Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Brought To You By The Letter "M": 'Mazing Man

Dave Fiore has already started showering love on this quirky 1985-86 comedy from DC, but I figure there's enough to go around.

'Mazing Man was (and probably still is) a unique title. It appeared in September 1985 (cover date Jan '86), just as most of DC's line was rocketing towards the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths. As such, it stood out immediately. Sure, 'Mazing Man (or just Maze) was a hero by profession, but he was 4 feet tall and perpetually clad in a golden Galactus helmet with matching cape, boots, and gloves, a black union suit, and white polka-dotted boxers. While he wasn't an imposing figure -- and certainly one you won't see on an Alex Ross collector plate -- he was almost too sincere to mock.

Maze is his neighborhood's local superhero, going around cheerfully doing everyday good deeds, and generally regarded by the residents as nutty but harmless. Narrating his story (the first in issue #1) is Denton Fixx, his best friend. Denton is the second "cartoony" element of the series, because he has the head of an animation-style dog. (This isn't Howard the Duck -- Denton only looks like a dog.) Through Denton's eyes in #1, we see how Maze is teased and pitied, and eventually respected and loved.

In #1's second story, Maze and Denton return to their apartment house to introduce the other cast members. After a couple of brief scenes with K.P. (Denton's single sister) and Guido (local macho man), the story settles on perfect couple Brenda and Eddie (named after the heroes of Billy Joel's "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"). Brenda is mad at Eddie for inviting Denton and Maze for dinner, because while they both work she's somehow expected to cook for everyone. Maze saves the day by bringing chicken. (As Denton explains, Maze thought the guests had to bring the food.)

I'm sure that Dave F. could also riff on this next bit better than I, but it's worth noting that 'Mazing Man #1 had its own credible take on "what it takes to wear a costume and fight crime." Keep in mind that this was about 5 months before The Dark Knight #1 and 9 months before Watchmen #1, to say nothing of last week's Seven Soldiers. From #1:

Denton: Maze, I don't want to hurt your feelings! But -- I worry ... I care ... Don't you know they'll all laugh at you? ... Don't you know they don't like you?

Maze: Oh, Denton ... I know they laugh. I know I must look silly. And If they don't like me, well, that's okay. I like them! I do what I do because ... it's my job ... I have to do it!

Now granted, this is basically grounded in a "sitcom reality," but it's definitely not one with a Metropolis or Gotham City. Although Maze is considered different, and sometimes crazy, he's not motivated by anything more than altruism. Considering that The Dark Knight and Watchmen would soon make their respective urban vigilantes into tortured souls, Maze probably came along at just the right time. (Ironically, check out the cover of #12....)

All these words and I still haven't mentioned the creative team. Bob Rozakis (longtime DC writer and "Answer Man") collaborated with then-new penciller Stephen DeStefano. They were ably assisted by inker Karl Kesel (who contributed mightily to the book's look) and letterer Bob Lappan. Rozakis and DeStefano worked together like Lee & Kirby, O'Neil & Adams or Wolfman & Perez. It's especially a credit to Rozakis, who was more familiar for decent but unremarkable 8-page Robin or Batgirl stories and fill-in issues of Green Lantern. Therefore, to me 'Mazing Man was a very pleasant surprise.

In #2, Denton applied to DC for a job writing Krypto, but had to settle for a gig across town at another publisher's eerily similar Splendidpup ("a little erasing and my script was ready for them"). Denton's comics-within-the-comic allowed 'Mazing Man a more satirical perspective. #5 featured guest artists drawing the well-meaning ideas of Denton's friends. #7-10 included "Zoot Sputnik," Denton's attempt to impose continuity on a feature which resisted it strenuously. Denton eventually wrote (and was rewritten on) his employer's version of Crisis, in which they killed all their heroes and brought 'em all back the next month. ("It's just comics," the editor explained.)

Still, the series spent most of its time telling warm, heartfelt stories about its thirtyish cast. 'Mazing Man lasted for twelve monthly issues (Jan '86-Dec '86) and three specials (1987, '88, '90). Maze himself also got a story in Secret Origins and a Who's Who entry. Just enough material for a couple of paperbacks, or maybe even a hardcover, eh, DC? What I wouldn't give to have "'Mazing Man Month" in a not-too-distant-future Previews! The little guy is long overdue for an action figure, not to mention a plush toy. Maybe they could even get Alex Ross to design it....


Mikester said...

Your 'Mazing Man figure, good sir.

David Fiore said...

very nice Tom!

one thing I've been wanting to mention-and I think it ties in very nicely with your take (and mine) on the way heroism is presented in the series:

in the lettercol at the back of issue #8, the late lamented T.M. Maple examines the similarities between 'Mazing Man and Harvey... it's a sharp observation--

both feature a libido-less do-gooder whose altruism is definitely shown to be a form of benign insanity (it is revealed, late in the series, that Denton met Maze at an asylum, while recovering from a breakdown triggered by the death of his--and KP's--parents)...and both stories are really about the ways in which these crazy characters affect the lives of their friends and families...

Elwood P. Dowd's self-narrated "origin" could easily be 'Maze's:
"I wrestled reality for 30 years--and I'm happy to say, I finally won out over it"


Tom Bondurant said...

Mike -- thanks! Looks like Maze is ready to rumble!

Dave, as you probably know, in the next issue a T.M. Maple letter talked about Maze's "writer's block" story in #5, and what it meant regarding Maze's evaluation of himself as a hero. Maple theorized (in part) that Maze saw himself as either ineffectual or unimposing, or at least too modest to make himself the star of his own story. The editorial reply (quotes are in the original) was that all those interpretations were "correct."

In other words, Maze tries to lead by example. He does what he does not because he's the only one who can; but because he thinks everybody should.

Guess I should rent Harvey now, huh?

David Fiore said...

it's an excellent film!

my favourite moment, actually, is Doctor Chumley's dream of Akron...and it's also notable as a key early appearance of Peggy Dow, one of my favourite actresses who should've been a big star (she made even greater contributions to I Want You and Bright Victory), but instead opted to get married and quit the biz...