Comic book publisher Zenescope has spent over a decade expanding and exploring children’s stories through their own series, Grimm Fairy Tales. This series has launched several spin-offs, such as Neverland in 2010. At their website, Zenescope describes their Neverland as “once a magical paradise until it fell under the rule of the evil creature known only as Pan. It has now become a world that haunts children’s nightmares.”
Imagine Neverland twisted 180 degrees: Peter Pan is a villainous, energy sucking vampire, and the Captain Hook character has morphed into the the flawed hero, Nathan Cross, who suffers long-term physical and emotional damage from barely escaping Neverland. (He loses an arm to The Croc, just like Hook.) Cross wears a prosthetic arm that allows him to channel his powers through a variety of weapons, including a hook and laser blaster.
In the most recent series title, Neverland Annual: Dark Alliance, Cross is back, and he is seeking the legendary sacred healing stone. What should be a quick mission to retrieve the stone and heal his friend, Cross finds himself detained by the Croc Queen who needs his help to defeat Pan and his lost boys. During the course of his adventure, Cross learns why Wendy hasn’t been herself lately. And, can he put aside differences and fundamental opposing ideologies to partner with his arch-enemy in order to overcome a larger problem?
There are several themes that writer Jay Sandlin has weaved into Cross’ adventure that lead this tale to be worthwhile. The importance of friendship and family is one of the most crucial themes. Cross could have decided not to risk his life for his friend or his family, but, instead, he wrestles a crocodile (That must have brought some bad memories.) and fights a hoard of zombies, as well as a long-standing foe, with no thought of the risk to his physical and emotional well-being. The story also focused on the impact of decisions made, so while there was happiness at the end of the tale, there was also the sadness arising from loss and grief, which is more in keeping with real life.
The visuals support the story well, and characters were easily recognizable from one scene to the next. The action scenes evoked tension and excitement, keeping this narrative fast paced. The lettering and word effects were well placed and did not distract from the reading. There was a small continuity error arising from Cross’ wardrobe as he meets the Croc Queen. The larger issue is the hyper-sexualizing of Belle, Tiger Lily, and Wendy/Nyx who wear minimal articles of clothing that defy gravity during combat. The Croc Queen’s armor seems more functional in comparison. Cross appears to be hyper-masculinized in some of the panels throughout the story. Granted, this is an artistic style associated with Zenescope stories, but these visual cues are worth noting, because while this story is a twist on the famous children’s story, Peter Pan, Neverland is not a story for kids.
Neverland Annual: Dark Alliance is a standalone title; however, the story’s enjoyment and insight into the characters would be enriched by reading prior story arcs. Fantasy readers and fans of Peter Pan and fairy tale-focused TV shows such as Once Upon a Time will enjoy visiting this expanded and darker universe presented in Neverland Annual and the series as a whole.
Creative Team: Jay Sandlin (writer); Cem Dayioglu, Hakan Aydin, Alessio Marani (artwork); Leonardo Pacarotti (colors); Carlos M. Mangual (letters); and Christopher Cote (art direction & design)
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