There are few drugs more powerful than nostalgia. As someone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, and now has more disposable income than responsibilities, nostalgia and eBay have led to many a late-night shopping sprees. My work office is full of comic books, action figures, statues, and other assorted nostalgic ephemera, so much so that my friends frequently accuse me of running an underground comic shop out of my house.
What is it about nostalgia that hits us so hard? For me personally, as the world seems to get crazier and crazier with age, there is a beautiful calmness in things that reconnect me with a simpler time, or, to be more specific, to a time when I didn’t have to care about anything besides Saturday morning cartoons and which sugar-laced cereal I was going to eat while watching it.
The flip side, of course, is that nostalgia can lead us down some dark paths, and we can begin to use it as a weapon instead of as a tool. Where I use my nostalgia for things I loved as a child to inform my interactions with my niece and nephew and try to share with them the things I loved growing up, others use their nostalgia as a tool to gatekeep people to protect the “purity” of their hobbies. They criticize those who have not, due to age, money, or ability, completely submerged themselves in the things that they loved, and rather than welcome new fans into their community, they instead cast them out for not liking things the “right way.”
Personally, I think comics are for everyone, and I have read a lot of comics that adhere slavishly to the source material, and others that barely make a passing hand wave at it as they move on by it. I’ve seen both done well, and both done poorly, but no matter how you approach it, there will always be people who are unhappy about something.
The fandom for the film Labyrinth has always confused me a bit. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not judging anyone for loving this film, but it never really hit me like I know it hit a lot of other people. I was 7 when it came out, so I was a bit too young to see it in the theatre, and I was way too young to appreciate Bowie as a musical performer. I also went to a pretty strict Jesus school, so movies about demons, even ones made of felt, were not allowed.
When I got to high school I had friends who were obsessed with the film and insisted that I watch it with them, which I did, and I did enjoy the movie a good deal. But at that point, I was a little too old for it to stick in my memory like other things from the era. I liked it, but I didn’t obsess over it like I did things like He-Man, TMNT, and G.I.Joe.
Some might say that that would disqualify me from reviewing this comic. They’d say that only a Labyrinth super fan should be allowed to have an opinion about its faithfulness to the source material and that only true fans that had dedicated a tremendous amount of time, energy, and effort to learning every single detail about something should be listened to.
But, and this is important so pay attention: That is total horse sh#t.
See, here’s the thing: Nostalgia is great and all, but if certain properties are going to have any chance at competing on the shelf, they have to be able to stand on their own. If I have to watch a dozen films, behind-the-scenes documentaries, and five different cuts of something just to understand the comic, odds are I’m not going to want to invest the time in reading it. In gatekeeping the things we love, we are also ensuring they are going to die. We have to allow things to evolve, to change, and to reach a new audience. If we hate the changes, then we can always go back to the original and ignore the new stuff. If you don’t like an actor cast in a remake of your favourite show, don’t watch it. If you hate a specific comic author, don’t read their book.
And most importantly of all, if someone likes something you don’t, or likes something you do but in the wrong way, IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER. The thing you loved is still there, pure, and untouched. If someone hates something you love THAT ALSO ISN’T A REAL PROBLEM. People can like what they want to like, and if we chase everyone else away, or tell them that they are liking things to wrong way or for the wrong reason, all we are doing is ensuring they’ll never go back to those originals and discover them for themselves.
So with all that being said, let’s dive into this comic collection not as a nostalgic piece, and not as a homework assignment, but instead as its own thing. Does this collection stand on its own, or is it hopelessly trapped in uncrackable nostalgia? Let’s find out together!
Here’s the blurb:
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Under the Spell HC – RETURN TO THE MASQUERADE. Discover an all-new collection of stories expanding the world of Jim Henson’s beloved fantasy classic Labyrinth, including the secret history of Sir Didymus and the untold story of one of Jareth’s Masquerade guests who embarks on a journey of self discovery after Sarah shatters the mirror during the Masquerade Ball. Collects Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Under the Spell #1 and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Masquerade #1.
So this collection covers a lot of material, all spinning off of the original film. Some of the stories, from the Under the Spell selection, are prequel pieces, explaining the origins of certain characters and events, and the second half is a sequel, Masquerade, that spin-off from events of the film itself.
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Under the Spell is a 50/50 split for me. The first volume, the Under the Spell section, is a bit of a miss for me. The art is really good, with all three stories having their own fantastic and unique style that stand out as wonderfully distinct and appropriate for the stories they illustrate, but the stories themselves are problematic.
For one thing, there is no easing into them. Each one is its own thing and relies upon you knowing the movie fairly well in order to follow the story. I really think this collection could have benefited greatly from an overall narration and some background info that helped new readers follow what was going on, and how this fit into the larger narrative.
See, each story is there to explain the “origin” of one of the characters from the original film, the first story being an explanation of how Sir Didymus became the protector of the Bog of Eternal Stench, the second explaining why Hoggle is the groundskeeper, and the third story explains the origins of Know, The Almighty Moving Library. But here’s the thing, nothing in these stories really adds to our understanding of the film characters in any real way, and all three can’t really stand on their own.
If you’re a Labyrinth super-fan you might find these stories interesting but for the most part they just kind of happen and then end. The Didymus story is fun, and all of the stories are pretty basic and age-appropriate for younger readers, but they just kind of are a thing that exists, and beyond that, as a casual fan, they didn’t really do anything for me. If I knew nothing about the film, I honestly don’t know what I would even take from these three stories, and as it was I had to hit the wiki a few times just to make sure I knew who all the characters were.
The second part of this collection, the Masquerade, was much more interesting. This longer work tells the story of a young woman who ends up in Jareth’s control, only unlike in the film, her sister fails to save her. Both end up trapped in the spell of the place, with our heroine doomed to forever dance in the Jareth’s Masquerade ball, while her sister is locked away in a fog of unremembering. When Sarah Williams causes a disruption, our heroine breaks free from the spell, and begins a journey to rescue her sister, and remember who she was.
Honestly, I found that story to be the most interesting and compelling, and if they planned to do a sequel to the original film, that would be the story I’d like to see make its way to the big screen. Our heroine is interesting and breaks the mould of the damsel in distress by being a self-rescuing princess. I really wish the story continues beyond its single issue because it would be a great way to explore the world outside of the film and bring in new and interesting twists to the old story.
So, what’s the final verdict? Here’s the thing, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Under the Spell is gorgeous, and if you’re a big fan of the original film, you’ll probably love a lot that’s in here. If you’re a casual fan like me, you’re probably better off just finding a copy of Masquerade on its own. This collection, while beautiful and complete, with added material about scripting the comics, is nice work from BOOM!, but if you’ve never seen the film it will be impenetrable, and if you have I don’t think you’ll find much in it to love.
That being said, if you loved this collection, that’s fantastic, and if you feel like it adds to your childhood memories of a film that meant a lot to you, well that’s great! If you hated this collection or the very thought of adding anything to the film you loved so dear, guess what? That’s ok too. You still have your thing. You can ignore this comic all you want and it doesn’t hurt a thing.
Comics are for everyone, but not every comic is for every person. If this seems like your kind of read, then go out and snag yourself a copy. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Just don’t judge those who do, and remember that the things we love are not diminished by sharing them.
So that’s it for me this week. Until next time, stay safe!