In his introduction Michael Allred ponders whether after twenty years Madman could be considered his life’s work. It’s an interesting idea. Accepting a life as defined by creativity, is a life’s work the one glorious shining moment, or all the mistakes that led to it and postscripts that diminish it? Or is it, as in Allred’s case, twenty years of admirable consistency around a unique vision? Or is it a perpetual quest? It’s a question that seems to feed into his introductory strip of omnipotent beings warning Dr Flemm to cease messing with time. As part of it, Allred sets himself the difficult task of visually representing Madman’s entire career in three packed pages, and there’s a suitably spiritual conclusion. It’s visually interesting, and takes a surprising turn, but otherwise doesn’t match the best of Madman.

After that, there are 26 pages of other creators being let loose on Madman, sometimes individually, sometimes pairing writer and artist, but each only allocated a page (except for Kate McCulloch and Dave Cooper, and Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen). As with all such projects the results range from the trivial and unsatisfying to the genuinely charming or moving, incorporating the whimsical and the gnomic. Plenty of fine art is involved, but when asked to produce a Madman strip most creators supply more of themselves than Madman, and some present pages that would be better placed in the humongous illustration section that follows. It’s nice to see work from the likes of Jay Stephens and Bernie Mireault again, and the sample page by Peter Milligan with Philip Bond does a good job in encapsulating Madman’s mood where many others fail.

From the earliest days of the feature Allred’s not been shy about asking other artists to produce a Madman illustration, and these have been featured in the comics, the trade paperbacks and even generated two sets of trading cards. By 2012 206 artists had contributed, and seen with the hindsight of twenty years it’s a stunning list of names, several, sadly, no longer with us, and turning the seventeen inch pages showcases this work beautifully. The individual artistic interpretation works far better for single illustrations than for the earlier stories, as there’s no preconception of Madman better slotted into a defined genre. Allred is a fine assessor of talent, has been selective about who’s been asked, and very few artists have let him down. Michel Fiffe’s piece, inked by Allred and coloured by Laura Allred, deserves highlighting for going above and beyond the call of duty. Fiffe’s theme isn’t just Madman, but the other creations from the first decade of independent comics, all attending a gallery opening. It also includes nice nods to the pioneering elder statesmen.

Aside from Allred, much of the comic content doesn’t hit the mark, but this presentation does justice to some superb illustrations.