I Love The Maze Agency — But I Can’t Support Its Return

The Maze Agency logo

There are so few mystery comics out there — not thrillers, not blood-soaked serial killer books — and one of the all-time best is The Maze Agency.

I gave a brief history of the series back in 2006. The series was created and written by Mike W. Barr. The first artist was Alan Davis, for an ashcan, and once the series started (at the end of 1988), the first few issues were Adam Hughes’ first regular continuing work, inked by Rick Magyar.

The series is about a former agent, Jennifer Mays, who’s opened her own detective agency. She’s dating Gabriel Webb, a true crime writer. She wants him to work for her agency, as he often ends up solving the mysteries, but he doesn’t want to work for someone he’s romantically interested in. Together, they’re detectives!

As for the stories, they’re fair-play whodunits, which means they’re set up so the reader has a chance to play along and try to solve the mystery themselves. If you’re very clever. The series also allows the relationship between the two to develop as it goes on, which is refreshing.

Probably the best way to try it now is finding a copy of the IDW collection of the first five issues (2005), as shown here.

The Maze Agency volume 1

There was an earlier Innovation collection of the first four issues that has several minor elements the IDW book doesn’t. The first few original issues had a letter page with a Backstory box that gave background on the source of the story (and references where Barr used similar ideas in superhero comics, in case you want to compare and contrast). The Innovation collection includes those; the IDW doesn’t. It also doesn’t have the introduction by Barr that explains the origin of his interest in mysteries and this series; a lot is attributable to Ellery Queen, obviously. However, the IDW book has the Davis ashcan included, although the coloring is off. (If it was a photo, it would be overexposed.)

Some other high points:

Issue #8, the first from Innovation, has a centerfold beach scene with the three main female characters in swimsuits, drawn by Adam Hughes, if you like that sort of thing. (Remember when series didn’t renumber, even when they went to another publisher?)

#9 is a tribute to the 60th Anniversary of Ellery Queen, featuring him as a guest detective.

The Special has three linked stories, illustrated by Joe Staton, Rick Magyar (normally the inker, here he pencils as well), and the Pander Brothers (a very acquired taste). It also reprints the Davis ashcan (which is how I know it had better coloring than in the IDW trade).

The Annual has a Spirit tribute story to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Will Eisner character (partially illustrated by Darick Robertson) as well as reprinting the 1988 San Diego Comic Con giveaway story illustrated by Hughes, set at a convention.

The Caliber issues (1997-1998) were pencilled by Gene Gonzales, so they look great, even in black and white. The first issue story is aimed at the comic market, too, with Jen and Gabe investigating a years-old murder of the first woman who played Justice Girl on screen, just as a new movie version is coming out.

The IDW issues (2005-2006) return to color and are penciled by Ariel Padilla. They involve cases amongst a Japanese family at a sushi restaurant, beauty queens at a competition, and the FBI searching for a long-missing 60s activist.

The Maze Agency #1 (Scout Comics) cover by Silvano Beltramo

And now comes Scout. They put out one issue at the end of 2023, illustrated by Silvano Beltramo. It takes place at the announcement of a long-awaited sequel to a famous horror movie. It’s a fun case, a good mystery, like them all, and I kept thinking “I should talk about this, it probably needs the attention,” but then…

A lot of chatter appeared in March that Scout Comics wasn’t paying creators. As a company, they aren’t well-known, they haven’t had any breakout successes, and they’re chasing media development money, seems to be the story. As Heidi MacDonald said in the link,

small publishers are often bad at communication, sending out royalty statements, and keeping creators in the loop.

The result was a significant number of artists asking publicly for contract cancellations and payment. Scout has made statements about doing better, but until those most affected (the creators) say they are, I’m not interested in supporting them.

Then again, it may be a moot point. That there’s been no word of further issues in this series in four months… well, maybe this Maze Agency return is already done.

One comment

  • Eric G

    Grr. I’m torn, because I love the series, but as you say I don’t want to pay Scout for bad behavior.

    I think my best bet is buy the first Scout issue from a reputable dealer who already has it in stock, so I’m not paying the company directly for bad behavior… I’m supporting a dealer who has already spent the money for the book at a point before the revelations came out. And then wait until we hear more information about later issues and Scout’s behavior before deciding what to do with later issues.

    You forgot to mention what I think the easiest way to sample the series is… just find some back issues. They’re all more or less standalone, so even if you miss some of the ongoing character development, you get a complete story that gives you the flavor of the book. And lots of the issues turn up cheap regularly, the exceptions tend to be the later issues where they got Hughes to do a cover… the early issues where he was doing interiors are actually fairly common

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