I never wondered what would have happened if Sherlock Holmes was also a deranged serial and his nemesis was a Dark Knight-esque superhero. But now I know, thanks to Bedlam. Turns out when it’s done right, it’s a strong mash-up.
Our main character was once the infamous serial killer Madder Red. Part supervillain, part mad man, Madder Red was so broken that for him, killing was like breathing. Men, women, children, cats, it didn’t matter so long as he was covered in blood. He killed thousands. Then a mad scientist got a hold of him and reconditioned him to the point where he would rather kill himself then another being. Reentering society Madder Red became Fillmore Press, and he want to help. And not in an old-lady-crossing-the-street type of way, no. Press wants to do something bigger, and since he knows crime and death the best, he decides he wants to be a consulting detective.
Lucky for him, unlucky for the screwed up city of Bedlam, there is a new serial killer on the loose.
Bedlam’s style is perfect for the story it is trying to tell. The flashbacks to Madder Red are the most eye-catching part of the book. They are so simply, but they jump out of the page. Black and white and vivid red colour the pages of his homicidal manic escapades, bringing your eye to Madder so that nothing else matters. Not the people he’s killing, not what’s going on in the background, just Madder. It sucks you into his worldview making him fascinating and larger than life.
In contrast, the parts with Fillmore Press are done in non-threatening pastels. So dull compared to the stark, intriguing style that was Madder Red’s world. The juxtaposition is perfect to illustrate his mind set. But Fillmore isn’t as pleasant and harmless as the art makes him seem. There definitely something… off with him. If you met him on the street it would be because he was twitching his head the wrong way, staring at you too intensely or giggling nervously to himself at the wrong moments. He is the type of person who, if you were walking by him, you would take one look at, not make eye contact, and shuffle quickly by hoping he doesn’t start a conversation. The author and artist get this aspect of Fillmore Press across phenomenally.
As it says in the plot summary, you’re not sure whether Press will start to backslide to his murderous ways. You’re on edge the entire novel, waiting for something to push him over the edge. You’re sure that when he’s confronted by some gun wielding thugs he’s going to snap. You’re sure that when the good detective Acevado leaves Press to be beaten by The First (Bedlam’s own dark superhero), it will bring up some unpleasant memory and send Press into the deep end. It’s not hard to see how he could slip back into Madder Red’s old ways.
Both Madder Red and Fillmore are what you are going to take away from volume 1. They steal the show. The mystery plot – the main plot – makes less of an impact. Fillmore is tries to help the police department of Bedlam solve a mystery with some kind of odd biblical-ish killer whose motives are murky at best. His murders are more of a means to end for getting Fillmore hooked up with the job as consultant for Bedlam PD and Detective Acevado. A means of showing the darkness that is out there and the power that run the city.
Bedlam is a dark tale. It possesses a strong sense of humour, but it’s a dark one. The citizens of the city possesses a sense of morals, but there is only a silver of white, and the rest is grey and black. The majority black. The atmosphere is akin to Gotham City if Gotham city liked to drink black coffee and wear sunglasses at night. This is not a comic for anyone who is icked out by serial killers.
I would recommend Bedlam to anyone who always wanted to know more about the Joker. Bedlam is a story about what would happen if the Joker decided to reform, but it’s also a lot more than that. It’s a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing and survives on the power of it’s main character and art alone. It’s a comic for anyone who likes reading heavy themes and have a sense of humour that border on pessimistic. If that’s you, you’ll love Bedlam.