Robb Phipps takes over as penciller this issue (Magyar stays on inking thank goodness). He’s not good, not bad. His scale is off, with people, settings, especially hands, but he’s competent. Maze feels professional, in terms of the art, just not special.
The story, however, is quite good. Now, with Gabe and Jennifer dating–this issue is more of him in her world–Barr focuses on the non-mystery aspects. Jennifer’s back story is far more interesting than the rather tame mystery. Barr uses Gabe as the vehicle for these discoveries (the reader the passenger) and there’s never any boring exposition.
There are some fantastic moments in the dialogue. Barr sets up difficult situations and writes great lines to move them along. Phipps is good at the visual pacing of these scenes, probably more so than the actual investigation ones.
It’s solid, the writing overcoming the somewhat trivial art problems.
Deadly Anniversary; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Robb Phipps; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
So, for those who don’t know, Ellery Queen is an amateur sleuth, created in 1928 or so, and has had numerous print, film, television and probably radio adventures. This issue of Maze celebrates his sixtieth anniversary and gives him a comic book adventure.
I’m vaguely sure Barr mentioned him earlier in the series as a fictional character, which makes his appearance here strange. It’s a gimmick for mystery geeks… not sure there are a lot of those but whatever, Barr actually does quite well.
He establishes the character’s modernized setting quickly, he gives Queen a fun relationship with the leads (Queen admires Jennifer’s abilities while Gabe follows him around like a lapdog) and produces a relatively interesting mystery.
I say relatively because it’s interesting while reading, but immediately forgettable. The guest stars aren’t the suspects–Barr focuses that spotlight on Queen.
Some very nice work from Hughes and Magyar too.
The English Channeler Mystery: A Problem in Deduction; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Rick Magyar; colorists, Carol Van Hook and Kevin Van Hook; letterers, Tom Addis and Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
Barr does a lot better introducing Jennifer to Gabe’s world than he did introducing Gabe to her’s. Gabe lives in a crappy New York apartment with an assortment of interesting neighbors. Bringing glamorous Jennifer into it provides a lot of amusement.
There’s also a lot of innuendo, whether it’s the actual sex or Gabe begging for sex. Barr does a good job with it–Gabe is back as Maze’s protagonist.
The mystery involves his neighbors, which also works out. It’s interesting to see a high profile private detective thrown into a more mundane crime setting. The regular police detectives sadly don’t appear; Barr establishes the new ones too fast.
Hughes and Magyar do well with the art. There are no fantastic locations, but Hughes has some nice summary pages of the investigation and its solution.
It’s a good issue. Barr’s excellent handling of the dating makes all the difference.
A New Lease on Death; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Rick Magyar; colorists, Carol Van Hook and Kevin Van Hook; letterer, Deborah Marks; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
I’m not sure what does more damage this issue, Barr’s melodramatic writing or the art. Greg Shoemaker’s so bad, it doesn’t make any sense to mock him. He’s just not ready for a full comic. Or a tenth of one. I suppose his scenery is all right; at least it’s fully visualized, which I can’t say about his figures.
But then there’s Barr’s writing. He takes leads Jennifer and Gabe to the Hamptons for a weekend of murder and lots of expository dialogue. Even for a mystery, there’s a lot of exposition because Barr thinks Jennifer has to talk about her feelings.
Gabe’s always been Maze’s erstwhile protagonist, but this issue he’s not just reactionary, he needs to be reminded to act. Barr thinks he’s come up with something great for Jennifer (it’s not); he downgrades Gabe.
There’re some decently written scenes, but Barr flops with the omnipresent romance stuff.
Hearts of Glass; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Greg Shoemaker; inker, Bill Anderson; colorist, Julia Lacquement; letterer, Tom Addis; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Comico.
Joe Staton, wow. Odd body shapes, oddly shaped faces, visual oddities abound. About the only place Staton didn’t do something strange is on location. They aren’t the best street scenes, but they’re better than the rest.
Oh, and hands. The hand close-ups are fine. Most of the rest is painful.
It’s Gabe’s birthday–to get to the story–and Jennifer doesn’t know what to get him. The issue opens with a great scene of her shopping with two friends. They came in the city to hang out. It’s Barr’s best writing in the issue as it’s completely mundane and honest.
The mystery is a little less exciting. The occurrence is predictable, though the resolution is not. But Barr focuses the issue on Gabe and Jennifer’s romance, not the mystery. The balance is off.
The decidedly unsexy art from Staton hurts the romantic scenes, but it’s not all his fault.
Double Edge; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Joe Staton; inker, Rich Rankin; colorist, Julia Lacquement; letterer, Dan McKinnon; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Comico.
Barr establishes a bad first here–he has his leads accuse an off-panel suspect. The reader finds out the suspect’s identity at the confession.
Overall, it’s a troubled issue. The format keeps it going, but there are art problems (Al Vey isn’t the best inker for Hughes) and lots of story ones. The art ones aren’t too bad–Vey just doesn’t suit Hughes, the art isn’t bad. But Barr’s story? It’s weak.
First, the romance subplot between leads Gabe and Jennifer. They’re dating other people but making out once an issue. When Gabe dates someone else, Jennifer gets upset. Barr’s solution to their tiff is to have Gabe be cruel to his date. It makes both leads unsympathetic.
Then the little things. A cryogenics firm owner’s name is Lazare (as in Lazurus). It’s like Jim Shooter’s writing the comic.
I’m glad it’s the fifth issue and not the first.
Death Warmed Over; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Al Vey; colorist, Julia Lacquement; letterer, Deborah Marks; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Comico.
One of the most impressive things about The Maze Agency is how Barr manages such a large cast. He has two leads, one or two regular supporting players and then all the murder suspects. In this issue, concerning a Jack the Ripper copycat, he has something like eight suspects.
Obviously, the art plays a real factor. Hughes has to make each of the suspects distinct but believable. There’s one page identifying all the eventual suspects–every person gets a little description–and it all matches up beautifully. The reader can infer based on profession and appearance (and name, if one’s really playing attention). Maze is a rather well-produced comic book, it couldn’t work otherwise.
The mystery itself is solid; lots of unexpected turns, lots of creative page composition to maximize the space. The flirtation between the leads, however, is still stalled. Barr is starting to strain credulity with it.
The Return of Jack the Ripper?; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Julia Lacquement; letterer, Deborah Marks; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Comico.
The art is good here, it doesn’t even matter when it doesn’t make sense. Hughes comes up with these lovely pages for the investigation scenes–Gabe and Jennifer are touring New York state to question people–and the pages are simply wondrous. There’s this amazing condo in the middle of nowhere; Hughes’s page composition makes the mundane extraordinary.
As for the mystery, things get lost but it’s still decent. A prototype car disappears. Murder plays a factor eventually, since there’d be no danger otherwise. Barr and the artists handle all that aspect just fine. But Maze’s other plot–the romance–gets downgraded.
Gabe is something of a puppy dog here, following Jennifer around. Barr goes out of his way to make Gabe likable, but Jennifer’s just better than her colleagues. She’s not soluble enough.
Barr also reveals the issues take place a month apart, which is a nice device.
The Case of the Vanishing Vehicle; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Julia Lacquement; letterer, Deborah Marks; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Comico.
Barr uses Gabriel–the amateur detective slash novelist-for-hire (there’s a great joke about Friday the 13th adaptations)–to bring the reader to the mystery. Then he has to bring Jennifer–the professional detective–into it. The approach lets him do some more character development without having to use too much exposition, but Barr often errs on the side of subtlety.
Maze is, at this point in the series, about the chemistry between Gabriel and Jennifer, who aren’t exactly dating. Not steady, anyway. So when Gabriel meets another suitor, it should give Barr the chance to explain some things. He doesn’t. He just lets it raise more questions.
The mystery this issue involves an old TV show, modeled on “The Honeymooners,” I think. It’s a solid mystery, with the ending unexpected (and, frankly, unexplored) and a good read.
The moody but exact art from Hughes and Magyar is lovely.
Murder–The Lost Episodes; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Julia Lacquement; letterer, Deborah Marks; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Comico.
While it might be full of intrigue and murder–well, contain murder, not quite full of it–The Maze Agency is very clean. Adam Hughes and Rick Magyar’s Manhattan is so perfect, it’s almost dreamlike. That comment’s not a knock–the art is excellent. Some of the faces are bland, but otherwise Hughes does great work.
As for the rest of the issue, it’s a lot of fun. Mike W. Barr sets up his romantically possible protagonists, Jennifer and Gabriel, at alternating speeds. Their back stories come in throughout the issue; there’s no big exposition scene. Barr succeeds at keeping the dialogue natural for most of the comic.
The only time he lets the artificiality come through is the mystery resolution scene. The art and characters are good enough to smooth it over. Though there is one big bombshell I had to read a couple times to understand.
The Adventure of the Rogue’s Gallery; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Julia Lacquement; letterer, Deborah Marks; editor, Michael Eury; publisher, Comico.
So, I’ll just spoil a little of Camelot 3000‘s finish, not all the details, though there are a lot and all of them are dumb. Anyway, the comic ends with a somewhat cute alien pulling Excalibur from a stone in the far flung future.
It’s kind of like the end of 2010. It’s an amusing scene and Bolland gives it a lot of grandeur. Too bad the pages previous to it are lame. Not the art, of course, but Barr’s story. It’s dreadful.
He also seems to have done the whole subplot with the gender-changed Knight to give Bolland an excuse for a lesbian sex scene. It’s nearly tasteful, but there are some really tasteless additions to plummet it.
The ethnic supporting Knights both get weak send offs and the Modred conclusion’s silly.
It’s a bad finish to a bad series. Bolland and Austin deserved a much better project.
Long Live the King!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.
Why would Morgan LeFay resurrect Isolde and let her work against Morgan’s evil plans? It makes absolutely no sense, but I guess it doesn’t matter because the Earth events this issue have no bearing on the actual story. Barr’s just filling space.
The adventures on the mysterious tenth planet aren’t bad though. I mean, they get bad at the end, when Barr reduces his cast to two or three important characters and ignores everyone else… but it’s not bad at the start. For once, Barr has something for the Knights to do. Shame it took him until the second to last issue.
There’s some cool stuff with the aliens too. Barr’s a lot bigger on gender equality than his soft handling of his historically rapist protagonists suggests. He gets so close this issue, I expected him to address it.
He does not.
This issue is probably a whole third good.
War!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.
I get Barr’s dramatic thrust now–Merlin’s been kidnapped, Modred has the Grail, but I can’t remember what the series’s initial dramatic thrust. What was Arthur back to fix? Was it the unhappiness of human race or was it to drive the aliens off the planet?
He failed the second in the comic and I assume the first too, even though Barr has basically forgotten there are people in Camelot‘s world besides his main cast.
This issue has visual throwbacks to both Tron and the Flash Gordon movie. Not sure either of those films should be a visual source guide; also not sure who’s to blame, Bolland or Barr.
The art’s decent, though it shows signs of a rush again. Austin apparently can’t work miracles.
There’s a neat implication Morgan LeFay can’t have any contact with other people because her back fungus eats them. Makes one wonder if she’s lonely.
Prelude to War!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.
Barr really doesn’t know what to do with a big cast, does he? I keep forgetting about the Japanese Knight of the Round Table and the black one. The Japanese guy is actually Lancelot’s son, but Barr hasn’t explored the subplot, which is too bad.
The art, from Bolland and Austin again, is great. Too bad the story isn’t. Some of the problems do come from Bolland’s composition though. It was unclear the Earth had been overridden with the aliens; Bolland could have established that setting better. He doesn’t.
There’s a lot of flashbacks to Old Camelot this issue, most of them revealing how awful the characters behaved. Arthur tried to drown his son? The transgender (now female) knight used to rape peasant girls? Barr doesn’t acknowledge they don’t seem any better than Morgan LeFay. A lot less amusing in fact.
At least it’s a relatively fast and painless read.
Grailquest 3000; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.