Friday, April 3, 2015

Hooked by the House Ad: 'Mazing Man

Through the years, DC Comics has published innumerable house ads, highlighting new books, or changes in existing titles.  Many of these have been memorable (here's one advertising our good friend Steve Savage, the Balloon Buster's book at the time), and some I'd consider 'Hall of Fame'-worthy.  My one rule for a Hall of Fame house ad is simple: did it directly lead to me buying the book, either new on the shelf or by hunting through back issue boxes?

One of my favorite house ads was for the title 'Mazing Man.  I consider 'Mazing Man to be something of a masterpiece by series creators, writer Bob Rozakis & penciller Stephen DeStefano.  This series presented readers with episodes, humorously & poignantly, in the life of a Queens, NY neighborhood, whose residents' lives were touched by the presence of a strange (possibly deranged), but good-hearted little man dressed in a DIY hero outfit & going by the name, 'Mazing Man.  'Maze's title was a unique comic that had a tragically short run - 1986 was the year of The 'Maze, as the book ran from January of that year and ended 12 issues later in December (3 annual specials followed in 1987, 1988 & 1990).  The book, in a way, was part of a long tradition of humor titles DC had published since the 1930's, but this one was different.  It had heart and a self awareness other humor comics in the past lacked.  It was a modern title, made for the 80's and tackled seemingly mundane, everyday issues confronting everyday people ('Mazing Man, aside). 

The house ad introducing the book appeared in various DC Comics with the same cover date as 'Mazing Man #1, Jan. 1986 (the above scan came from Green Lantern #196).  The ad made a big impression on me: the 8 year-old accustomed to flipping by ads depicting various muscle-bound Hulks or bodacious babes stopped short at the image of a mock-up cover to issue #1 under the slogan 'In this crazy world we all need a friend like . . . 'Mazing Man'  Who doesn't?  At the bottom of the ad the copy reads, 'DC. We've made comics fun again.'  This was significant and must have been a breath of fresh air to readers who at the time may have been overwhelmed by the violence and grittiness of the vigilante adventures that were increasingly the norm from comic companies both major and independent.

My 1st issue - a well-loved, dog-eared copy of 'Mazing Man #7
The little headshots of 'Maze's buddies surrounding him on the cover mock-up stood out, too.  'Eddie?' not something-Man?! Instead of whose-it-Woman, we get 'Brenda?'  And in 'color'-'noun'-Man (ala the Red Bee)'s place, is 'Guido?!'  Denton looks like a cartoon dog, but it turns out he's a man that just happens to look like a cartoon dog.  It also turns out that the people in 'Mazing Man's life, despite some caricature-like moments resemble real, well-rounded people.

Slice of life stuff that 'Mazing Man did so well - set up for the night out; Brenda and Eddie can't agree on B.'s new hairstyle
When I write 'turns out,' I mean to say that despite being drawn to this ad which promised a new kind of comics reading experience, as an 8 year-old I had not yet the grasp of a monthly release schedule, or the means of transportation to hunt down comics that were not offered at the local drug store.  It wasn't until issue #7, that I was able to fulfill my desire to hop aboard the 'Mazing Man express, at a point when it was almost too late.  And you know what?  It didn't matter.  Having since completed my 'Mazing Man collection, I can attest to the fact that the quality of this book never faltered (though I will say that it's with Karl Kesel on inks that the art is at its sharpest), and #7 was as perfect an entry point into the world created by Rozakis & DeStefano as any other.

Denton meets a brick-wall-of-a-bouncer; these panels were opposite a house ad for Angel Love, a new attempt at an old genre (romance)
A night at the local bar for 'Maze & his friends was the 'plot' of my initiation story, and I find Brenda & Eddie's domestic squabble, Guido's inferiority complex, and Denton's frustrating experience getting in to the bar, just as hilarious re-reading the story now as I did back then. It just holds up.  I'm still looking for a bar like 'October's.'

Stephen DeStefano's superb storytelling - Guido & friend renew a rivalry
Now, I've got a feeling that the 8 year-old age group was not DC's target demographic for this book, 'Mazing Man was never able to find the right audience during its publication life.  Had 'Mazing Man been published 10 years later, in black & white by an independent publisher, I bet we'd now be seeing the trailers for the Netflix original series.  I'm tempted to use my 'Where's the Trade?' label on this post, because damn it, where's the trade?  This series needs a new shot at a new audience, and a slim Showcase Presents . . . (like the Bat Lash one) would give it just that.


Jeremiah Jones-Goldstein said...

I remember reading and loving this one when I was young. I was disappointed when it stopped showing up. I'll have to go back and re-read it now.

Mark Sweeney said...

Totally worthwhile, Jeremiah - don't forget about the 3 Specials that followed the 12 monthly issues!

Anonymous said...

'MAZING MAN was one of my first comics, too! Great write-up, man. This book is sadly not remembered enough... It was such an original, bizarre, lovely bit of pure comics. DC was just killing it in the 80s and this series was a gem. Rozakis and DeStephano both did stellar work on this. Kudos to both creators for being way ahead of their time.

Mark Sweeney said...

True, Anonymous, Rozakis & DeStephano were ahead of their time with 'Maze, but do you think this comic would do any better today? I'm thinking mainstream comics STILL may not be ready for 'Maze, Denton & Co. Good to know there are those out there that appreciate these offbeat, slice of life stories as much as I do!

Thanks for taking the time to write!

Your NW3 Councillors said...

Loved the comic, thought it was ahead of its time. Quiet and lovely.
DiStefano's art took an odd turn in the specials, though, seemed more Warner Brothers and I didn't care for that.
But a sorely missed comic...

Mark Sweeney said...

Yeah, DeStephano's artwork definitely evolved during his time working on 'Mazing Man; I prefer his earlier style, as well.

Thanks for taking the time to write!