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Dynamite Entertainment

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XENA ANNUAL #1
Written by Keith Champagne and Drawn by Noah Salonga

Xena and Gabrielle battle a strange creature the likes they’ve never seen before in the first-ever XENA ANNUAL from Dynamite. A quite night in the desert is just what the two friends are looking for, but that ends quickly when a strange light begins descending from the sky, and crashes near their camp. What Xena discovers is a craft from beyond the stars, and the dying pilot within. Her warrior’s code and compassion lead her to put the creature out of its misery, but what she doesn’t count on is its mate; even this act of mercy requires retribution. That sends Xena and Gabrielle on a run for the their lives, as the technologically (and physiologically) advanced creature pursues their deaths.

If that sounds a bit familiar, you’re right; “Xena vs. Predator” was the first thing that popped into my head, too. Now mind you, I don’t think that’s an inherently bad idea. The Predators have faced off against everybody from Batman to Magnus, Robot Fighter. I always thought that Conan vs. Predator would be a kick ass idea. But where this annual falls a little short is in delivering the characters to the reader.

A perfect balance of character moments and action has marked John Layman’s excellent run on the main XENA book. He made the book easy enough to comprehend that someone who had never watched the show could follow it. But Champagne doesn’t quite have that same success. You really only get the barest of introduction to the characters before the action kicks in, and that prevents you from getting fully invested in their struggle to survive. The character bits only really serve the movement of the plot.

Salonga turns in some nice looking pages, though. He doesn’t match Fabiano Neves’ work on the main title, but it still carries the plot and action well. Ultimately, there’s nothing really wrong or bad about this book, it just suffers in comparison to the main XENA title. That’s just a cross it has to bear.

Marc Mason

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: ZAREK #2
Written by Brandon Jerwa and Drawn by Adriano Batista

I called issue one of this miniseries the best work I’d seen from Brandon Jerwa to date, and fortunately, he doesn’t make me regret that with issue two. Sagittaron’s greatest freedom fighter and the colonies’ most notorious terrorist continues to develop his tactics and become the man we’ll meet in season one of the television series, and it remains compelling reading.

Zarek has aged a little bit as we head into issue two, and he’s gotten wiser about how to run a revolution. The lower class is still being horribly oppressed, even after some reforms, and Tom knows he cannot let that stand. If he did, it would dishonor everything his mother and father stood for. But he also realizes that he needs help, and the Zarek empire expands to include a girlfriend and a right-hand man named Mason who will help keep his friend on task for the battles to come.

As with all revolutions, though, strife from within always plays a role in how the fight concludes, and a traitor plays a part in Tom’s ultimate decision here as well. When we met the character on The Astral Queen in episode 103, we knew he had been incarcerated for destroying a government building; with this issue, we now know why.

This is precisely the kind of story I like to see from licensed comics: tales that the televised series has no time to tell, but which flesh out the characters and situations that make them engage you on the screen. Aided by solid art from Batista, Jerwa continues to do so with ZAREK.

Marc Mason

LONE RANGER #3-4
Written by Brett Matthews and Drawn by Sergio Cariello

The origin of the Ranger continues, as issues three and four not only deliver a solid reason for why he gets that name, but the first appearance of Silver as well.

Issue three first finds the young man facing off against his Native American mentor, as he feels he must hurt Tonto and steal from him in order to go on a mission of vengeance. But the man who saved his life doesn’t vanish quite so easily, and more developments in the Ranger’s training get put into place. In the meantime, we finally begin to get a picture of what’s really behind the murder of the Ranger’s family, and who really has something at stake and to gain from it. Issue four beings Silver into the picture in more ways than one; the Ranger discovers his family inheritance: a mine full of it, enough to forge bullets of vengeance to last him for years. As a bonus, the word “kemosabe” makes its first appearance, too.

Pace-wise, THE LONE RANGER is certainly in no hurry, but the story has become so interesting and well drawn that I don’t notice the languid approach to plotting as much as I did in the first two issues. Matthews has turned the Ranger and Tonto into fascinating people; they are emotionally complex characters and the seeds of their future friendship continue to be planted and develop. By issue four, you can genuinely begin to see the duo of legend becoming who they will be in the long haul. Cariello continues to deliver gorgeous pages of sun-drenched western locales, aided and abetted by Dean White’s spectacular colors, helping this continue to be one of the best-looking comics on the stands.

In its own way, this has really become Dynamite’s flagship title, and deservedly so. THE LONE RANGER is an outstanding book.

Marc Mason

HIGHLANDER #3-4
Written by Brandon Jerwa and Mike Oeming and Drawn by Lee Moder

The first HIGHLANDER arc comes to a conclusion as Macleod and his allies prepare for a final face-off against the Kurgan’s “super-soldiers” in the Siberian snow. Unfortunately, victory will be more difficult than the Scottish swordsman could ever expect, as a traitor is revealed and the long-running grudge between the Kurgan and Macleod gets a deeper look thanks to a flashback to the mid-20th century.

I walked away from the end of this story not quite sure how I felt about it. On the one hand, I felt like the entire story got off to a great start, and conceptually, it was strong; postulating that the Kurgan had followers was terrific, and showing him to be more than just a walking killing machine made one of filmdom’s greatest villains even better. But as the story progressed, I felt like it lost some steam. The look back to the origins of the super soldiers was terrific, but the plot set in the present, after Macleod has gotten the prize, lacked the bite of the earlier sequence. And the ultimate villain behind it all never quite feels like a real threat to Macleod or his safety.

The book looks terrific. Moder has shown himself to be a solid pro at depicting action sequences with HIGHLANDER and PAINKILLER JANE. He also does well with the quieter moments, showing more comfort with them in issue four than issue three.

I didn’t dislike HIGHLANDER by any stretch, but I think that ultimately this first arc wasn’t quite reaching the potential it showed in the beginning. Both writers have demonstrated they are capable of producing excellent work on DE’s properties, but together they weren’t as strong as their parts. It will be interesting to see how the book develops from here.

Marc Mason

BORDERLINE VOL.1
Written by Carlos Trillo and Drawn by Eduardo Risso

Set in a dystopian future, BORDERLINE is a science fiction tale without the shiny sense of hope or fancy trappings. Instead, it follows members from the two co-ruling organizations and their attempts to control the living populace while striking at one another in stealthy fashion.

On one side, we have Lisa/Crash, a “captive agent”. Lisa had been sold into prostitution and forced organ donation by her lover, and when she was found, she was given organ replacements on the condition she fight and kill for her guardians. Now she’s a ruthless, deadly killing machine, a blunt instrument with which to strike against the other faction.

Facing her is Emil/Blue, a “ten-year” agent, a talented and brutal killer in his own right. Unlike his brethren, though, Emil is wildly emotional and regretful for many of the things he has done, and he cannot get past one action that haunts him to this day. Many years ago, it seems, he sold his girlfriend into prostitution and forced organ donation in order to score the drugs he was addicted to…

Trillo and Risso have created a vividly violent and horrible world in BORDERLINE, and the action and intrigue is nearly non-stop. The scripting is very tight (Ivan Brandon’s adaptation is sharp) and the dialogue is minimal, freeing Risso to put the storytelling on his shoulders and run with it. And run with it he does… Risso has demonstrated over the past decade that he is one of the greatest artists working today, and BORDERLINE aptly demonstrates that talent.

The only real problem here is that this book collects a number of short stories and therefore the plot feels a little bouncy when you view the book as a whole. But in looking at the individual pieces, this is really a terrific and great-looking read. If you like sci-fi or Risso’s 100 BULLETS, give it a look.

Marc Mason


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