- Neverland Annual: Dark Alliance (available June 9th!)
- Written by Jay Sandlin
- Story by
- Joe Brusha
- Dave Franchini
- Jay Sandlin
- Illustrated by
- Cem Dayioglu
- Hakan Aydin
- Alessio Mariani
- Colors by Leonardo Paciarotti
- Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
- Edited by Cynna Ael
- The Grimm Universe created by Joe Brusha & Ralph Tedesco
Neverland is a realm filled with terror & gripping action and adventure, whether it is vicious pirate battles in flying ships or whole islands filled with giant, man-eating, killer crocs. One person, Nathan Cross, knows these horrors too well. Haunted since childhood by this cursed land, he thought he had escaped these nightmares, but now, back in the place he never wanted to see again, he is searching for a way to save someone he cares about.
Action. Adventure. Lost artifacts of penultimate power. Betrayal. Zombies.
All of that is found in the pages of this very over the top, completely bonkers, upside down spin on everything you thought you knew about Neverland and its people. If you know nothing else about Brusha & Tedesco’s Grimm Universe, wrap your head around the fact that Pan is an evil soul stealing tyrant, and Nathan Cross (aka “Captain Hook”) is the stalwart hero. From there on out it’s all pretty straight forward, so long as you’re heading into this one with the understanding that most of Zenescope’s titles are intended as the comic equivalent of the Michael Bayest of Michael Bay movies.
The guy tackling the writing behind this branch of the Crazy Tree is a name that’s become pretty familiar to me over the last couple years. Jay Sandlin seems to be constantly on the hustle, a steady voice on social media as he encourages others to step up to bat and make a thing, and a writer with a growing & eclectic collection of credits on his resume’ (Over the Top Rope, Space Police, Hellfighter Quinn). On this go around, he’s taking on the responsibility of tackling the annual for one of Zenescope’s longer running titles, a lynchpin in their Grimm Universe. Sandlin dives in, ignoring the adage “Never test the depth of the water with both feet” and attacking what could have turned into an out of control spiral in the hands of a more timid writer. Somehow, he rides the wave and manages to keep the chaos under some degree of control, at least enough to deliver a cohesive story that doesn’t fall apart under the weight of its own ludicrous nature.
I mean, for real… Fairies, Crocodile warriors (who are actually pretty cool, styled in a kind of Mayan theme), and pirates. Wait, did I mention zombies? Pretty sure I mentioned the zombies. These are all insane story elements when taken individually. Thrown together into an ongoing narrative, they become a neon warning sign that says, “Minefield Ahead! Proceed With Caution!” Unless you’re a writer named Jay Sandlin, in which case you sneer and reply, “Hold my -enter beverage of choice here-.”
The artistic team on a project like this would have to be every bit as ambitious (or arguably insane) as its writer. Where the likes of illustrators Cem Dayioglu, Hakan Aydin, & Alessio Mariani fall into that equation remains to be seen. I’m not sure where each of their work features in Neverland, but they all seem to operate really well together. In many cases, having two or more artists working on a single book can bog down a story unless they’re deliberately breaking the book into parts, but these three have come up with a good stylistic blend here. That could be owed, in part, to colorist Leonardo Paciarotti as he manages to come up with a palette that brings the disparate elements of Neverland (do I have to go over the list again?) together.
Likewise, a nod of respect goes to letterer Carlos M. Mangual. There’s a lot of dialogue and exposition in this comic, necessary to cover some of the ground for new readers, and it’s all handled well. Mangual keeps most of the dialogue flowing in a direction that makes sense, only losing me on a couple occasions where I had to double back when I read something out of order. He also did a great job in handling the sound effects and keeping the chatter from the Lost Boys distinct (it’ll make sense when you read the book).
Finally, I have to give a shout out to editor Cynna Ael. A lesser person might have tried standing on the brake pedal to bring the story under control, and a lesser story would have been the result. Neverland is chaos incarnate by its very nature, and Ael had enough gumption to just lightly pump the brakes as Jay Sandlin careened down the hill on two flat tires and no windshield washer fluid.
Zenescope continues its tradition of taking beloved fairy tales and turning them into adult action fare. While Sandlin may still be among the ranks of journeyman writers, the diversity of genre in his work puts him in a great spot to handle an unruly comic like Neverland: Dark Alliance. Readers on the hunt for an action story with a direct-to-video attitude, look no further. Grab a bag of popcorn, settle in, & enjoy.
Final Score: 10/13