by Jarrod Jones. It’s an innocuous thing, the elevator. Hit the ding, let the box fall down towards you, enter in peace, exit with purpose. But when you enter the elevator of Maxwell Tower you’d best come correct. If there’s evil in your heart, if you intend violence to the tenants of Maxwell, you’ll never have a chance of hitting your stop—because you’re getting dumped on the Thirteenth Floor, where all manner of hells await you.
That’s the bloody hook of The Thirteenth Floor (created by John Wagner, Alan Grant, and José Ortiz), a legendary British horror strip that sics the morals-minded supercomputer Max on the ne’er-do-wells who dare trespass against the people left in Max’s care. One wrong step, and you’re likely not long for this world. Max, you’ll find, has such sights to show you.
As it is with most runs of ‘The Thirteenth Floor’, the numbers of missing miscreants grows to a point that, invariably, a concerned third party arrives to the Maxwell Tower to investigate. Enter: Officer Hester Benedict, who returns to the story with vague memories of being tormented by Max and his teenage partner, Sam. Officer Benedict is one of the few to survive the Thirteenth Floor because her heart was true. What will her presence hold for Max and Sam’s dark work? Almost certainly a reckoning is a-coming, on more fronts than one.
In “Home Sweet Home”, The Thirteenth Floor furthers a story from the mind of writer Guy Adams, and his ambitions have only grown in lock-step with it. The Thirteenth Floor is shifting from short riotous bursts of retribution and is evolving into a more complex morality tale, one that will challenge even the reader’s preconceived notions of what “right” and “wrong” truly mean.
“It was always the plan to have this revived—dare I say rebooted?—version of The Thirteenth Floor tell a broader story than the short episodes in previous Scream and Misty specials,” Adams tells me. “It all came down to how and where. To occupy so much valuable comic real estate here is an honour, especially considering the quality of my flat mates.
Those “flat mates” Adams refers to is the murderer’s row of comics legends and horror art icons who populate this new one-shot, out now from Rebellion Publishing and the Treasury of British Comics: Frazer Irving, Kelley Jones, John Stokes, José Ortiz, Henrik Sahlström, Vince Locke, Jimmy Broxton, Tom Paterson, V.V. Glass, Abigail Harding and Andreas Butzbach, all of whom contribute to a story that not only pushes Adams’ narrative to new daunting heights, but sets The Thirteenth Floor on a dark path towards a different kind of Max.
DoomRocket spoke with Guy Adams about The Thirteenth Floor: Home Sweet Home, the book’s impressive artistic roster, and how an evil-smashing supercomputer might evolve in the 21st Century.
1. You’ve spent some time with the occupants of ‘The Thirteenth Floor’, every screaming one of them, and now here we are at ‘Home Sweet Home’. How does it feel to flex your narrative ambitions for this particular Halloween special, to continue the hallowed traditions of Grant, Wagner & Ortiz in such a big way?
Guy Adams: A relief! It was always the plan to have this revived—dare I say rebooted?—version of The Thirteenth Floor tell a broader story than the short episodes in previous Scream and Misty specials. It all came down to how and where. To occupy so much valuable comic real estate here is an honour, especially considering the quality of my flat mates.
2. This era of ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ has a young boy named Sam guiding the red right hand of the supercomputer Max, luring trespassers and other ne’er-do-wells onto the fateful fabled floor. What is the relationship like between Sam and Max at the beginning of this story?
Sam and Max’s relationship has always been unbalanced. On one hand you have the determined, single-minded, eager-to-please Max who just wants to look after people (violently). On the other you have an abused kid who just wants to lash out at the world. Sam is the very worst person Max could have latched on to and that’s always been the point of the story. Sam has misgivings occasionally but this only confuses Max more… Aren’t they just doing what he wanted?
3. Officer Hester Benedict’s arrival to Maxwell Tower seems to further an existing moral rift between Sam and his supercomputer colleague. With its horror elements firmly in place, how do you go about establishing the moral line of ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ without paving over the sheer audacity at the heart of it?
That’s the challenge isn’t it? I think—I hope—that the trick here is that we should understand that Sam (and indeed Hester) are both victims and that sometimes, when you’ve been hurt enough, moral lines become terribly difficult to see.
4. ‘Home Sweet Home’ brings John Stokes and Frazer Irving back to the fore of ‘The Thirteenth Floor’, but there’s an even bigger art team joining them for this go-around. Because ‘Home Sweet Home’ is so ambitious in its telling, reaching something that could be qualified as an ending, was the decision to broaden the visual spectrum made to underscore that definitive nature?
Absolutely. The editor, Keith Richardson, and I talked about multiple artists from the off. It would give us a broader canvas and seemed such an obvious opportunity to play with the visual style of the strip. It’s a crescendo!
5. A big moral quandary is bandied about by Sam and Max during sequences illustrated by Tom Paterson, the artist behind the anarchic ‘Sweeny Toddler’ and ‘Buster’. It’s so gloriously ridiculous to have a conversation like this take place as so much flopsweat and snot and goofs are flying around—yet, look closer at Sam’s victim, look at what the story is showing you, and you see the darker nature of what’s going on even while enjoying Paterson’s wild art. Was this a way to ease the reader into the horrors that Max is capable of before things go properly insane?
This was always going to be a tricky section. It’s scripted as absurd but with, obviously, a very serious and very pertinent core. Using Tom Paterson was simply inspired. I scripted for various artists but I must admit Tom was entirely [Rebellion graphic novel editor Keith Richardson’s] doing and a stroke of genius. Does it make it easier? Or does it make it even more disturbing? Hard to say really…
6. Max seems to genuinely want to help those who feel as though they’ve been wronged in some way. In the case of Sam, he’s watched his mum take far too much heat from his father. And the paternal abuse directed at Sam has also hardened him to the point where he can’t see the distinction between who’s bad and who’s simply human. (“We’re all wrongdoers,” Sam says to Max. “That’s the truth of it.”) Why would Max, with his own embedded sense of morality, possibly want to let Sam in on his operations—when innocent people could end up getting hurt?
Max is narrow-minded but also complex. He clearly struggles to act of his own volition, a gun waiting to be fired. Is that programming? Or is it something more insidious? Does he simply not understand that Sam’s anger is going to send things spiraling out of control? Or does he know only too well and simply ducking the moral responsibility? I didn’t want any of that to be clear really as it’s more interesting to me. We’re all wrongdoers? Certainly we could be. We could all be monsters.
7. This brings us back to Officer Benedict. She’s still mourning the horrific loss of her mother—an event which galvanized her to join the police force. What kind of possibilities open up to Max with someone like Hester running around Maxwell Tower?
Would it be any better? I mean… probably, Hester is, at least, an adult and clearly in possession of a stronger sense of what’s right or wrong. We might hope that with Hester calling the shots Max could truly be a force for good.
8. What parallels are you drawing between the suffering of Sam and the suffering of Hester? Where do their own paths diverge?
They’re both victims and that was always the heart of the story for me (the section where they’re precisely mirrored for a few pages is the core of the book). The divergence is ever so slightly a pointer so forgive me for being vague, but it’s all about how being a victim of monsters can turn you into a monster itself. That certainly happened for Sam but we hope that Hester has managed to avoid it, so far.
9. As the current landlord of Maxwell Tower, how do you see ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ adapting to contemporary times, where a supercomputer like Max could potentially be carried around in our pockets?
Portable psychopathy is the way of the future!
10. Do you have a favorite ‘Thirteenth Floor’ strip? What was it about that work that stands out to you?
I couldn’t name a favourite—that would feel like cheating on the others—but it’s a perfect set up isn’t it? On the surface it’s a piece of simple cathartic wish fulfillment, punishment porn, but the more you poke at the concept the more complicated it becomes.
‘The Thirteenth Floor: Home Sweet Home’ is available now at the 2000AD digital shop.
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘The Thirteenth Floor: Home Sweet Home’, courtesy of Rebellion Publishing!
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