Mike W. Barr

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Star Trek 6 (September 1980)

Star Trek #6

Barr gives the Enterprise crew a mystery to solve. Unfortunately, it’s almost the same mystery as one of the television episodes. It’s like Barr took out one part just to make it fit better in a comic.

There’s an almost amusing scene for Sulu and Chekhov–the issue otherwise centers around the big three. Uhura never gets a scene. But it might be a more accurate representation of the television show. Barr clearly knows how to structure the issue like the show. That feat sometimes is more impressive than what’s going on in the story.

Cockrum and Janson are really on the ball. Their faces have a lot more depth and have similar expressions to the source actors. Overall, the art just feels less rushed.

I’m still waiting for a lengthy subplot or some sign of character developments. Even for a licensed property, Star Trek feels too restrained, practically stifled.

B- 

CREDITS

The Enterprise Murder Case!; writer, Mike W. Barr; pencillers, Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson; inker, Janson; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Rick Parker; editor, Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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Star Trek 5 (August 1980)

Star Trek #5

This issue's better than the last, with Spock kidnapped by Klingons and Kirk trying to figure out how to resolve the situations. No Dracula appearance–maybe Mike W. Barr didn't like that idea either (or maybe Wolfman always insisted)–but there are still a bunch of dumb monsters showing up.

Barr has the formula down for a "Star Trek" story, complete with Spock and Bones bickering at the end, but he doesn't seem to have the best ideas for the plot. Though less silly than the previous issue, there's still no good reason for these earth nightmare monsters in space. Barr explains it fine, he's just explaining the reasoning behind a bad story.

Also distressing is his lack of story for the characters. Spock gets a bunch of time to himself and Barr writes those scenes well, but Kirk doesn't make any impression. The balance needs work.

A lot needs work.

C+ 

CREDITS

The Haunting of the Enterprise!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Dave Cockrum; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Denny O’Neil and Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Maze Agency 3 (January 2006)

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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 his protagonists, except some bickering and cuddling (Padilla can’t do either). The scene where Jennifer mentions being exceptionally wealthy doesn’t play out well here. In fact, it just reminds of better, original series Maze.

Still, it’s nice this Maze goes out on a relative high.

C+ 

CREDITS

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Doomfish; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Ariel Padilla; inker, Jason Paz; colorist, Rain Beredo; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Dan Taylor; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Maze Agency 2 (December 2005)

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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 existing fan base is from the eighties; it’s impressive he was able to mount a revival almost twenty years later, but comics readership might have changed too much. Or maybe he shouldn’t have tried for bland.

A compelling mystery would have helped a lot.

D 

CREDITS

A Beautiful Crime; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Ariel Padilla; inker, Ernest Jocson; colorist, Romulo Fajardo Jr.; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Dan Taylor; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Maze Agency 1 (November 2005)

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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. Padilla’s layouts aren’t bad, they just don’t lend to the mystery. Barr’s murder mystery has a lead-in establishing the protagonists and an absurd appearance by the FBI long before the actual suspects show up.

This Maze is without any distinguishing characteristics at all. It’s uniformly undercooked.

C- 

CREDITS

The Crimes, They Are a-Changin’; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Ariel Padilla; inker, Ernest Jocson; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Tom B. Long; editor, Dan Taylor; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Maze Agency 3 (1998)

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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. Gonzales and Baumgartner do half the issue and it’s fine, but it’s the first half so not the big revelation scene. James Bible and Larry Shuput do the second half and it’s just plain bad.

It’s an unfortunate outing for Maze; it’s too long, too ugly.

CREDITS

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 1 (July 1997)

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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.

CREDITS

The Death of Justice Girl; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Gene Gonzalez; inker, David Rowe; letterer, Caliber Graphics; editor, Joe Pruett; publisher, Caliber Comics.

The Maze Agency 23 (August 1991)

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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.

CREDITS

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.

The Maze Agency 22 (July 1991)

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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.

Whatever works.

CREDITS

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.

The Maze Agency 21 (June 1991)

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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.

CREDITS

Valentine’s Slay; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Mary Mitchell; inker, Mike Witherby; colorist, Michelle Basil; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation.

The Maze Agency 20 (May 1991)

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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.

CREDITS

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.

The Maze Agency 19 (March 1991)

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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.

CREDITS

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.

The Maze Agency 18 (February 1991)

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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.

CREDITS

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.

The Maze Agency 17 (December 1990)

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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.

CREDITS

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.