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Monday, October 08, 2018

Mazeworld

After being convicted of murder, Adam Cadman becomes the first person to be hung in the UK for thirty years after the reinstatement of the death penalty. But instead of death, Cadman, still wearing a hood, now bonded to his skin, and with the noose around his neck, wakes up in Mazeworld, a land of fantastic architecture with ziggurats and giant totems to unrecognizable Gods.

Cadman finds himself in what appears to be a feudal society that recognizes him as "The Hooded One" of legend. Attacked by guards, he is rescued by a crossbow-wielding woman who leads him through the maze of streets and buildings. When their escape is thwarted – she is following a fake map, disinformation put out by the Maze-Lords – Cadman throws her to the guards... but the noose tightens around his neck, and he cannot breath until he aids his rescuer.

Word that the Hooded One has been seen with rebels reaches Lord Maskul, who sends out his skyriders to capture Cadman. Cadman, meanwhile, has learned that he is in Mazeworld. The first maze – a link between the heavens and the earth – was built by an emperor who killed those who built it so no-one would know the secret of the Terra Infernalis at its centre, and then led his entire court into the maze on his 100th birthday. They were never seen again and, since then, only the legendary Mad Emperor and his warrior, the Hooded One, have ever risked entering the maze.

Two thousand years later, "Our Emperor, fearful of his savage Maze-Lords, has entered the God-Maze in search of enlightenment," Cadman is told. "Tyranny has descended as the Lords vie for power and position." Almost a year has elapsed and alliances are being prepared to take over Mazeworld.

Cadman is captured by Maskul and learns about the horrors the rebels face, their flesh boiled off so their bones can be used for building material. He also learns about the foul Lord Raven and The Dark Man, and about the prison maze, full of traps and punishments, that he falls into.

So begins Mazeworld, one of the most memorable strips to ever appear in 2000AD. Originally serialised in three books ('The Hanged Man', 1996, 'The Dark Man', 1998, and 'The Hell Maze, 1999), the strip has been previously reprinted (2011) but is here published in an oversized (27.6 x 21 cm) format that really shows off the strip at its best.

The strip is a tour de force by artist Arthur Ranson, who was asked by writer Alan Grant to come up with some ideas for a loosely conceived computer game that Grant had thought up. After a few weeks, Ranson had produced reams of sketches and ideas and, computer games forgotten, Grant set about writing a story that was the equal of Ranson's wildly imaginative drawings.

The result was a fantasy unlike anything that 2000AD had previously published, one that many would argue has yet to be matched. Using Aztec and Egyptian architecture as a starting point, Ranson created a world of astonishing detail and beauty. The maze theme is explored in various ways, from depictions of labyrinths through which the characters move and mazes as metaphors and modes of transition, to having mazes inform the layout of pages.

Politics and religious ritual have rarely had a place in British boys' comics. Here they add layers to what might otherwise be another planetary romance in the style of Edgar Rice Burroughs of a man cast adrift in an alien land. Although he is the narrator of the story, Adam Cadman is no hero, and only aids the rebels to avoid the noose tightening. It is not clear, even as the second book begins, whether Cadman will survive, as a prediction given to his nemesis The Dark Man states that one will die, yet still live, while the other will live yet be dead. Either way, it sounds terminal.

This is a thrill-packed adventure story with more depth than one might expect and artwork so richly detailed that you will want to go back to the book again and again to explore every panel. It deserves to be on every shelf.

Mazeworld (Collectors Edition) by Alan Grant & Arthur Ranson. Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08656-8, 4 October 2018, 194pp, £19.99 / $29.99. Available via Amazon.

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