I’m Not 100 Percent Sure What Madder Means in This Context
Very special article this week folks. Our suggestion this time around comes from u/Sheldonzilla on reddit, who has done a very good job waiting his turn for this article, and gets 500 Nerditis Fun Bux!
Note: Nerditis Fun Bux are not legal tender, nor do they actually purchase anything anywhere, save for in a small mining town in Kazakhstan, where you may trade them in for mildly irradiated fish skeletons.
What makes this article so special, you may ask? Well, primarily the fact that it actually happened, but also that it’s our first character from outside of the Big 2! That’s right, we got someone from Image comics this time, the place most prominently known as where we got Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Invincible! And, you know, some pretty awful stuff too, but everything else is usually good. Well, except for Youngblood.
Just a quick heads up, this article might end up being a little shorter and more text intensive than most of mine have been in the past, as there really isn’t that much material on Madder Red. Regrettably, his series only has two trades, weighing in at around 13 issues total, which blows, because it’s easily one of the best things I’ve read (more like red amirite?) in the past few years. Without further ado, let’s fake an education in comics!
What’s the Madder With Comics These Days
No, I will not apologize for my flagrant abuse of the English language.
SCENARIO: Pretty much skipping this part of the article, because again, there’s next to no material for me to construct something with here. Basically, I’m going to take this week to educate you all on a less well known character, as well as lament the fact that there hasn’t been anything with him in it since 2014. Instead of the usual spiel about correcting people and whatnot here, I’m just gonna give you everything you need to get other people to read this series, because it’s incredible.
Step One: God Damn it, I’m Already Out of Puns Again
Madder Red is, to put it as briefly and bluntly as possible, a Joker analogue and main character of the series Bedlam, which you should all go read. The comic follows the man behind the mask ten years after his biggest murder spree yet, where he has reformed against his will thanks to a mysterious doctor and his kind-of-but-not-really-zombie nurses. A lot of these plot threads remain unresolved, because as it stands, the comic just sort of ends between story arcs. I don’t really want to spoil too much here, but plenty of cliffhangers are frustratingly open -ended right now.
Now, Madder Red (or Filmore Press, his real name) may be our protagonist, but my oh my is he not the good guy. Well, Filmore is, but it’s… complicated. See, one of the driving themes of Bedlam is redemption, or rather, the concept of redemption. Through seeing the conflicting actions of a horrible (and admittedly kind of hilarious) murderer and his older, more altruistic self, we are forced to ask ourselves if redemption is even attainable for some people, as well as if rehabilitation is even ethical if it’s forced upon someone. Sure, the guy who underwent the forced lobotomy was an unrepentant mass murderer, but in annihilating his previous self, in taking him apart and putting him back together the way the world at large would prefer, are we not monsters ourselves? Is it right to, in essence, unmake an identity in order to save lives? At what point are we crossing a line in our efforts to do good? Bedlam, at its core, is a series of moral grey areas, an infinitely complex morass of conflicting ideals and buried truths. We are not given any answers ourselves (probably mostly because the series hasn’t ended), rather, we are made to seek them out ourselves, to come to our own conclusions, and that’s something you don’t see a lot of in comics these days. More often than not, if a comic is taking a stance on something or raising a thought provoking question, the very same comic posits a supposedly ironclad answer a few issues later. Basically Bedlam is a masterpiece, is where I’m going with this.
Another one of the big questions in Bedlam is slapped right on the cover of the first issue: Is evil something we are, or something we do? This ties into the overarching themes of rehabilitation and redemption, asking if a man is evil, or if what he did was evil. After all, Madder Red was clearly mentally unstable, can he be held accountable for his own actions? Or is he simply another victim, spiraling downwards into the abyss of the human soul? Not only are we asked to decide if what happens to Madder Red is ethical, but we are also asked to decide if it’s even worth it. If he were healed, could he truly ever make up for his sins? Or would he simply be a man who had done both right and wrong? After all, we’re clearly shown that Madder Red still lurks in the confines of Filmore’s mind, just beneath the surface. Could it be that he’s simply destined to come apart at the seams no matter what, or is he well and truly fixed?
Well, fixed isn’t the right word. Not quite.
Step Two: Insane in the Membrane
Now I’ve mentioned that Red here gets forcibly rehabilitated, however, it’s important to note that this doesn’t make him any less crazy. For example:
Oh, uh… maybe don’t show any of this comic to younger readers, if that wasn’t immediately clear. It’s pretty fucked up. Easily the most on panel child murder I’ve ever seen.
Honestly, he’s probably the most deranged character I’ve ever seen in a comic book, right alongside the likes of The Orb and Odin Quincannon. Reading Bedlam will make any of Deadpool’s antics feel about as mundane as filing your taxes, and it will make the Joker seem… well, Madder Red and Joker are pretty much on par in terms of murderous hijinx, I think. Joker definitely has the higher body count, that’s for sure. I guess he had a roughly 70 year headstart though, so go figure. I think what makes Red’s insanity so deeply real and disturbing, however, is how much less he does compared to other characters. He says it himself right before slitting a young girl’s throat, kill one and it’s a tragedy, kill a thousand and it’s a statistic. Well, I guess Stalin said that first, but it still applies. Also, and I know this is probably a controversial opinion, but fuck Stalin.
Anyways, that’s sort of a big factor in Red’s psychosis. He likes to make it feel personal for everyone involved, every statement he makes, every killing spree, it’s usually all for one person’s “benefit”: The First, who is the Batman to Red’s Joker. He’s trying to make a point about humanity, about what kind of monsters we all are on the inside. At the end of his spree in the first issue, his endgame was asking the parents and families of the victims to kill him in order to prevent several bombs from killing even more children. It seems like a pretty cut and dry decision, right? Kill one guy, and a bunch of children live, and the deaths of others in the future are prevented. Here’s the issue with that: Does operating outside of justice still constitute a heroic act? Is falling to chaos, rioting and fighting the police to get to one man, worth the future safety? If we give up our principles, are we still doing the right thing? And more importantly, it kind of illustrates how fucked up the concept of vigilantes like The First and Batman operating outside of the law in order to bring people to justice. I mean, if we have one person breaking the rules for our benefit, when does it end? It just makes the actual system itself a sham, a worthless dog and pony show and oh my god I understand why Civil War should have been better now.
I guess the end result is that violent vigilantes are hypocritical by nature, and true justice only comes at the cost of the illusion of safety that we have constructed by erecting a series of barely functioning systems. The author makes a lot of anti political statements in his work, if you haven’t picked up on that. Even if you don’t agree with them though, it’s still a fun ride. It’s basically like Hannibal, but somehow even more fucked.
Step Three: Obligatory Character Study
So earlier I said that Madder Red is a Joker analogue, and that’s true. But honestly, I see him as more of a Batman figure than a Joker. Joker’s whole schtick is that he’s insane, but if you take that away from him, he’s pretty much a regular guy. He gets a normal job, he falls in love, he lives a normal life. You take Madder’s crazy away, well… you don’t really do that. You get rid of Madder Red, but you still have Filmore Press, and he’s still crazy. And, arguably, Filmore isn’t the person behind the mask. Filmore is just someone that Madder Red put on. See, despite the intent, I don’t really think Madder Red is all that much like the Joker. I think he’s a bit more like Superman. Ok I know that sounds crazy (for the lack of a better word), but hear me out. See, Superman is in all of us. That’s what makes him so great, he represents humanity’s collective desire and capacity to do good, to help, to be a hero. That’s what the whole Truth, Justice, and the American Way schtick is about. An immigrant from beyond the stars, put to paper by two struggling immigrants who looked at America and saw hope, who looked at the American Dream and saw not opportunity for themselves, but opportunity for the world. That’s what Superman is. He isn’t a god, he isn’t Jesus, he’s someone who came to America, just like his creators, and saw all the good that it promised, and decided to give that good to everyone. He stands by those principals and strives to bring them to anyone who will listen. And there’s a little bit of Supes in all of us. We all, deep inside, have the capacity to do good, to be a hero. All of us are Superman.
Meanwhile, we have Madder Red. Madder Red is in all of us as well, lurking deep within the same spaces as Superman. As Superman is the capacity to do good, Madder Red is the capacity to do harm. He isn’t just madness, he is rage, he is aggression and violence and bloodshed. That’s the real point that he’s trying to make: that anyone could be him. When he makes his proposition to kill him, that’s what he’s showing us: That we are all, under the right circumstances, Madder Red. We have in all of us the drive to kill, to maim, to slaughter. Bedlam as a whole shows us this, as Madder Red has a distinctive red outline around his speech bubbles. At first, one would suspect that it is simply a way to distinguish the character further, to highlight an already fascinating monster. But we see that when other characters are pushed to the brink that they too have the red outline. They too, are capable of Madder’s violence, for as I have already said, he dwells within us all, and no one is immune. No one is safe. There is always that voice in the dark, whispering sweet promises in our ear, trying to tell us to take vengeance, to take what we want. For some, it is weaker. For others, it is stronger. For Madder Red, it is immutable.
Sure, in terms of message and methodology, MR and the Joker are undeniably similar. The trick is that Joker is Chaos, while MR is simply Evil. Anyone can become the Joker, same as Madder Red. The difference is that MR is closer to the surface. Joker is mankind on its absolute worst day. Madder Red is what happens every single day.
Step Four: The Future of Bedlam
As it stands, it doesn’t quite look like we’re getting any more Bedlam, which is fucking tragic as far as I’m concerned. I only ever got around to reading it because of how persistently u/Sheldonzilla asked for this article, and I devoured that shit. Seriously, I can’t stress enough how good this series is. If you enjoyed Hannibal (another darkly fascinating piece of entertainment that I cannot recommend highly enough), Azarello’s Joker graphic novel, Se7en… really anything that features a strangely charismatic serial killer, you will love this book. If you’re a fan of dark, grisly crime stories, you will love this book. If you are a fan of comics in general, you will love this book. Shit, if you’re a weird, nihilistic freak of nature who doesn’t really like anything, you will at least appreciate this book.
Just go out there, find it (pay for it too, you filthy animals), and read it. I guarantee you it will stick with you.
I guess its continued absence primarily stems from low sales, which is regrettable, but unsurprising. Horror/slasher themed comics don’t really tend to do gangbusters, so I saw that coming. What confuses me to no end is that, apparently, the door is open for more Bedlam. I’m not really sure if Nick Spencer, the twisted guy behind this book, is just tied up doing work elsewhere or reluctant to keep working on the book, but either way, it needs to come back eventually. I’m fine with waiting a few years more if I have to, but just slapping a release date down somewhere needs to happen. Seriously, I’ll beg for it, I’m not proud.
It’s been so long since a comic book really grabbed me and got in my head like this. I’ve tried every “Next Big Thing”, from Invincible to Saga to Sex Criminals and so on and so forth, but only Bedlam has ever really gotten me. Well, I really liked East of West too, but that’s beside the point. The art was on another level entirely, the writing was engrossing in a way I genuinely hadn’t felt in a long time, and every character felt so unique, which is rarer than you would think in comics outside the Big 2. Usually when I read superhero books from outside DC or Marvel, I spend most of my time picking out clear analogues of those characters, because, well, sometimes that’s all a lot of them are. I loved Invincible (sort of… it’s complicated), but most characters were just blatant revamps of others. I’m probably gonna take some shit for saying that, but it honestly just feels like a lot of “other” superhero books, indie or otherwise, feel like an author trying to tell a Superman or Spider-Man story without actually being allowed to touch said character. Or, alternatively, there’s just people taking advantage of how much sex and violence they can cram in, or sermonizing without end, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum, until finally, that series steps out of the limelight, and we all move on to the Next Big Thing. Bedlam is what should have been that Next Big Thing. It never got a true spotlight, and that is truly disappointing.
So, if you guys aren’t gonna ever pick up #BringBackSuperpro, maybe take up the rallying cry of #BringBackBedlam. We broke 2000 readers on these weird little articles a couple weeks ago, we surely have momentum of some kind now.
That’s about all I have to say this time around, folks. No other recommended reading, no nothing. Just go pick up Bedlam from somewhere. I promise you, you won’t regret it.
Stay tuned for next week’s article, and leave your suggestions wherever you find this. See you next time!