Only three issues in and Batman/The Maxx: Arkham Dreams is starting struggle a bit. The first issue was largely catching new readers up to speed on the world of the The Maxx. If you were familiar with The Maxx from the original run at Image or the MTV cartoon from the 90’s then the issue was, understandably, well trodden ground.
The second issue moved things along, albeit shakily. The issue presented a convoluted plot revolving around the Joker and Julie/The Jungle queen. It was moderately interesting but a bit too vague to be gripping. Anyone hoping for some clarity or purpose to to this crossover here at the midway point will be disappointment.
Half of this issue revolves around Maxx and Julies relationship. Meanwhile Batman is busy exploring his outback. While these setups seem ripe for exploration; writer and artist Sam Kieth seems to be finding it difficult to find anything new to say about either character.
At Julie’s insistence Maxx tries using a cellphone for the first time. In typical Maxx fashion Kieth uses the split reality of our world and the outback to poke fun at the concept. Kieth’s observations are amusing – particularly Maxx’s fear of becoming one of the “Thump-people.” But, they’re not nearly amusing or poignant enough for the time dedicated to them. Those familiar with the Maxx will enjoy seeing Julie care for Maxx again. However, you can’t help but feel the reunification of two old friends with such deep connections could have had more depth or emotion. Especially given that the series is only supposed to be five issues long.
The idea of exploring Batman’s psyche is always intriguing, yet, Kieth doesn’t really find much that others haven’t said – often better. Batman’s outback is unsurprisingly dark and bleak. Instead of some mind bending visuals with cleverly overly symbolism We spend most of the time with Batman and a representation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. She and Bats talking about people in Batman’s life who share one thing in common with him emotional repression.
Like Maxx, Batman has a spirit animal….a Bat. Kieth uses this to finally make a profoundly interesting observation in the final page. Batman remarks that his outback is pitch black and he can’t see a thing, to which he is told “…but your spirit animal can.” The obvious meaning here that Bruce can only make sense of the world and his own thoughts as Batman. The other implication (hopefully) is that when Bruce really opens up we might see the outback through Batman’s eyes.
I don’t want to give the impression that the issue is bad. It’s not. The dialogue is solid and as always the illustrations are wonderfully imaginative and compelling. But it feels like a missed opportunity. To bring Maxx back after all this time only to talk of cellphones is a little frustrating. To team up with Batman only to spend his time in the outback talking to ghost children with nothing new to say is disappointing at best.
Sam Keith’s work is often deeper and more thought provoking than most of his contemporaries, especially in regards to The Maxx. It was not a series that gave answers quickly or easily. Yet with only 2 issues left in this miniseries it would be ideal if Mr. Kieth would get to the point, so to speak. Hopefully, issue 4 will jump off of these ideas and provide us with something meaningful. The idea of seeing Batman’s world represented in Kieth’s surrealistic outback is just too tempting to not explore in depth. With any luck Sam Kieth agrees and will oblige us with the next installment.