There’s no Scream! and Misty Special this year for Halloween but instead we do get to take an extended trip to a familiar horror environment in Scream! Presents The Thirteenth Floor. Continuing the ongoing storyline from those two Scream! and Misty anthologies, this special reintroduces us to Max the super-computer. For those unfamiliar with this demonic digital personality, Max runs and oversees the Maxwell Tower apartment block and, courtesy of the hellish dark dreamscapes of that titular thirteenth floor, exacts terrible nightmare-inducing revenge on anyone who he deems to have threatened his residents.
A serial fixture of the original Scream! weekly in the early 1980s (when the idea of a sentient computer running a residential building would have seemed quite fantastic) and arguably its most popular strip, The Thirteenth Floor would go on to a long run in Eagle when the two comics merged. We reviewed the first volume of the feature in its collected Treasury of British Comics form here at Broken Frontier. Fans of the strip will be pleased to hear a second volume is in the works.
As has been the standard for this revamped version of The Thirteenth Floor the everyday urban drama of life in and around the tower block is drawn by one artist (the legendary John Stokes of Marney the Fox fame) with the scenes of torment on Max’s Thirteenth Floor given over to a number of creators with very different illustrative styles, all matched to the embodiments of the greatest fears of Max’s victims.
In the previous Specials Max had erased the memories of police officer Hester Benedict and struck up a friendship and alliance with teenager Sam, whose abusive home life overshadows his daily existence. This Special explores the ramifications of both those decisions for Max. With Hester haunted by the demons of her own past and her memories slowly returning, and Sam’s own experiences shaping the Thirteenth Floor’s reality, Max is once again about to lose control. And this time it’s going to be with the most dramatic, devastating consequences for all of his beloved residents…
Guy Adams provides a solid story that both echoes the bleak farce of the original strip alongside a measured and sensitive character study of the two true protagonists, Hester and Sam. It’s veteran artist Stokes, though, who steals the show, emphasising through his subtle visual characterisation the struggles of both Sam and Hester, and manipulating the structure of his pages in places to draw parallels between the two.
It’s his depiction of Sam’s home life (above) that, for all the ostentatious bleak horror elsewhere, proves in its own quiet way to be the most chilling element of the story. So much about this state of dark domesticity is communicated so powerfully by the artist without the need for any accompanying narration or dialogue. The John Stokes Renaissance remains perhaps Rebellion’s greatest gift to us over the last couple of years.
The mix of approaches in the sections where Max vengefully tortures his victims is often inspired in its choices. Sweeny Toddler artist Tom Paterson brings an IPC humour weeklies feel to his pages that is so incongruous in style that it’s possibly the most disturbing moment of all the Thirteenth Floor scenes (above). From the mastery of Fraser Irving to the criminally unsung V.V. Glass’s impressive double-pager, through to the creepy work of Jimmy Broxton the sudden lurches into Max’s vengeance seeking scenes all perfectly encapsulate the poetic irony of his “justice” on his subjects.
Interior art by Henrik Sahlstrom and Frazer Irving
Where this Special does perhaps falter though isn’t so much in narrative as it is in delivery. Like The Vigilant one-shots it seems impractical to imagine a brand new audience can be built for these characters on ongoing storylines that drip feed us a chapter at a time on an annual basis. That falls into the trap of appealing only to the nostalgists which is not sustainable in the long term, however much middle-aged readers like myself may be enjoying these revisitations to their past. That’s maybe a discussion for another time, though, and one that doesn’t take away from this much welcome longer-form The Thirteenth Floor adventure. After all, that John Stokes art is more than reason enough to pick up this seasonally festive offering!
Guy Adams, Ghastly McNasty (W), John Stokes, Henrik Sahlstrom, Tom Paterson, Abigail Harding, Frazer Irving, Vince Locke, Jimmy Broxton, V.V. Glass, Kelley Jones, Andreas Butzbach (A), Quinton Winter (C), Simon Bowland (L), Kyle Hotz (CA) • Rebellion, £4.99
Review by Andy Oliver