“Something is very wrong with me,” says Frank Einstein in the first issue of Mike Allred’s cult-classic comic book series, _Madman_, published sporadically since the early ’90s. Frank’s insecurity stems from his being previously dead, then brought back to life—with no memory and with scars that make him look like Frankenstein’s monster’s cuter brother—by mad scientists Drs. Flem and Boiffard. They name him after their idols Frank Sinatra and Albert Einstein, and, for “self-esteem,” give Frank a badass costume that he wears full-time, modeled after Mr. Excitement, Frank’s childhood comic book hero—the only thing he recalls pre-reanimation.
Writer/artist Allred recently began a new run of the series, published by Image Comics, called _Madman Atomic Comics_, and Image has just republished the full backlist as an all-in-one 852-page _Madman Gargantua_, as well as distributing the same material into three trade paperback chunks, _Madman Vols 1-3_. Like Frank Miller’s _Sin City_, _Madman_ is soon to be made into a just-as-faithful-to-the-original film by Robert Rodriguez. “We just finished a polish on the screenplay that I’m thrilled with, and are close to launching production,” says Allred. “Fingers crossed.”
Bouts of angst (Frank’s in love with supersweet knockout Joe and finds her attraction to him hard to swallow) alternating with smitten-like-a-schoolboy outbursts (“I’m the luckiest guy in the world!”) set the tone of these Ã¼ber-earnest, sometimes-scary adventures, complete with robots, romance, kung fu, dinosaurs, time travel, insecure aliens, existentialism, demons and mutant street beatniks. In the seemingly deadliest of battles, there’s a “got your nose” sense of play to the mayhem.
Part of the pleasure of _Madman_ is that Frank says lines that just wouldn’t be uttered by any “normal” superhero, like, “Oh no! Wait my bookpack! It has all my special stuff in it!” He’s constantly worried that Joe is going to think he’s weird, yet lets her read his journal, which, of course, is chock full of weird. The supporting cast is just as distinctive. The alien Mott from Hoople always feels left out and gets his feelings hurt when Frank’s more excited to talk to Joe on the phone than him. “Oh I get it that’s just fine,” Mott says and sulks away.
_Madman_ falls into a distinguished tradition of jazzy-quirky indie superhero comics of singular vision, one that began in the ’40s with Will Eisner’s _The Spirit_ and Jack Cole’s _Plastic Man_, and which includes the more recent _Hellboy_, _Nexus_, _Mage_ and _Paradax_, among others. Allred agrees and adds, “also Bernie Mireault’s _The Jam_, _Premiani_ and Drake’s _Doom Patrol_, Kirby and Lee’s _Fantastic Four_, the first four issues of Mister X…. To get the complete list of the faves that rock my world, check out Madman Atomic Comics No.3.”
The aforementioned issue is a tour de force tribute to Allred’s influences, each panel mimicking a different artist’s style, more than 100 in all. Naming which style he apes in which panel is sure to become the next geeky drinking game. This latest storyline is akin to the psychedelic philosophicomics of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, and Allred’s art is as exquisite as ever, if not more so. “The planets are definitely lining up on this baby,” he says. “I’ve never been more confident and satisfied. It’s a rush.”
_Madman_ is also a conduit for Allred to voice his mystical musings. “I use Frank Einstein as blank slate wanting to be scribbled on,” he says. “He wants to be filled up. He reflects my desire to find answers or resolutions to spiritual concerns; it’s a very spiritual experience. But when it’s all said in done, my top priority is for it to a heckuva fun ride.”