This is part of 45 Year Of Thrills, How to Love Comics’ celebration of 2000 AD’s 45th anniversary throughout 2022. Find out more and read other posts in the series here.
Science fiction is 2000 AD’s bread and butter. However, the anthology is known to dabble in fantasy and horror too. Through these expeditions outside their wheelhouse, the anthology’s scope of possibility has widened significantly and has resulted in many classic strips. One of these is Mazeworld.
Written by Alan Grant (who left us recently), art by Arthur Ranson, and lettered by Ellie De Ville, Mazeworld was almost a computer game. However, upon seeing the preliminary artwork, Grant knew it needed to be a comic. That was the right call, with readers treated to three fantastic comic arcs in 1996, 1998, and 1999.
The series focuses on Adam Cadman, a murderer who is the first person to be hanged in the UK in over 30 years. As his life fades away on the gallows, he finds himself transported to the fantasy realm of Mazeworld. There, he is the legendary “Hooded One” who has been prophesied to save the world.
Readers are introduced to this fantasy world with a rare (for 2000 AD) spread that establishes the world. The first thing that captures your attention is the Mayan-inspired architecture, with pyramids and statues taking up the top two-thirds of the spread. The bottom-third details a busy scene of Mazeworld’s inhabitants, decked out in European fantasy garb, going about their day. It’s full of life, with merchants selling their ware, people using the space to get to wherever they need to be while others are milling around the town square. The whole scene is brightly lit, contrasting against the darkness of Cadman’s world that readers experienced in the pages prior.
With his photorealistic style, Ranson depicts the previously mentioned scene in great detail. The whole thing is incredible to look at. The statues, especially the right one, are loaded with fine detail that gives the appearance of stone texture. However, it doesn’t stop there. Ranson also goes as far as to draw brickwork and people’s outfits – even if they’re far away. All-in-all, it’s a spread you could look at for ages and still find something new.
We see more of Mazeworld as the series progresses. It’s a world that lives up to its name. Countless mazes have been built on top of each other over time, each serving a different purpose. However, the maze is not merely a physical location for the fantasy world’s inhabitants. For the Mazelords, the cruel overseers, the mazes are a way to oppress the people. Knowing how to navigate the mazes is power. They devote considerable effort to suppressing the knowledge from the people, especially the rebellion, with fake maps. The maze works on a spiritual level too. For the people, it represents their universe, everything they know, and the winding path from birth to death. Centring these concepts around the maze makes for a richer fantasy world and is a compelling way to build lore.
For Adam Cadman, there’s an intangible maze he must navigate himself in order to become a hero. The character begins as a horrible person who, along with other crimes, had stabbed his brother to death – a detail inspired by a man Grant met in prison in the late 1960s. (Grant was serving a 3-month sentence for possessing half a tablet of LSD at a time when there was no precedent for what kind of term he should serve.) This is primarily done through a seamless collage of moments where Cadman’s life flashes before him, with each image detailing his tragedies and crimes. The other example is when he spits on a priest on the way to the gallows.
Starting from this low base, Cadman has to decide if he continues to be his horrible self or if he can be the hero that the people of Mazeworld have prophesized. His decision-making is like traversing a maze. Each moral misstep is like finding a dead end. Doing good helps him find the right path in this metaphorical maze.
Before concluding, I want to gush about Arthur Ranson some more. (While trying not to repeat what has been said about him on this site already.) He’s a rare artist. Ranson’s style is photorealistic, aiming for realism and capturing subtle expressions. Although, he hasn’t missed a step when it comes to the more fantastical elements too. Drawing flying lizards, demons, and more could be seen as jarring with his style. However, it’s incorporated seamlessly by using the same steady strokes.
Further, he integrates the maze motif into his visual storytelling. He draws literal mazes as panel borders. If you’re game, you could even pull out a pencil and navigate your way from the top of the page to the bottom. These work well to further the maze motif running through the entire series.
Mazeworld is a compelling comic. Putting the maze concept at the centre, Alan Grant has created rich fantasy lore and a gripping character journey. Thanks to Arthur Ranson, it’s also a visually compelling comic that offers spectacular imagery and emotion. When you combine all of these elements, you’ll see that turning Mazeworld into a comic instead of a computer game was the right choice.