BEDLAM is twisted, darkly comic, challenging to our beliefs but also morally uplifting. It begins with the end of Madder Red, a pyschotic anarchist costumed supervillian, having killed dozens of children and their parents at a music recital. He is soon stopped by The First, a white clad protector of the city. A lot of reviewers seem apprehensive to make comparisons to Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT, but that’s exactly what it is, unashamedly. However, BEDLAM isn’t about the battle between order and chaos, a criminal system and vigilante justice – this scene is only a stepping stone. I think Spencer, like all of us, loved the ambiguity of the conclusion of TDK, and wanted to know where the Joker’s story went after that. BEDLAM is the story of Filmore Press, a sensitive and mentally unstable man, bent on picking up the pieces of his life, and making something of himself.
Madder Red is thought to be dead, his identity revealed to be nothing more than a two-bit thug, but inquisitive minds know there’s no way any common criminal could have executed the crimes of mad genius the public saw so frequently. The real Red lives on as Filmore Press, sedated by medication and the bizarre labyrinths of torture and therapy inside of his mind. The end of Madder Red hardly signifies the end of evil, though – and that’s where the central question of the series emerges (plastered across the cover for the slow-witted such as myself) when a serial killer of senior citizens begins gaining media buzz. Press is fascinated with the murders and in discovering the identity of the killer, who we know is a castrated young man with metallic angel wings interesting in incredibly gruesome and sadistic ways of ending his victims lives.
The mysterious murderer is a fascinating element to the story – Filmore finds himself working with the police force of Bedlam, specifically the demanding and exhausted Detective Acevado – and we find ourselves on a kaleidoscopic whirlwind exploration of just what makes us what we are, especially why some of us have an inclination to spread pain. Our angelic figure is an ex-choir boy with a case of scrupulosity, perhaps the victim of sexual abuse – “Do you remember how his love felt? How glorious it was just be in his presence?” certainly makes it difficult to see if he’s talking about God or…something else. Madder Red’s evil came from a distaste of the way our society runs and where we place our values, but also came from unhealthy obsessions and hatred towards himself. The new killer of Bedlam seems to share similar characteristics, and it’s up to Press to show him that we do have the capacity to change. Evil isn’t admissible just because we can find an answer behind it, just because we’re doing it for a reason. But that’s why this story works great in the framework of the superhero genre – because it forces us to ask if vigilante justice is any more okay.
“It’s time to show me how brave you can be. Show me who you really are.” BEDLAM ranks up an incredible amount of tension, never giving what you want, never going where you think it’s going to go – as the mystery of the killer begins to heat up, we’re given an issue focusing on the inner workings of Press’ mind. When we want to see more of Filmore’s inner workings and personalities, we get more insights into Acevado’s overworked and under appreciated life. It’s also hilarious – the subject matter may sound like otherwise, but Spencer fits in ironic, darkly comic scenes. Press and The First meeting a top a rooftop is full of sick laughs. Riley Rossmo’s artwork is perfect for the series – scratchy and mystifying, haunting and elusive. Jean-Paul Csuka’s colours are what really create the comics’ identity, pale greens, greys and reds…it’s a wonderful and weird looking book.
BEDLAM is a chilling and ambiguous look at the evil that we’re capable of, but amazingly, able to escape from. It’s impossible to pin down – just when you think you’ve figured it out, it explores a new idea, asks a new question. BEDLAM is available monthly from Image comics, with issues 1-5 available digitally and in stores now. The collected edition is available May 1st for only 9.99.