The Thirteenth Floor

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The Thirteenth Floor first appeared in 1984 within the pages of SCREAM!, a weekly comic that featured horror stories. Eagle, another publication, later gobbled up SCREAM! , which was common during that time. But they kept the concept of The Thirteenth Floor and it’s something you’re probably familiar with. Especially if you are a fan of sci-fi and horror. And because you’ve seen it before, you have The Thirteenth Floor to thank for it. Yes it does borrow from well known films such as 2001 A Space Odyssey. But to quote Ian Rimmer’s introduction when editing the stories:

It was hard not to have the voice of HAL 9000 in your head for Max’s dialogue, but gradually that morphed to become less neutral and more higher pitched…

Ian Rimmer – The Thirteenth Floor
The Thirteenth Floor title card
There are a diverse amount of characters that pop up in this volume

And that’s important because if you’re a fan of British comics you’ll know that sometimes these things became quite repetitive. But not The Thirteenth Floor thanks to John Wagner and Alan Grant who each co-wrote the stories under the name of Ian Holland. They made a conscious effort to mix it up as much as possible and it really shows. The Thirteenth Floor tells the story of Max, a computer that looks after Maxwell Tower, especially its tenants. Because the tenants are Max’s primary priority. If the tenants have a problem then Max has a problem. And you don’t want to mess with Max because Max has a secret…a thirteenth floor.

Welcome to The Thirteenth Floor

Max has total control of the Thirteenth Floor and creates holograms and hallucinations for his victims. Typically he’ll discover their greatest fear and create it for them to make them repent and change their ways. Most of his victims did something very bad to his tenants, whether it be bullying, extorting, stealing, etc, Max does whatever it takes to make them pay. Sometimes they die and sometimes Max finds something in his computer-heart and lets them live.

Eventually he does arouses suspicion and has to get creative and make allies to avoid the police. He does this by hypnotizing them to make them do his bidding and help his reach extend beyond the walls of the tower. Grant and Wagner allowed the character to breathe and they gave Max mobility. They put in the effort to not fall into the trap of making him one-dimensional. And that in turn makes each story line interesting. Plus they introduced a plethora of characters and you feel the creativity first hand Wagner and Grant put into these stories.

Max hypnotizes tenants to create allies in The Thirteenth Floor
The quick brown runch jumped over the lazy max.

But the art, my goodness the art. José Ortiz’s art is stunning. He’s such a great storyteller here and he sparingly uses panels. This must have been ahead of its time, because this was a time of overcrowded text and use of art to literally tell a story every step of the way. Not Ortiz. He allows his art to do the talking and the reader to use their imagination. And the sheer amount of detail he was able to put into this thing is astounding. There were times I felt like I was looking at something from the current time. That’s how ahead of the curve he was in this book.

This is a horror comic after all

When I read this I forced myself to remember that these were written for a kid’s audience. Ian Rimmer mentions again in the introduction that Wagner and Grant were great choices because they were veterans of the time and knew what wouldn’t pass the censors. They were pros at getting things through and it shows. Some of the stuff here is pretty damn scary. Yes, you can tell that it was written in the 80’s from some of the dialogue, but for the most part, if not 90% of the time, it all still holds up and never feels cheesy.

Wagner, Grant and Ortiz deliver the horror

Fans of British comics consider The Thirteenth Floor to be one of the best. And after finishing Volume 01 from publisher Rebellion, I can agree. There’s something special and charming here. It avoids the pitfalls of a lot of these publications and Wagner and Grant created a classic. They purposely do not introduce the same concept over and over with the same solution. Instead they created a diverse amount of characters and scenarios that reached outside of Maxwell Tower.

And they wouldn’t have been able to do this without José Ortiz. Ortiz’s art is so diverse, he was able to deliver all sorts of crazy things Wagner and Grant thought up, from tigers, bats, to killer cars. Really, if you only want to buy one British thing, do yourself a favor and buy this. And after you buy this, you’ll be happy to know that Rebellion announced that Volume 02 is arriving in October.

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