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 2 (1998)

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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.

CREDITS

The Adventure of the Realm of Silence; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Gene Gonzalez; inkers, Ande Parks and Jason Baumgartner; 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.

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