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Eric: Because I keep my promises... the Max Powers Snark

pvp20041009.gifFrom PvP.

I got e-mail from my friend Sean today, and he reminded me that way back when (in a snark where I compared and contrasted the characters of Jade and Miranda Fontaine from PvP), I promised a snark about Max Powers the next time he appear. Well, he appeared a while ago but I didn't follow through. But now, here it is.

Simply put, Max Powers, the perpetual antagonist and foil, is actually the good guy in PvP.


We were introduced to Max years ago -- he was the entirely-too-slick and entirely-too-passive-aggressive school friend of Cole, Brent, Reggie, Jase and Robbie. The one they could never stand. And here he was, launching his own magazine to compete with PvP, in the same. Freaking. Building. Cole balled his fists up and declared what has become a lament for the ages -- "DAMN YOU MAX POWERS!" And so we had a character.

As a side-note, I now use "DAMN YOU MAX POWERS!" in casual conversation. So Scott Kurtz has had an impact on my life.

And since then, there's been lots and lots of adventures Max has figured into. Max's sister Sonya showed up and became Skull's girlfriend (despite Skull's lack of genitalia). Max hired Marcy for a while. He bought Cole's childhood videogames on eBay. He took Jade out while Jade and Brent were broken up. And so on, and so forth. His very existence inspires yet more of the wackiness we've come to know and love on PvP.

Only... none of what he does is bad.

He gave Marcy a real job, where Cole used her as unpaid help, more or less -- and later on inspired Cole to hire her. He gave Reggie a job. When Jase and Robbie showed up on his doorstep after being fired, he took them in, tried to find different ways to make them profitable, and then finally threw out their couch and beer and made them clean up their act -- which worked. Yes, he tricked Jade into going out with him... but he did so when she was already upset and feeling low, and made her feel better about herself. He told Cole about the software audits -- and while Cole assumed he would then rat PvP out (and hijinks ensued), in actuality he was just chatting with Cole. Even the "naked picture of Jade" storyline wasn't any worse than any of the PvP staff would do in a similar circumstance. One could easily have substituted Brent for Max in that entire storyline and it would have fit perfectly.

Cole, on the other hand, has been spiteful, mean, jealous, angry, and crappy to everyone where Max is concerned. When Max offered PvP staff members a chance to go on television -- television -- Cole fired the staffers who took him up on the deal, and then made them go through humiliating interviews to come back. When Max bought Cole's Atari stuff in good faith, Cole was ready to renege because he didn't want it to go to Max. Cole has broken into Max's office, talked behind Max's back, blamed Max for his own mistakes and shortcomings, and in general been a total asshole where Max is involved.

The others aren't any better. Jade isn't above deceit and chicanery to get her own way. Francis has paved his road to Hell with the very worst of intentions. Marcy was willing to set off the sprinkler system and ruin the spring dance (not to mention all those rented tuxedos) for everyone. Skull... okay, Skull's a good guy, but still.

And Brent?

Brent is willing to specifically try and set up Miranda with Max, to get her out of his hair. Just like before he was willing to get her fired and used Skull as a pawn. Brent is as nasty and ruthless as they claim Max is, without Max's track record of success.

Even the other characters can't say why Max is a bad guy. Jade foisted Miranda off on Brent, because she couldn't say why "Max Powers was bad news." In fact, I don't think I can point to a single explanation of why Max is a bad guy listed anywhere in the entire comic. Not one.

The only indication that Max is bad is that he can't perceive Skull at all, but we don't know the full reason why he can't see Skull. Oh, and Max does have an ego -- there's no denying that. But again, he's not worse in any way than the rest of PvP's staff, and there are ways in which he seems to be better than most.

I'm happy this isn't a strip about Max Powers. He's not a sympathetic character, whereas the PvP staff is. But he is a good guy, nonetheless.

And that must drive Cole absolutely batshit insane. Zing.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at October 11, 2004 3:29 PM


Comment from: Wednesday posted at October 11, 2004 3:52 PM

You're right. He's not a bad guy, he's just an antagonist.

Comment from: ripjack posted at October 12, 2004 12:13 PM

from hell,

last time you commented on Kurtz's strip i fumbled the TypeKey system trying to respond; this time i'll do better. ...and make the same point.

i think what you have said so far about PVP Online is really on the mark and very well said...as far as it goes. which is not to say that you are missing the point, but a few background elements hamper your conclusions. these elements are not the background of PVP Online, but of many comic strips in general. and perhaps a literary point as well.

no offense, i think your reviews are spot on, save for the fact that you credit Kurtz's characters as characters unto themselves. this is probably true because of exactly what you laud back in the original article (about Jade and Miranda), Kurtz's characterizations. they really are really taking, aren't they, but they create the trap of thinking of these characters as, well... characters.

they're not.

what we are treated to with Brent, Skull, Cole, Francis, Jade, and company, is the inner workings of Kurtz's mind, the facets of his self-image. we've got his aesthetic/pretentious side, his playful/dummy side, his practical/responsible side, his youthful/awkward side, and even his feminine side (and et cetera). this is formula for a whole lot of successful print comics in newspapers across the country. and it works; it gives the piece an integrity and approachableness that you can't really do otherwise.

Max powers║ and Miranda both represent objects of personal envy. (who wouldn't want to be young, attractive, and successful?) the 'Robbie and Jase scandal' in particular. Kurtz treats us to the effects of rigid personal discipline (Max) on those slothful urges possessed by him that we all share (Robbie and Jase). and because it is an enviable quality (meaning it is an external factor), it is Max, rather than say Jade, who works this transformation. ultimately, we feel Kurtz's (Cole's) pain that we cannot, ourselves, 'shape up' while other obviously can.

Max isn't the 'good guy' and Cole isn't the 'bad guy;' Cole is held out as flawed - normal - and Max is 'perfect' - not exactly, but you get the idea.

now reconsider all you've said so far within the 'Kurtz's mind' theory. you are still very correct, i'd even go so far as to add that Kurtz is also deft at encharacterizing life's problems and states of being. basically, Max represents all those times you find your host of personal foibles looking in askance of another person's strengths. i wonder if Kurtz will eventually treat us to the message that everyone has their foibles and PVP staff hasn't compared theirs to Max's (i've been expecting for some time the revelation that Max envies Cole's initiative; after all, what Max does is copy Cole, the sincerest form of flattery.) this adds to why Max seems without fault (well, i noticed he doesn't seem to be terribly creative or dynamic and he does have that ego), he represents what we see as 'perfect' outside of ourselves (or as Kurtz sees outside of himself).

thank you very much for bringing all this up, it has also given me the chance to voice some ideas i've had on my mind for some time.

keep up the good work!

catch me when you can,


║ it's funny you use, 'Damn you Max powers!' i've always preferred, 'Curse you Reed Richards!' (which is what i always think of when Cole goes at it.) for a while i attempted, 'Curse you Buzz Lightyear!' but the Disney series finally wore off.

p. s. and what about Miranda? well, i'm not sure anyone remembers, but Brent planted a camcorder in the closet before Miranda came on to him. that tape exists somewhere (in Kurtz's mind). i can't wait to see how it resurfaces. perhaps we should expect a sudden collapse of the 'Miranda mystique?' or maybe Miranda knew about it and that's why she did it?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 12, 2004 12:32 PM


Well, yeah. Agreed.

When I refer to characters, I mean "fictional characters appearing in this strip." My style of critical theory is largely based on New Criticism, which specifically draws off of the fictional work itself, without exterior context, and draws subtextual connections between the aesthetic, dramatic, textual and -- in this case -- artistic elements.

Your interpretation draws on the Psychological Critical Theory tradition, which is perfectly acceptable. Of course, all interpretations are perfectly acceptable, if they can be supported by the original work. That's the beauty of Criticism -- it's infinite! We all get to be right!

That being said, I like your interpretation a lot.

(Oh, and I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to go in and edit the extra spaces between your paragraphs out. Typekey/MT does weird things sometimes. I won't change your content at all.)

Comment from: ripjack posted at October 12, 2004 1:57 PM

from hell,

thanks for the response (and compliment); i like you column and wish i'd found it sooner.

i understand your practiced style (akin to new criticism) and had considered it myself, but Kurtz makes so many real world comments as well as breaking the fourth wall, that i felt it wasn't as good a fit. i appreciate Kurtz's use of the artistic elements, but again i saw that his somewhat 'repetitive' drawing style (but by no means low quality) as an artist's pressure to more focus on the content, which i felt was more strongly received as commentary on life. your articles did a very good job of considering the work on its own merits, thus i sought only to add to yours, and magnify it, rather than repeat it.

catch me when you can,


(thanks for fixing the spaces. the preview page removed every carriage return so i resorted to html - i wasn't planning any triple spaces. you might also want to look into your 'sign in' link...there's this double underscore that sends my browser nowhere.)

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at October 12, 2004 2:16 PM

Criticism of Infinite Earths, Eric?

Comment from: Phy posted at October 12, 2004 3:59 PM

I think it's like this - Max is the Opponent. Cole is a pretty good guy, but he's a regular guy. Max is more business-like and that raises the hackles of those who march to the beat of a different drummer.

He's the most fascinating of all the fascinating characters that Scott draws.

As for why Max can't see Skull, I think it's just because he has no imagination - he's so grounded in reality that he doesn't condescend to rub shoulders with the sort of mere mortals who actually play and enjoy games. You have to be a bit of a kid to get into gaming and Max is a grownup. In that sense, he's the bad guy only because he's not playing along. He's not evil, just mature, the most sacreligious of transgressions committed against the legions of The Pan.

(Love the site, love the concept, may the snarking never cease.)

Johne (Phy) Cook

Wisconsin, USA

Comment from: kyz posted at October 12, 2004 10:07 PM

Are we forgetting that Max Powers not only opened Jade's private mail, but also scanned and posted naked pictures of Jade on the Internet?

Max has an evil streak a mile wide, he just keeps it very well guarded and makes out that he's the greatest guy ever. That's why he's so evil. It's not just Cole's mind playing tricks on him.

Sure, all the characters have done bad things (including Skull), but they're the main focus of the comic, so obviously their misdeeds are going to be more frequent.

Comment from: Luggage posted at October 12, 2004 10:14 PM

I disagree.

Max is not a good guy. He is not even remotely near a position which could be approximated to good. He's over the evil event horizon and accelerating.

The thing most people are ignoring are Max's motivation. A lot of things Max does can be written off as either "a good thing to do" or "something that the other PVP'ers will do". You've got to look at all the things he's done, as a whole, to realize his motivations.

For a start, let's take his ego. Max as a HUGE ego. Let's take the strip from a few days back, for a start. The guy prints he face on the cover, embossed, in 3D. Max wants to be big. He wants to expand his power, he wants to "put one over the other guy". Observe: When Max first moves in. He starts up a gaming magazine just outside the office of another gaming magazine, whose Editor is a childhood rival. That screams oneupmanship to me. When Brent and Jade split up, he decides to put one up on Brent and Cole by going out with Jade. If you look, all of his acts over the years can be explained by his obsession to beat Cole. He took Robbie and Jase in so he could use them as leverage with Cole, and when he realized he could change them, he flaunted them at Cole. Why hire Marcy, and pay for all the expensive equipment she got, when he could get another receptionist, who didn't need to be bought?

In conclusion, although the results of some of his actions are good, he is always trying to beat Cole.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 12, 2004 10:49 PM

kyz; the mail opening was an accident, and the "naked pictures of Jade" was solidly "prank" territory. Neither one of those really denote evil.

And I just don't see the evil streak. I think he's just this guy -- with, admittedly, a huge ego.

Luggage -- I also have a huge ego, but I don't think I'm over the evil horizon. And frankly, Max doesn't need to one-up Cole. Max is ahead of the game. As for hiring Reggie, Robbie and Jase -- he certainly didn't need to one-up Cole on any of those. Cole, as Reggie said, never offered Reg a job. And Robbie and Jase were essentially thrown out, and Max took them in. And Marcy clearly deserved to be hired by someone.

And honestly, I don't think Max was much thinking about Brent and Cole when he went out with Jade. But being horny does not mean evil... and like I said, Max was a gentleman for the date, and Jade felt better at the end of it.

You're free to interpret how you will, but I'm sticking with my thesis. It is mine, and I am proud of it.

Comment from: Centurion13 posted at October 12, 2004 11:45 PM

You know, I see something in what Eric, Ripjack, Phy and Luggage say. They are not mutually exclusive. I think in the story context, what Eric says is damn spot on. It's what I have been thinking of, all this time. Only Eric says it better...and sooner.

Ripjack, I agree with you because we know from Scott's own admission that many of these characters come from his own head, and he identifies with some more than others. The interactions are logical and quite in keeping with Eric's comments...as well as human nature. Your idea runs not against, but parallel to, Eric's dissection of the Max Powers enigma.

Phy, I agree with your statement that Max is an adult. My experience in the Navy has taught me that, while being an adult is a great way to succeed, you lose something along the way, and it is something that you cannot describe to said adult. If they DO recognise it, they don't feel the loss. If they DO feel the loss, they consider it a small price to pay for success in this life. Which segues right into my next paragraph...

Luggage, if what I have read in C.S. Lewis's works is any indication, most of what you say is true. I am not sure if the world revolves around Cole and his crew as tightly as you suggest. I don't think Scott would create Max with a secret agenda against all these people - it's just too pat, too artificial. It doesn't feel right, given everything else. Even if he did, he's not doing a very good job of it, and that is counter to the 'perfect' image he wishes to project.

C.S. Lewis considered ego (aka spiritual pride) to be the one sin which came directly from hell. It was the original sin, and it is the downfall of every person, every day. I think that Cole has an ego at least as big as Max's. The bigger your ego, the more unreasoning outrage (and envy) you feel when you get squashed by another ego. And egos love nothing better than to humiliate other egos. Cole satisfies his ego in less public ways, it's true, but the episode wtih the job interviews should be enough to show you that Max isn't the only one with a high opinion of himself.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at October 13, 2004 11:37 AM

Centurion13 hits it in one:

You know, I see something in what Eric, Ripjack, Phy and Luggage say. They are not mutually exclusive.

The beauty of critical interpretation, when it's done right, is there is no "right" or "wrong" answer. There is differing opinion and differing interpretation, but it doesn't make my take any more right than anyone else's.

The credit to Scott Kurtz's storytelling is there are multiple interpretations possible in his work, and there isn't a one of them necessary to get it "right." Every person on here can get something different out of PvP, and at the same time enjoy it just as much -- and someone who isn't interpreting at all, but is just reading the 'surface' can also enjoy it.

Kurtz isn't unique in this by any stretch, but it still denotes a good storyteller. And we get to read it for free. Life rocks.

Comment from: Luggage posted at October 13, 2004 11:05 PM

Marcy was already hired. Max simply offered her a load of expensive luxury equipment. He could have hired a secretary which didn't need to leave another company, who didn't need to have an aeron chair bought for them. Coincidence?

Robbie and Jase were valuable to Max as leverage on Cole. As Robbie and Jase said, as soon as Cole realized what he had done he would want Robbie and Jase back. Once he realized he could get them sober , in great shape, he immediatley did that.

Nobody offered Reggie a job, and nobody really thought of giving him a job. It was only when Max hired him that they thought of it, but why? Because Max had put one over them.

Frankly, I think the idea of all along Max being the good guy sounds a lot more like conspiracy than Max wanting to better the PvP gang. Alright, I admit it, I exaggerated the situation a bit. Max isn't evil, but he is definatley lower on the moral spectrum than the PvP crew.

Comment from: bforsse posted at October 14, 2004 7:11 PM

In my humble interpretation:

Max Powers has potential, potential for great good or great evil. I see many parallels between Max and the young Lex Luthor character in the recent superman tv series Smallville.

As Eric mentioned above:

"...he was the entirely-too-slick and entirely-too-passive-aggressive school friend of Cole, Brent, Reggie, Jase and Robbie. The one they could never stand."

He is being ostracized for his overbearing attitude and success. It's unclear as to why he's shunned by Cole and his other school buddies, it's possible that he did something completely evil in the past. Maybe he just wants to be part of the gang, and the best way he could think to do that would be to enter the same business as Cole and continue the competitive camaraderie they had in school, maybe hoping for a partnership of some sort. But, if his seemingly well intentioned offerings are continually mocked and rejected by insensitive PVPers, he might join the dark side and use his powers for evil. My guess is that he will settle somewhere between good and evil. Can't wait to see what happens...

Comment from: Rothul posted at October 19, 2004 12:14 AM

Hey. Your site inspired me to begin reading PVP (and by the way, thanks), and so as part of my standard "new webcomic system" began the diligent (and hilarious) scan throught the archives.

So may I offer as proof of an Evil Max Powers Act, the following continuity:


Starting unfounded gaming rumors to get cheap hits (especially about COH), no matter how common, is still evil, and a line Cole and co. hadn't crossed... or hadn't crossed yet, I'm still catching up.

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