Uncovering Comic Memories with My Little Maxx Figure

This weekend, my husband and I went down a nostalgic rabbit hole looking for an open figure of the comic character The Maxx that I really wanted to have back on my desk.

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For those unfamiliar with this story, Sam Kieth created The Maxx. It’s a very dark (and intentionally confusing) story about a man who trips between two realities. In one world, the protagonist is a big purple creature who defends “The Outback” and its Jungle Queen. In another world (the “real” world), he’s living as a homeless guy in a box, and the “queen” is actually a social worker named Julie.

He’s one of the weirdest, coolest, and most complicated characters out there, and just talking about him makes me want to start drawing him on skateboard decks and tattoo designs.

I guess you could say I missed seeing this little purple weirdo with his oversized overbite, tribal books and claws.

I was living in a small coastal Texas town in the early 1990s, just after grad school, and working as a lifestyles editor. Every other week, my husband and I would escape to Houston. We would discover new restaurants, visit our comic book haunt and go on treasure hunts for a certain action figure or card set. This included a Maxx.

This led to digging through some of our old boxes of McFarlane Toys, and we uncovered stilled packaged versions of some of the original 1994 toys and follow-up series from McFarlane’s comic Spawn. This included Spawn himself, Clown, the angel Angela (co-created by Neil Gaiman), Tiffany, the devil Malebolgia and more. We also found several alternative universe versions of Spawn figure such as Viking Spawn, Medieval Spawn and Mandarin Spawn (all now claimed by my oldest daughter) and a few of McFarlane’s sports figures, mainly hockey. I even found my full set of Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot.

Finally, we found two Maxx figures. One was still in the package, but the other was loose and ready for play or display. It even still had a little “Isz” figure, a bitey little frenzied predator from the Outback.

McFarlane Toys haven’t gone away by any means, and have expanded well into the DC and Disney universe, as well as classic monsters, anime and video games. They continue to be known for their attention to detail, amazing articulation and the well crafted stands, bases and environments that help bring these figures to life. He even has some new Witcher and Dune figures in the works.

My Hanson Brothers set on their “Old Time Hockey” rink set up.

McFarlane’s items are still going strong, and characters like Spawn and The Maxx are still appearing in comics, but seeing these original figures really made me miss the days when comics were first and foremost a means of escape, rather than primarily a political tool. I’m not saying these comics didn’t deal with some “real world” issues, nor did they completely ignore the political or social leanings of the writers. All creators want to get their message across.

There were characters of different races, strong females, and different sexual orientations, but that was all just part of the character building. Spawn, which first debuted in 1992, is a prime example. I may have been living under a rock at the time, but I don’t remember any extra fanfare from the diversity police, or bigoted outcry because Spawn was Black. We all loved this tragic anti-hero, whose story took us into the depths of Hell, the heights of Heaven, and depravity and goodness of human beings, all created by a nonreligious guy, McFarlane, who first cooked up the idea when he was still a teenager in the 1970s.

McFarlane loved his character so much he began McFarlane so any Spawn action figures would be done right and under his approval. Anyone who has seen or purchased a McFarlane Toys product can see he achieved his goal, including with the comparatively simple Maxx figure.

Sam Kieth’s subconscious-diving Maxx for all practical purposes could have easily been a depressing downer of a read. Instead, it brings us a deeper connection with each of the characters. It shows us how the world and its inhabitants are more than just two-dimensional. You read the tales of The Maxx, Julie, antagonist Mr. Gone, and you uncover some serious layers, right down to the spirit animals. This story deals with rape survivors trying to overcome their past and childhood traumas, but no one is irredeemable or a permanent victim. There is also something playful and adventurous about The Maxx, there’s a wicked alter ego trip that somehow feels like a gritty Wonderland or Oz.

Some of our early McFarlane Toys “Spawn” figures, each one cooler than the next.

I think that is one reason I enjoy my little Maxx figure so much. Other than the fact he is just nifty looking, he is imperfect. He’s a flawed, sometimes angry, sometimes scared and sad being who is also fierce, funny and brave. The Maxx so obviously a fictional creature, but also very much like us.

When I see these figures I am always impressed with complexity of design, and reminded of the complexity of the characters they represent.

Recently, I learned actor Channing Tatum and prolific producer Roy Lee were planning a movie adaptation of The Maxx. With every new adaptation of a work from another era, I “hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and expect nothing.”

This won’t be the first Maxx adaption. In the mid-1990s when MTV’s “Liquid Television” phase was at its peak, there was a cool mini series of The Maxx that followed the comic pretty well, but it barely scratched the surface of the story. If they want to squish this tale into a movie, doing the story justice won’t be an easy feat.

I want to love this as well as other upcoming comic adaptations. This includes Netflix’s versions of Bone, Usagi Yojimo and Sandman. Unfortunately, I already know with the latter they did an unnecessary “gender bend” on my favorite male character in the series…so there’s that personal disappointment.

Still, whatever comes from this adaptation, if it happens, at least The Maxx is still lurking and bounding around the comic world of the 1990s, dodging the voracious sharp fangs of the Isz, as well as any final answers for what is “real” and “imagined.”

Whatever weird and veering paths characters like him and Spawn take in the future at the hands of not always well intentioned or well read Hollywood types, at least I’ll have plenty of the original tales to enjoy. I have some of McFarlane’s original figures to remind me how important telling a great story was in these comics, as well.

Most of all, I once again have my little Maxx watching over me on the corner of desk.

My little purple Maxx and his Isz buddy, found at last. All images: Lisa Tate

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