Ten years ago, in a city plagued by crime, a costumed lunatic launched a crime spree of terror and mayhem, designed to prove a sick point to the city’s masked defender. When the villain was apparently blown up by one of his own bombs, the city was safe again. Now, a decade later, a young detective working a string of strange homicides receives an offer of help from a man who seems to have just a little bit too much insight into the mind of a maniac. So begins Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo’s Bedlam.
In case it’s not obvious, this story basically asks, “What would it be like if Doctor Hugo Strange lobotomized the Joker and tried to reform him?”
Also, it’s awesome.
Because this isn’t actually the Joker, Spencer is free to take his psychopath character in directions that DC never would, since it would effectively destroy what is arguably their flagship villain (no offense to Mr. Luthor). This dark and twisted story works as a stand-alone title yet would also be right at home in Batman. In fact, the case that brings the “reformed” Madder Red out may be better than that. Spencer has a real talent for pacing and carefully doles out the action between little slices of backstory that flesh out the antihero’s world.
As much as I enjoyed the story, much of the credit for this book’s success belongs to Rossmo’s visuals, which are superb. The flashback sequences, in particular, are incredible. The decision to depict the events in near monochromatic black and white, with only the bloodiest of blood reds providing color, is spot-on and creates a brilliant contrast to the earthier tone of the rest of the book. Extra kudos go out to the design of Madder Red. The menacing face mask and minimalist costume, the high contrast of the black/white/red, and his lanky proportions make what could have been a very generic-looking “murderous psychopath” character really stand out, especially when compared to the uninspired blandness of his nemesis, the First. The splash pages’ layouts are also very impressive. Rossmo’s energetic, highly stylized representation of Bedlam is a perfect complement to Spencer’s script.
This is definitely not a book for the squeamish, though. Rossmo puts all that bright red to good use during the flashbacks of Madder Red’s rampage and subsequent…correction, and the case that brings him out of hiding is more Seven than CSI. Between the graphic violence and some brief nudity, this is best kept in an adult collection.
Bedlam, vol 1
by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo