Maze Agency

The Maze Agency 3 (January 2006)

33189 20070316012234 largeIt’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)

863307It’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)

893551And 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)

Maze Agency v2 3It’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)

Maze agency v2 2Barr 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)

Maze agency v2 1The 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)

275588This 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 17 (December 1990)

275582It’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.

The Maze Agency 16 (October 1990)

275581Mary 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 writing about their relationship problems, but there’s always something missing. It’s like he doesn’t imagine them having a life when they aren’t in the comic… They don’t have any texture.

So, in short, it’s an odd looking comic with some problems. The supporting cast really shines.

CREDITS

Fires of Love; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Mary Mitchell; inkers, Don Martinec and Paul Worley; colorist, Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams; editor, David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.

The Maze Agency Annual 1 (August 1990)

340992The 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 finale. Curtis doesn’t draw characters distinctly enough; two suspects look exactly the same, making the end confusing.

The last story–with Adam Hughes pencils and Magyar inks–is a reprint of a convention special. The mystery’s solution is confounding, but the excellent art makes up for it.

B- 

CREDITS

A Night at the Rose Petal; artists, Rick Magyar, Darick Robertson and William Messner-Loebs; colorists, Michelle Basil and Susan Glod; letterer, Vickie Williams. Moving Stiffs; penciller, Allen Curtis; inkers, Keith Aiken and Jim Sinclair; colorists, Basil and Glod; letterer, Williams; Murder in Mint Condition; penciller, Adam Hughes; inker, Magyar; colorist, Glod; letterer, Bob Pinaha. Writer, Mike W. Barr; editors, Michael Eury and David Campiti; publisher, Innovation Publishing.

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