MTV’s Oddities Part 2: The Maxx: Julie’s Pangea, Laura’s Ghostwood

As Mr. Gone, antagonist in The Maxx, welcomes us to the next iteration of MTV’s Oddities, it feels appropriate to begin with his opening monologue to set the stage for this article’s topic.

“Most of us inhabit at least two worlds, the real world, where we’re at the mercy of circumstance, and the world within, the unconscious, a safe place where we can escape. The Maxx shifts between these worlds against his will. Here, homeless, he lives in a box, in an alley. The only one who really cares about him is Julie Winters, a freelance social worker, but in Pangea, the other world, he rules the outback and is the protector of Julie, his Jungle Queen. There, he cares for her, but he always ends up back in the “real” world. And me, ol’ Mr. Gone? Only I can see that the secret which unites them could destroy them. I could be helpful or bad. Screw it! I think I’ll have some fun with them first!”[1]

The Maxx television mini-series for MTV is all but inseparable from the print version for Image Comics in its first eleven issues, which can currently be purchased in The Maxx: Maxxed Out, Vol. 1 graphic novel. This will be important to the second half of this article. There are two more Maxxed Out graphic novels which altogether collect the entirety of the thirty-five issues from the original series. I will attempt to cite from this set of physical graphic novels as well as the MTV episodes and their minutes, giving show and minutes where available. The series may also be purchased in e-book format in The Maxx: Maxximized, volumes one-seven. The Maxx was part of Image Comics’ second wave of popular titles beginning in 1993. Its first eleven issues were adapted for the mini-series for MTV’s Oddities in 1996. For the first half of this article, I will be focusing on the televised series. This is Cult TV after all. Then, there is no better forum for looking more closely at the comic and what it can add to our discussion on Twin Peaks. The series can be purchased for streaming and includes in that digitized format extra interviews tagged on the end. For those who purchase the DVDs, commentary is available for individual episodes. This article will explore not just what the show is but also its narrative, which can connect surprisingly well with Twin Peaks. To better understand the environment of this show’s release, please see my article “MTV’s Oddities Part 1: Cerebral or Simply Heady Animation?: The Head.”

In stating that The Maxx animated series is all but inseparable from the print version, it should be pointed out that the animators literally took scans from the pages and animated the cells. In today’s standards, it might be called a “motion comic,” but the animation is actually more complicated than that, compounded with superior voice acting by the entire cast. Commentary with Artist and Creator Sam Kieth and Animation Director Gregg Vanzo informs us that they only had to create a few original nuances to make the show coherent or separate it from original Image Comics marketing rights. One of these instances is a simulated tracking shot running from minute 2:20 to 4:40 of Episode 2. It is a scan of the city scape where we see that kids playing on their despondent father’s back are actually three white Isz antagonizing a screaming creature. A man sitting bored in his chair is a bone-cudgel-wielding rhinoceros who has been hunting, etcetera. Some characters in the “Outback”/Pangea were made original, such as replacing the character of The Pitt, another Image Comics property, with a more generic character for the show. These technical details stated, we should turn to the plot and themes. I will state up front that this will be extremely plot-heavy, but stick with me as there is a point to illustrating those points that I do.

At the center of the story is trauma and one’s coping mechanisms with such. The Maxx is just short of a parody superhero. Living in a cardboard box at the end of an alley, his size is disproportionately large to others in his environment, all bulky muscle, no fat packed into purple costuming. Stretching from his yellow-gloved fists are single claws shaped more like rhinoceros horns formed out of his center knuckles. He is plagued with foggy memory and headaches that find him slipping between our world and Pangea, an006_Maxx outback-like dimension where he protects the Leopard Queen. His barbaric heroism in Pangea, where he might be smashing a beast of the wild, could in our world find Maxx beating in a post office box in public. The symptoms often land him in jail as a homeless public nuisance. Enter his savior in our world, Julie Winters. Julie is a questionably-licensed freelance social worker, bent on saving those in need but unable to care for herself. She is body positive while paralleling that positivity with self-shaming in the way she dresses.  The police and her clients mansplain her attire to her, but she is unashamed for her decisions, a rare statement on Feminism in the early 90’s. This article will look at some of those overt statements. She doesn’t cower to the warped realities of her environment, and we learn that she is at the center of all of The Maxx series’ mysteries. Then, there is Mr. Gone.

Mr. Gone’s role evolves throughout the television show and in the books. His chapter in the show will give us two iterations, the first an ominous, tall, bald man in a blue robe that is often associated with Image Comics’ other property Spawn. Their capes somewhat emulate each other’s movements and shapes. This iteration of Mr. Gone is a serial rapist and sorcerer, if not magician. His motives are not shared with us, why a character with 007_Maxxsuch power and knowledge of Julie and The Maxx’s situation would need his side habits and crimes, though they are given origin later in the comics. As Mr. Gone promises, he begins his manipulative fun as early as Episode 2. Note that each episode in the series runs between eleven and twelve minutes long. The second iteration is as Artemis P. Gone, Gone in his youth—father to Sara (we’ll get to her story) and Uncle Artie to Julie. He is not truly her uncle. Mr. Gone is not without his help, his minions. These are the black “Isz.” In Pangea, they are dumb and proliferate pests—squat, white bipedal creatures, whose natural habitat is Pangea. They are simply a nuisance to The Maxx and his Leopard Queen. In the “real” world, they are corrupted into black, sharp-toothed creatures who obey Mr. Gone, even to his annoyance; they are still a nuisance. To the layperson, they blend into their environment, appearing as one might want to see them in their “real” environment—old ladies waiting in a car, the common inmate, as policemen and women.

If I have your interest piqued at this point in the article, please do stop and pursue the show. I will stop later in the article to allow for spoilers beyond the show.

***Show spoilers***

The story moves fast in the graphic novels, but again, the show does run in twelve minute increments. The Maxx has two major confrontations with Mr. Gone, who teases him with small bits of the truth, always with superior frustration, always as if explaining the simplest of principals to a restless child. Their first confrontation is in the “real world,” at a gas station. Mr. Gone keeps referring to The Maxx as Br’er Lappin. During

015_Maxx
Kieth, Sam, and William Messner-Loebs. 2016. The Maxx: Maxxed out. Vol. 1 Vol. 1.

this confrontation and back at her apartment, Julie is captured by a twisted Isz from her refrigerator. What Mr. Gone imparts to The Maxx is that Julie is the one he’s interested in, that she is the strong one, the one who pulls the stings. While the entire cast of characters matter, we note that Julie is the one. As the Maxx rests with injuries from his fight with Gone and Isz, he returns to the outback where he finds his Jungle Queen changed. Her skin gone tan to gray, her hair golden and flowing to gray and frizzled, her eyes from determined to red with rage. She seethes at a ragged doll, “This is a bad doll. It keeps telling me things I don’t want to hear.”[2] Does this remind us of anyone in this cast, one who tells truths that others don’t want to hear? At this time Mr. Gone prepares himself in his restroom, gloating of his victory with The Maxx. We realize that he, of course, has our captured Julie Winters, bound and dressed in pink, BDSM maid clothing. She fearlessly laments “Oh gawwwd! Let me guess! I’m supposed to be dressed as every cheerleader, prom queen, and circus acrobat who ever turned you down for a date!” Upon further telling him that he has a problem with women, Mr. Gone exclaims “How perceptive! Did you figure that out when I kidnapped you … or when I tied you up with leather straps? Of course I’ve got a problem with women!”[3] The debate continues for a few panels before she cuts his head off with a broken Isz tooth, the same she used to cut herself free. She did not need The Maxx to stop Mr. Gone; she is her own savior. Per the series, this is a good place to address some themes, overt or subtle as one finds them. I wouldn’t dare comment on them alone.

The Maxx, this portion of the graphic novel and parameter of the season, is without doubt an exploration of these social issues, mainly Feminism and the movement’s opposing forces, for artist Sam Kieth. And while it could of course be debated, I’m putting this animated series forth as a milestone in the 1990’s on the subject for its intended audience. Sam Kieth is not only playing with super hero tropes but female roles and depictions of them in the super hero genre. It would be good for us to hold this thought for further exploration in looking at Laura Palmer. In The Maxx, sexuality includes pot bellies, advanced intellects, and self-loathing. A super hero is no more than a back alley bum, given more purpose than he or she deserves. Here, I would like to quote some podcasts I found on the subject. Let us look first to Deconstructing Comics Podcast, Episode #319 at minute 13:16.

Kumar Sivasubramanian: There was a lot going on in the background, this whole, the sexuality of Julie, you, he’s often got her in these sexy poses. Then, he’s got this line where he says “You know, here we are just hanging out, getting a tan, but someone could read pin-ups just in the way I’m standing here,” and you know, it’s exactly what it is. He’s kind of undercutting what the other Image books are doing.”

Dana Nielsen: “I also think that he undercut what he’s doing. He undercuts himself. I mean, that exact line that you’re talking about, there’s this whole thing with Julie Winters, where she’s always going on about how people who have a problem with women, well, whatever, they have a problem with women and it’s possible that people could misconstrue the way that we’re dressed right now as being sexually forward or whatever. But Sam Kieth consistently draws her not only wearing sort of really revealing clothes but just the way she freaking stands. But at the same time you could probably just sort of knee-jerk and say Sam Kieth, what are you doing, you’re screwing up, but I don’t think, I think he’s aware of what he’s doing. And whether it works or not, I think he’s intentionally undercutting himself. There’s all kinds of contrasting messages here.[4]

In turning to a female viewer in my life, my wife has very conflicted feelings approaching this show and has yet to finish it. I cannot speak for her outside of what she 009_Maxxhas expressed, which is that she likes what she’s seeing, but it feels potentially problematic to have these issues explored from that time period by a white male. As we see discussed above, even comic book experts and fans are forced to face the complicated messages put forth. The difficult question to answer is: “is this challenging or simply flawed art?” I find myself leaning toward the former but would be hard pressed to challenge the latter opinion. Given this complication, it was interesting to hear a female viewer discuss the issue on the Toon Goons Podcast. Below is a statement from host Nina at minute 45:05 from Toon Goons Podcast Episode 38.

So, one thing that I read a lot from people talking about the show, and what really stood out to a lot of people was how it was their introduction to Feminism. And this show, surprisingly, gets a lot of things really, really right. And the comic by extension, even though it’s written by this dude, it’s this dude who knows what he’s talking about, and a lot of it is vocalized through Julie, like she has this really wonderful monologue in the beginning where she’s talking about the city. And she’s also talking about the crimes that have happened. And how sometimes no doesn’t necessarily mean no, but there isn’t a man out there who pushed himself off a crying woman who didn’t know exactly what it was she wanted, and a lot of little stuff like that.[5]

If you are interested in further exploring this aspect of the show, please download each of these podcasts and hear the rest of their discussions. It would be easy to dedicate the rest of this article to that subject, but it is not the intention of this article to do so.

Now, we must look at Mr. Gone’s second, crucial message to The Maxx. The Maxx is told that while Mr. Gone knows who or what he is beneath the mask, his truth is only embarrassing while Julie’s truth could destroy her. Get it? Like a child trying to say “the mask.” The Maxx? Without spoiling the mystery, much of which is laid out in the rest of the series, The Maxx’s mask is given him by Julie, to mask her reality, to have him be what she needs him to be. What is under the mask is both her responsibility, her savior, and a guilty projection. Beneath the mask waits either a victim to Julie’s pain or a spirit animal inescapably tied to her trauma. To cap Julie’s most crucial story and to bridge into my hopes to look at Laura Palmer, we continue through The Maxx Episode 4 as The Maxx recounts his conversation with Mr. Gone.

Mr. Gone: When Julie Winters was hurt, never mind how, she created a fantasy world for herself, a place where she could have control. You’ve got to go back there, to the city. Find her and protect her … keep her from knowing too much of the truth all at once, for the truth will destroy her!

The Maxx: Gone told me how three years ago a young architectural student was beaten and raped and left for dead. When she got out of the hospital, she used all her tuition money to set up a new life as a free-lance “social worker,” trying to help other victims of the urban nightmare. This woman used her position to build a wall around herself. She helped people by controlling them, hoping to smother her own pain … something like that. And somewhere in the wild land, in the land of dreams, in Pangea, her better self was imprisoned by her own self-loathing. At least that’s what Gone told me. I don’t know if I believed anything he said, least of all about Julie. In fact, I was already having trouble remembering the details of what he said. It was like a dream … a really bad dream.[6]

And now, we’re in dreams, which gets me to the second half of this article, which is to analyze the series and some of the content beyond the televised series to look at Twin Peaks. It is difficult not to do so. First, a moment of wrap-up. There is a bifurcation of the season starting at this point. The rest of the mini-series begins to look at Sara, a depressed teenager whose father walked into work shooting co-workers before himself. We later learn this man is Mr. Gone. Her mother and Julie Winters are friends. For that matter, Julie and Sara are friends. By the end of the televised series, Julie owns up to needing to move on so that The Maxx and others tied into her world can be let go to their own lives, but The Maxx fears what will happen if she leaves, will he simply disappear? The second graphic novel continues the stories of Julie, Sara, The Maxx, Glorie, and Gone. Ultimately, The Maxx much like Twin Peaks revels in somber endings.

004_Maxx

***Graphic novel spoilers***

There is no better discussion on masks in Twin Peaks than in the commentary for the original run provided by the Diane Podcast. They note masters of disguise such as Catherine Martell, Windom Earle, and Audrey in One-Eyed Jacks. This discussion resurfaces in their latest episode “Doubles” from Friday February 09, 2018. I encourage you to seek out those episodes and book mark that with another discussion I heard on the Sparkwood & 21 Podcast, wherein hosts Steve and Em discussed trauma in relation to Laura Palmer with fan Jubel Brosseau of Counter Esperanto Podcast. This was the episode for February 06, 2016. Please, see those sources. The idea ultimately looks back to the concept of psychogenic fugue. “Psychogenic fugue is a disorder of memory that occurs following emotional or psychological trauma and results in a loss of one’s personal past including personal identity (Glisky 2004, 1132).[7] In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Laura Palmer must confront the evil truth both of her assailant in the identity of BOB and of her divided self. The sheer discovery that her father, possessed or not, has been raping her cannot be allowed too soon, so she allows the lodge denizens to hide the truth from her, to mask the domestic truth. What Laura creates in the way of coping are masks. At the very least, she allows BOB to disguise the identity of Leland because that would be too devastating.

Much as Laura’s trauma exists among Ghostwood National Forest, Julie Winters trauma exists in her surrounding, her better half locked in Pangea. Further, just as Julie Winters does not require The Maxx to help her defeat Mr. Gone, Laura Palmer does not need F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper to save her from BOB. But The Maxx and Agent Cooper are tied to each heroine’s worlds through the evil and the trauma in it. Just as Julie Winters put herself in the position of saving others from the “urban nightmare” that assaulted her, Laura Palmer threw herself into duties as Meals on Wheels driver, after school companion for Johnny Horne, the role of Prom Queen, etcetera. Perhaps just like the character Julie Winters, Laura “… used her position to build a wall around herself. She helped people by controlling them, hoping to smother her own pain …” And just as Julie Winters dresses in a fashion that exclaims her right to do so without patriarchal criticism, nevertheless personally devaluing herself, Laura Palmer refuses to be slut-shamed dancing in the Pink Room and joining Ronette Pulaski with Leo and Jacques as a personal debasement. The last issue of The Maxx Image Comics series is titled “Endings and Beginnings” and could translate in Twin Peaks to read “Is it Future, or is it Past?”

013_Maxx

By the end/beginning of the series, characters Julie, her son, Mark, The Maxx, also known as Dave O., Artie (Gone) and his daughter Sara with a few others are brought together at a trailer park. Why them, why together? In reply to Julie’s question as to his sometime hurtful, sometime helpful actions, Gone simply explains “This is no accident that we are together like this … We are all children of shame.” Gone remains ever omniscient if not also exhausted and shamed in his participation. Some mixture Garland Briggs with the sins of Leland, Mr. Gone is almost our omniscient Lodge Mike before his evil arm has been removed. So, we look to our omniscient Cooper in Twin Peaks: The Return, Part 17 as he explains that while an evil is defeated, the spiritual journey is not over. Follow me here. “Now, there are some things that will change. The past dictates the future … Frank, give my regards to Harry … Diane … do you remember everything? … We live inside a dream …I hope I see all of you again, every one of you.”[8] Now, we must quote largely from Mr. Gone as he explains to Julie Winters’ teenage son, who cannot understand why things must change, the process.

Though the details of our lives will change, our core will remain. Thus our personal dilemmas will follow us, no matter what bubble or dimension we inhabit. In our next bubble, I may be a priest, Julie a nurse, or Mark a grandpa, but we six will always play a role in each other’s lives until our soul journeys are complete … There are infinite ‘bubbles’ or ‘alternate universes,’ but you can only follow one. Mark, you and your mom share a bubble, just as Sara does with me. Children are bound to their parents’ bubbles, ‘til that parent dies. You have no choice. You’ll go with Julie and live out your life as a teenager with her, and I’ll go with Sara. Mark and Glorie are on their own. As far as dying in three days, this whole bubble’s existence will cease. Luckily we’ll all disappear first before we have to face the world’s end. Our awareness will switch to a new bubble—but I can’t control which one.”[9]

So, The Maxx is ultimately a context about captives to someone’s trauma. That’s quite a statement to type. But the spiritual journey is about parents and children and their loss of innocence. We are all bound by this shame, this loss. The television mini-series of The Maxx gives audiences a core beginning of a timeless story, one that I believe Twin Peaks fans understand a lot about. Just think of how closely these two extremely talented series were created and released–Twin Peaks Seasons one and two (1989-1991), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), The Maxx (1993). Their environments were the same, though Sam Kieth may have had Twin Peaks as a reference to figure out a vehicle for his series, I suspect they are largely original concepts separate of the other. Still, it is not difficult to imagine Mr. Gone reaching out to Agent Cooper to say “You’ve got to go back there, to the city. Find her and protect her … keep her from knowing too much of the truth all at once, for the truth will destroy her!” That stated, we all have a lot to explore here.

014_Maxx
Kieth, Sam, Dave Feiss, James Sinclair, Ronda Pattison, and Michael Heisler. 2017. The Maxx: Maxxed out. Vol. 3 Vol. 3.

[1] Kieth, Sam, Gregg Vanzo, William Messner-Loebs, Claudia Katz, Michael Haley, Glynnis Talken, Amy Danles, Tony Fucile, and Patty Wynne-Hughes. 2009. The Maxx. [United States]: MTV Home Entertainment.

[2] Kieth, Sam, Gregg Vanzo, William Messner-Loebs, Claudia Katz, Michael Haley, Glynnis Talken, Amy Danles, Tony Fucile, and Patty Wynne-Hughes. 2009. The Maxx, episode 3, 6:50,  [United States]: MTV Home Entertainment.

[3] Kieth, episode 3.

[4] Dana Nielsen and Kumar Sivasubramanian, Episode #319, “The Maxx,” May 28, 2012, Deconstructing Comics Podcast, podcast, 13:16, accessed 02/14/2018, http://deconstructingcomics.com/?p=2395.

[5] Nicky, Nina, Tooch, Episode #38, “The Maxx,” April 19, 2015, Toon Goons Podcast, podcast, 45:05, accessed 02/14/2018, http://thetoongoons.tumblr.com/search/the+maxx.

[6] Kieth, episode 4.

[7] Glisky, Ryan, Reminger, Hardt, Hayes, and Hupbach. “A Case of Psychogenic Fugue: I Understand, Aber Ich Verstehe Nichts.” Neuropsychologia 42, no. 8 (2004): 1132-147.

[8] Lynch, David, Mark Frost, Sabrina S. Sutherland, Angelo Badalamenti, Kyle MacLachlan, Sheryl Lee, Michael Horse, et al. 2017. Twin Peaks: a limited event series, Part 17.

[9] Kieth, Sam, Dave Feiss, James Sinclair, Ronda Pattison, and Michael Heisler. 2017. The Maxx: Maxxed out. Vol. 3 Vol. 3.


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