Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant. Drawn by José Ortiz
It has to be said, I love Hibernia Comics! Their re-release of great material from British comics of yesteryear is providing me with a great flush of nostalgia, and hopefully also bringing new readers to these classics. You may remember I reviewed the Tower King previously; now it is the turn of that Scream/Eagle classic The Thirteenth Floor, particularly as Hibernia have recently released their second volume.Today I’ll be looking at the first volume though, and hopefully reminding everyone what a cracking read it is. Written by the formidable Wagner/Grant team, and drawn by the incredibly expressive José Ortiz, this series tells the tale of a high rise apartment block, maintained by Max, a state-of-the-art computer. Max is everywhere, monitoring the temperatures, electrics, power and water supplies, but also his tenants. In fact, Max is a little too protective of his tenants.By design, the building does not have a floor numbered thirteen, as the architects deemed it unlucky. However, Max has somehow gained the ability to create a Thirteenth Floor. While this is never really explained, the assumption is it’s by means of holographic imagery, illusion, and sense trickery Max can play out in the confined space of his lifts. To all intents and purposes, those venturing onto his imaginary floor experience it as if it were real.This is where Max’s over-protective nature can take a dastardly turn. To anyone causing his tenants grief, the Thirteenth Floor often teaches the aggressors a deadly lesson.
Max doesn’t mean to kill them. Oh no, he wouldn’t hurt a fly! It’s just such a shame so many of them suffer fatal heart attacks, or go completely insane, at his hands. He probably didn’t expect quite so many nasty folk to take a pop at the occupants of his building either. It isn’t long before the regular appearance of corpses in his lifts arouses the suspicion of the local coppers, particularly Sergeant Ingram.
It is clear Wagner and Grant had a lot of fun writing this. Each new visitor to the Thirteenth Floor meets with a grisly end, usually related in some way to their character, or attacks they have made on their tenants. You can’t help but side with Max initially, as you see each get their comeuppance, the bullies becoming the victims and getting a taste of their own medicine. Who knows, maybe this was quite a cathartic writing experience!Wagner and Grant’s introduction of Ingram provides a much needed counterbalance to Max’s seemingly consequence-free deeds. They also cleverly write themselves out of a corner (all those bodies in the lift all the time) introducing another trick Max has, by which the casualties can be moved or disposed of. For me to discuss this any further would of course spoil the surprise!However, as usual it is Ortiz who steals the show for me. If you have read my review of the Tower King you will know how much I love his tight ink work, so perfectly composed, yet seemingly so free and full of animation too. In the Thirteenth Floor there is a sense of Ortiz making the visions of Max’s extra level even rougher and freer than before, maybe to instil a sense of the unreal, or the nightmarish. From skeletons to spiders, grinning rotund debt collectors to mind twisting landscapes, Ortiz catches the flavour of insanity the assailants meet.Of all the crazy situations Max’s victims find themselves in, perhaps my personal favourite are the thugs with spider tattoos, who finding themselves stuck in a hideous maze of cobwebs and tarantulas, with a brute of an arachnid providing the final nail in their unhinging minds. Here, Ortiz is given free rein to spread webs and spiders everywhere, and despite the unnatural conglomeration he really roused the primal fear in me of the damn things.
Despite this seemingly fast and loose approach he again proves himself a master of the human form, and most notably characterisation and expression. Wagner and Grant introduce new characters at a rate of knots, besides Ingram and Max’s human attendant, the oblivious Jerry. There’s also the varied tenants, and then those who prey upon them in various guises. In each and every case, without exception, Ortiz skilfully creates a memorable character, a face you’ll never forget. On top of this are the range of expressions passing over the face of his creations, whereby every emotion you can think of, including rage, humour, sadness and abject terror, fleet past your vision as the stories unfold. Such variation is a sign of a true master at work.
Overall, this writer/artist combo works very well indeed, and despite it’s age, The Thirteenth Floor still seems just as vibrant and fun as when I first read it. While you find yourself siding with Max from the outset it isn’t long before you start questioning his ethics and working practices, although you can’t help but stay with him for the ride. One thing is for sure, even as a tenant in the building you’d better damn well behave, or you too may become one of his victims.
Given the standard of storytelling and art in this volume, I can’t wait to get my paws on Volume two, which you can find at Hibernia Comics now.
Hibernia Comics The Thirteenth Floor Volume:2
Hibernia Comics The Thirteenth Floor Volume:2
Snap it up quickly, before it sells out!