Opening with a creepily masked serial killer on a stage playing cards with a crying little girl, the orchestra and all the seats around them filled with the bloody dead bodies of men, women, and children, Nick Spencer, Riley Rossmo, and Frazer Irving’s Bedlam Volume 1 is immediately beyond disgusting. A grey, mechanized looking caped figure with a black space helmet on crashes through the skylight and lands center stage in front of the masked man and child. What happens between the grey figure’s dramatic entrance and the detainment of the serial killer is too horrific to describe here so I will simply pull from the serial killer’s speech before he is knocked out; “See, you have no concept of the bigger picture here. I mean, look around, what was it Stalin said? Kill one, it’s a tragedy, kill a thousand, it’s a statistic?”
Ten years later a man named Fillmore wakes up to a recording of an extremely positive speech of redemption, hope, honesty, and thankfulness playing out of his alarm. He climbs out of bed and wearily treads to the bathroom where he looks in the mirror to see the masked serial killer of the previously described prologue looking back at him. A quick flashback reveals that after his detainment, the serial killer named Madder Red presumably blew his head off accidentally from a bomb he placed in the police department where he was being held. However, flashing again back from the Madder Red era in black, white, gray, and red to the present day with full color illustration, we see Fillmore standing in front of his sink staring at the image of Madder Red in the mirror. As he swallows a handful of ironically red and white colored pills he says “We are not who we were – we are who we are.”
The story proceeds to explore this statement as well as the quote on the front cover asking “Is evil just something you are or something you do?” by cutting back and forth between Madder Red from ten years ago after his arrest and publically perceived death and Fillmore in the present day. The episodes of Madder Red depict him going through a horrific rehabilitation in an insane asylum involving both a lobotomy and an attempted suicide. His doctor seems to be a mad scientist type complete with ghoulish nurses whose mouths are sown shut, yet Madder Red’s improvement is oddly visible as the story progresses. In the present day, Fillmore has a benevolent epiphany that he wishes to help people now. A bizarre chain of events ensue as Fillmore is arrested after claiming responsibility for a string of murders he did not commit to get the attention of the Bedlam Police Department. The apparently now good Fillmore proceeds to assist a certain Detective Acevedo with her investigation of a string of murders, á la Silence of the Lambs. The murders end up being the work of a previously molested man who now does the bidding of his molester, an incarcerated church priest.
What makes Bedlam so fascinating is the intensity of the character study. Over the course of the book we witness the final act of a serial killer at the height of his fame and depravity, the graphic lobotomy of an institutionalized psychopath and his near complete turn-around, and a man struggling with daily life after ten years in a psychiatric ward. It’s tough to convey just how unique Bedlam succeeds in being despite such a tired and basic plot. The only conclusion I can make is that the book questions the very nature of evil, and more importantly evil men, by terrifying in an absolutely enthralling way.
Those with weak stomachs be warned though, Bedlam makes all horror films seem hilariously tame.