Long time lovers of “Labyrinth,” rejoice! 2020 ended with a big Boom … Studios comic release, that is. “Labyrinth: Masquerade #1,” a one-shot comic set in the eccentric world of Jim Henson’s 1986 cult classic “Labyrinth,” debuted from Boom! Studios’ imprint, Arcahaia, on Dec. 23. Brought to readers by author Lara Elena Donnelly, artist and Henson veteran French Carlomagno and artist Samantha Dodge, the comic is the extra bit of “Labyrinth” fans didn’t know they needed.
The comic, with its cover containing a beautiful depiction of David Bowie’s Jareth in a rich palette of pinks, is nothing short of a triumphant return to Henson’s infamous world. It is replete with callbacks to “Labyrinth,” with more cameos than the just film’s heroine and antagonist. Still, if you’re looking for a continued exploration of Sarah or the Goblin King himself, don’t hold your breath.
While Jareth’s eccentricities are well intact, instead of starring in the comic, the Goblin King is most effectively utilized in shadows and quick glimpses. It is important to note: The comic’s story isn’t about Jareth. Even so, in brief vignettes and severe moments of dialogue, the comic clearly articulates the extent of Jareth’s insidious ways. Where the film paints him in brilliant moral ambiguity, the comic is less even-handed.
The story follows an underling goblin, Schemer, as he accompanies a special palace guest to the film’s iconic masquerade. But when Sarah shatters the illusion of the ball, the world falls into disarray, and it is up to Schemer and his guest to make sense of the broken pieces.
The comic gives itself an ambitious goal. In 42 pages, it sets out to tell an original story with predominantly original characters while still appeasing the long time “Labyrinth” fans that the comic targets. While the film’s stars are relegated to the fringes of the story, it manages to do exactly that task and more. The story stuns with a charm all its own, managing to be engaging for old fans and new fans alike. It captures the audience’s attention in the tender relationship it has with the source material, and in the tender relationships it nurtures between its characters.
More than that, the comic is a subtly show-stopping lesson on representation. Schemer’s special guest is a Black woman who traverses the whole of the comic adorned in all the livery of proper ball attire. In the mystery of her life, audiences are given a look into Blackness uninhibited by the limiting socioeconomic stereotypes replicated repeatedly in the media. Instead, “Labyrinth: Masquerade” shirks problematic conventions to showcase Blackness as a state of being, rather than a mere opportunity to exploit trauma.
“Labyrinth: Masquerade #1” unselfconsciously asserts opulent and historically informed aesthetics in characters not traditionally seen in that light — these aesthetics bring a softened edge to the darker realities revealed by the story. It establishes an interesting dichotomy between lightness and darkness but doesn’t subscribe to those conventions. Truth is often concealed in the world’s darkest places whereas places of light, such as the masquerade, hold the most danger. This topsy turvy regard for narrative convention is such an interesting take on the nature of Henson’s world. The whole of “Labyrinth: Masquerade #1” is a clean and precise balancing act, beautifully told and illustrated.