4 out of 5
While we’re back down to vignettes – four stories, plus one set of connecting 1-page strips throughout! – the second ‘Mazing Man Special, earned as a labor of love by the creative staff and dedicated fans (i.e. not earned by sales…), highlights everything that was / could be great about the series, with artist Stephen DeStephano having found a more tempered cartoonish style that’s a better fit than the distracting art in the previous Special.
Opener ‘Minute Mystery’ is really the only weak link, here, with a pretty dunderheaded mystery of some missing keys “solved” by a very un-Sherlock like guess and evidence of how, sometimes, DeStephano just seems to flub the emphasis in panels (or that the scripts are perhaps too overstuffed for proper direction), as nothing in the presentation of the tale is very organic feeling, and one character is waving the missing item in everyone’s face the whole while with no mention of it. I get that that was maybe the point, but it’s visually obvious to the point of obliviousness; like, it’s not lampshading, it’s just miscommunication in the art. Trina Robbins’ bubbly inks look great, though, and the energy of the strip is on point, even if the story is not. I also dug the old school banners on each page.
‘Work/Out’ is a fun bit of Denton slapstick sending the pup/man on a circuit of foibles so that he can finally get to work on writing… only, inevitably, for his scheduled alone time to have been taken up by those same foibles. This setup was done a few times in ‘Mazing Man itself, but it flows really well here, each bit something that feels recognizable to most of us – knowing once the door closes that you left your keys inside, for example – so it doesn’t feel too punishingly at Denton’s expense; it’s goofy. Craig Boldman on inks matches that tone perfectly: it reads like a cartoon.
‘Strangers On a Train’ is where we get to prime ‘Mazing Man, mixing characters with comedy and commentary. It’s also a fun peek at the MM universe, as it features several non-main characters happening to meet, natch, on a subway, and cleverly fills us in on some extraneous going-ons. The way these characters circle around one another reads like something taken out of a modern day book – the assumptions, the stereotypes, how they’re countered – either proving the we haven’t made all that much progress in decades, or that MM was ahead of it’s time. (Probably both.) Classic Karl Kesel inks here give it that delightful rough edge.
Closer ‘Christmas Open House’ is a fitting way to end, as it brings everyone together for a party at the Maze houeshold. Unlike the rather forced inclusion of characters in the last special, this is an event where it makes sense – especially knowing Maze, who would totally invite a vagrant like Buddy – and again, we get a sense of how people have grown a bit in the times between when we’ve seen them, while, of course, forever remaining the same. Bob and Steve stay away from going maudlin; there’s a funny running joke of Brenda and Eddie’s kid consistently disappearing, and grandma gettin’ smashed on eggnog. DeStephano really feels in his element here – a more conversation-based story, giving him room to put gags into the background. Inks by Steve Leialoha are very warm, and grounded, adding to the many-happy-returns vibe.
You’ll note the different inkers – I do love when we get easy comparisons for how much inkers can change a book’s look, and this is a great lineup. The interstitial single-page entries look like they’re probably inked by Kesel as well.