Friday, 19 October 2012

Books: Mazeworld


Written by Alan Grant
Art by Arthur Ranson

Available now from Islington Libraries
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Mazeworld? Yeah. I remember you. (At least - well - I thought I did: turns out I was wrong).

(This first bit is a little bit information/footnote heavy - so brace yourself): The first prog [1] of 2000AD I ever brought was Prog 994 [2] (all the way back in 1996! Holy Moly!) only 6 issues before the momentous-seeming Prog 2000 and yet (sadly) 7 issues too late for Prog 987 [3] with that super infamous cover (in 2000AD terms at least [4]) of the - well - let's say... sassy (no?) Judge DeMarco (Why am I mentioned all this? I don't know - sorry).

Before I checked I would have sworn that Mazeworld first premièred in prog 2000 (and I like I said the fact that they had got to 2000 progs seemed pretty momentous at the time - altho looking back now - it seems about as special as the all the hoopla surrounding the millennium (ie - not very)) - but (oops) it didn't actually appear until a few months later in Prog 2014 [5] (I mean - that's not important to you - but hey: it's important to me) but I guess the point is that Mazeworld is very much a part of my whole growing up thing... And (as I realised when I finished reading this book) a big part of the reason why I stopped buying 2000AD.

"Free the ways!"

Of course I didn't quite realise that when I first held this book in my hands. Instead I was all like: "Ooooh. Mazeworld! Yeah. I remember you. This is gonna be good. Fantasy and stuff yeah! (And obviously most importantly of all) Arthur Ranson on art! Hell yeah." etc. (And hey with a subtitle like: "A Nightmarish Fantasy." I mean - I defy any comics geek to read that and not feel their blood pump a little faster: because most of the time fantasy is way too nice and cosy and happy and not nearly enough like something that makes you wake up screaming in the middle of the night: but anyway...).

On the bottom of the cover it lists the three stories collected inside: 'The Hanged Man’ 'The Dark Man' and 'Hell Maze.' Now when I saw that my thoughts were - oh cool. I can finally reading the whole series! Little did I know that (and this is very much not a good thing) I had actually already read the entirety of the series and that the whole thing had just been so bad and so much of a muddle that it hadn't even managed to stain the inside of my brain and instead - had just slowly rolled down and off into the void like stale jelly being thrown at a wall [6]. Because - well: I like to think of myself as someone that has a good memory. Especially for comics back when my 2000ADs were pretty much all that I had to read in terms of things with pictures (I also used to read lots of 'proper' books too - but hey - I was young and reckless so don't judge me too harshly) so I found it a little bit shocking that I could forgot something so completely. I mean - not only the details of how the story went (I mean that seems sorta permissible)- but the fact that I had even read them (which doesn't).

But then - well - let's not mess around: Mazeworld is really quite badly written. I mean you know that cliché about how a story can feel like it's just been made up as it goes along? Well Mazeworld feels like that. Only then the person making up the story as it goes along then decides to get drunk and then gets punched in the head and then falls down a flight of stairs: it's that awful - there's just all these kinda narrative non-sequiturs and things that don't really make sense and stuff that just appears (and other stuff that disappears) all seemingly with no rhyme or reason (did the emperor and the hanged man go into the maze 2000 years ago [7] or a thousand years ago? I mean - maybe I missed something - but it seems like they couldn't make their mind up...). Plus it's sense of morality feels like it comes from an eight year old: here's something you should know Alan Grant - if someone gets an electric shock (or whatever) every time they decide to do something bad or evil or morally dubious (or whatever): that doesn't mean that they've "learned a valuable lesson" (and isn't that a South Park line?) about how it's good to do good: it means that they're no longer able to act as a free agent and - well - that's probably a bad thing (I mean - for goodness sakes: have you not seen (or read) A Clockwork Orange?). (I mean - I quite like the principle of a hero who is given no choice but to act like a hero and that seems like what the story is doing at the start - but then at the end [8]: everyone is happy and all of Cadman's anti-hero tendencies are seemingly cured: in a word? No no no no no - that's not how human beings work guys!). I mean - I guess I should have expected as much from his ever-slightly pretentious introduction ("As a reader of philosophy I totally disagreed with Plato." - I mean - who talks like that apart from teenagers?) but - well - you don't always have to be that smart to tell a good story. But - yeah - well. I guess this is what happens when you give someone free rein - sure - sometimes you might get some sorta fantastic masterpiece - but in this case - it's stale jelly.

And then there's the dialogue that is annoying in several different ways (which I guess is some sort of achievement - so well done there I guess) - first off it's annoying how no one ever answers a straight question (in response to: "Why a maze? Why a world of mazes?" which you would figure is a pretty important part of stuff you get a whole bunch of wishy-washy nonsense that almost sounds meaningful - until you realise it's just new age fluff: "The maze represents the universe... everything that is, swirling in eternity." - booooo!). Second there's the super-cheesy wannabe action movie (action B-movie) stuff: "The creeps are playing for keeps - and I've had enough of their game!" and "Heaven knows that I've no reason to love Earth - but that doesn't that mean I'll help you destroy it!" that didn't do anything but make me feel embarrassed [9] - I mean really - if your bad guy is spitting out lines like: "Fool! What are you doing? You'll destroy us both!" and you're not making an Austin Powers / Flash Gordon style satire thing then something has gone seriously wrong somewhere... [10]

Then there's the stuff that just seems - I dunno - that whole drunk, punched and falling down the stairs thing again I guess. I mean - how else can you probably explain lines like: "You tortured me as if I was a rat, or a rabbit!" - I mean maybe you think that scans: but to me - it's just bizarre. I mean - I get that the whole - "you treated me like a animal" thing! But why did they choose those two animals? And - a rabbit? I mean - I know that when people do animal testing they do sometimes use rabbits - but still... I almost want to laugh - but it's kinda in a strange uncanny valley of being too peculiar to even laugh at (No? Is this just me? Anyone else think it's a really strange little line? Come on guys...). Plus (yes I'm still going) there's way too much of people making wild and completely unfounded guesses based on nothing that you just know are spot on correct: best example: "if my suspicions are correct, it's really a map - or even a key - to wherever Cadman's consciousness has gone." (aaaargh! How could you possibly know this?) and - oh yeah (finally) - there's the bits where it does unnecessary words and pictures doubling up: so when we see a picture of Adam swinging at the end of a rope laid over that we have this helpful description: "back to death at the end of the rope" (I mean - really guys? Did you think we wouldn't get it otherwises?).

Ok. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

I mean - it's not all bad. In fact (as super harsh as this may sound) the bad it seems to me is pretty much all the fault of Alan Grant - while all the goodness of the book stems from - yep: Arthur Ranson who (like I've said elsewhere) is totally brilliant when it comes to doing the art. I mean - I kinda feel bad for the guy. In his introduction he talks about wanted to do write a "serious" fantasy story inspired by comic books from the continent that "could be presented straight, without apology or irony." Of course I guess the problem with that is - 1 - you need to get a better writer and - 2 - yeah you can try and present a straight fantasy story - but really: if you want to create something that people are going to want to read and enjoy - then it's not really a good idea to just kinda retread over stuff people have already done. I mean - in my mind - the reason that Game of Thrones is such a success isn't because people had a need for fantasy that wasn't being previously tapped (I mean - I think we all know that if you really have the taste for it - there's a billion fantasy  books out there all telling the same old stories of dragons and women not wearing enough clothes to keep properly warm) - it's because it injected the whole fantasy set-up with well - let's just say a more adult sensibility. Right? (Yes). But if you're just serving up the same sort of things that people have already heard about a million times before (a chosen one returns to lead the rebels against an evil empire? That's the best you've got?) then - well: I'm gonna diss your book on my comics blog (and you just know that's gonna sting come morning...).

(Small-side note: but talking about rubbish old hackneyed fantasy stuff: In "The Dark Man" when they go "The hooded one! You came!" I could have sworn I heard that Hawk the Slayer whistle-trill in my head [11]). .

But yes - the art: It's super gorgeous throughout and there's a moment early on where Adam Cadman sees Mazeworld from the air that almost (almost) makes the whole reading experience worthwhile. Plus - at the start at least (before all the writing started to drag me down) I really dug Adam's look - blue one-piece boiler suit and white trainers (which I'm guessing are probably Reeboks - no?) is kinda cool. And - well - yeah: you'll discover this for yourself - but it also has some of the best panel construction such - well - forever. I mean: I can hear people moaning that it's too gimmicky - but basically: shut up. It's amazing. (Yes - the way he draws the monster in "The Hanged Man" makes it look like an angry chipmunk - but I guess you can't have everything can you?).

Like it says in the introductions: in the first stages of it's design was Mazeworld supposed to be a computer game. If that means that there was a way to enjoy the art and skip the awful tale it spins - well: I wish that they would have kept it at that. How disappointing to discover at the centre of the maze you only find.... what? A book that's pretty much not even worth the time it takes to read. Oh well. And even tho I can't remember the number of the last prog that I brought (although I think it was just before I left for university - you know: growing up and all that and putting aside childish things - I mean - I didn't want to be one of those people who was still reading comics when he was an actual adult - (ha! Just imagine!) - I'm pretty sure that this series was one of the reasons why. I mean - when it starts off - it has such great promise: and then (by the end) - well - it's just kinda leaves you feeling a little bit empty on the inside.

[1] For those that don't know - that's Tharg-speak for "Issue." 

[2] If you're curious as to what it looks like - well: you can see the cover here. (The cover artist? A guy called Simon Davis who I know best from the stuff he used to do on a strip called Sinister Dexter (something that was ripped off from lovingly based on Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction): but he got pretty slapdash as he went along - which each thing he done looking like he'd put less and less effort in: until it was pretty much an embarrassment (which is one of the many reasons I stopped buying it): but man - if he'd kept up the kinda quality he shows here - who knows? Maybe I'd still be reading it? I mean - I'm pretty sure that I must have brought it on the strength of the cover and even tho I had no idea about the Judge Dredd storyline (it was a long running thing called The Pit: about a sector where even the judges (who are meant to always be above reproach) were up to all sorts of no good illegality (see: Judge DeMarco) it just sums up the mean and dangerous mood of the whole thing (in fact: The Pit has been collected in two editions (see here and here) but neither one of the covers they used are a patch on the Simon Davis cover. And my other thoughts on seeing it again: what a stupid design: I mean - even tho it's part of my psyche now (you never forget your first prog) I still kinda wished that they stuck with the old design (you know: the one that they (finally) went back to) and also: what's with that stupid Dredd badge in the top left hand corner? It's stupid. Also: Only £1! Wow. Now I know what it feels like to be old.

[3] That would be this one here. (Poor Judge DeMarco. She obviously owned a suit with a faulty zip). 

[4] And I don't remember exactly how it worked that I ended up hearing so much about a cover of a 2000AD without even ever seeing it until much much much later (this was the age of back before the internet remember?): but it definitely seemed like it was a big deal. (And looking back it was obviously the publisher's idea to try and case in on the Loaded market... I mean - because otherwises: it's just titillation for young teenage boys right? And we all know that isn't what 2000AD is about - right? Right. Let's just be thankful that they went with "Unzipped" rather than: "Phwoar!").

[5] Which - seeing how I did it for everything else I guess I should show you - looked look this. (Kinda ugly no? Especially when you compare it to the elegant beauty of the Simon Davis one - but oh well...).

[6] A wall that for some reason is suspended over a void. And also: I don't quite know why I've specified that the jelly be stale (?) But I'm guessing it's because otherwise you might be tempted to wanna eat it? But apart from all that - it's a great metaphor.

[7] 2000 years ago... 2000 years ago... 2000 years ago... You know - that sure reminds me of something. I mean this whole story you were telling about a guy who was killed and then brought back to life and then it's like he's the chosen one who can save humanity and stuff was kinda ringing a few bells - but it wasn't until you dropped in that whole thing about him having last been seen 2000 years that it all fell into place. So thanks for that.

[8] Note: when I say the end - it's just the end of the first third (The Hanged Man) that this happened - so it's not a total spoiler. Also (what you thought I was exaggerating before when I talked about things that just appear and disappear for no reason?) after the first book - this stuff is never mentioned again.

[9] Although I will admit that I did chuckle at evil scientist guy: "Unethical perhaps - but when did that faze us?" (But I don't think that chuckles is what they were going for... Apart from maybe with the only semi-good line in the entire book: "Get used to it my lady. All powers come out of the use of brute force! You'll understand that better once we're married!")

[10] Oh (and!) that whole - "Don't call me the hooded one... Call me... Adam." stuff? Well - that just made me think of Kickpuncher ("Let's go film the sex scene").

[11] Although I've never actually watched Hawk the Slayer - but in the heyday of my (almost) crippling Lost obsession - I was looking up what other things Jack's Dad (or John Terry) had been in when I found this (it's "Hawk The Slayer - the best bits" and well worth the 3 minutes and 9 seconds of your time just for the bizarre strangeness - and that excellent reoccurring whistle trill that happens whenever Hawk shows up).

Links: 2000AD Wordpress Review.

Further reading: Judge Anderson: SatanJoe The Barbarian, Button ManA.B.C. Warriors: The Black HolePrometheaThe HobbitCradlegrave.

All comments welcome.

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