Despite a strong following and critical success, the Michael Allred-written and illustrated comic book series "Madman Atomic Comics" is ending in August. The final issue is the seventeenth of the Image Comics series - a curious number that doesn't have quite the same ring to it as a #25 or #50 issue, but nonetheless is a "natural crescendo" for the series, as Allred himself described it.
"I had been thinking that 20 was a nice, round number. But everything has worked out in a more organic, natural way," Allred told CBR News of the book's conclusion. "[Right now] I have other ideas that work best for specials that will lead to a new relaunch."
Perhaps that's the key when it comes to the demise of "Madman Atomic Comics" - it certainly doesn't herald the demise of "Madman" as a franchise, one that began in the early '90s and endured publishing stints at Tundra, Dark Horse, Oni, and Allred's own AAA Pop. As part of an Image Comics press release, special attention was paid to the fact that Allred would return in some undisclosed amount of time with a brand new incarnation of Frank Einstein and the Atomics.
"There'll be a small break before we do a big special," Allred confirmed. "Ultimately I'll be launching a new series. I can't say what it'll be called yet. 'Madman Monster Mania'? 'The Atomic Comic Club'? Or maybe just 'Madman.'"
Looking back at his previous "Madman" work, Allred claimed that the biggest difference between his output now and then is a boost in confidence. "I rule the playground now. I'm mastering the monkey bars," he described in signature Allred lyricism. As part of this self-assuredness, Allred was able to achieve the longest consecutive run of any previous "Madman" incarnation - save for the 20 issue-run of "Madman Comics," which Allred admitted "had a couple breaks in there."
Asked why he thought "Madman Atomic Comics" managed to thrive longer than his previous work, he replied, "I'm not sure. I definitely was riding a rocket with this particular series. I'm confident that I'll be even more pumped up for the next one. Jumping from collaborative projects to my solo work seems to work best for me to remain progressive. I cherish consistency, but it must be progressive to keep me interested. That's why it's important for me to learn, grow and refuel with collaborative projects - in music and film as well as in comics."
Which brings Allred and "Madman" enthusiasts to The Gear. While Allred's work as a comic book professional is common knowledge, it's lesser known that the writer-illustrator is a musician as well. Allred provides lead vocals and rhythm guitar to The Gear, his band since the late 1990s that he describes as "Pink Floyd-ie, Beatle-ie, Bowie-ie, MGMT-ie, Warhol-ie [and] Hanson-ie." It's that very mash-up of musical influences that will help close "Madman Atomic Comics" in August, as the band debuts its second album, "Left of Center of the Universe," one week before the end of Allred's comic book series.
The Gear's previous album, titled "Son of Red Rocket 7," was released in conjunction with Allred's conclusion to his "Red Rocket 7" comic book, originally released by Dark Horse in the '90s and now available in a collected edition from Image. The story takes readers through the history of rock-and-roll by way of a science fiction backdrop focusing on the mysterious Red Rockets, seven brothers cloned from an alien man called the Originator. Towards the end of the run, Allred introduced The Gear as characters within the series, with Red Rocket 7's own son Red Allrod as the frontrunner of the band. Given that character placement, it's easy to make the connection to the real-live Gear line-up, indicating that Allred assumes the persona of Allrod when he steps up to the microphone - but that's not necessarily the case, at least not anymore.
"I think it's my painfully modest nature that prevents me from being even more self-referential," said Allred. "But now I've grown to where I can now acknowledge that Frank Einstein and myself are, in fact, the same person. And so you'll see Red Allrod get gone, making way for Frank Einstein to become the leader singer for The Gear."
Allred's words could be telling of the final issue of "Madman Atomic Comics." The official Image Comics solicitation reveals that Einstein and Red Rocket 7 will unite with "the surviving members of the fabulous psychedelic pop band, The Gear, after their lead singer has mysteriously disappeared." Could it be that Red Allrod is leaving the picture so that Einstein himself can embrace a musical destiny with Allred's true-to-life band? Allred was tight-lipped on how The Gear would impact the future of "Madman" and the final issue of "Atomic Comics," but he revealed that the band's arrival isn't coincidental.
"Don't expect Red Rocket 7 to make that big an appearance, if at all," he teased. "But there will be no doubt that [Frank Einstein and Red Rocket 7] share the same universe. It's planting the seeds for something much bigger. I've said too much already."
Allred is keeping the details of the final issue of "Madman Atomic Comics" under Fort Knox-like security, but he was considerably more vocal about The Gear as a band and their upcoming record. The self-described masters of psychedelic space rock consist of a new drummer who "seriously refers to himself only as Mr. Gum," according to Allred. There's also the returning two members Connor Bond on lead guitar and Mikey Hahn on bass and scratching - "He's our resident rapper, so we allow him a couple spacey raps in the same way the Beatles threw Ringo a bone here and there," Allred described.
But just as Red Allrod appears to be analogous to Mike Allred himself, all signs point to the secret identities of Connor Bond and Mikey Hahn as being Bond and Han Allred, Michael's own sons. "Han and Bond have really surpassed me. They were little kids with little chops on the first [album]. And we didn't have Gum on drums before. They're amazing musicians," Allred said. "I've welcomed more input from my band mates [on this second album]. I was a little controlling on the first one, making it a one-man show. I'm much more of a 'band guy' instead of a 'solo guy.'"
To entice both the uninitiated and eager fans alike, Allred graciously provided CBR News with five exclusive tracks from the new record, which will ultimately be mixed differently than their current incarnations. He described the album's mission statement and the exclusive tracks thusly: "They set up the album starting with our cosmic origins and then cycling through birth, childhood, young love and hate, life, death, and then our efforts to explore what's beyond our perceptions. [It's] way more ambitious than the first album.
"'Deploy' is the album opener," he said of the first track. "It sets the stage and tone for the entire concept of the album which is to connect the cosmic with the mundane; science fiction with science fact. There is so much around us that we take for granted, the fact of existence for instance, and this track supposes that our origins may not be of this world. This is a subtle alternate mix from [the version] on the album, which has some backwards tracking with secret messages.
"The album then takes us on a chronological journey of life in general," Allred continued. "Themes of birth, learning, companionship, media, art, passion, technology, war, peace and ultimately death. 'Nasty Snack' is about a childhood bully who grows up to be just as bad if not worse. Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols plays drums on this track, [which] was recorded at their recording facility, The Odditorium. The album version is a bit longer with a different intro."
Of the third track, cleverly titled "Don't Harm Monica," Allred revealed that the song's inspiration dates back to an early school experience. "Though most of the songs are told from the point of view of specific characters, this one is directly from my experience of one of my first girlfriends, a twin, who cheated on me with one of my best friends, and dealing with the rage that comes from that kind of betrayal," he said. "We're talking grade school, so the song is far more intense than my experience. This is very close to the album track. This song came together very quickly and effortlessly."
The fourth provided track, "Space Mater," appears to have undergone more surgery than the other songs, as Allred described: "'There are actually several versions of this song. The very first version is called 'Ocean Colossus' where I came up with the riff, got all loopy, and then started recording dialogue from an early 'Teen Titans' story. I'd give you that track too, but I don't want to scare anyone from the album. Maybe later - it is kinda groovy in a surfer wonk way. The story has a group of surfer kids trying to fight off a giant monster that can separate his body parts. Then we got serious and came up with this cosmic journey to find our original mother at the end of the universe. The final version of this song is the second to last track, called 'Space Mater Part 2,' and another acoustic sweetened version, my favorite, is the second track and is called 'Space Mater Part 1.'
Lastly, there's a track titled "Pop Rocket," which Allred said could be described as the "Red Rocket 7" theme song. "'Pop Rocket' is one of the 'sing-along' tunes from the album," he assessed. "It pretty much lays out the story of Seven and The Original, from whom he was cloned, all from the perspective of Red, Seven's son."
All told, Allred said there are roughly 20 songs on the new album, not including bonus tracks. "It's the equivalent of an old school double LP. It's our 'White Album,' our 'Physical Graffiti,'" he said. "We've had to whittle about forty songs down to 70 minutes. We've got a big head start on the third album, as well as a double cover album.
"I hope it works on all levels," Allred said of his hopes for the "Left of Center." "I think it applies to us all. The album is very much a concept album about the questions about existence, obviously my favorite topic. Art is a subset of that, and my art is a subset of who I am. I like to think that we may have been born on this orb, but our roots reach much farther than that. Trippy, eh?"
You can learn more about The Gear's "Left of Center of the Universe" at Mike Allred's website, aaapop.com. The album releases on August 12, with the seventeenth and final issue of "Madman Atomic Comics" shipping one week later on August 19 from Image Comics.