Review by Megan Sinclair
“We are all monsters in the end.”
The redemptive journey of Fillmore Press continues as he tries to stay in control of his newly reformed identity. Now an official member of Detective Acevedo’s police squad, the two characters face a new, more threatening enemy, a technological mastermind who seemingly has the power to tap into the minds of Bedlam’s citizens and bend their will to his own. In a city of masks and facades, this anonymous adversary begins a reign of terror, forcing people to question their own identity and their ability to control their primal survival urges.
Naturally, an enemy such as this is particularly troubling for Press as he tries to vanquish his previous alter-ego, Madder Red. Indeed, more so than the first collected story arc, the past consistently intertwines itself into the narrative. At one point Madder Red seeps onto Press’ television, haunting and teasing his attempts at a normal life, as Press hallucinates the supervillain interrupting the Mayor’s speech by ripping into him with a chainsaw.
The volume offers many horrific and gruesome scenes from beheaded priests to a shower of bodies falling from the roofs of Bedlam’s skyscrapers. However, arguably the most harrowing scene of all centres around the comic’s superhero, the First and exemplifies the story’s themes of human nature and the control we have over our own hidden desires and urges. As the mysterious new villain retorts, only once we “purge ourselves of these weaknesses” can we unleash our true potential.
Nick Spencer continues as writer, but Riley Rossmo is replaced as artist by Ryan Browne. Like Rossmo previously, Browne offers a dark and disturbing look into the world of Bedlam. Perhaps more so however, as his work is sketchier and rougher in style than Rossmo’s. This could be because of the subject matter, with this story arc’s focus on identity, and it seems appropriate that the characters all feel etched and somewhat incomplete.
An interesting comparison between the two volumes can be seen when examining the two cover pages, both by Frazer Irving. On Volume 1, Press’s face is covered by Madder Red’s mask suggesting that he is fighting to break free of his previous persona. Here, Press’s face is clear but Madder Red lingers over his forehead implying that although he believes he has wiped clean his alter ego, the demons from his past continue to haunt him.
This is an even stronger story arc than the first and offers a greater perspective into the complicated world of Bedlam and it’s intriguing and often fractured characters. The only criticism is that it still feels incomplete as the individual comics ceased publication in 2014 leaving many questions unanswered. Hopefully this is only a temporary hiatus as the series offers a unique, exciting and very relevant analysis into modern culture and has an important place among contemporary comics.