in this format. It’s not that I’m opposed to well-done Batman/Joker stories (like the snappy one that Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo are starting right now), it’s that the tale has so much more potential in Bedlam than in Batman. If this story is in Batman there are “rules” and you know that in the end, Batman and Joker both go back to their corners and will answer the bell when the next writer shows up. With Bedlam, anything could happen. Madder Red/Joker could die–REALLY DIE. Heck, anyone can die! Anything can happen. There are no rules and that is wonderful.
Conclusion: This was a smoking first issue. It’s twisted and unsettling and completely unpredictable. LOVE the art.
– Dean Stell