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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Comic Review: Jim Henson's Labyrinth: Coronation Vol. 1

November 13, 2018
writer: Simon Spurrier
creator: Jim Henson
illustrator: Daniel Bayliss
contributor: Dan Jackson 
112 pages
Publisher: Archaia

The untold origin of the Goblin King from Jim Henson’s cult-classic film, Labyrinth.

Long before Sarah ventured to save her baby brother from the clutches of the Goblin King, another young woman sought to save her child from an unknown fate within the Labyrinth. Set in 18th-century Venice, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation is a striking look into the mysteries of the Labyrinth itself, uncovering the fate of a small boy named Jareth who would one day be King. 

Simon Spurrier (The Spire, Jim Henson’s The Power of the Dark Crystal) and Daniel Bayliss (Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Dragons, Big Trouble in Little China/Escape from New York) present a look into a magical world where nothing is as it seems and introduce Maria, a heroine instilled with courage, hope, and determination.

In an age of reboots, sequels, and prequels, graphic novels are no exception. When I happened across Labyrinth: Coronation at the library I almost passed it up because things like that are so hit and miss. Still, why not give it a chance?

Billed as the origin story of Jareth, the actual story is framed by the events of the movie. Any time the movie is focused on Sarah, Jareth is in the castle telling the story to Toby and comparing the journey of his mother to Sarah.

His father is a noble hiding out in Venice and his mother is a wench posing as nobility. Plagued by visions of goblins, Jareth’s father gives him away to be the next King. His mother obviously had a problem with this and faces the labyrinth to find him.

So, I have a lot of feelings here, but let’s look at the title on it's own, first.

The Good: The cover art is definitely enough to get someone to pick it up. The premise in itself is interesting, and the overall situation of a woman being played by her lover and fighting for her child is a good take. To be fair, this story doesn't lean into the same characters and situations. New characters are obviously of the labyrinth but aren't as overt stand ins for the movie cast like in the ill-fated (and rightly so) manga. The labyrinth is under a different ruler so the landscape is different and had a different feel, giving readers a lot more to discover. The actual interactions between the mother and the labyrinth feel a little flat to me, but it’s a better attempt than some others I've seen.

The bad: The interior art isn't on the same level of the cover. That's often the case, but while the landscapes are lovely, the creatures feel like Froud copywork and the humans look like odd generic versions of themselves. Jareth and Sarah don't look like themselves and even Jareth’s parents seem a little off. Everything feels like a stock version of itself. 
I don't feel like setting this story into the movie verse is a good idea, honestly. Jareth constantly applauds his mother and demeans Sarah, which is a totally different feel than their movie relationship. My guess is either he’s supposed to be putting up a front or be seen as a more traditional villain, but neither explanation accounts for the weird behaviour. Real talk: I like that Jareth is an ambiguous character with ambiguous motives in the movie. You can easily interpret him as actually being in love with Sarah as much as you can interpret him as a manipulative antagonist. That’s part of the film's strength and it’s lost here. He comes off as childish and repetitive, totally at odds with his movie self. His character feels forced.

Otherwise, I get this is volume 1, but the story doesn't really hook me. On paper, it’s an intriguing take, but actually reading it never made me long for the next volume.

The ick: nothing, this is benign as far as on screen stuff goes.

So, the big question: Does this feel like Labyrinth?

I read through Amazon reviews to see what other people thought, and I don't want to sound bitter here, but I think this is worth clarifying. I think that if you are really, really into the film and want concrete answers and origins, you'll likely like this. It’s decent enough, it knows its fanbase but also doesn't hinge on the same old jokes. The beats once Jareth’s mother gets inside the labyrinth are somewhat similar (danger getting inside, somewhat unscrupulous help, being chased around by something bigger), but there is some actual care to not copy paste the original format.

However. Do I personally think it adds anything? Nope. I get why the focus was an origin story (people love Jareth), but there's a very real problem with this route. One review mentioned that this is following Henson’s vision and I'd love to know where that idea came from. Jareth looks human, but he's not specifically set up to be human in the movie. Believe me, I love the movie, I was a huge Henson fangirl growing up. If anything, i feel like this works against Henson’s vision because in interviews he mentioned that while ambiguous, he personally felt that everything was in Sarah’s head. That's why there’s one movie and there are no definitive answers - it was about her coming of age. 
Granted, I get choices evolve and this is a bigger IP now, but in making Jareth specifically human, I feel like something is lost. In giving a concrete background, you take away the chance for the audience to form their own conclusions.

There isn't the type of grounding in folklore and consequence that the movie had, either. I feel like this is trying really hard, don't get me wrong, but it never quite comes together for me.

Now, as an original title, I wouldn't dislike it. I'm also not against Labyrinth titles, but I've yet to see one that really feels right. If this was something about creatures in the labyrinth or a story separate from Jareth, I’d probably like it. It’s just so hard to get him right and not turn the story into something else.

Honestly, it just doesn't feel like The Labyrinth to me. It feels forced in places and finding its way. If it was an original tale I’d take it as being a volume 1, but in this case, I just don't know how to take it.
To be super fair, I love The Storyteller comics and some of The Dark Crystal stuff has been passable for me, so this isn't me having some weird Henson vendetta.

If you really want answers or want to scratch your Labyrinth itch and are cool with things being a bit out of character from the movie, then it’s fine, though I still think the art and pacing could improve.

I don't know if I’ll read vol 2, but I'm also willing to be proven wrong. Until then, I’m going to say if you can deal with what this is, your rating will be higher than mine.

As for me, I’m going to give this two goblin sheep

About the Author:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.

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