Every week this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new installment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
It’s not Amazing Man. No. It’s simply ‘Mazing Man.
It’s a little like you’re reading it fast, or it’s a character you know really well. Actually, it’s a bit like a long time friend that you know really, really well: you don’t call them by their entire first name. You call them by their nick name. In the case of ‘Mazing Man, dropping one little letter makes the title character more familiar, more likable, more remarkable wouldn’t you agree?
And boy, did ‘Mazing Man have a short, but remarkable run.
‘Mazing Man, published by DC Comics, ran for twelve monthly issues in 1986. It wasn’t supposed to last that long. Nope. ‘Mazing Man was cut short simply because there wasn’t a whole heck of interest in the title character, a short, stocky do-good dreamer named Sigfried Horatio Hunch III or “Maze” to his friends. Hunch won a magazine subscription sweepstakes, and became a millionaire overnight, deciding to use his time and resources performing good deeds in his Queens, New York neighborhood, dressed in a crazy, homemade superhero costume. In any given issue, ‘Mazing Man might perform such outlandishly heroic deeds as walk a old woman across the street, escort a toddler back to his worried mother or, in the case of issue 5 of the series, help his best friend Denton, a comic book writer, get over a case of writer’s block.
And it’s under that premise that this particular issue gets interesting.
Each of ‘Mazing Man’s friends, at his most helpful request, enter the scene, all with their own ideas of what kind of comic book story Denton should write. The illustrators for each of these stories-within-the-story (as the friends recount their crazy ideas to a depressed and put-out Denton) is a comic book who’s who of legendary industry professionals.
The first tale, as told by K.P., who is Denton’s half sister, recently fallen in love, is an homage to romance comics, wherein the heroine (oddly enough, in the likeness of K.P.) follows a handsome, swashbuckling pirate, a striking and mysterious Arab prince, and a beautiful Italian scientist, all in the pursuit of love. The romance tale is illustrated by the amazing and incomparable Spanish artist Jose Luis Garcia Lopez coupled with inks by Pablo Marcos.
The next tale is told by Guido Garibaldi, ‘Mazing Man’s resident hairy-chested, thick-headed jock, whose James Bond-esque story of international espionage stars a dashing man in his own likeness. (Comedy and satire were prevalent themes in the series.) The short three page story is illustrated by Denys Cowan, famed artist behind The Question, and inked by Dick Giordano – not only an acclaimed artist in his own right, but DC Comics’ very own Vice President.
The third tale is narrated by Eddie Valentine, the oversexed husband of Brenda, two other cast members who live in Maze’s building. His story is a nod to the old EC Comics horror tales, with two lovers fleeing hordes of zombies, monsters and frightening creatures, illustrated by the legendary Joe Orlando, known for his work with both EC Comics and Creepy Magazine. Interestingly, Orlando’s style was copied by artist Dave Gibbons in the famous Watchmen comic-within-a-comic known as Tales of the Black Freighter. His horror inspired work in ‘Mazing Man was also the reason that issue #5 was published without the approval of the Comics Code Authority, a sort of “watchdog” organization that oversaw social norms and standards in comic books. It’s believed that the CCA deemed the material – images of the undead – objectionable to children and it was more than just strange for a family friendly comic such as ‘Mazing Man to go without their seal of approval. In 1986, this particular issue can be referenced as the beginning of the end for an outdated “authority” on what was deemed acceptable in comic book print.
The final story is told by ‘Mazing Man himself, illustrated by golden age Superman artist, Kurt Schaffenberger. In a narrative that illustrates the day-to-day heroic accounts of Maze, Schaffenberger’s style is that of the posing, stoic, if slightly naïve do-good hero of the 1940’s and 1950’s – a style that made the artist ever so popular during those decades.
‘Mazing Man was a light-hearted, fun comic book series that my younger brother collected regularly – and that I borrowed (regularly) and read in-between heady issues of Watchmen, Swamp Thing and Dark Knight Returns.
Although its run was rather limited, Maze did return in three subsequent specials due to public demand. He has a small, but loyal following even today. ‘Mazing Man has got more friends on Facebook than I’ll ever have, and his admirers are some of the greatest names in comic book history.
Of course, there’s also the final issue of the series, one of the most famous comic book covers of all time, partially illustrated by Frank Miller, himself a fan of the series. Like all good covers, it portents something truly ‘mazing indeed.
Ah, to dream of riding on the coat-tails of The Dark Knight and Robin!