Writer: Dave Franchini
Artwork: Julius Abrera
Colors: Robby Bevard
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Lettering Artist: Mariano Benitez Chapo
What They Say:
The League of Monsters grows in rank as Van Helsing and her allies begin to slowly piece together a way to stop Dracula and the others. But what is coming is far beyond what they could have planned for and can not only change her world but the world at large for the foreseeable future. Featuring a star studded cast of the Grimm Universe heroes, Robyn Locksley, and Hellchild, as well as the greatest villains, from Van Helsing’s past, that she has ever faced before.
Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):
Robyn stirs awake with her throat parched, and yet this is the worst of her situation, for as her eyes focus and ears pick up bestial growls and inhuman cries of displeasure, it is soon clear she is not alone in this gloomy situation. Suspended within a hanging cage, the archer has a clear vantage point to witness what can only be described as a horror show taking place within an Egyptian burial chamber. Werewolves are chained to guardian statues and vampires restrained by men with linked leashes, but even as Locksley attempts to make sense of this insane ritual, a familiar lavender haired tormenter leisurely floats outside and begins to taunt her disinterested captive. But as this seductive woman and defiant vigilante exchange biting verbal jabs, the pace of this unholy ceremony accelerates as the priestess chants above an open sarcophagus, leading to the ethereal energies of the sacrifices being forcefully ripped from their bodies and then bombarding the corpse contained within the coffin. As the blinding light begins to subside and the once deceased form rises once more, the Daughter of Dracula is disappointed by Robyn’s lack of shocked reaction, only to tease there is more to come as they prepare for her unworthy half sister’s arrival.
But as Liesel and Alex arrive to an unexpected disaster within her supposedly secret safehouse, the pair are concerned as to the violence by which the defenses were so easily demolished, without any sign of the intruder being present amidst the chaotic rubble. However as Igor jokes to the drastic redesign, a sudden racket signals the trespasser may still be inside, and as she asks her friend to stay behind, Van Helsing’s response to the troublesome noise is a crossbolt shot into the neighboring kitchen. With the welcomed reflexes of a demigoddess, the deadly projectile barely misses the head of a surprised Angelica, her thievery of a bottle of wine now evident as she curses at the rightful owner for being too violent in response to her unannounced visit. As the two spirited women exchange spiteful remarks to celebrate their unintended reunion, Hellchild disarmingly dodges angry accusations from Liesel and instead casually relaxes on a nearby sofa before answering the barrage of questions. But before the interrogation can begin, she takes a long swig from her alcoholic prize and then confesses to the real reason she is here: to break the news that Dracula is back. While Angelica’s stunning revelation may seem unlikely, Van Helsing is well aware of this girl’s connection with her deadliest of enemies, and as the shock settles in, it is made all the more unsettling as Hellchild describes someone else she saw in her dream – a purple haired girl who shares his wicked plans … the one Liesel knows as Charlotte.
While it is not unusual for a title to have a change in artists, for a series to shift writing styles midway through the story is irregular, and yet these books are planned in advance so it might not be much of a change to have the talented Dave Franchini take over as scribe, although one has to wonder if this narrative departure is what was truly imagined from the beginning of this excursion. After all, Van Helsing vs. The League of Monsters is supposed to be an assemblage of Liesel’s most formidable foes lead by the detestable Dracula and her half-sister Charlotte, however this issue seems to have veered from this logic by introducing a new version of the Mummy. Of course loyal Zenescope readers will recall within Van Helsing vs. The Mummy of Amun-Ra, the God-Queen was mercilessly dispatched by our heroine and crumbled to dust, thus leaving the group without a desiccated representative for this follow-up title; however, within the first act we are introduced to a sultry Chinese replacement by the name of Xin Zhui, who may be named in tribute to the real life Lady Dai, whose tomb was discovered with her amazingly well preserved corpse contained therein. Then to build on the digression, this successor is of Chinese origins as we can see from the raised royal dragons upon her casket, however the ceremonial room in which she is to be raised utilizes Egyptian hieroglyphics instead of Chinese mysticism, and worse yet, when we finally breathes, the formidable woman is shown wearing Egyptian wrappings instead of a traditional silk burial dress. While I can suspend belief and accept these substitutions in order to honor a line-up of classic movie monsters, the audience cannot but question how this Asian beauty is connected to Liesel, after all, each of the group has a grudge against our British huntress, with this latest acquisition as of yet not deeming to verbalize how she is connected to Van Helsing, let alone wanting to cooperate with the other malcontents. While we may learn of their association at a later time, as of now, the resulting plot hole coldly stares at us with an equal amount of irritation as its feminine conspirator.
Secondarily, we have to address the issue of introducing Angelica to the band of allies, and while she does have a memorable connection to the main protagonist, one cannot but wonder how she survived the gauntlet of defenses within Van Helsing’s safehouse without a scratch, considering the chaos the outer room was left in after entry. Once again we have to consider a prior series, Hellchild: Blood Money, in which the former vampire/demigoddess clearly states she has been losing her powers after the passing of Hades, and as of such, we can rationalize Hellchild does not have the same healing abilities without having to digest what she loathes – human blood. Although she may still have superhuman reflexes and strength, thus able to dodge the traps, it seems rather unlikely even Angelica could have avoided everything considering how disadvantaged she was in the aforementioned title without having to quench her thirst on a detestable plasma pack. Even if she did, given the damage of the surrounding property and darts embedded within walls and floor, this scenario of avoiding seems less apparent and leaning more towards a berserker rage of charging head on into the danger, and given the condition of her clothes with tears on jacket and leggings, the latter appears more likely. And while I cannot fault Franchini for these leaps of logic to create a viable narrative for this sublime series, it is the indulgent and sarcastic humor between foes and friends which allow for this manipulation of the plot to become engaging, and thus present a story which continues with the previous wonder of how this caustic battle will unfold.
And yet within all of these dramatic story developments, one cannot overlook the artistic change within the title, transforming into something with a new dramatic flair and thrilling depiction, all thanks to the stunning and beautiful illustrations of Julius Abrera lending this series a striking weight due to his nuanced lines, made all the more noticeable within the opening sequence thanks to continuing colorist Robby Bevard lending his controlled shading and scattering of restrictive lighting to carry over the pronounced gravity of the situation. To have this event centered around Robyn allows the images to reflect an emotional finesse, communicating the immense danger through our heroine’s subdued reactions, while her glowing eye stands in defiance until Charlotte taunts that confidence with an overwhelming presence, made all the more suffocating and distracting due to her fuchsia flame and mesmerizing beauty, even as those cold emerald eyes look on with indifference. However as the reader becomes captivated by the seduction of a new villain, amplified by cunningly placed wrappings and an ethereal essence being absorbed within teasing exposures of tantalizing skin, it is not this rapturous sight which draws my attention to this issue, but the full introduction of one of my favorite anti-heroes within the Grimm Universe – Angelica Blackstone or Hellchild. While Bevard’s colors have been muted due to the prior sepulchral environment, it is not until we enter Liesel’s safehouse does this effective usage of shadows take on a new and worthwhile ambiance, allowing this same effective utilization of lighting to strike a more imposing mood, one of tension due to uneasiness instead of anxiety created from impending dread. It is hard to imagine the opening half was created by the same talented artists who now conclude with this remarkable moment, balancing an almost unrefined depiction of the characters due to harsher illumination and now closing with a depiction which molds the same techniques into something which is thoroughly engrossing thanks to a distinct change in applying texture and shading. As soon as we witness Angelica dodge the crossbolt, it is immediately noticeable that Abrera has added more definition to her captivating curves and musculature, understated folds in leather stand out and even the manner by which strands of hair move, all with a stunned look of disbelief as to the identity of the shooter is revealed. Although he may have not changed his drawing mannerisms, this transformation of portrayal becomes evident due to Bevard’s skillful manipulation of more intense shading to bring out these seemingly mediocre elements, which sadly does not last until the closing of the issue. It is curious why only these two pages in which Liesel and Hellchild reunite are wondrously treated to this splendid palette treatment, allowing the panels to stand within what is now incongruous coloring, giving this event a memorable moment to shine amidst what could have been an outstanding changing of the guard.
As we settle into a jarring transformation for Van Helsing vs. The League of Monsters, it has come at a curious cost which will hopefully be justified once the title is balanced after an unsettling change of storytelling and artistic differences. While the series has grown due to these wonderful adaptations, one cannot but question if the pacing has been impaired after a change in plot points which seem unattached to Liesel’s past actions and the introduction of an underpowered character, who may be hiding more than we ever knew. And yet as we remedy these auspicious changes with welcoming acceptance, we can only hope the future fulfills the promise which the series embraced for a battle that will forever change the life of our charming vampire hunter.
Age Rating: T (for Teens)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: July 15, 2020