23 March 2012

Mazeworld by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson

Mazeworld first appeared the the pages of 2000AD in the regrettable period of my life when I was not reading it so this new collection allows me to recover some of that mistake.

Mazeworld is a fantasy set in the dreams somewhere between life and death, not unlike Life on Mars which came some years later.

The central character is hanged for murder but refuses to die. Instead he finds himself in a world of many mazes each ruled by a tyrant. One of the ways they keep their power is by not revealing the maps of the mazes.

The story is rich with ideas. There are mazes with traps, a captured angel, doctors hoping to profit from his non-death, demons trying to break through to our world and strange prophecies.

Arguably none of these ideas is earth-shattering by themselves, and a lot of them have echoes in other stories, but it is the wealth and diversity of ideas that grabs you. Alan Grant is an established and revered write of stories and Mazeworld shows why.

By itself that would make Mazeworld a good read but the sumptuous art work of Arthur Ranson makes it something special.

The level of detail in each picture is far more than you have any right to expect in a weekly British comic and the layout of the panels is imaginative without being fussy.

The familiar horizontal and vertical lines with clear borders between them are stretched in to irregular sizes that retains the form while allowing the art to follow the pace of the story.

I also love the use of colour and of shade. Some scenes, like this one, are bright with clearly defined lines and in others, when we venture deep in to some of the mazes, the pictures are very dark and the outlines of the shapes are made fuzzy by the shadows.

Mazeworld was originally published in three chapters each of which is a self-contained story using the same settings and main characters, not unlike the Narnia stories.

There is a bigger story that crosses all three chapters so it makes sense to read the whole collection in a single sitting.

Less obvious is the original structure of three or four pages per week. It is there if you look carefully but Alan Grant skilfully avoids the use of blatant cliffhangers each week and this gives the story a more natural pace that is dictated by the needs of the story rather then the demands of the publication.

This is one of the nice things about 2000AD. The weekly format of four or five stories allows each one to set its own mood and pace safe in the knowledge that the combined effect of the stories delivers enough thrill-power and suspense to bring the readers back next week. It works for me.

Mazeworld, like Meltdown Man, shows the strength of 2000AD and of the talent in the UK comic industry that denies the myth that comics means American superheroes.

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