Maxie Zeus: Beyond Mortal Ken
by Scott Summers
A casual chat with the Joker will likely leave a fellow terrified out of his wits. The Riddler will trick Joe Gotham into making an awful mistake. Killer Croc and Two-Face are plenty frightening, as most of the Rogues Gallery aspire to be—including the Scarecrow, who makes it his mission in life. But Maxie Zeus, he of the diminutive nom de guerre? After ten minutes you won’t be puzzled or afraid; you’ll be hoping no one you know spots you talking to him. At worst, you’ll be wondering what kind of mushrooms he’s been munching and how you can sneak away and return to the planet Earth.
Yes, our little Maxie is genuinely psychotic. And that’s what makes him unique among bad guys—not the “Greek thing,” the toga, or the skyscraper with its pseudo-Hellenic architectural fillips. He’s just not living in the same mental universe as the rest of us. What makes Maxie tick springs fully-formed out of his head, which is exactly where it would stay if he didn’t have the cash to reconstruct the real world in high villain style. Anything Maxie doesn’t want to acknowledge just gets reinterpreted as part of his fantasy, such as, for instance, his luckless fiancée.
Lots of bad guys catch the label “psychotic,” and almost every time the diagnosis is off the mark. Psychosis isn’t evil; it’s amoral. It doesn’t mean indifference to other people’s pain (that’s called psychopathy, sociopathy, or antisocial personality disorder). A psychotic sees and hears things that simply aren’t there. He can maintain firm, unshakable beliefs that are generally accepted by others as, to put it delicately, “not true.” If disembodied voices are giving you orders, or aliens beam thoughts into your head—if you think the Gotham you live in is really a replica, built and populated in a foreign land by Ra’s al Ghul… then hello! You’re psychotic. Not even the weirdest villain-shtick leaves reality behind like this. It might be nuts to patent a laughing fish, but when Joker sees a grinning haddock so do we. Jervis Tetch prefers to live in fantasyland, but when he’s taken down he only whines about the brevity of his visit. Even Scarface knows the limits of his connection to the ventriloquist—if he didn’t, he’d put yellow-bellied Wesker down for the dirt nap. It’s only Maxie who can’t see the Forum for the olive trees.
So what’s pushing him round the bend? That would be bipolar disorder, meaning he’s manic-depressive but without the depression. Running down the list of generally recognized symptoms: Maxie’s got delusions of grandeur (big time), spends all his time in unswerving pursuit of a single goal (lightning cannon assembly), and can’t see the negative results of his actions (imprisonment). And it’s a reasonable guess that he doesn’t sleep much—three hours a night should do it for any self-respecting deity.
As for defense mechanisms, Maxie’s brand of wholesale denial and flight to fantasy constitute durable psychological armor, but with all the depth of a grape leaf. When he ends up at Arkham, he doesn’t rail against Batman, plot to escape, or acknowledge his failings. He only recasts reality, taking fellow inmates as further evidence of his divinity. (He also throws in a Roman god by naming Two-Face as Janus, but like the anachronistic addition of gargoyles to his personal Parthenon, such inconsistencies don’t trouble him.) In other words, Maxie’s got a long road to recovery, because so many of his private, mental roads lead to Rome. Medication would have to play a part in his treatment, as it is impossible to talk a hard-core psychotic out of his beliefs. On top of the Haldol, a therapist could support the poor guy’s ego, try to see things from his point of view, and gradually coax him into relinquishing the fantasy—for months, and months, and months. Individual treatment with Maxie would be a long haul, and nothing less than a Herculean—or even Sisyphean—task.
DSM-IV-TR Diagnosis: 296.44 Bipolar I Disorder, Most Recent Episode Manic, with Psychotic Features