In late 2009, a fan campaign started up on Facebook to convince the publisher Rebellion - or somebody, anybody - to reprint a fantasy comic called Mazeworld. I remain impressed and not a little envious that they were so successful; I spent ages and ages suggesting title after title for reprint with a darn low victory rate, and these guys did it right out of the gate.
Rebellion would be the natural home for a Mazeworld reprint, but there was a small extra step to take. The series originally appeared in the late 1990s in the pages of 2000 AD, but the copyright is owned by its creators Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson, and the rights to it did not automatically pass to Rebellion when that company bought 2000 AD from Egmont in 2000. Fortunately, Grant and Ranson were willing to work with Rebellion, who, last year, released a fine collection of their story in their excellent line of paperback graphic novels.
The story opens with Adam Cadman, a condemned prisoner - the first man to be sentenced to execution by hanging in Britain in thirty years - hooded and noosed. The lever is thrown, the floor opens and he is suddenly in a very weird fantasy world, full of labyrinths, swordsmen, rebels and demons. Stranger still, neither his hood nor his noose can be removed.
I like Alan Grant a lot, but while the structure of the story is fascinating, this is nowhere close to his finest script. Many of the characters speak in deeply awkward tough guy talk straight out of the fantasy trope machine. It's aggravating when the really good plot stumbles over the dialogue like we see here, because this is an otherwise entertaining and exciting story. Cadman is an interesting character, somebody who does not want to get involved and will throw anybody into trouble to stay out of it himself. Somehow, Grant is able to find some redemption and heroics in this guy, as the strange situation gets weirder and weirder.
But it is with Ranson's artwork that this story really excels. Like most of Ranson's work, it is occasionally stiff, and there are one or two places where the lightbox and the photoreferencing overwhelms the motion of the characters. However, these are just part of Ranson's style, and despite the very slow pace of the first three or four pages, things loosen up remarkably. Ranson draws the absolute bejesus out of this world, with a level of detail and intensity that's just about unmatched in comics this side of Tezuka. The Mazeworld has structure and feels lived-in and incredibly real. In lesser hands, elements like a collapsing scaffolding would just disintegrate into simple lines of ink. Here, Ranson makes it feel like about a ton of wood really did fall down and knock a company of guards into the dirt.
Mazeworld's flaws are noticeable, but they're very minor. The reproduction is as solid as any reader should expect from Rebellion's terrific line of graphic novels, although I'd offer an additional quibble that the introductory essays provided by Grant and Ranson give away some critical plot points, and should have been printed as afterwords. Oh, and the design of the spine doesn't quite match the rest of the line, a point of contention for 2000 AD fandom for ages now. If you can stomach that level of nitpicky belly-aching and you have a taste for fantasy fiction, then this comes recommended.