Taken to the Maxx: ‘The Maxx’ Retrospective
This is going to talk about the 1995 superhero cartoon The Maxx, but before that I must mention something. Back in the early-to-mid 90s, MTV used to show cartoons. Most of them were very unique and extremely bizarre. On certain nights they would host a nightly programing block called MTV Oddities. The block was presented like a freakshow, with the ringmaster introducing the exhibits. The exbibits were of course the cartoons. The block was a half hour long airing two 10-minute shows.
MTV Oddities intro
One of the shows was The Maxx. The series’ plot revolves around a large homeless purple superhero who lives on the streets in cardboard boxes and dumpsters. Despite attempting to help others, he often gets into trouble with the law. A social worker named Julie Winters often bails Maxx out of jail, gives him clothes, food, and sometimes lets him stay with her.
This is just part of the story. Maxx’s mind is constantly shifting to a parallel universe called the outback. In the outback, Maxx serves as a sort of warrior who fights large bizarre creatures. Julie is also there. She is known as the Leopard Queen, who Maxx protects.
In the shadows is the mysterious Mr. Gone, the show’s villain. When he’s not murdering people and raping women, he’s constantly trolling both Maxx and Julie claiming that he knows things about them that even they don’t know.
As you can see, this is a very unusual superhero show. The series itself, while comedic at times, is rather dark with serious themes, such as rape and murder. It later gets more psychological as it analyses one’s identity. Are we who we really are in person, or are we who we are in our own minds? The show also goes into detail about recovering after traumatic experiences, parental neglect, fear of the unknown, and being a social outcast.
Back to the psychological aspect, the show also asks the question of what the true world is. Is the world we live in where we interact with others real, or is the world in our minds the real world? How do you know the world you live in is the real world? You never know what’s real, especially after the implication that the physical world is made up.
When Maxx shifts through worlds they often blend together. What could be a flying whale in the outback could be a blimp in the physical world. He may get caught in net by creatures in the outback and wake up in a jail in the physical world.
The characters are just as strange as the world(s) they live in. Maxx, voiced by Michael Haley, is inside some purple costume with a large upper jaw, is heavy-weight, has long yellow claws, and has his feet wrapped up. He constantly thinks out loud and monologues to himself. He also seems to be a fan of the show Cheers. His attempts to help people often end in disaster. For example, he saves a woman from being mugged, but the police appear and arrest him and let the muggers go.
In the outback, Maxx is more successful in heroism. He’s the strongest individual there amongst the giant creatures. He’s more muscular and has long blond hair. He’s also much more athletic. In the outback he explains that he got those claws from dipping them in lava, but the series never explains why he looks the way he does in the physical world, at least in the series, more on that later.
Julie, voiced by Glynnis Talken, is a sarcastic individual who works as a social worker. She attempts to help others due to experiencing a traumatic event earlier in life. She serves as Maxx’s only friend. When she and Maxx speak seriously, it’s among the series’ most touching and tearful scenes. The most notable thing about her is that she usually dresses like a prostitute, even at work. She wears cut-out jeans that shows her very revealing lingerie. She’s nonchalant about many things but will voice her opinion over things she doesn’t like. She also openly shuns other women who were raped saying that they made themselves targets by how they dress, how they act, and where they go, despite knowing of the dangers. She also believes someone should take responsibility for traumatic events in their lives instead of acting like a victim.
Mr. Gone, voiced by Barry Stigler, is an interesting, but sometimes annoying villain. He usually spends his time either killing or raping. He spends the rest of the time constantly trolling Maxx and Julie, claiming that he knows the truth about them. He has an unusual obsession with Julie and sometimes calls Maxx Br’er Lapin for unexplained reasons (in the series). He wears a long cape when on the streets that can form into large constructs, such as curtains that drape over a gas station. He’s also apparently immortal as he survives being decapitated. Like Maxx and Julie, he too can shift back and forth between the physical world and outback.
Gone’s also has foot soldiers called Iszes. Iszes are dwarf-sized creatures from the outback that resemble an eyeless Pac-man with stubby legs and skinny arms. In the outback the Iszes are the main predators and are white. They travel in large packs and team up to take down larger animals. They function the same in the physical world, but when they cross over their teeth sharpen and they turn black. They also develop a taste for people. Bizarrely, when they dress up as a person they appear as a normal person to the public eye. For example, if one dresses up like a police officer, they look just like a normal human officer to a civilian. Only Maxx can tell the difference. Despite their strength and viciousness, they can be killed relatively easy with a single hit.
Later, a third protagonist is introduced named Sarah, voiced by Amy Danles. Sarah is a teen who goes to Julie for counseling. She doesn’t get along with her hippie mother, is teased at school for being an outcast, has acne, is overweight, antisocial, and is somewhat homicidal. She had one friend who turned on her after he was accepted by the popular kids. Sarah often spends time with Maxx due to them both having similar personalities. Her main goal is to become a writer.
The series is constantly shifting its art style. Sometimes characters are drawn in detail for more serious moments but are also drawn in simplified styles for comedic value. Sometimes the series even uses live action to distance certain aspects, such as showing one of the protagonist being isolated from the rest of the world. The story is one big thread that is told through different points of view. One episode may be narrated by Maxx, the next by Julie, and later by Sarah. The music is also very impressive. It’s mostly very atmospheric and heavy to emphasize the dark nature of the series. During Maxx’s dialogues it sounds very gloomy and moody, while his emotional scenes with Julie are very light piano pieces.
Overall, I strongly believe that this series is not only critically acclaimed, but extremely underrated. While being a superhero show it goes into so much dept with getting inside the main characters’ minds and understanding just how miserable they are in the physical world. It’s an escapism show that makes one fantasizes about who they want to be instead of who they are. You really feel for Maxx who saves no one in the physical world but is a much better hero in the outback. Every single main character grabs your attention and there’s never a dull moment. The dark city setting is very reminiscent of Batman, Spawn, and The Crow. While not as Gothic as those it’s still very shadowy and grim.
One last thing to mention is that the series is based off the comic book series of the same name created by Sam Kieth. The cartoon is based on the first half of the comic, and while it does end on somewhat of a cliffhanger, the story continues in the comic. There are a lot of things that are stated but never explained in the series, such as who or what the Maxx is, how Maxx is truly connected to Julie, Gone and Julie’s backstories, how Gone knows about the outback, what, if any effect does the outback have on Sarah, and who is Sarah’s father. After the cartoon ended, the comic continued and eventually does answer those questions, along with making Sarah the central focus. Check out The Maxx if you want to see a different take on superheroes.
The Maxx original trailer
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