Barr finds himself a great setting for a murder mystery with this issue. It’s set at a monastery, apparently open as a tourist destination for New Yorkers who want to get away; there’s a period of silence thing, there’s a great visual setting. It all just works.
The issue has two inkers–Ande Parks and Jason Baumgartner–for Gonzalez’s pencils. Baumgartner does a little better, but it might just be because he has more of the action while Parks has to do all the opening mood.
Barr has time to do some nice character stuff with his leads and the supporting cast. This second Maze series, without worrying about establishing the leads’ romance, is more comfortable with them just being a couple. It helps immensely.
But there’s also time for Barr to work in two mysteries, not just the eventual murder mystery. It’s a nice little issue; great finish too.
The Two Wrong Rhoades; writer, Mike W. Barr; pencillers, Gene Gonzalez and James Bible; inkers, Jason Baumgartner and Larry Shuput; letterer, Caliber Graphics; editor, Joe Pruett; publisher, Caliber Comics.
The Maze Agency returns in black and white and it really fits that format. The inherent moodiness offsets the genial romance stuff. The mystery itself is an odd riff on Brandon Lee’s death on the Crow set, which seems a little close to home in a comic book.
Mike W. Barr does a direct continuation from the previous series–Caliber put out this second volume–and he’s definitely writing for the familiar reader. The banter with the characters is strong, even if the mystery itself goes on a little long. Barr’s enthusiasm carries a lot of it.
The art, from Gene Gonzalez and David Rowe, is relatively good. There are some rough spots, particularly with Jennifer in her silly stealth costume, but it’s decent.
Barr doesn’t spend much time establishing the suspects–they’re more scenery than guest stars. That approach probably makes it read a little slower than it should.
The Death of Justice Girl; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Gene Gonzalez; inker, David Rowe; letterer, Caliber Graphics; editor, Joe Pruett; publisher, Caliber Comics.
This issue’s incredibly confusing. Barr spends too long setting up the story–Gabe and Jennifer have to go to a biosphere to solve a murder but there’s already drama with the client. It’s Barr wasting pages for no reason.
Maybe he wanted to give the penciller, Franchesco Bufano, something to do. Otherwise, wasted pages. Especially since Barr starts the comic with a letter talking about the issue being an homage to Poe. Oh, sure, the homage part does come up–but very late in the story.
By that time, most of the damage is done. Bufano’s pencils are exaggerated, which is fine, but he gets lazy almost immediately. He also doesn’t draw the characters distinctly enough; even with different physical characteristics, it gets confusing in long shots.
Barr throws in too many love triangles and crushes among his poorly established suspects.
Sadly, the series ends with a particularly weak entry.
Crime in Eden; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Franchesco Bufano; inker, Michael Avon Oeming; colorist, Michelle Basil; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation.
Young Jason Pearson handles the pencils. He tries very hard to compose interesting panels, which he usually does, though often a few details get forgotten. He can’t draw hats, for example.
The mystery concerns a role-playing game company; Barr is trying really hard to make the book seem accessible. He also tones down the annoying romance between the leads. They’re still together, engaged even, but Barr plays them off other characters to great success.
The mystery itself gets fairly confusing; Barr takes a long time to introduce all the suspects and their motives. It’s kind of a messy way to set up the comic–I think it’s the first time he’s ever not had the suspects sorted out–but the issue definitely has a romantic comedy appeal. Barr’s finally got some idea how to use Gabe and Jennifer as a couple.
Mostly by removing focus from Gabe.
Magic & Monsters–and Murder; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Jason Pearson; inker, Mike Witherby; colorist, Michelle Basil; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation.
It’s an odd issue with Barr trying to do something on gay rights–Jennifer’s secretary has his father come out to meet his boyfriend for the first time, just as there’s some psycho killer hunting down gay guys–but Barr still goes for the occasional joke.
The biggest one is when Gabe is worried someone thinks he’s gay so he overcompensates. Oh, and then when the icy lesbian assumes the female cop is gay when I don’t think she’s supposed to be gay. The latter’s not a joke, just a cheap moment from Barr.
Mary Mitchell’s layouts are rather ambitious. The finished art doesn’t quite match them, but it’s a reasonably successful issue. The investigation has highs and lows–and the solution itself is simple and dumb–but there are some unexpected turns.
The leads’ romantic moments are awful; Barr doesn’t seem to give his plotting much thought at all.
Valentine’s Slay; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Mary Mitchell; inker, Mike Witherby; colorist, Michelle Basil; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation.
John Calimee and Michael Avon Oeming bring something of a cartoon style to the characters. Not in a bad way–exaggerated expressions help the mystery aspect–but they don’t bring anything to the setting. The act doesn’t lift anything heavy and it definitely should have tried; Barr relies on it, in fact.
The issue takes place on a private island, with Gabe and Jennifer trying to figure out a twenty year-old murder and a modern one too. That deserted mansion setting needs something from the art; Barr clearly writes the issue with that expectation. But the artists don’t deliver.
The issue’s all right otherwise. Barr does have some decent moments in the mystery (just no characters ones) and it proves a fine diversion. The end, after a while, is unexpected.
Maze is suffering, however. Barr doesn’t have a character development arc anymore. He’s holding everything still and it shows.
The Problem of the Devil’s Chambers; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, John Calimee; inker, Michael Avon Oeming; colorist, Scott Rockwell; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
Barr tries to do something really big with Gabe and Jen this issue in their personal life. He sort of hints at it throughout, then reveals it in the finale. It’s not much of a development as Barr seems to be forcing it to fit the Christmas theme.
The mystery this issue is fairly lame. There’s an association of amateur private detectives and they hire Gabe, Jen and Jen’s rival to solve some year old murder. The investigation of the actual crime–being a year late–is weak. Worse, Barr focuses on the rivalry between Jen and her rival more than the case. Maybe he knew it was weak too.
Rob Davis’s pencils are particularly tepid. He does take the time to make sure Jen’s got an upset expression when her rival’s around, but there’s nothing else to it.
The comic feels tired. Not exhausted, run out. Barr’s on empty.
The Adventure of the Mystery League; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Rob Davis; inker, John Tighe; colorists, Susan Glod and Michelle Basil; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
Scott Clark has the most ambitious layouts of a Maze artist for a long time. There are all these different little sequences, sometimes only taking a half page, where he crams in visual information and sometimes important scenes.
It’s a shame he doesn’t draw better, or have a better inker than John Tighe. Forget people not looking alike, there are some panels where entire noses disappear. But there are a few good panels, which makes one wonder if Clark didn’t put in the time.
The mystery’s strong; Barr has some good twists. The major one is how none of the suspects really suspicious. Instead, they’re all bland suspects without much motive to misdirect. Kind of. At one point I didn’t even think anyone involved had committed the crime, like Barr would bring in some surprise guest.
It’s a reasonably successful issue, with Barr ignoring his tepid subplots for the regular cast.
This Murder Comes to You Live; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Scott Clark; inker, John Tighe; colorist, Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
It’s a religious cult mystery, along with some teenage lovers–one being the daughter of Jennifer’s friend. Barr doesn’t pause on his contrivances (it’s not just the daughter, but also Gabe’s religious history), just moves full steam ahead.
Only the setting is terrible and the characters all act really dumb. Maybe not Gabe and Jennifer, but the daughter gets busted running around with her boyfriend and her parents stay in the woods, which causes the rest of the issue’s events. It’s way too easy.
There’s a little character stuff between Gabe and Jennifer, only their romance has become boring. Barr doesn’t seem to have any long-term plots for them anymore. They’re boring.
Darick Robertson–a young Darick Robertson–does the art. He’s got ambitious panel composition, but no level of detail. With better art, the issue might pass easier, but it’s still not much good.
Maze’s on the skids.
Terrible Swift Sword; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Darick Robertson; inkers, Jim Sinclair and Keith Aiken; colorist, Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
Mary Mitchell is an odd choice for the comic. If her lines were messier, it might work better but she has a very cartoony, clean style. All of a sudden The Maze Agency looks like a reductionist Disney cartoon.
It’s occasionally interesting looking, but would work better for a backup story not a feature. Especially since Mitchell doesn’t handle certain standard things–shoes, for instance–well at all.
The mystery once again gives Gabe and Jennifer some tension in their dating life. They’ve both sold true crime books, but she’s sold hers to a big publisher, him to a not big publisher. Barr enjoys writing about their relationship problems, but there’s always something missing. It’s like he doesn’t imagine them having a life when they aren’t in the comic… They don’t have any texture.
So, in short, it’s an odd looking comic with some problems. The supporting cast really shines.
Fires of Love; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Mary Mitchell; inkers, Don Martinec and Paul Worley; colorist, Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
The annual has three stories. The first has Rick Magyar, Darick Robertson and William Messner-Loebs illustrating a Spirit homage. It’s a lot of fun; Barr’s script for it is very fast. Gabe’s on a mission, runs into Jennifer, both having Spirit references in their appearance. It’d be impossible to tell the story without the art angle. Very nice opening.
Sadly, the second story just goes on and on. Allen Curtis is a mediocre artist and Barr asks him to do a lot. The mystery involves a corpse in a moving box. It takes forever to get going, then Barr rushes the big finale. Curtis doesn’t draw characters distinctly enough; two suspects look exactly the same, making the end confusing.
The last story–with Adam Hughes pencils and Magyar inks–is a reprint of a convention special. The mystery’s solution is confounding, but the excellent art makes up for it.
A Night at the Rose Petal; artists, Rick Magyar, Darick Robertson and William Messner-Loebs; colorists, Michelle Basil and Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams. Moving Stiffs; penciller, Allen Curtis; inkers, Keith Aiken and Jim Sinclair; colorists, Basil and Glod; letterer, Williams; Murder in Mint Condition; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Magyar; colorist, Glod; letterer, Bob Pinaha. Writer, Mike W. Barr; editors, Michael Eury and David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
Barr does an amazing job pacing out the narrative this issue. He opens with Gabe and Jennifer, but moves quickly to Lieutenant Bliss. She dominates the issue–the first time a supporting cast member was gotten a Maze spotlight–even when she’s off panel in the second act. Barr comes up with an amusing way of keeping her around then too.
And Bliss becomes so important to the issue, Barr doesn’t even save time to resolve Gabe and Jennifer’s subplot. He deals with it in a panel or two, second fiddle to the murder resolution.
The issue has fill-in art from Mike Okamoto, who has an odd set of problems. His figures don’t match in terms of size and the way he positions them almost feels like he’s gluing cutouts together. But he’s got some great facial expressions, which is very important in a dialogue-heavy book like Maze.
Too Much Bliss; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Mike Okamoto; inkers, Mike Witherby and Rick Magyar; colorist, Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
It’s a busy day for Gabe and Jennifer in this Special issue. What makes it special–besides the three interconnected stories, the reprint of Barr’s ashcan for Maze Agency and the extra pages–is the art. Each story has incredibly different artwork.
The first has Joe Staton (inked by Rick Magyar). Shockingly, it works out well. His story looks very fifties or sixties crime comic. His detail isn’t great, but it’s all consistent. Never thought I’d be so impressed.
Magyar takes over the art himself on the second story. He has a beautiful, moody style. It’s a shame he usually just inks the book.
Then the Pander Brothers do the last one. They’re wonderfully crazy. Seeing a straight mystery comic in their style is awesome.
And Alan Davis does the ashcan. His art’s the least impressive, which is a surprise.
The mysteries are fine but the art’s the thing here.
Morning: What Goes Up…; penciller, Joe Staton; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Scott Rockwell; letterer, Vickie Williams. Afternoon: Murder by a Hair; artist, Magyar; colorist, Rockwell; letterer, Williams. Evening: The Dog That Bit Back…; artists, Arnold Pander and Jacob Pander; colorist, Alicia Basil; colorist, Williams. The Mile-High Corpse!; artist, Alan Davis; letterer, Todd Klein. Writer, Mike W. Barr; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.
More bad art from Phipps. I’m not sure, but I think he’s getting worse. Like Barr thinks he’s getting better so he can handle more stuff–this issue there’s a lengthy “trial” sequence and then a nightmare scene at the end… the only scary parts being Phipps’s art though.
He hurts what Barr is trying to do with the romantic angle, with both Jennifer and Gabe changing as their relationship deepens. Phipps being weak on the mystery stuff is fine, it always gets resolved by the end of the issue, but he’s messing up what makes the comic distinct.
This issue takes place at a prison, where Jennifer and Gabe have to solve an unlikely murder to end a riot. Barr’s pacing is a little off. It’s front heavy, with all the characters’ introductions–not to mention the return of a previous villain–but it’s a decent mystery, if predictable.
Before Midnight; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Robb Phipps; inker, Rick Magyar; colorist, Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.