The definitive issue-by-issue comic book collecting guide and reading order for The Maxx by Sam Kieth in comic books and omnibus, hardcover, and trade paperback collections.Find every issue and appearance! Part of Crushing Krisis’s Crushing Comics Guide to Collecting Indie & Licensed Comics. Last updated March 2023 with titles scheduled for release through July 2023.
Sam Kieth’s The Maxx was one of the earliest independent Image series, not tied to any of the six founding imprints. It was also one of Image’s most widely-known comics alongside Spawn thanks to its own 13-episode animated series on MTV in 1995.
The Maxx was a surreal, challenging, and shockingly mature comic that feels like a direct progeny of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (for which Kieth was the launch artist!).
The title centers on a hulking, purple-clad, buck-toothed superhero who splits his time between alleyways and the fantastical mental landscape called The Outback. In each location, he considers himself a defender of Julie, a woman with whom he seems to have no other connection. However, sometimes it is Julie who defends him.
The question of what demands them being so defensive drives the plot of the series. Julie is a hippy social worker, but also a survivor of trauma. Maxx may really just be a man confused about reality and his place in it. Both of them are threatened by Mr. Gone, who may either be a serial rapist or a wizard – possibly both. And then there is the unassuming Sara, a bespeckled teenaged nerd who befriends Maxx and gets embroiled in his adventures (or, is he embroiled in hers?).
Kieth and scripter William Messner-Loebs explored themes of sexual assault, feminism, PTSD, mental health, and generational trauma in a comic that could feel both fast and dense, and which often didn’t make sense on an issue-by-issue level even as it stayed lodged in your brain for weeks afterward. However, as the series pressed on, its mysterious plot began to reveal itself and resolve – leading eventually to a second generation of the story in the back half of the series.
Between its surreal qualities and its MTV exposure, The Maxx became a cornerstone of teenager counterculture media in the mid-90s at the peak of grunge alongside the likes of Beavis and Butthead – though the vibe of the typical Maxx fan was closer to that of Daria (which would debut two years later).
Much like Sandman before it, Maxx drew in readers from outside of the typical sphere of comics – and, certainly from outside of Image’s typical demographics of superhero enthusiasts. Each issue ended with several pages letters and artwork from impassioned fans, which eventually spawned a pen pal exchange.
The Maxx was not a typical superhero, or really a superhero at all, so Kieth allowed him to make only limited canonical appearances across Image’s loosely-bound shared universe. He made just three meaningful appearances elsewhere in Image outside of his own title during its run, and each kept up the guessing game of whether he was truly a superhero or just a confused man. He was also the cover star of the underground Gay Comics at the end of 1996, though the featured story focused on Sara.
Shortly after Maxx’s series concluded, Jim Valentino used The Maxx as a stand-in for the since-excommunicated sixth Image flagship imprint of Extreme Comics in his Altered Image mash-up comic. In 2013, IDW revived the original series with modern recoloring by Ronda Pattison (and overseen by Kieth). They remastered and reprinted the full 35-issue run (but not the 1/2 issue or supporting Friends of series), collecting all of them in a handsome line of oversize hardcovers and a trio of paperbacks.
Kieth returned to his creation in narrative form only twice after the end of the original series – once for a brief Hero Initiative fundraiser in 2014, and again for a long-demanded team-up with Batman in 2018 that felt perfectly aligned with the unique tone of the original series.