Written by: Alan Grant
Art by: Arthur Ranson
Price: 19.99 (UK) $29.99 (US)
Available at: Amazon | 2000AD Shop
This graphic novel reprints the following stories:
- “Mazeworld” – (Prog 1014 – 1023)
- “The Dark Man” – (Prog 1101 – 1110)
- “The Hell Maze” – (Prog 1151 – 1160)
First published in the late-nineties, Mazeworld was one of those series that hit the pages of 2000 AD with a bang and left a sizeable impact afterwards – I don’t think I’d ever seen anything like it before, or have since. As with his previous work on Button Man and Anderson: Psi Division, artist Arthur Ranson imbues each panel with a gritty realism that juxtaposes against the more fantastical elements of the strip; such as flying lizards, structures made of bones and mazes populated with monsters. It is this wonderful dichotomy of realism and fantasy that drives the whole series and makes it such an enchanting read. Without Ranson’s artwork, the series becomes bland and derivative – with it, it becomes an immersive read and impossible to forget.
Stripped to its core, Adam Cadman’s story has a lot in common with Alice in Wonderland but rather than crawling through a rabbit hole, our protagonist is hung by the neck and transported to another world that lies between life and death. Alan Grant plays with the reader’s expectations of how a hero should act, and subverts the traditional fantasy hero through Adam Cadman’s selfish attempts to find his way back home. Grant develops the character throughout the trilogy, transforming him from a drunk coward facing a death sentence into the hero of a mysterious new world. It is also interesting to note that we are not shown Cadman’s face until midway through the trilogy as he gradually makes the transition from ‘the hooded one’ into a hero in his own right.
Maybe it’s the gritty realism of his style, but there is something about Arthur Ranson’s artwork that feels connected to the 1970s and 1980s, and his work on Mazeworld feels reminiscent of those classic fantasy genre films from the period, like The Never-Ending Story, Labyrinth or Krull, but with a distinctive British tone. There’s also a touch of Ray Harryhausen to proceedings with enough skeletal enemies to fill a dozen mortuaries! The design of the Mazeworld and its inhabitants is inspired, and that double-page spread of Cadman looking down at the whole world and the intricate detail that Ranson puts into each piece of architecture is amazing. As much as Button Man gets the critical praise and recognition, I think that it is his work on Mazeworld that provides some of his career best. Not only does he create a living, breathing world revolving around mazes and labyrinths, he also playfully introduces maze designs in his panel work and page design – it’s subtle, but strengthens the atmosphere.
Out of the three books that form the Mazeworld trilogy, my favourite would be the central chapter “The Dark Man”. With the rules of the world already established, Grant and Ranson are free to explore the characters in greater depth, beginning with the enigmatic Dark Man who was glimpsed in the previous chapter. Possessing dark magicks and a deadly third eye, the Dark Man is one of the most intriguing characters in the series and the sequences where he and Cadman face off are amongst the most thrilling set-pieces in the whole trilogy. While the series showcases Grant and Ranson’s mastery over world-building and creating strong atmosphere for their stories, Mazeworld also provides plenty of opportunity for action and violence – something made even more visceral by Ransom’s haunting visuals.
One of the highlights of Mazeworld is how initially the two worlds seems separate but gradually begin to coalesce, threatening the existence of both. Grant maintains excitement throughout the “real world” and the “Mazeworld” sequences as the two universes seem set on a collision course. Again, this blurring of lines between the two worlds fits Arthur Ranson’s art style perfectly as he straddles the line between realism and fantasy with every brush-stroke. Much like the mazes at the heart of the story, Mazeworld is perfectly constructed with precise and intimate detail as it takes its reader on labyrinthine journey. Perfectly complete across thirty chapters, there is no weak spots or filler material on display at all. Reading the entire collection as a whole, it is even more impactful than my original experience as Grant foreshadows key events through prophecies and visual clues, demonstrating just how well-constructed his fantasy world is.
Incredible and evocative, Mazeworld is a masterclass in world-building as the visions of both creators collide in spectacular fashion. Tinged with a grim brutality, this dark ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ take on the Alice in Wonderland format is intensely readable and eminently British in tone, making 2000 AD the ideal home for the series.
Available in a larger format (27.6cm x 21cm), this collector’s edition showcases this epic fantasy adventure in all its glory, allowing Arthur Ranson’s breath-taking artwork to shine. If you have fond memories of Mazeworld from its original print run in the nineties, then this is the ideal format to fall back in love with the series. And if you’re completely new to the series, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give this collection a peek. It is easily in my Top Five Stories ever produced by 2000 AD – and is one of those adventures that will stick in your mind long after you finish the final page.
Score – ★★★★★
Mazeworld is available in a collector’s edition paperback from Amazon and 2000AD’s Webshop