If I have nightmares tonight, I’m blaming Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo. Seriously, I must have a masochistic streak because no sane person would subject themselves to a comic as disturbing as Bedlam#2… unless it was really, really good. After a strong first issue last month that introduced us to Fillmore Press, the “reformed” villain who once terrorized the city of Bedlam as Madder Red, the second installment of this ongoing series either had to carry the same momentum or raise the stakes. Bedlam #2 does a little of both by doing what the writers of Lost failed to do over seven seasons of television – answer questions while raising more.
We’re given a lot of information in this issue. A lot. The last issue saw Fillmore getting shot while helping a teenager who was getting beaten in an alley, all so he could get a phone and call the police to offer them his help to find a serial killer. In this issue, we meet the serial killer in the first few pages. And boy, is he a doozy. Not only does this guy think he’s doing God’s work, he thinks he’s the friggin’ Angel of Death/Mercy/Vengeance, take your pick. Eric the Serial Killer is an unassuming blue-collar type that runs into an old buddy of his, Danny White, after a group therapy session. While having coffee, the two men vaguely talk about another friend of theirs who died while spouting Bedlam colloquialisms like “bleeding purple.” All seems well until Danny starts getting dizzy and Eric reveals his true colors. It reads like an episode of Law and Order or Criminal Minds as Eric’s revealing splash page precedes the title page, bringing us back to the main narrative.
Fillmore, still bleeding from his wounds, finds his way to the doctor who lobotomized him when he was Madder Red. And it’s here, in the meat of the issue, that we get answers leading to more questions. In a good way. After treating Filmore, Doc Lobotomy asks how the man ended up with two gunshot wounds. Fillmore, wanting to show that he’s been good and is trying to help, tells him why. Fillmore needed a phone because Doc didn’t provide one in regards to the “re-acclimation.” So, the good doctor lobotomized Madder Red, against his will, all for the sake of reintegrating him into society? Well that was awfully nice of him, but why? Red obviously had a plan to go down with the ship during the explosion at the police station in the first issue, so Doc’s operating (pardon the pun) on his own agenda. What that is, we don’t know. The fact that he travels with two nurses in varying stages of disfigurement doesn’t make his motives seem altruistic. Did he make Fillmore a docile shell of his former self as an experiment or is there a greater plot afoot? Whatever the case may be, Doc approves of Fillmore’s plan to help the police by using “what he knows” in an advantageous way. Little do they know that the police are already pegging Fillmore as the killer, even if they don’t know who he is. And how the issue ends… you’ll just have to read for yourself.
Like the previous issue, Nick Spencer uses a heavy amount of dialogue to effectively capture the voices of his characters. Since we’ve moved past Madder Red’s nihilistic philosophy, the greatest exchange is between Fillmore and the doctor. Like a child fessing up to his parents, Fillmore hesitantly relates his current situation while continually referring to the doctor as Boss. Like a prisoner refers to a guard, we know there’s a hierarchy to their relationship even if the doctor says that Fillmore doesn’t answer to him. There’s a condescending, yet parental tone, to his words that reveal very little about who he is beneath the surface. He seems to have Fillmore’s well-being in mind, but I wonder if he’s more concerned about Fillmore’s good deeds ruining the brain work that’s been done. But there are also little exchanges throughout the comic that ground the characters, making the sound like real people. It’s a skill not every comic book writer, or writers in general, can master. Spencer, however, tells the story effortlessly.
If I were to describe a nightmare I had, I’d probably point to Riley Rossmo’s art in this book. There are pages that will literally make you do a double take just to make sure you saw what you saw. In the previous issue, Rossmo only had two settings to deal with: the past of Madder Red and the present of Fillmore Press. Both had distinct color palettes that set the tone and mood between the two realities. In the second issue, we have multiple settings and stories, which means multiple color schemes. Our serial killer is awash in whites, brighter yellows, and blues; Detective Acevedo and her captain have a slightly warmer tone to their surroundings; and Fillmore continues to exist in muted greens, browns and yellow with minimal red to remind us of the black and white days of yore. The comic is beautiful in its ugliness, with Rossmo perfectly accentuating Spencer’s story through the fearful stares and determined looks of the characters.
Final Thoughts: Keep reading! Just keep the lights on.