Jim Henson’s Return to Labyrinth: A Review By Kelly Masters (RedPiggy on Muppet Central Forums) Well, the good news is that there is a sequel to Labyrinth. Don’t bother looking it up in the movie listings or some movie rental place, though. It’s a “manga”. Really, it’s a manga-influenced comic book (as many purists have told me on various websites). It is official canon, though that has made quite a few people throw up a little inside. It has been described, to sum it up, as an unoriginal, poorly drawn, blasphemous fanfiction that the Hensons dared to back officially. However, I really don’t think it deserves all the bad reviews. Let’s be honest, and you can see some of what goes on http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0091369/ and http://gobblin.net (author Jake T. Forbes’ blog site), a lot of the people royally ticked off at this are really furious that their pet Sarah-Jareth romance fanfic ideas aren’t in this sequel. God forbid there be a Labyrinth story that doesn’t have Sarah locking her lips on Jareth’s the entire time. To be fair, it has its share of fans (myself included). I just wanted to prepare you for what comes out of some people’s mouths. This review will encompass all three current volumes. There’s only one left. Naturally, you have to spoil some things when you talk about later volumes. However, considering the average to slightly-below average start of the miniseries, it’s probably best to read all three in short succession anyway. Let’s review: In the movie, there’s a teenage girl, Sarah, who prefers daydreaming and role-playing and can’t stand the sheer audacity of her father and stepmother suggesting she take on a little responsibility. She lives, breathes, and eats fairy tales, and acts kind of shocked when she wishes her half-brother away and Jareth the Goblin King actually shows up. Jareth outright enjoys mocking everything Sarah thinks she knows and tells her that she has thirteen hours to solve his maze and get to his castle or he’ll turn her brother into a goblin. Naturally, she makes it just in the nick of time and rescues her brother. However, Jareth has started to like the kid and is truly devastated when Sarah rejects his recently acquired romantic feelings (I know some fans will say he always loved her, as per the play Sarah was reading, but I see little initial evidence of it, so sue me). Volume 1 The comic (or “manga”) picks up thirteen years later, after briefly summarizing the movie, though, to be honest, it really doesn’t. It’s more like it summarizes the play Sarah was reading, as the images and narration suggest Sarah really is the spoiled princess (literally) instead of just some cosplayer. We don’t see Sarah (indeed, she’s not even named Sarah) in modern clothes at all. I’ve been struggling to come up with a reason, although I guess I could just ask Mr. Forbes himself, but I’m willing to bet that the initial pages aren’t telling us Sarah’s story, but the play’s for reasons that hopefully will show up in Volume 4. Perhaps the play was inspired by something that actually happened to the Goblin King long ago (and in Volume 3 I have more evidence this might be the case). At any rate, this volume is like a repeat of the formula of the movie, though Toby, now 13-15 years old (how old was he in the movie?) is currently the teen protagonist. He tries the whole theater bit, while Goblin City Mayor Spittledrum and Goblin General Candlewic look on. It ends in disaster due to a wish. Sarah shows up to take him home. You’ll find some reviews out there who gripe about her short hair. Seriously? She has it up in a ponytail. The comic is not so badly drawn that this isn’t shown well. Sarah is now an adult who has lost that creative spark. She kind of comes off as rather bland. However, just stick with this version, as later volumes will explain why. Toby tries to write a history paper about the War of 1812 and the importance of naval battles after meeting Jareth posed as an academic counselor (HA!). The paper goes missing and Toby chases a goblin through a tunnel in a wall and ends up just outside the Labyrinth. The fact he goes through a tunnel instead of just popping over there like Sarah did actually foreshadows a rather cool cameo later in the volume. We learn that Mizumi, a queen in a snowy castle, has an interest in Jareth’s relationship with Toby (no, not that kind of relationship) and commands her bodyguard or whatever Esker to spy on the kid. The good thing about Toby’s trip through the Labyrinth is that it doesn’t just repeat the same puzzles and traps that Sarah went through. Forbes goes through the trouble of having us meet different characters (my favorite at this point being the embittered fairy Hana and her pet yeti Stank) and go through different areas or at least different scenarios in familiar areas. We end this volume with Jareth dropping a bomb of a concept on Toby at a ball. Jareth then bids the party-goers adieu. Toby is stunned after being named heir. Yes, the art could have been better. If you’ve seen the real Toby Froud’s picture on his father Brian’s website or on one of the Labyrinth documentaries, where you can actually hear him talk, too, then seeing this rather generic teen is kind of a disappointment. Oh well. Also, the artist, Chris Lie, apparently doesn’t know what a barn owl looks like. I’m not going to complain about the goblins. Even if you had Brian Froud drawing it, they still looked like live-action versions of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficient’s goblins in the movie. Let’s face it … they’re cartoon minions. However, we start to get a deeper look into goblin life when they’re not talking to Jareth. Goblins are still filled with puns and weird humor. This volume isn’t perfect – far, far from it, actually. However, while on the surface the characterization seems strange (or absent or pathetic, depending on your point of view), there are enough little moments that introduce you to these characters that will become more important later on. Also, the original plan was for this miniseries to be three volumes long. When a fourth volume was approved per the success of the first, that helps explain why things are more fleshed out in later volumes. Forbes thought he had to rush things. Seriously, this really should have been an ongoing comic book series. The machinations of Mizumi, possibly inspired in part from the Greek classic Medea, needed some more development. I’m an avid fan of her and her entire kingdom. I saw the potential of these characters from the very beginning. I wrote a rather extensive fanfic sequel (though guessing on a lot of things since only two volumes had been out when I started). The reason I toot my own horn, really, is to note that it’s very hard to get readers if you mention Mizumi and company are in it. Again, I feel part of this is some absurd loyalty to Sarah-Jareth. However, it’s not like Jareth’s married to anyone in this story, so just go with it, for Heaven’s sake! Mizumi is obviously based on classical figures. This story continues the classical allusions, perhaps even more than the movie itself. To me, Mizumi and the other original characters fit, since this isn’t the movie and the point is more complex than just some spoiled teen angst tale. This is about destiny – everyone’s destiny. Volume 2 It’s really funny that we start off with Jareth having nightmares about Sarah (though, again, we merely assume it’s Sarah, as she’s not dressed the way she was in the movie and her name is never mentioned until after Jareth wakes up, though he could be mistaken as well). The goblins are starting to get a little miffed that he’s so hardcore obsessed with Sarah (I can somewhat sympathize, really). We learn that we’re actually in flashback mode and Jareth has gone to Mizumi shortly after the events of the movie to make a deal. Back in the present, the goblins aren’t none too happy with Jareth’s choice of heir and Mizumi and her two daughters Moulin and Drumlin spare no extra seconds weaseling their way into Toby’s life in an “advisory” role. Jareth has trouble getting out of the Labyrinth now that he’s abdicated, making for some amusing scenes. Where I feel this really becomes funny and interesting from a goblin standpoint is watching Toby go to goblin king classes. Oh, if only high school had been that bizarre. Meanwhile, Moppet, a masked girl, tries to find Hana’s wings, but she stumbles upon clues to her own past. Mizumi and Toby go the Ministry of Prophecies, where quite a few nods to other properties are included. Drumlin decides to attack Moppet and Hana. Finally, we are left with a cliffhanger designed specifically for the fans who haven’t really liked the miniseries up to now. The art has definitely improved by this point, though the interior art still doesn’t match the elegance of the cover art by Kouyu Shurei. Because of the greenlight to the fourth volume, we get some much needed extra interactions among the characters. Volume 3 If a volume of this miniseries could make it all worthwhile, I feel this one has to be it. We get an explanation of what happened to make Sarah bland and uninteresting. We get a great conversation between Jareth and Sarah. We get some more explanation about Moppet’s existence. Spittledrum becomes even more three-dimensional and sympathetic. Mizumi’s wrath shows itself and we learn fascinating aspects about her daughters. We continue nods to other properties, even The Storyteller. Toby discovers the key to running the Labyrinth (it’s about time). However, the deal that Jareth and Mizumi made thirteen years prior comes into play and we are left with multiple cliffhangers. This is most definitely the Empire Strikes Back of the entire saga (please, Lord, let the fourth volume not be Return of the Jedi). Things happen that will make your jaw drop. Things that, if you were really paying attention, were just briefly addressed in the first volume are showcased here. This is a saga about destiny and choosing sides. If you can get through the rough beginning, you are definitely rewarded. It’s not only Toby and Sarah but Moulin and Drumlin, even Moppet, who make vital decisions that will affect their lives drastically. Jareth is characterized by everyone as a coward, though it’s more like he’s just more laid back about his machinations. Mizumi thought he had run from her, but she can’t help but laugh when she realizes just what sort of obstacles he had placed for her. Even when Jareth is at his worst in life, he still has much to be respected. This property deserves to be canon. When it’s all done, and a new company takes over comics for Labyrinth, this story may never be referenced again, and that’s a crying shame. Despite the rough spots, it is everything the movie wanted to be: a classically referential piece that links us to a magical world. I have heard that the Harry Potter series was good because it encouraged kids to read. Well, so does Labyrinth. You get a lot more out of it if you know the stories and characters that inspire it. The movie and the comic/manga both suggest that books take us to that magical world. Enjoy the trip.