The Maze Agency 3 (January 2006)

It’s too bad the last issue of IDW’s Maze relaunch is easily the best. The problems still remain–Padilla is a boring artist who doesn’t bring any personality to anything, not characters, not setting. Forget about ominous mood. And Barr is still writing this comic like it’s the eighties, which might have been the last time someone could have done a fugu fish related story without mentioning “The Simpsons.” He doesn’t mention the show and it seems like an odd oversight. There are too many suspects–nine–but the pace of the issue is good and the investigation engages. Barr doesn’t spend much time on…

The Maze Agency 2 (December 2005)

It’s a beauty pageant mystery–with Jennifer oddly chosen as one of the judges (are detective agency owners really such community figures)–and I’m surprised Barr hasn’t already done this one. All of the previous issue’s problems are here, Padilla’s lack of personality, the rendering of the leads as twenty-somethings off “Buffy” (which might just be an IDW thing), but there’s another problem in the mix…. Barr tries too hard on the banter. Instead of actually talking, Gabe and Jennifer exchange quips. Barr’s got a real problem with a revival series–appeal to the existing fan base while being accessible to new readers. Only his…

The Maze Agency 1 (November 2005)

And The Maze Agency is back again, with Mike W. Barr still writing, of course, but with a fresh new look. Ariel Padilla and Ernest Jocson update the protagonists for the oughts and, wow, are they bland. Padilla tries straight good girl with Jennifer and it doesn’t work. As for Gabe… he looks more like an early twenties male model than a struggling mystery writer. Yeah, I suppose the ages are the problem. The characters look way too young. There’s also no toughness in Padilla and Jocson’s New York City. It’s post-Guilliani and absent any personality One last thing on the art.…

The Maze Agency 3 (1998)

It’s a rough, rough issue. First there’s the storyline. Barr does this whole Bettie Page thing with a magazine trying to find an old model. Three show up, so there’s the investigation to figure out who’s who–only two other private detectives show up besides Jennifer, one supporting each possibility. Then there’s the murder and that mystery. Barr wraps them up at the same time, of course, in an incredibly convoluted finish. It’s a lot of information to digest, none of it particularly interesting–lots of scenes this issue to move things along. He’s trying to hard. But the real problem is the art.…

The Maze Agency 1 (July 1997)

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…

The Maze Agency 23 (August 1991)

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…

The Maze Agency 22 (July 1991)

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 Maze Agency 21 (June 1991)

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…

The Maze Agency 20 (May 1991)

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.…

The Maze Agency 19 (March 1991)

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…

The Maze Agency 18 (February 1991)

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…

The Maze Agency 17 (December 1990)

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…

The Maze Agency 16 (October 1990)

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…

The Maze Agency Annual 1 (August 1990)

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…

The Maze Agency 15 (August 1990)

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…

The Maze Agency Special 1 (1990)

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.…

The Maze Agency 14 (July 1990)

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…

The Maze Agency 13 (June 1990)

This issue might have the worst Phipps art so far. It’s incredibly bad, but also very precise. So each bad panel pokes at you as you read it; the hands are off, the expressions are terrible. Phipps doesn’t have any personality either, which might not make the art any better but at least it’d be interesting. The crime this issue is rather vicious, with a dismembered and mutilated corpse. There’s also a subplot about one of Jennifer’s friends, a retired Secret Service agent turned gumshoe. Barr tries too hard to make the guy likable; unfortunately he seems to be a new regular.…

The Maze Agency 12 (May 1990)

Hughes is back this issue; he concentrates on mood more than faces, which is odd for a detective comic. At least it seems odd for Maze Agency. Oh, there are some good shots of Jennifer and Gabe, but some of the suspects are completely indistinct. The cynical take is Hughes was hurrying through and skipping faces sped things along. Even so, the result is a peculiarly wonderful looking book. The lack of focus puts the reader off to the side of the story while still inside it, like things overheard. It’s very interesting. The mystery itself isn’t particularly interesting. There are some…

The Maze Agency 11 (April 1990)

Between Phipps’s awkwardly cherubic faces and the forgetful coloring (sometimes faces don’t get done, sometimes they get overdone–I assume it’s a printing issue and not Michele Wolfman’s fault), this issue isn’t much to behold. Phipps doesn’t have graceful figures and his framing suggests he’d be better suited for a newspaper comic strip than a full book. It’s a Christmas issue, with Gabe and Jennifer celebrating their first one as a holiday. It’s not a particularly effective subplot; Barr gives them a silly subplot and not enough space to actually resolve it. It’s a transition issue–for Jennifer–but we don’t why she’s changing. The…

The Maze Agency 10 (March 1990)

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…

The Maze Agency 9 (February 1990)

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…

The Maze Agency 8 (December 1989)

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…

The Maze Agency 7 (June 1989)

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.…

The Maze Agency 6 (May 1989)

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…

The Maze Agency 5 (April 1989)

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…

The Maze Agency 4 (March 1989)

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…

The Maze Agency 3 (February 1989)

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…