Advent Review #20: Age of Darkness Vol.1 (Graphic Novel Review)

As I’ve mentioned in several places this year, Zenescope’s Age of Darkness crossover event has been really good from all that I’ve read and it continues to be so as the event progresses. Going on for almost a year now, with a lot of prep before that, we’ve seen how the Realms have come under attack from all sides and how the heroes have been tested by their before enemies and how, for the moment, that villains have gained the upper hand. I jumped into the story in the middle of everything back in with the Grimm Fairy Tales #0 FCBD issue, and then carried on with some of the specials that came along, but I didn’t go back to read the whole story from the beginning until much later.

Age of Darkness Volume 1 collects issues 94-98 of Grimm Fairy Tales and also the Dark Queen: Age of Darkness one-shot that preceded the first of those, back in January. While the lead-up to the event had been happening before that, it wasn’t until the Dark Queen: Age of Darkness one-shot that things really kicked off when the Dark Queen made herself known to the Realm Knights. What followed after that in the flagship Grimm Fairy Tales was basically a bunch of one-shots that touched on many of the different things happening in the Realms as the heroes and villains made their moves and countermoves against each other. And in all of this, one thing was a constant: Lucinda is an insane evil queen and she wants what she wants, no matter who or what she has to destroy. Kind of fun!

GFT - Age of Darkness Vol.1With story by Joe Brusha and script by Eric M. Esquivel, Dark Queen: Age of Darkness is about the Dark Queen coming back to life and then deciding to embark on her Realms-spanning war. She kicks things off by making a big splashy entrance at an amusement park, following a really messy massacre elsewhere in the city. The Realm Knights (Sela, Liesel, Shang, Robyn, Britney and Hook) track her down and engage her, only to find out that the people are afraid of them rather than the villain herself.

For any new readers to the series, if this issue (or rather, this graphic novel) is what you start off your Zenescope experience with, then you are in the right place since this one-shot pretty much lays out the Dark Queen Lucinda’s origins from when she was a princess in the Realm of Myst, to when she joined up with Malec the Dark One, and came to lead the Dark Horde (lots of Dark stuff, I know). And the story proves to be quite entertaining. Lucinda is someone who is obsessed with power, and a specific power at that, the power of fear that others have of her. It makes her into an interesting villain, and that is indeed what we get to see in this issue.

There’s also some background on the heroes, the Realm Knights, though that is a bit sparse. But that’s okay, since Zenescope has, over the years, released a lot of mini-series about each of them, which you can pick up and read to your heart’s content. Through the one-shot, we get a peek into what they are all about, and their big fight with Lucinda is definitely something… definitive, I would say.

The pencils for this issue are by Lalit Kumar Sharma, with inks by Jagdish Kumar, colours by Pradeep Sherawat and letters by Jim Campbell. The art on this issue is very, very different from what you’ll find in Zenescope’s other offerings. It has a very distinctive style that seems to rely more on inks and colours than the linework. Some of the characters have these really odd expressions at times that kind of twist their faces, but by and large, I liked what these artists did here.

In Grimm Fairy Tales #94, we see what happens when Sela discovers that one of her students (she is a teacher at a university, courtesy of her mentor Shang) is missing, possibly kidnapped by the Dark Horde. This is an action-oriented issue and it gives a good look at who Sela is and what kind of a place she has in the grand scheme of things. As the leader of the Realm Knights and also the Guardian of the Nexus, she is going to be a central character to the rest of the event, and that’s made plain by the end, in a reveal that will surely be a nice surprise.

Illustrating Dan Wickline’s script here is Salvador Velasquez with colours by Erick Arciniega and letters by Jim Campbell. The difference between this issue and the previous one is quite a stark one, with this one being more Zenescope house style. Many of Salvador’s scenes are rather empty with little to no detail, which kind of takes away from the fun of things, but his characters are good, and I loved the action sequences in the second half.

Issues #95 and #96 form an arc within the larger Age of Darkness story. One of the Dark Queen’s many loyal followers, Koschei the Deathless is sprung from his prison in the Realm of Myst by the Dark Horde and he initiates a daring plan to pit Sela against Baba Yaga, with the hope that either one would kill the other or they would both kill each other in the process. This is a pretty interesting arc actually, and I liked the spin that Raven Gregory, Nicole Glade and Anthony Spay gave to the story. As the volume itself progresses, we are finding out that the Dark Queen has some really special plans for Sela, and these two issues are simply another gambit in her plan to destroy the Realm Knights and bring all the Realms under her control. Of course, to do all of that she needs more Highborn and Falseblood soldiers, and the fight between Sela and Baba Yaga is a means to that end for the Dark Queen.

Antonio Bifulco is the artist on #95, with Pradeep Sherawat on colours, and Sergio Osuna is the artist on #96, with Maxflan Araujo on colours. The linework on the former and the colours tend to be more towards the grim and gritty category while those on the latter tend towards a much more dynamic visual storytelling. Perhaps that also has to do with the fact that the former is basically Koschei’s origins, while the latter is all about the action, so the artwork in each case suits the story being told, but I definitely liked the latter much more, especially in terms of the details in the artwork, and the body language on the characters.

GFT - Age of Darkness Vol.1b

The penultimate issue, #97, is all about the Tooth Fairy, or rather, the Zenescope version of the same. In this story we meet little Sarah and her mother, along with Dr. Gwen Dentin. Sarah is suffering from toothache and several dental problems, and Gwen is her appointed doctor as per the story, and it all goes south when Gwen overhears Sarah’s mother acting irresponsible and not caring for Sarah’s problems one way or the other. And when the Tooth Fairy arrives on the scene to punish the irresponsible mother, well, things don’t happen well, not at all. This is a pretty intense issue, and given that it focuses on a psychopath like the Tooth Fairy, it does have a certain charm to it. Not to mention that this issue has the Tooth Fairy going up against Guardian of Myst, and that proves to be quite the fight.

Here we have Antonio Bifulco on art with Pradeep Sherawat on the colours. I’ll admit, I didn’t like the art all that much. It depended too much on heavy inking and linework, and it just wasn’t as exciting as I was hoping it would be. And Antonio’s representation of the Dark Queen this time around certainly didn’t do any favours either, and the Tooth Fairy was a disappointment as well.

The final issue in this collection is Grimm Fairy Tales #98, and this one deals with a man’s obsession with the Highborns and Falsebloods and everything else. This is pretty much a stand-alone and on the surface of it doesn’t have much to do with the Age of Darkness event, but it also shows things from the other side of the fence, in that we see how a normal person deals with the sudden revelations about the Realm Knights and the kinds of dangers they face. Pat Shand tells a pretty compelling tale here, one that I know from hindsight does end up connecting to the event at large. This is the kind of perspective we don’t really get to see in Zenescope’s titles, so it makes for a nice change of pace from the rest of the issues in this trade collection.

Sergio Osuna is the artist here with Maxflan Araujo on the colours. This was a fairly good issue, art wise. A bit too standard at times, but Sergio’s characterwork is definitely aces and the way he draws Christopher Halton really makes you sit up and take notice I think. Least it did with me. Watching, visually, his descent into his self-harming obsession with the Realm Knights is almost painful, but also rewarding in the end.

Taken as a whole, this wasn’t as great a story as I was expecting, largely due to all the different stories and characters here, but it proved to be one heck of a ride. This trade collection does a lot to set the stage for what happens in the core Age of Darkness issues, and the art is also quite serviceable to say the least. When the art gets cracking though, it goes in a big way, and I liked that.

Rating: 8.5/10

More Grimm Fairy Tales: #101, #102, #103, #104, #105, FCBD 2014, Annual 2014, 2014 Holiday Edition.

More Age of Darkness: Robyn, (Neverland) #1, #2.

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