Review by Ian Keogh
The stories featured in this second collection of The Thirteenth Floor are a reboot for Max, the computer operating system with a fine sense of social justice, if inventively sinister with it. No longer the controlling presence in Maxwell Towers as he was for Volume One, Max has been repurposed as the operating system for Pringles department store. He’s set the new task of identifying shoplifters through security cameras, and the glitch that led to him tormenting people has allegedly been fixed. That doesn’t last long, and Max is very quickly back to his old routine, constructing a new holographic thirteenth floor where wrong ’uns can be forced to see the error of their ways.
As before, despite the names credited for writing the strips, they’re actually written by Alan Grant and John Wagner, who rapidly shift Max into working for the British secret services. When information needs to be winkled from troublesome spies, or new staff require some training, Max’s mysterious thirteenth floor is just the place, supplying holographic simulations of any terror required. That is, provided they’re pitched to thrill young readers rather than upset them. It enables artist José Ortiz to construct scenes such as fighter planes taking on a dragon, toy robots going about Max’s business and brutal armoured knights swinging their maces, all illustrated with relish.
Almost all this volume is occupied by Max’s own time in the secret service, not content with restricting himself to the store, so constructing a portable version of himself able to accompany an agent in the field, Minmax by name. Several chapters are then occupied by a spy film pastiche, which is funny in places, but hardly the writers firing on all cylinders.
Two-thirds of the way through Grant and Wagner realise that swerving Max wildly from one type of story to another isn’t really pushing the right buttons, so they move him back to Maxwell Towers. The odd corpse associated with his previous maintenance has been forgiven or forgotten, and residents are delighted to see him back. The first thing needing settled is the overly officious and positively sadistic new caretaker. Restoring Max to dealing with the problems of a tower block also restores the missing spirit, and the teenage thugs and bank robber shown the error of their ways provide the collection highlights.
A couple of strips drawn for specials by Phil Gascoine and Rex Archer complete the content. They demonstrate that single episodes don’t provide enough thrills, although the art matches Ortiz’s tidy style. Because so much of this collection is thrashing between genres it doesn’t match the imagination of Vol. 1, but the final pages suggest better to come in Vol. 3.