If you haven't read it, it's new to you. Every month I try to supplement the New 52 with a series from the Old 52. Series I've never read, but have always meant to.When it was new: Running 12 issues in 1986, 'mazing Man was returned as a series of yearly, double-sized Specials from 1987 to 1989. The creation of then-rookie artist Stephen DeStefano and writer Bob Rozakis, it was mostly inked by Karl Kesel and sometimes featured work by Fred Hembeck (see below). It was criminally never collected.
Premise: Though nominally about a short superhero more interested in educating you about the evils of smoking and being kind to the homeless than in fighting crime (though that happens too, albeit accidentally), the series is also largely about 'mazing Man's friends and neighbors living in Queens. Tonally, it is a comedy or perhaps a dramady, and does not take place in the DC Universe.
King of Queens: 'mazing Man is a piece of whimsy. It's a madcap slapstick comedy. And it's also a well-observed sitcom capable of broaching more dramatic subjects. An offbeat blend, but a charming one. Of the ensemble cast - and this IS an ensemble piece with no character truly dominating - 'mazing Man is probably the strangest. He's a diminutive, makeshift superhero with the innocence of a child, but the ability to inspire the best in people. He's not equipped or particularly interested in fighting crime, he just wants what's best for everyone, and meets every situation with a positive outlook and heightened sense of decency. Despite his strange appearance, the neighborhood accepts him. But then, his roommate is a dog-faced boy who writes comics for a living. There's no real explanation why Denton Fixx looks like a dog and his half-sister K.P. doesn't. It's just part of the whimsical nature of these stories, straddling as they do somewhere between cartoons and reality. For every heavily caricatured Guido, there's a well-drawn, believable couple like Eddie and Brenda. And while it is a comedy, a very sweet one, there are also stories that explore more serious themes, such as the one in which Brenda thinks about having an affair.
Each issue usually contains two stories, but each feels like it could be a complete issue. There's a lot of dialog, including things overheard on the street, passing gags that make 'Maze's neighborhood live and breathe, and consequently, the book is a longer read than what we're used to today. However, it's all rather naturalistic, and the humor comes from character and dialog (accompanied by some broader physical stuff). DeStefano was getting his first big break, having created 'mazing Man (and various Dial H heroes) as a fan, so it sometimes shows in his art. The cartoony characters look great, but the more human types can be uneven at times, and some of the set-ups for the physical comedy hard to make sense of. These are minor complaints which go away by the time you get to the specials, which benefit from other inkers, including Mark Badger and Todd MacFarlane of all people. Issues 7 through 10 also feature the work of Fred Hembeck, who is the artist on Zoot Sputnik, a strip written by Denton for B.C. Comics. These are fun send-ups of popular comics genres, but reveal something about their writer as well.
I was surprised at how much I came to care about these people in the relatively few issues they were allowed, and found the end of the ongoing series particularly poignant. The specials revisited the neighborhood at almost-yearly intervals, forcing us to catch up as if they were real people who don't wait on the demands of an audience. Really, there's nothing like 'mazing Man, and I'm not sure I was able to properly verbalize its quality. You just have to read it for yourself and let yourself fall under its spell.
Trade in for one of the New52? I'd love for Rozakis and DeStefano to do more 'mazing Man. I wonder if they'd look in on the gang 30 years on, or if they'd pick it up closer to when we left, but I'd love to see it regardless. One last Special, DC? At any rate, it might fuel the need for a collection! Less Ravagers and more 'mazing Man in the line-up, please!