Sunday, September 16, 2012

New ZENESCOPE Titles (September)

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As part of my new approach to individual issues, here’s my round-up of recent Zenescope titles of note. It’s a pretty busy season for the publisher and the Grimm Universe, with a lot of connected stories unfolding (the various Wonderland-related titles, the Grimm Fairy Tale titles) and also some stand-alone series continuing, nearing conclusion, or coming to their ends.

Overall, this is a decent selection of issues, with only a couple of them suffering from Zenescope’s usual pitfalls (clich√© or canned dialogue, telegraphing issues, and of course artwork that makes even Catwoman look demure and realistic… – and yes, I have a lot of comments like this throughout this post). That being said, three of them are certainly among the best I’ve read from Zenescope. As a whole, though, I find myself becoming more frustrated with the increased rate of cross-over that doesn’t align chronologically and actually offers up spoilers. I think the publisher will need to take a look at this in the future, in order to not annoy their readers.

Reviewed: Bad Girls #2, Godstorm #0, Grimm Fairy Tales #76 & 77, Irresistible #2 & 3, Jungle Book #5, Myths & Legends #19 & 20, Waking: Dreams End #4, Wonderland #2, Call of Wonderland #3 & 4

Bad Girls #2

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Writer: Joey Esposito | Artist: Eduardo Garcia & Salvador Velazquez | Colours: Jason Embury & Jeff Balke

What happens when the most evil and powerful female characters in the Grimm Universe join forces? You’ll find out in this new miniseries that brings together an all star cast of girls that were born to be bad. Baba Yaga, the Goblin Queen, and the Queen of Spades are a titanic trio, but there may be something that stop them in their quest for power…

Drops us right into the action, as Sela, Nathan “Hook” Cross (from Neverland) and Samantha “Guardian of Earth” battle against some demons who unwittingly helped break Sela out of prison. Which is around about the time I remembered that this takes place alongside Grimm Fairy Tales… So I was a little lost. This moves very quickly (which is a good thing), but I also think this is a series just for those who have been reading and enjoying the Grimm Fairy Tales series and spin-offs for a good while – there is just too much going on otherwise, and I think new readers will probably be lost and miss out on a lot of stuff.

This doesn’t come close to being Zenescope’s strongest series, and I would not recommend this as essential reading. If you’re a fanboy of the overall Grimm Universe series, then you’ll probably like this, but otherwise I don’t think it’ll appeal.

[Sidebar: Apparently, evil women in the Grimm Universe have unanimously decided to emulate Scarlett Johansson’s pose from The Avengers posters…]

*

Godstorm #0

Godstorm-00-ArtWriter: Pat Shand | Story: Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco & Raven Gregory | Artist: Jason Johnson | Colours: Ben Sawyer

In today’s modern world, the stories of powerful gods from Greek and Roman mythology have been thought of as mostly folklore. However, the truth is that for thousands of years, gods and goddesses have been living on Earth in human form. Many have admiration and respect for the human race, but others want nothing more than to be worshipped by mankind.

Now, the goddess of beauty known as Venus has begun to recruit other powerful gods to join her in a plan to return to the “glory days” of old – the days where gods and goddesses were feared and worshipped by all. And she will stop at nothing to get what she desires most…

This is the beginning of the Godstorm.

This series is an outgrowth from a one-shot and an annual that were released earlier this year – Angel and Grimm Fairy Tales Annual 2012 – which introduced the gods to the Grimm Universe.

This is an interesting introduction (although, quite why Zenescope felt the need to facilitate the rather silly tendency of comic publishers to number the first issue in some of their series “#0” instead of just “#1” is quite beyond me…*). Zeus is in his home, pondering his new life as Gregor Brontios, CEO, reminiscing about his long line of children – he remembers a couple of the well-known heroes, Perseus and Hercules; but also a villain, Zagreus (who isn’t quite as well-known).

I really liked this story – it appeared to be just a straight-up messing about with Greek mythology, transferred onto the present day. Refreshingly devoid of improbably-scantily-clad Amazon-women.

*

* At least, in the case of DC’s month of #0-issues, they are coming out long after the first issues of the New 52 were released. Sure, it seems like another headline-grabbing “event” and attempt to grab just a little more cash out of fans (new and old alike), not to mention frustrate the hell out of anyone who’s bought the first collected editions to only discover that there will be one extra issue that actually starts the stories that is not in their edition. It’s very frustrating…

*

Grimm Fairy Tales #76 & 77

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Writer: Mark Miller | Artist: Ilias Kyriazis (#76) & Marco Cosentino (#77) | Colours: Roland Pilcz (#76), Jeff Balke & Benjamin Sawyer (#77)

#76 – Sela has found her daughter and confronted the Dark One.

Now she must face the truth she has come to learn, she must find a way past it. Has the Dark One’s power become too much for Sela to overcome?

#77 – Imprisoned by the authorities Sela finds herself lost in a sea of some of the worst criminals in the world. Struggling with the consequences of her actions Sela begins to try and help the select few inmates who deserve a second chance never realizing that deep within the prison itself a powerful being watches from the shadows. From the writer of the Jungle Book comes the newest arc that will have fans talking for months to come. Featuring two incredible homage covers as Zenescope celebrates its seven year anniversary.

Sela’s in jail, and she’s not being very welcoming to her state-appointed case worker. Then everything goes crazy in the prison… seemingly at random. As the other inmates go absolutely nuts and order goes to hell in a hand-basket, Sela simply walks back to her cell, aiding victims or disrupting the violence as she goes, using her rather awesome powers.

Then, in the following issue… it’s as if the violence had never happened. But then we’re informed that a few weeks have passed and everything’s been re-built and re-ordered. And things get a hell of a lot harder for Sela as she tries to convince everyone that she does belong in prison. The warden has her eye on Sela, a last-minute rescue of a fellow inmate has her in the sights of a gang of prison “skanks” and also a new ward, effectively, who gravitates towards Sela for protection. The situation eventually leads to an inevitable – and particularly brutal – confrontation (in the showers – it is a Zenescope title, after all), which will no doubt make life for Sela even more difficult than it already is…

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… except that it won’t. Because Bad Girls (reviewed first in this post) tells us quite clearly that Sela gets out of jail. This was a very poorly-timed publishing schedule on Zenescope’s part. But, then again, these two prison issues have been two of the better ones in the last few months, so I’ll probably stick with this series for a little longer and see how out heroine copes in lock up.

I’m enjoying this series much more that it’s back in the real world – for a long while it felt a lot more like a portal fantasy, in a secondary world with a single visitor from our own world. Sela adapted, gained a ton of powers, and basically dominated the place (in a non-evil way, of course). Now, though, she’s back in the real world and facing up to a slew of situations and repercussions she can’t just fight off with a sword (although, a shank does come in handy when you’re in jail…). I had started to cool on this series, but maybe we’re seeing it starting to get better? Here’s hoping.

*

Irresistible #2 & #3

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Writer: Raven Gregory | Artist: Derlis Santacruz (#2) & Amin Amat (#3) | Colours: Franco Riesco (#2) & Mike Stefan (#3)

#2 – Allen Keeg used to be a nobody. Now every woman Allen meets can't get enough of him. Where ever Allen goes he can get any woman he wants with ease. Every woman that is except the girl who broke his heart and he is slowly learning that being adored by every woman he meets isn't necessarily what it's cracked up to be. A lesson he is going to learn the hard way when Allen discovers just how extreme women are willing to go to be with him.

#3 – Allen Keeg has learned first-hand just how far women will go to be with him and lengths they will go to make him their own. Finally driven to a point of no return Allen begins to search for the gypsy witch who cursed him in an attempt to remove his power before it's too late.

It probably won’t escape some readers’ attention that the premise for this story shares some strong similarities to the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a witch (Amy) makes a male character (Xander) irresistible to all women except the one he most wants to be with. However, one big difference between Buffy and Irresistible is, of course, the intended audience – this is far more mature in content.

Allen enjoys the attention he receives, to begin with, but the more time that goes by, the less happy and fulfilled he is with the endless parade of willing women who just throw themselves at him. At the end of issue two, things take a very dark turn.

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In issue four, we get even more of a break with the Buffy-style storyline, when we finally learn more about the witch who gave Allen his powers, her motivation, and also how he can break the spell. It’s pretty well done, with only a couple of cringe-worthy moments (and another supernatural-fiction/magic trope), and the stakes are raised a hell of a lot for the final issue in the series.

An amusing diversion, but it’s not among Zenescope’s best series. There’s more going on here than some might think – it’s not just a thinly-veiled attempt to get lots of sex into a comic book (although there is plenty, and it does start to feel a little bit forced and pandering to the teenage male demographic who will sneak copies of this to read under the covers late at night).

Ultimately, Buffy does it better, and with more humour, but if you want a darker take on this type of story, then I think this could meet your needs.

*

Jungle Book #5

JungleBook-05AWriter: Mark L. Miller | Story: Mark L. Miller, Raven Gregory, Joe Brusha & Ralph Tedesco | Artist: Carlos Granda | Colours: Liezl Buenaventura

Mowglii finally comes face to face with Shere Kahn, the creature responsible for the death of Mother Wolf. And only one of them is leaving alive.

This isn’t a bad end to the series. As with other Zenescope mini-series, the end isn’t quite as final as one might expect, leaving the story open for expansion into other directions and possible sequels. This fifth issue is pretty action-packed, and (as the cover indicates) Mowglii finally faces off against Shere Kahn in a bloody confrontation, the outcome of which will possibly dictate the future of life on Kipling Isle. The issue is pretty good, but given the focus on action, it didn’t feel like there was too much story to ‘read’. The ending was a mixed one, with some introspective concern about the future and also a little bit of a soppy final page (won’t spoil it).

The artwork is great, and Granda and Buenaventura have really brought the story to life on the page – some might think the pages are a little busy (there’s rarely an empty spot on any page, so dense is the jungle), but it’s certainly vivid and eye-catching.

Now that the story’s complete (for the moment), I’d certainly recommend people give this a try. It’s an interesting and original interpretation of the classic story, morphed and twisted to suit Zenescope’s needs.

*

Myths & Legends #19 & 20

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Writer: Troy Brownfield | Artist: Joyce Maureira (#19) & Joshua Hood (#20) | Colours: Ramon Ignacio Bunge (#19) & Jason Embury (#20)

#19 – Gina and Hank investigation into the local urban legend of the witches den brings them to a strange town on the outskirts of Salem. The town people refuse to speak about the abandoned house at the top of the hill although its history is well known. Once upon a time a witch of terrifying power dined on the flesh of those unfortunate to venture to her doorstep. Murdered by the townspeople's her ghost supposedly still haunts the house to this day. Gina and Hank plan to disprove this legend but are in for a terrifying surprise when they both learn that the legends are true.

#20 – Gina and Hank have found themselves trapped in the witch’s den with no means of escape. With the members of their crew fallen victim to the sinister specter that inhabits the home will Gina and Hank find a way to defeat this supernatural entity or will a dark secret Gina holds prove the key to their salvation?

The first of these two issues offers us some back-story for Hank and Gina, how they got into the business they are now in, and also their first brush with the supernatural (although Hank is not a believer like Gina).

The artwork is good, but nothing particularly special. Except, that is, for a few flash-back sequences, which I thought were very nicely done. Here’s an example:

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The second of these two issues was rather underwhelming, despite the reveal at the end. It felt clunky and given its structure was robbed of all impact. It’ll be interesting to see how this story-arc ends (it concludes in issue #21), but I must say that I’ve been rather underwhelmed by this interpretation of Hansel and Gretel. The Myths & Legends series has had much better issues and story-arcs. I hope the next issue – and the next story, whichever it happens to be – steps up in quality again.

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*

The Waking: Dreams End #4

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Writer: Raven Gregory | Artist: Juanan Ramirez & Elias Martins | Colours: Jason Embury & Jeff Balke

Vanessa has finally tracked down the man responsible for the killings only to find herself captured by the killer himself. Now trapped with little to no options will Vanessa find some means to escape or will she too fall victim to the monster. But even if she does survive she will still be forced to confront her greatest fear. Madison Raine.

Hm. This is a bit of an odd ending. Vanessa has tracked down the serial killer, and the story is finally wrapped up. However, it’s a little bit weird. There’s a satisfying comeuppance in store for the killer, but then it goes downhill a little bit right at the end. It’s been a while since I read issue #3, of course, so maybe I just need to go back and read them all in one go (probably true of most of the series I’ve been reading as individual issues as-and-when they are available), to make sure I didn’t miss anything. But, having just read this, I must say I was left a little dissatisfied at the end.

I felt it lacked the emotional punch Gregory was aiming for at the end. It’s still an interesting concept, so if you’re after something a little different, then you should be able to find something to interest you in The Waking and Dreams End. Ultimately, though, this left me wanting more – only, because I didn’t feel this end was sufficient.

*

Call of Wonderland #3 & #4

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Writer: Dan Wickline | Artist: Allan Otero & Matt Triano (#3), Nacho Arranz, Alfonso Ruiz & Carlos Paul (#4) | Colours: Thomas Bonvillain, Stephen Downer (#3 & 4), Jeff Balke (#4)

#3 – Julie’s search for the truth leads her to Salome just in time to see all hell break loose as a piece of Wonderland escapes out into the real world threatening to kill them both.

Together they face the insanity given form and manage to defeat the creature but if they are to survive the madness they will to have to visit the one place where all the horror began... where the Red Knight is waiting for them both. The countdown to the wonderland ongoing series continues!

#4Julie and Salome find themselves transported to Wonderland where they come face to face with the rage of the Red Knight. With the fate of the world hanging in the balance two girls must defeat the Red Knight before he lets his madness loose onto the world. But will the price they pay be worth the insanity that will become their destiny. Witness the creation of the all new Queen of Hearts in this not to be missed conclusion to the mini-series that ties directly into the new Wonderland ongoing.

The third issue kicks off rather well, as Julie Sands and Salome Gray – a student and tattoo artist, respectively – attempt to understand and survive one of Gray’s images coming to life.

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The synopsis for the third issue actually ends with “The countdown to the Wonderland ongoing series continues!” However, given that the first issue of Wonderland was actually released before Call of Wonderland #3… I wonder why Zenescope didn’t expedite this series, or delay Wonderland #1. It’s a very strange release decision/policy. Even the end of issue #4 suggests we’re not properly caught-up with Wonderland, as the story will apparently continue in The Madness of Wonderland. I really hope this doesn’t point to Zenescope going the Dynamite- or Marvel-route of releasing endless spin-offs that just milk the hell out of one IP until it dies a sad and saturated death…

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Nevertheless, I really enjoyed these two issues – the Lovecraftian horrors mixed with an expansion of what Wonderland is and could stand for is quite gripping. There are, as I mentioned a moment ago, hints of more to come – a lot more – and this could go either way. The premise of Zenescope’s Wonderland franchise is pretty great, and I think it’s certainly one of their better re-imaginings. The extra-weird bits in this mini-series are very well done, nicely incorporated and also veer pleasantly toward the horrific.

The artwork across these two issues is alternately superb and a little silly (every woman is impossibly endowed and firm-bodied, for example), and the switch in artists halfway-through issue #4 was a little annoying – the knight in Wonderland became somewhat diminished, for one thing. There are, however, some great full-page spreads, too. This one reminded me a little of DC’s Justice League Dark and IDW’s Infestation titles:

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*

Wonderland #2

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Writer: Raven Gregory | Artist: Sheldon Goh | Colours: Felipe Gaona

Calie and Violet find themselves in a strange town where the townspeople are overcome by homicidal rages whose source comes from the very place that Calie has spent a life time trying to escape. Elsewhere the Queen of Spades continues her plan to rule the realm of Wonderland and gains a new disciple.

I’m still sure I’ve missed something big by not reading the first handful of Wonderland-linked series, but I nevertheless find this series quite good.

It’s dark, certainly, with plenty of horror-tinges throughout. The Mad Hatter in this interpretation of the Wonderland mythos is particularly creepy and sinister. The issue isn’t as twisted and messed-up as the first in the series, but it moves things along a little bit more, and we see the strain between Calie and Violet boil over a little bit into a typical mother-daughter fight (but with added there are actual crazy people after you), and a cliff-hanger ending that bodes well for the next issue and hopefully the future of the series.

If you’ve read and enjoyed Return to Wonderland, Beyond Wonderland, Escape from Wonderland, Tales of Wonderland and House of Liddle, then this is a must read. If you haven’t read the rest of the series, you’ll still find something to like if you’re familiar with Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I think long-time fans of the series will get a lot more out of this.

***

As is probably clear from a few of my comments about, I find the blatantly, comically sexual marketing of these titles rather ridiculous, not to mention limiting.

In my more grumpy moments, I can’t help but think the publisher would produce better comics if they focused more of their attention on developing the stories and less on the cover artwork or the apparent need to populate their comics with scantily clad women and titillating imagery. No doubt, many will think this makes me sound like a prude or puritan, but that is not the case.

The concepts Zenescope’s writers are starting to put out there are really good, usually original and quite innovative. I just think they would do well to develop them further, and allow the stories to attract readers, rather than the pretty/sexy ladies on the cover (many of whom have little-to-no relationship to the stories contained within the comic issues…).

2 comments:

  1. The colorist of Irresistible #4 is Franco Riesco, not Mike Stefan.
    I hope you correct it
    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is a review of Irresistible #2 & #3, so the error's actually in the original version, which had "(#4)" after Mike Stefan's name, rather than a really bad mistake. I got the issue wrong, not the colourist. Thanks for pointing it out.

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