Hibernia Comics have been kind to us recently, what with The Tower King, The Thirteenth Floor Volume One, and now The Thirteenth Floor Volume Two. This second volume continues with the writing team of Alan Grant and John Wagner, and further showcases the incredible artwork of José Ortiz.
In case you missed this series when it was first printed in Scream, and later in Eagle, it tells the tale of Max, a computer entity that runs Maxwell Towers, a state-of-the-art apartment building, where their computer buddy works hard to the benefit of all occupants. However, something has gone badly wrong, and Max is able to create an illusory Thirteenth Floor where none was previously. He uses this to punish anyone who threatens his tenants via all kinds of horrific hallucinations.
Coming first to the script, I think it is fair to say Messrs Wagner and Grant have a very black sense of humour. The various tortures they have dreamt up for Max to inflict on the wrongdoers are gruesome, yet imaginative and often very funny. As with the previous episodes, there’s no end of perpetrators being eaten alive by giant creatures, such as rats, sharks or crabs.
However, other punishments include a scrawler being told to spray his tag while clinging to a window ledge on a skyscraper, a thug who puts his friend’s neck on line who has his own neck turned into a rope for the denizens to clamber all over, and a group of ‘insurance’ collectors who are treated like insects by giant insects, before facing the devil himself!
It’s all very well seeing wrongdoers get their comeuppance, but seeing the same device over and over would soon become tiresome. The writers clearly knew this, so in between each horrible little hallucination inflicted upon these folk, Wagner and Grant include drama outside of the Thirteenth Floor. This comes in the shape of a hypnotised accomplice who keeps messing up where to hide the bodies, Max’s caretaker Jerry, and a computer technician called in to check on some abnormalities in Max’s behaviour. It is here we get an explanation of how Max is able to act so viciously to those he feels deserve it.
This serves to keep interest in the story, and provides balance between the nightmarish visions and the threat of Max being caught out and deactivated.
Artistically this also serves as a device to switch between the mundane and the surreal, both of which Ortiz manages with aplomb. If you have read my reviews previously you will know I am a huge fan of his work, and it saddens me he is no longer with us. It seems writers could throw any idea at him, and he’d tackle them with alacrity and flair. Mediaeval knights in modern day London? You’ve got it! Nightmarish tax collector caricature mobs? Hey, no problem! A whole crowd of individuals with their own unique expressions and mannerisms, back-lit, front-lit, by day and by night? Hey man, whatever – I’ll have it all drawn up by Monday!
Heck, he’d even throw in the odd circular panel for us!
In The Thirteenth Floor Vol Two he gives us all this again, although this time I sensed the work was a little more rushed. This is no great criticism though, as Ortiz always had a frenetic sense of movement and expression, even when you could clearly tell he’d spent days on a particular splash-page or series of panels. This time I get the sense he was up against the clock, so the cross-hatching is more ragged, the faces not as detailed, and less time given to considerations of light and dark.
For all that, his work here still stands head and shoulders above many other artists of his time, and indeed now. When given a good page or halfpage to put the writers thoughts into pictures he really went to town. You can see this on the cover of this volume at the top of this article – that executioner wasn’t from a front cover to sell the comic, it was actually a page in the story itself. Such quality can also be seen when Wagner and Grant decide some folk needed to come face to face with Old Nick himself, something Ortiz clearly took delight in portraying.
None of this would be clear if it wasn’t for the sterling work Hibernia Comics do to ensure a crisp clean look in their reprints. In all of their publications so far I can see they have worked hard to bring us a reprint which may even have surpassed the look in the original comic. The Thirteenth Floor Volume Two is no different, and does the artwork of Ortiz great justice, giving us another opportunity to see Wagner and Grant on full form and working as such a great team, feeding the creativity of this great artist.
Who knows what Hibernia Comics will give us next. I personally am hoping for The House of Daemon, which featured a panel by Ortiz that has haunted me all my life. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this, but in the meantime why not grab a copy of The Thirteenth Floor Volume Two, which gets a massive thumbs up from me, and have a look at the other great reprints on offer while you’re there: