An article by, Aaron Burton
I often wonder what draws us to villains. The bad guys are often more than just an obstacle for our favorite heroes to overcome. They show us the flaws in our heroes. Since our protagonists are often the utopian version of how people should act, the villains often show us flaws in ourselves and our own philosophies. They dig under the surface to find the ugly beneath the self-righteous facade. Other times they are just plain awesome.
Bedlam is written by Nick Spencer with art by Riley Rossmo. The book is published by Image Comics. The first issue premiered in May of 2013. There are currently eleven issues of Bedlam which are also available in two trade paperbacks. The book is currently on hiatus with the finale of the second arc being released in January of 2014.
The story in Bedlam revolves around a man named Fillmore Press. He is much more famous under his alias Madder Red, the most prolific criminal serial killer in the town's history. After faking his own death and undergoing a plethora of underground medical treatments, Press is finally ready to begin living a more righteous life. In order to give back to his community, Press finds himself working a police consultant. His vast knowledge of crime and killing gives him an advantage when it comes to getting into the minds of Bedlam's other criminals.
Bedlam contains some of the most powerful flashback sequences I have seen in my recent reading history. Most chapters of the story end with a flashback of Fillmore as Madder Red. With Fillmore trying to turn his life around, it is extremely important that we as readers are constantly reminded of his truly horrific past as Madder Red. Press is an awkward and calm individual, whereas Madder Red is an outspoken and violent psychopath. Press' character development would not be nearly as powerful without these constant reminders.
Under the surface of the book we seem to have a story surrounding how society and culture affect people's mindsets and freedoms. Bedlam's Catholic Church spoke out against Madder Red, but at the same time was controlling a killer army of altar boys. A rash of mindless suicides seems to be the working of a cult leader bend on releasing people from society's grasp. The villains in Bedlam operate outside of societal norms and forces readers to think about the implications. Do we feel bad for the people who have been murdered, or are the true victims those still alive who are under the thumb of society's masters? We are left to wonder if Madder Red is Fillmore's true self, or is his newfound identity who he is meant to be. This may be reading too far into things, but his name is Fillmore Press (fill more press) and he is no longer in the business of making headlines and creating the chaos that reinforces people's need for social order.
The artwork in Bedlam is just as interesting as the story. Rossmo uses a variety of techniques to show shading and texture. Many of these elements are often seen blended together on a single page. We will see one character shaded with Ben-Day dots while another is scribble-shaded. The walls and buildings in the book are often textured with different patterns of splotches and splatters. Many of the panels also use a checkerboard pattern for shading. This really gives the Bedlam the gritty feels the story deserves.
I was very sad to find out that this book was on hiatus. I wanted a plethora of volumes to read. The character of Fillmore Press is one of the most interesting protagonists I have had the pleasure of learning about. I found Bedlam to be similar to other favorites of mine such as Nailbiter and The Black Monday Murders. Even though the story was left unresolved, the first two arcs offer a very fun ride. Bedlam is an exercise in the journey being just as good as the destination.