Review by Ian Keogh
This teams Madman with two characters who had their moment in the sun, Nexus moreso than the Jam, but which have both fallen into obscurity.
At the time of original publication (1996) Nexus was a bigger deal than Madman. Mike Baron and Steve Rude had packed in almost a hundred issues of their science fiction superhero, granted incredible powers with which he became his world of Ylum’s protector, but at the cost of having to undertake missions to kill mass murderers. It sounds grim, but if not quite the level of Madman’s whimsical nature, the series popped along nicely on eccentricity and Rude’s exceptional art. It’s the Nexus creative team responsible for the story, with Madman creator Michael Allred only responsible for his character’s dialogue. It’s an uneasy fit. Baron’s plot avoids the darkness and ups the surreal content by having a rogue transforming robot kidnap children and take them to a funfair, where they’re confronted by versions of the 20th century’s greatest entertainers, “The King” and “The Glove”. Rude is a chameleon artist, able to mimic others while still channelling his own smooth style, so Madman is drawn very much as if by Allred, yet still slots into the more figurative world of Nexus.
The Jam story is more of a collaboration between Allred and Bernie Mirault. Gordie Kirby is superhero obsessed and strolls around town in a home-made costume, but has no powers beyond those of a normal human. Madman is led to Kirby’s home city Montreal by a series of dreams, and the result is a story far truer to the spirit of Madman than the preceding work, if heavy on the surreal and the symbolism. The title of ‘House of Escher’ is valid, as the two characters enter another universe via a strange building defying the laws of physics and architecture, and run up against an assortment of strange creatures with cryptic messages. At times it’s more reminiscent of the weirdness created by Jim Woodring. The visuals are fantastic, the story possibly more so if under the influence, with Mireault’s art lacking the professional polish of Rude’s work, but nearer in spirit to Madman’s world.
This is a slim graphic novel, and not as much fun as when Allred’s in complete control of Madman and his exploits.