04 October 2007
Mike W. Barr's THE MAZE AGENCY
I absolutely love The Maze Agency, let me tell you. If I ever had to choose one comic series that I had to save if my house was on fire, I would choose Sergio Aragones' GROO THE WANDERER. But if I could choose two comic series to save, it would be Sergio's GROO and The Maze Agency. Spider-Man, Batman, Justice League and the rest of the 'spandex brigade' can go to hell. I'm saving the Maze.
Created and written by fan favourite Mike W. Barr, The Maze Agency featured the crime solving duo of Jennifer Mays and Gabriel Webb. She owns her own private detective agency and he is a struggling true-crime writer. Together they solve crime mysteries, usually but not always involving murder, within the space of 26 pages. Take that decompression loving comics writers! Mike Barr also claimed that this is the first detective series in comics that plays fair with the readers, i.e. the reader sees every clue that Mays and Webb sees and part of the fun for the reader is to solve the case before the duo.
Since it featured 'normal' human characters who solved crime with their brains and not with super powers and did not wear capes and masks, this comic was largely ignored by the sweaty comic reading masses. It would have gained more attention if either DC or Marvel had shown any interest in it but according to Barr, the Big Two passed on the book since it wasn't a superhero comic. Fortunately for Maze Agency, the '80s saw the advent of the independent comic publishers and the book found a home with COMICO. It didn't last long though. COMICO cancelled it after just seven issues. Bugger.
But it did introduce me to the delicious pencils of Adam "I draw cheesecake like nobody on Earth" Hughes. The cover of issue 1 up there was what sold me to the series. Though it was Alan Davis who designed the characters (he gave Jennifer the cute forelock), it was Hughes who came in as penciller when Davis pulled out. Rick Magyar's inks made the pictures even more prettier to look at.
Adam Hughes didn't stay for long, though. Maze Agency had a slew of pencillers who came in to pick up the slack like Joe Staton, Mary Mitchell and Rob Phipps but none became the book's regular penciller (Phipps was the longest: four issues). Hughes did come in and pencilled a couple of issues when the book found a new home, this time with INNOVATION, but a book with no steady penciller will see its sales hurt especially if the original guy was so good at it. Add to the fact that Maze was already a non-superhero book with a small following published by an independent publisher in an industry that favours heavily on DC and Marvel and you can smell the stinking stench of the word "cancellation" a mile away.
Indeed, after seventeen issues with INNOVATION, The Maze Agency ended (by the way, I just realised I only have sixteen of the INNOVATION issues. My collection is incomplete! How could I miss it? Did it really come out? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?). Mike W. Barr brought it back under yet another independent publisher in the late 1990s but I had already dropped the comic collecting hobby by then. I never saw those issues and I don't know how long it lasted. Probably not very.
Recently, IDW brought back to print the trade collection that collected the first five issues (the Barr-Hughes-Magyar issues) and it is still available on Amazon. Strangely enough, they also have the second and third trade collection but they are listed as "currently available". Can't this book ever catch a break?
I highly recommend the still available first trade or if you're feeling adventurous, go dig through the bargain bins and who knows, you might just find most if not the entire COMICO & INNOVATION run of The Maze Agency. Then pass it around to your friends and show them what they missed when they were reading X-Force.