Is evil just something you are or something you do?
Wednesday morning, Esther Inglis-Arkell posted a great article on i09 about how action heroes are all legitimately bonkers. In Nick Spencer’s Bedlam, the reader gets a long, hard look at how crazy crazy is. Bedlam takes some of the best ideas from psychological thrillers, mashes them together and adds enough violence to make it the number one comic book in Xenia, Ohio (post-tornado).
Bedlam is A Clockwork Orange. You’ve got your Fillmore Press. Once, he was the gleefully sadistic serial murderer named Madder Red, a skull with a bloody red smile. That was then. At the peak of his madness, something… happened… and Red was abducted, lobotomized and reconditioned. Turned into a man incapable of violence. Fillmore Press.
Bedlam is Dexter. Press may be “cured,” but he is still drawn to violence, which plagues Bedlam in macabre proportions even without Madder Red in the mix. Press becomes a consultant to the “extraordinary crimes” unit of the police department- his eerily accurate insight into the minds of killers (and his childlike need to connect to other people) pairs him with the one detective in the city trying her best to tackle the murdering psycho angel or the living mind-control virus. Applying his particular brand of crazy for the greater good is excellent rehab for Fillmore Press, as long as no one discovers who he is.
Bedlam is the Greatest Joker Story Never Told. The violence is willfully extreme. The plots might read like Warren Ellis but the gore is straight Jhonen Vasquez, shocking for shocking’s sake. A mondo movie’s worth of guts. Two reasons for this. The first is to tell the Batman story the world has been playing at for a long time but hasn’t embraced. No one wants to throw dirt on a legend. But the Joker has been saying it for years, Batman is as crazy as everyone he puts in Arkham Asylum. Grittier Batman stories all hinge on this idea, is he or isn’t he? but even Frank Miller’s Grumpy Pee Paw Batman is incapable of, you know, murder and stuff. Well, Bedlam would make a perfect Gotham City, and it has its own dark knight, The First. And Madder Red is quite possibly what the Joker will be like five years of gritty movies down the road from now. Bedlam doesn’t just ask what if this happened. It happens. You have to be crazy to put on a cape and a mask and beat people up. And crazy has consequences.
Second reason. The tag line of the series gets existential on us. What is evil? If you do something evil, are you evil? The violence has to be a hammer that Bedlam beats on you with because Fillmore Press is a weirdly likable guy. He means well, I guess, or he seems to, he seems to want to change (now that his brain has been chopped and screwed), but he is definitely guilty of monstrous crimes against humanity he didn’t really have to answer for. It’s on the reader to decide who the good guys and the bad guys are.
Two trades collect the first two villains. More forthcoming / on hiatus as Spencer is writing upwards of four titles for Marvel and Image at the moment.