In the 1980s, the highly estimable Henson Corporation ventured into the world of non-Muppety films with two movies which have survived to this day through the magical playback media of VHS and DVD. The first was the Dark Crystal, a fantasy about a boy called Jen whose race, the Gelflings, are targeted for extermination by an evil bunch of ugly monsters known as the Skeksis. He has a number of frankly dull, humourless and over-earnest adventures before managing to tediously beat the bad guys. Whoop-de-woot, frankly, because there's no way anyone half-sane would choose to watch the Dark Crystal when they could be watching the other Henson movie of the time, the stylish and funky Labyrinth.
The movie told the story of Sarah, a girl who is disheartened by her life, which she feels is constantly unfair. Her parents take her for granted and she's forced to babysit her baby brother Toby. She foolishly wishes that goblins would take Toby away, which, given that this is a Henson fantasy movie, they promptly do, forcing her to enter the surreal and baffling Labyrinth to reclaim her brother from Jareth, the Goblin King, before her time runs out. Labyrinth is, not to put too fine a point on it, an absolutely cracking adventure, stuffed to the gunnells with memorable characters such as the gentle monster Ludo, diminutive and ineffectual fox-knight Sir Didymus and, of course, the Goblin King himself. Jareth is played by David Bowie in a pair of extremely tight trousers, and - bad mullet aside - is the quintessential rock star throughout.
Some twenty years on from the original movie, the Henson corporation has partnered with Tokyopop to produce a three-volume OEL (Original English Language) manga sequel to the movie. The description of it as a sequel, to be honest, is kind of stretching it a little - while Sarah does feature briefly, the bulk of the action is carried out by Toby, who is now a high school student and quite unaware of the history his sister has with the fantastical world of the Labyrinth. However, when he starts seeing strange (and strangely androgynous) visitors at his school and goblins in his house, he follows them down the rabbit hole into the same weird land his sister had discovered years previously. What Jareth wants with him, though, is not perhaps what you would expect - if he can't steal young Toby away, maybe Toby can be persuaded to come to him.
This book effectively sidelines the main protagonist of the movie in a deeply unsatisfying way - Sarah has become a frustrated twentysomething with no aspirations, even though the film's conclusion saw her realising that "fair" is what you make it, and that she could make her own future whatever she wanted it to be if she took responsibility for herself. Toby, at first, is little better than this new version of Sarah, seemingly spoiled, whiny and lazy. It's only as the book reaches its final third that we start to see a more determined Toby emerge, and the cliffhanger of this first volume (of an intended three-book sequence) puts him in a position where he's most certainly going to have to get his act together, stop moaning at everyone, and start kicking some goblin posterior.
The story, while a little flimsy, does manage to capture some of the deeply strange atmosphere of the film. The art, on the other hand, is more inconsistent. Superbly detailed images such as the one above are the exception rather than the rule, and in general the artwork is more in line with Yu-Gi-Oh! than Brian Froud, the designer of the Labyrinth movie's creatures, sets and general feel. It's perfectly serviceable, but you can't help thinking as you read through it that the weak points of the writing and of the artwork exaggerate each other rather than help by concealing their mutual flaws.
That said, there's no doubting that this is proper Labyrinth, with many of the major characters from the film making at least cameo appearances, and the central theme of the ordinary kid out of their depth in a baffling, terrifying and wonderful world where common sense comes second to dream logic remains the same. The Goblin King is still regally cool, and the promise of the story kicking into high gear is enough to tempt you into buying volume two. Not magic, then, but these days, what is?