Bedlam #5, written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Riley Rossmo, is aptly named for the madness dripping from the pages of the comic, like a mad house barely able to contain it’s inmates from escaping and leaping out at you. It stars Fillmore Press, formerly known as mass murderer Madder Red and now aiding the police in homicide investigations having been “cured” of violent tendencies. And to Fillmore’s credit he is the most adorable and bashful mass murderer I’ve come across in some time.
The main plot occurs in the present, where Fillmore is aiding Officer Acevedo in a homicide case, having coerced his way into tagging along for far more than she’s comfortable with. Providing stark, black and white contrast to this are flashbacks to Riley’s time in severe psychotherapy undergoing treatment that wouldn’t be too alien to A Clockwork Orange. The brutality of the art style combined with the black/white/red colour scheme drives home the depravity and madness of these sequences. Rossmo’s character acting also magnificently shows a gentle and human side to a deranged mental patient whose entire face is covered by an insidiously creepy mask.
Fillmore himself is constantly fascinating to read. His mixture of psychopathic confidence and institutionalized shyness and apprehension is a great dynamic and plays well of cool headed but weary Acevedo. The turn towards the issues climax is a gut punch and perfect example of the classic comic book trait of hooking the reader in for the next issue.
There’s clearly love and attention poured into this comic by its creators. The title pages hit me like a sledge-hammer, its off kilter insanity nearly forcing a step back. The drawn out removal of Fillmore’s mask is as tense and high strung as tearing out teeth, and the increasing reds of the background become mentally searing. It’s a real testament to the coloring work of Jean-Paul Csuka, who also shows great variety in the full-color modern day scenes. The red highlight’s of Fillmore’s hair particularly being given a disturbing context by the prevalence of red in the flashbacks.
The front and back covers are also particularly interesting. The front cover, by the talented Frazer Irving, depicts Fillmore as an angelic being, barefaced and with metallic wings, folded in. His back is turned to us face hidden. The cover’s borders are tight in on him, capturing him like a cage. The back cover features a much smaller figure, but this time Fillmore is masked again and spread-eagled with his wings in full span and a knife in hand. Free and in true form. Great touches to book design like this are a feature that I’m glad to see are becoming more prevalent in the industry and Image Comics in particular are currently at the forefront with books like this and the works of Jonathan Hickman. Here’s hoping to see this trend continue.
So if you want a comic to provide a serious thrill ride of creeping dread and outright horror, don’t be afraid to pick up Bedlam. Or maybe you should be afraid. I know I am.