Criticism 1: The Maxx

The Maxx is a comic book and animated show, both from the 90’s. The show is a faithful adaptation of the first 2/5ths of the comic, with a reasonably closed ending given it’s only part of the source material.

It deals with some heavy shit. Trauma, specifically of the sexual and/or childhood variety. So yeah, not light hearted. I’ll be honest and say I watched the show at a younger age than I should have. Which is maybe why it had such a profound impact on my psyche.

The story revolves around a homeless man who calls himself The Maxx and his social worker, Julie Winters. Maxx believes he’s a superhero who must protect people, especially his Jungle Queen, who just happens to look a lot like Julie Winters. Julie works out of her home and has problems with authority figures; whether it be the police or her landlord. The two of them form a codependent relationship, a very close bond of protecting each other (but never sexual).

Early on, she’s kidnapped and almost victimized by a serial rapist Mr. Gone. He’s a hard character to understand because he goes through radical changes as the story continues. He’s introduced as a rapist and attacks two women before Julie. Half way through the story a 10 year gap ensues and he reforms himself. You learn of his childhood, of the sexual abuse he suffered. He never claims it absolves him of responsibility but he sincerely wishes to repair the damage he caused. The one person he really wants forgiveness from (but never feels he deserves) is his daughter, Sarah.

That’s a bit of a spoiler because you don’t learn they’re related until near the end of the shows arc. Sarah is a troubled youth who speaks to Julie Winters as a counselor. She feels unattractive, she’s got very few friends and the one friend who is her age is an asshole. Additionally, she believes her father is dead; that he killed himself and murdered several others. As Julie and the Maxx help her deal with teenage problems, she learns that Mr. Gone is her father. 

This is the real side of what’s going on. Maxx’s “delusions” about being a superhero are actually correct. There’s a bizarre land he bleeds into and out of called The Outback. The Jungle Queen is there, and so is the evil Sorcerer Mr. Gone (as well as a whole host of strange creatures). What’s revealed by Gone is that this world is actually the mental landscape inside Julie Winters head. It’s a pseudo real place that can be traveled to by people who know how. Everyone has these Outbacks, but most are plain boring places. The only two we see are Julie’s and Sarah’s, and both have become “interesting” due to trauma or psychological illnesses. In Julie’s case, it was first because she had a mentally scarring incident as a child with a dying rabbit. Later on it was further changed when she was raped in college. Through random circumstance, this second incident pulled The Maxx into her mind, forever tying the two together. For Sarah, she spent her life coping with mental illness (not specifically diagnosed) and her inability to square her feelings about her father.

This melding of worlds, of the really harsh reality with comic book esque super heroes; it gives the show power. The unreality allows it to cut through the preconceived notions on these topics. Many stories these days use trauma, especially sexual trauma, as a cliched plot device. The Maxx takes it on and shows you perspectives from all angles. It doesn’t ask you to forgive Mr. Gone, in fact, Sarah refuses to. But one of the other characters, one of his earlier victims does forgive him. Forgiveness is always a complicated affair.

Julie shows coping with trauma as a long time thing, as something that doesn’t just get better. She uses denial and emotional barriers but it’s not just about breaking them down. She needs them at times. The Maxx wants to help her so badly but he truly doesn’t know how. He wants to be a paragon of virtue, to save women and punish villains. Gone and Julie teach him that he’s naive and must learn in order to help. All the while he’s struggling against a world that sees his life as worthless, that a homeless person is a failure by definition.  

So yeah, I recommend the show. It may be a bit dated and it may have some rough animation at times, but I haven’t seen anything like it since.

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