Heroes never want for danger … it always finds them.
Writer: Raven Gregory, Dave Franchini & Nick Bermel
Artwork: Daniel Mainé, Dario Tallarico, Salvatore Cuffari, Mario Torrisi & Renzo Rodriguez
Colors: Maxflan Araujo, Michael Bartolo, Fran Gamboa with J.C. Ruiz, Grostieta & Robby Bevard
Letters: Taylor Esposito
What They Say:
As the Grimm Universe continues to grow, new adventures await the many heroes that reside inside it. Don’t miss this 64-page issue of epic proportions, as we get 5 all-new, never-released short stories, spanning from all corners of the realms of power, leading into the future of all things Grimm!
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
Van Helsing has always been known for being able to track down the most intimidating of creatures, but her most prominent ability is to hunt down vampires, that is until this day. The beautiful British adventuress now finds herself within China’s famous Shunan Bamboo Forest, and being chased by the most unusual of foes – ninjas who followed her from Japan. However they are not the ones who have sparked her interest in taking this job, it is the monster that is pursuing them now: an immortal being called the Lycaon Werewolf. Even as these hapless men stop to face this menacing beast, she learns from their empty death cries that even the sharpest of blades and kunai are no match for this invincible being. If this is the case, then now how will Liesel be able to stop this vile abomination?
Theo has always been known in an enterprising businessman, but what most within Philadelphia do not know about him are his shadier pursuits, including dealing with those who do not pay him their due respect. One such person is his childhood friend Paulie who made the mistake of borrowing money and now is late on his payment, and so it is only proper this kind-hearted man remind this delinquent borrower what happens in such a situation. However with his helpful friends they must also make an example of this person, no matter how much it may inconvenience him, even as he turns away from the desperate screams for help. But when he returns home to his loving wife for a manipulative dinner, Tangredi has to wonder if there is anyone out there who has their eyes on him for less than obvious reasons.
Ares is the God of War, but as of late he has also become Ruler of the Underworld, however all of these duties are not enough to slake his thirst for conquest, to satisfy his hunger of watching complete chaos be unleashed upon the human world. But as he placates this tiresome monotony of not being able to participate in this dream to bring suffering upon Earth, a thoughtless minion rudely interrupts his demented desires with dire consequences, only to have the troubling report continued by aide Jasper. The insectoid messenger tells of trouble at the Black Pit, a dark abyss which his former master created eons ago to imprison the foulest of creatures, but as these creatures were vanquished to the Shadowlands or summoned by greater beings, a dragon-hound has guarded an empty facility – until now. The bloodthirsty deity is escorted to the former place of confinement, however all they find is the mangled corpse of the former sentry, and a sense something powerful still lingering within the vicinity, something that Ares wishes to face himself.
Terror to Come
Skye has been the Guardian of the Nexus for some time now, however while embroiled in her protection of Neverland, she suddenly finds herself back at Arcane Acre. While ordinarily this would have infuriated her old self, this now experienced protector strangely finds this situation curiously normal and takes up the challenge of investigating the dusty confines with renewed curiosity. However her interest is piqued when she begins hearing her name chanted in an eerily haunting voice, and after following the chilling whispers finds herself within a new area lit by moonlight and an unexpected treat – seeing her old story book displayed upon an illuminated podium. Although this event is unusual, it does not cease her need to validate the authenticity of this tome, much to her chagrin as flowing locks gradually descend from above to secure this inquisitive woman for what comes sadly next.
End of an Era, Birth of a Legend
Within the imposing citadel which is Shang Palace, in the ruins of an ancient city once called Yin, enchanting courtesans patiently wait outside the lord’s chambers as one of their number has thoughts of what is occurring, until it is her turn to separate fiction from reality. As she steps inside the wild imaginings of nighttime charades are quickly dismissed when the imposing man asks for her report about new imperial general Hua Hao, allowing the woman disclose meaningful information about this commander’s latest opponent. However as she thinks he is distracted by these essential facts, this skillful spy draws a hidden dagger thinking she can end the war by assassinating the opposing army’s general, only to find this leader is not so easily distracted. Shang plainly states he knew she was not one of his own people, claiming the supposed night women are actually members of his elite agents and were reporting on missions of infiltration, exposing her to be an outsider. With her false appearance now revealed, she has little choice than hand-to-hand combat as a manner of escape, but is she any match for a man who is supposedly undefeatable?
Who would have ever guessed the New Year would begin with an unique opportunity to delight readers with fascinating glimpses into premiere properties for Zenescope, including four upcoming series and a glance into the dreams of the Guardian herself. And yet this surprising annual allows us to stare into the glorious imaginations of writers Raven Gregory, Dave Franchini and Nick Bermel, with the initial four stories alternating between Gregory and Franchini, leaving the finale for Bermel. While this arrangement may seem slanted due to set literary styles, the talented scribes are able to wonderfully differentiate the narratives into delightful short stories, all thanks to the meaningful personalities of the dynamic characters which launch us into each captivating world with utter abandon, without any heed being paid due to a prior influence. However it is a craving for fascinating excitement and moving melodrama from each tale that is enough to make us want for continuing action, all as every tease of intensity propels us onward into what we need to survive the end when it inevitably comes.
Raven Gregory begins this extraordinary special with a rousing creation that leads into the new series Van Helsing versus The League of Monsters, as he introduces us to a new beast named the Lycaon Werewolf, an immortal being who has survived to modern times. The manner by which he crafts the creature’s bloodthirsty burst onto the scene is intense, but at the same time to be shown this feral personification of primal power without any reference as to how he came into being is a bit unsettling, since we have nothing as to which to balance his obvious anger against the world and those he hunts. He then continues then continues his moving sequence of narratives with a delving into someone who has not seen much exposure within the Grimm Universe – Ares. After Hades sacrificed himself within Grimm Fairy Tales: Apocalypse, it appears this God of War has taken his brother’s place as ruler of the Underworld, but without much satisfaction for this power hungry deity. What makes this short so compelling is the effective usage of the often overused villain’s internal monologue, allowing the reader some insight as to what motivates this supreme being, and also encapsulating his need to find something more worthy of his growing anger for conquest, which so impressively leads into his hunt for a new challenge and inevitably the one who he perhaps fears the most. I am sincerely looking forward to seeing how his story concludes within Myths & Legends Quarterly: Ares, especially since it involves one of my favorites characters which I hated seeing his passing, thus allowing us a glimpse into a chance he may come back into the this world.
Dave Franchini’s literary endeavor for this annual takes an indirect approach for crafting his narratives, with an opening discordant story which on the surface appears to envelope the unsavory dealings of a petty businessman, and as such does not have much impact as to how it is may involve the Zenescope universe. However once we witness the final pages of this short, everything falls into place after seeing the little green men who are doing the bidding of the woman behind his misery – the Goblin Queen. But at the same time while this reappearance is comforting knowing an underutilized villainess which we have not seen in almost eight years is returning, it makes one wonder how she survived. After all the last time we saw her was at the conclusion of Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Bad Girls #5, when she was quite literally stabbed in the back by Venus and then carried off through a portal by her minions. It will be interesting to see if a plausible explanation is unveiled within the upcoming series Belle: Ghosts & Goblins, all as we see how much of a challenge she will present the Beast Hunter. The other tale from Franchini encompasses the cornerstone of this publisher’s title, Guardian of the Nexus Skye Mathers, and while her small escapade into the dreamscape is curious, at the same time this refreshing adventure is an intriguing glimpse into what may be a possible for the future of her title. After all the first person she comes across is Rapunzel, a character who has not been seen within the Zenescope universe and was only hinted at from one of the book’s many alternate covers. So after the current storyline is finished, hopefully this new challenge will be the next page of our heroine’s story and leads into what happened to her treasured book of fairy tales.
Nick Bermel concludes this wondrous special with a much anticipated introduction as to what may manifest as one of the most interesting titles of the year – Shang. While readers have known him since the beginning of the Grimm Fairy Tales franchise, all we have witnessed through the years are mere hints as to his elusive past, since he steadfastly maintained his role as a mentor to both Sela and Skye, plus all those who have passed through the halls of Arcane Acre. And yet nothing of his history has been revealed until now, which is puzzling since with Bermel’s opening barrage of excitement it seems as if our moustached teacher has been around since his namesake dynasty, which began in 1600 B.C.? No one has ever questioned how he has lived for so long, plus the excellent story that Bermel presents shows he may have played a part in one of history’s most elusive legends – that of Hua Mulan. And yet this hint of anticipation is dwarfed by the story that depicts Shang as a dynamic and formidable commander, leader of what appears to be an unstoppable army if his opponents are desperate enough to send an assassin after him. This tale is both intensely compelling and thrillingly hopeful, especially as it reveals another side of this now respectful instructor plus the unveiling of a new captivating character and who appears to be Shang’s second in command, that of a beautiful Asian ogress.
And yet with such invigorating stories, a graphic medium like this cannot come to full fruition without equally talented artists and colorists, and this special utilizes their skills to the utmost to bring a comprehensive envelopment within the confines of rewarding narratives. From the start we are wonderfully propelled into the world of Van Helsing thanks to the hypnotic intensity created by Daniel Mainé, his frenetic opening whetting your appetite with something that seems gleamed from an action packed martial arts movie, complete with shadowy ninjas leaping through a forest of bamboo. His sharp detailing and fluid progression allows the reader to immediately understand the dynamics of the situation, with our interest only interrupted by the sultriness of a beautiful face framed in raven hair. And this where the striking palette of Maxflan Araujo effectively comes into play, his somber selection of deep forest tones against a deadly dance of black clad figures lusciously interact to bring a sobering seriousness as two sets of eyes watch in horror and patiently wait. However as the panels bring those watchers into focus, this is when a singular mistake from his coloring becomes readily apparent – the choice of Liesel’s iris color, instead of the piercing brown she has had from the beginning, for some reason Araujo decided to change it to a stunning emerald green. And while this does visually create a distinct contrast against the werewolf’s deadly crimson gaze, at the same time it seems out of place for those who are familiar with the character, making us question this unnecessary change.
But as we progress to the next tale, the change in illustrator to Dario Tallarico adds a distinctness via gritty imagery, projecting a coarse attitude which suits the atmosphere and makes the characters, especially Tangredi, seem more intimidating; and thanks to Michael Bartolo’s somber selection of earthy tones which help to anchor the story, the whole becomes something which is morally questionable, bordering on the edge of darkness which all involved seems ambiguous as to what happens next. Although as all of these selections combine into a sobering mélange of ethical greyness, what stands out is Tallarico’s choice to highlight some of his actors with a luminous outline which almost seems like an aura for these unconscionable people, making them stand out within various panels. While this may be an effective method to make the reader focus on an actor, at the same time this utilization of contrasting color is distracting and seems to serve nothing aside from shifting the perspective of the page, allowing for a separation of realities. However as we adjust to this unease within the display, the opportunity to leap forward to a new tale also means another example of the adaptation for a narrative, allowing us to bask within the primal ferocity of Salvatore Cuffari’s illustrations. The method by which he portrays of the God of War is rousing, with dark definition and heavy lines for each element within the panels concentrating the ominous nature of Ares. You cannot but feel the gruffness of this deity, with Fran Gamboa and J.C. Ruiz’s selection of muted colors for his armor and surroundings only amplifying the intensity his anger, fueled by frustration and a thirst for conquest plus classic sound effect text pronouncing an intruder’s anger in all earnestness. And yet as we finish the middle act of this special, one cannot but become immediately charmed by the softness of Skye’s depiction, via Mario Torrisi’s emphasis of the Guardian’s curves and ample exposure of skin. While this manner of art style may not be a problem if it were another story showing someone trying to shed their naïveté, within this narrative it seems to project Mathers as someone who is inexperienced and unsure of herself, all due to the openness of her expressions and the elegance of her actions. It also does not help when Grostieta uses a gentle pastel wash to paint our heroine, granting her skin an almost childlike innocence within a woman’s body, magnifying each glimpse of captivating skin as if to lure us under her spell. This combination of ample cleavage and silky application of embarrassing blush makes Skye seem to be someone who is trying to prove herself, instead of the domineering heroine we all know her to be, even if the story ends with a meaningful glimpse of diaphanous wings.
However as this annual closes with a wondrous artistic conglomeration of various talents, one cannot question the immediate projected intensity within the finale, all thanks to the sharp and defined line work of Renzo Rodriguez, granting every element a graceful fluidity which allows the story to progress at very rapid pace without being hindered by gaps in transition. Each unframed panel flows smoothly into another, you cannot but surrender to the explosiveness of the story, all the reader becomes submerged within the opening smirk upon Shang’s wonderfully expressive face, knowing he has won the battle before it has even begun within a flurry of action lines. The natural tones and careful application of shadows allows Robby Bevard to control the mood of the story, reflecting an almost noble darkness as this powerful general protects himself from the insanity of war. You can almost feel the impact of each blow, feel the gentle rush of the wind from a missed strike, and hear the painful grimace as the would be assassin rolls around upon the floor in agony – all thanks to this skillful synergy of line and brush. And yet the most breathtaking scene would be the appearance of the elegant beauty of an oni, embodied within dark magenta robes and framed by a magnificent cascade of silver hair and tease of powerfully seductive leg. You know as soon as you see her, she will be trouble, but the teasing smile hides all of the power of her ominous race … making us wish Shang would come sooner rather than later.
Grimm Universe Presents 2020 is a marvelous mélange of contrasting literary and artistic styles, and yet it is this disparity which allows the special to become a feast for the eyes as well as literary satisfaction for the mind. Each short is a wondrous dive into each heroic persona, allowing both novice and loyal fans to fully enjoy the depth of an individual narrative plus a tease as to what is to come with an introduction to each respective series. But as the painful wait for our reward teasingly inches onward, it is the acknowledgement that something new will come which makes the respite all the more meaningful, always knowing a re-read will only whet our appetites of what is to come in the immediate future.
Age Rating: T (for Teens)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: February 19, 2020