Writer(s): John Wagner, Alan Grant
Artist: José Ortiz
Release Date: 15th September 2021 (available from the Treasury of British Comics webstore)
Volume 3 of The Thirteenth Floor brings us to the end of Max’s time as caretaker to the residents of Maxwell Towers, a tenure beginning in March 1984 within the covers of SCREAM! and ending with the Eagle Annual in 1987.
If you were a kid growing up in the ’80s, reading comics, then there’s a pretty good chance that you were reading Eagle. If you were really lucky you managed to read Scream!, which to this day is one of my favourite publications of all time despite its criminally short life. The Thirteenth Floor is one of the earliest comic strips that I can remember reading, and it’s a series that has stuck with me for 37 years.
I won’t bore you to death with an extended eulogy about how good, and how important Scream! was, both for me and as a horror title in general, but if you just look at the names involved with it – Alan Grant, John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Simon Furman, Tom Tilley, John Richardson, Alan Moore – you will get an idea of how much talent was involved in bringing these stories to print. In September 1984 after industrial disputes caused the publication to be cancelled, Eagle picked up the remains, only continuing to publish Alan Moore’s Monster, and Wagner and Grant’s Thirteenth Floor.
For those not familiar with the story, Max is a supercomputer installed in a new block of flats who is charged with maintaining the building and protect his tenants. When something goes wrong with one of Max’ s circuits, he takes protecting his changes to a whole new level (literally) by creating a virtual world called The Thirteenth Floor, where Max can mete out his own brand of justice and rehabilitation – often with excessive, if satisfyingly horrific results.
The third volume in the series has a couple of my favourite stories of the entire run, the first being “A Computer Called Boris” which sees Max battling against his Russian counterpart Boris, seeing Gwynn, Auberon Hedges, and Mini-Max travel to the Kremlin in order to destroy the Russian supercomputer before he can help his KGB masters take over the world. The second is the story beginning with “Homecoming” which sees Max embark on a campaign of terror, descending into madness and paranoia as a system error drives him to try the tenants he has sworn to protect for plotting against him in the house of horrors that is The Thirteenth Floor.
I don’t think I can overstate how important the stories originating in Scream! and particularly Monster, Dracula Files, and The Thirteenth Floor, were to me growing up, or indeed to the development of British comics in the 1980s. These were horror stories, primarily for kids, in a world where the typical newsagent fare of the time was restricted to Beano/Dandy, or Battle/Warlord. Having access to horror comics was a revelation to my ten year old mind, and served as the catalyst that got me away from the racks in the newsagent and onto the bus into Newcastle to find a real comic book store. Other titles and teams may have helped mould my reading habits and preferences, but perhaps more than any other team in comic books, I can point directly at Grant and Wagner’s work on The Thirteenth Floor as being the epiphany that started my almost 40-year passion for comics and particularly the horror genre.
While the format of the stories within the series are reasonably standard week in, week out (someone endangers the building or residents of Maxwell Tower, and Max tricks them into his realm of terror); this is a series I never found boring or stale. It’s a series that at the time had me on the edge of my seat with every issue, and today still engenders some of that original wonder and joy, at the inventive tortures that Max imagines for those that cross him or his residents.
If you go right back to the beginning of the series, Max’ burgeoning experiments with his thirteenth floor led to murderous results which my adult mind thinks should have been horrifying to a ten year old, but then I have to remind myself that seeing the bad guys get their just deserts in as bloodthirsty and horrific manner as possible, is generally regarded by most ten year olds as just, right, and proper. As the stories progress, murder becomes less prevalent. Max learns from early mistakes and develops a sense of morality that is more human, and in many ways more darkly inventive as he seeks to exact a fitting punishment without making it a fatal encounter.
As you might have guessed, this is a series that I have absolutely no problem recommending. It’s a title that is seminal to my development as a comic reader, and I believe it’s a title that is very important in the development of British comics during the 1980s – and British horror titles in general.
If you are quick, you may still be able to buy this volume in the web exclusive HC edition which is just stunning, but if not then rest assured that the soft cover edition is still a thing of beauty that you really need on your shelves.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
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The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek