REVIEW: ‘Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Masquerade,’ Issue #1

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Jim Henson's Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 - But Why Tho?

1986’s Labyrinth is a strange movie; there are no two ways about it. From David Bowie’s bizarre turn as Jareth the Goblin King to Jim Henson’s creepy animatronics to the famous ethereal ballroom scene and every moment in between, the movie is unique. Unfortunately, for as many decent moments as Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 offers, none of this super-sized one-shot matches the feeling of the original film or the scene it is based on. Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 is written by Lara Elena Donnelly with illustrations by Pius Bak, Samantha Dodge, and French Carlomagno, colors by Francesco Segala and Fabiana Mascolo, letters by Jim Campbell, and cover art by Jenny Frison. The comic is published by BOOM! Studios’ imprint Archaia!

Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 is a one-shot comic parallel to the masquerade scene from the original film. After protagonist Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) bites into a poisoned pear in the movie, she is whisked away to a whimsical ballroom where she and Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie) are adorned in the most fabulous 1980s ball attire, surrounded by dancing humans with goblin masks. Simultaneously, As the World Falls Down, written by Bowie for the film, plays. However, Sarah snaps out of the daze and breaks free of the illusion.

The comic book is about one of those ball-goers. The story begins with a goblin, a valet to Jareth named Schemer. All he wants is to please his master, but he gets a scolding from Jareth when he’s caught playing with and talking to the masquerade mannequins. Jareth is about to throw a ball, and he needs Schemer to prepare one in particular. So Schemer brings that mannequin to life, and she joins the party. Only, she starts to realize something is wrong. Seeing Sarah breaking free of Jareth’s spell, Labyrinth: Masquerade #1‘s yet-unnamed main character also escapes the ball, fleeing into the kitchen and into Schemer’s path.

If Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 were a stand-alone comic with no ties to a classic film, its strange set-up, looming mystery, and emotional reveal would be captivating and interesting. The writing is not stellar, but the overall beats are quite enthralling. The problem is that this is a tie-in story. And while it does a superb job of explaining the film’s most famous scene in a meaningful and natural way, the comic feels devoid of the movie’s whimsy and Shakespearian grandeur.

The dialogue, for example, is nothing special. The movie contains both highly poetic lines and numerous musical numbers. In comparison, the lines and, by extension, the characters speaking them fall flat. Additionally, despite his prominence on the cover, the Goblin King makes only the scantest of appearances in this comic. Without his menacing omnipresence, the magic of the Goblin Kingdom feels diminished.

The art in Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 is mostly befitting the world it belongs in. There are several great full or half-pages of art during the ball scene, with little dialogue on most pages as it is. They come up just shy of matching the original’s oddity and whimsy, but that is perhaps ruined by there being any dialogue at all. The original scene contains none, as it is shot essentially like a music video. Had the comic’s masquerade scenes taken a similar approach, I think they would have come closer to matching the feeling.

However, in the world, as it is, the style used in Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 is commendable and evokes at least some of the same sense of mystery and confusion. The goblins are a bit too cute for me, though. In the original film, they are ugly, creepy creatures, and while this comic has a pop-y tone to it generally, which I do like, the creatures feel too smooth. I am, however, glad that the grossly antisemitic overtones the goblins are adorned within Labyrinth are completely wiped out.

The colors are excellent, whether in the ballroom where all the pinks, purples, and blues of the partygoers are used in a way that evokes the original scene well, or in the way that the nighttime is so beautifully-shaded. The lettering irked me a tad at first, feeling thick and unbecoming of a fantasy story of a masquerade. But by the end, when the story no longer takes place in the beautiful ballroom, it started to fit better.

Yet, this is where my biggest mark against Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 lies. Most of the comic takes place outside of the masquerade. The story is intentionally obtuse and, in its own right, I really appreciated how it carefully explained a long-theorized aspect of the 1986 film. All of this is nearly ruined, though, by the sudden and unnecessary B-plot. Part of Labyrinth‘s strength as a movie is that it is almost entirely about Sarah’s journey and growth, none of which comes from being saved or swooned by a man. She saves her brother all on her own volition, with the help of friends, of course. But ultimately, it’s on her.

Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 had the potential for an equally empowered protagonist, but instead, opted to give Schemer an entire character arc of his own. Sure, it was nice; I guess that the little guy got to grow too. He is the character we meet first in this story, after all. But the comic shouldn’t have to be about him. It feels like a narrative parallel just for the sake of a narrative parallel. His story is fine, but it’s not nearly compelling or original enough to have taken away from the genuinely excellent story weaved for the true protagonist. It’s an unfortunate aspect that merely takes away far more than it adds to a comic already grasping for thematic and tonal connection to its source material.

Were each of Labyrinth: Masquerade #1‘s flaws isolated or the only ones, I would feel more positively about this comic. The concept is excellent, and much of the art and coloring are wonderful. But with poor dialogue timed in the wrong places, some tonal shortcomings, and a totally detractive B-plot, it is hard for me to recommend this comic. Big fans of the movie may find it interesting and satisfying in some regards, but overall, it unfortunately disappoints.

Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Masquerade #1 is available wherever comics are sold.

Jim Henson's Labyrinth: Masquerade #1
2.8

TL;DR

Were each of Labyrinth: Masquerade #1‘s flaws isolated or the only ones, I would feel more possitively about this comic. The concept is excellent and much of the art and coloring is wonderful. But with poor dialogue timed in the wrong places, some tonal shortcomings, and an totally detractive B-plot, it is hard for me to recommend this comic. Big fans of the movie may find it interesting and satisfying in some regards, but overall, it unfortunately dissapoints.