Friday January 25, 2013
A long time ago, and quite overdue
WORLD OF WONDERS
By KALEON RAHAN
The new Star Wars title from Dark Horse recaptures the magic of the original movie trilogy. Elsewhere, pulp heroes team up in Masks — with mixed results.
Star Wars #1 (Dark Horse, US$2.99)
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Carlos D’Anda and Alex Ross (cover)
RIGHT this moment, in a galaxy that’s ... right here: it is a time when the powers-that-be at Dark Horse have finally rediscovered that elusive formula for scripting a winning Star Wars series! After years of heavy reliance on “Jedi mind tricks” to push its Star Wars comics, a simple back-to-basics approach allows the publisher to capitalise on the sci-fi world’s hottest property.
What we have here is “Episode IV.5”, set weeks after the Death Star’s destruction and three years before The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V). Episode IV ends with a huge Rebel Alliance ceremony after the destruction of the Death Star.
Episode V picks up three years later with the Rebellion cornered in its new base in the Hoth System. The “missing years” (Disney, are you listening?) offers a huge story-telling opportunity, which Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda capitalise on to make their mark in the Star Wars mythos.
Obviously, all those exciting space battles and lightsabre duels in the movies come with a price: fewer characterisation opportunities for the main characters, i.e. Luke, Leia, Han and Vader.
Here’s where this premiere issue fills the void – it deals with events after the Battle of Yavin. I will start with my least favourite Star Wars character – Luke, who is acclimatising to his transition from an average Joe on Tatooine to the Rebel Alliance’s numero uno sharpshooter.
Despite experiencing the high of causing the Death Star’s destruction, he is grounded by the sacrifices of his close ones, particularly Obi-Wan Kenobi. Fortunately for him, his feelings for Leia are still contained … otherwise we’d have a rather dodgy relationship on our hands.
Meanwhile, the burden of the Alliance’s responsibilities weighs most heavily on Leia, compounded by the destruction of Alderaan and the ever-increasing Rebel body count. Leia finds solace in flying missions with Luke and Wedge Antilles on the pretext of recruiting others to their cause and finding a new base.
As for Han Solo (and Chewbacca), his conscience is still adjusting to the switch from mercenary to Rebel. Coming to terms with fighting for a greater (but non-paying) cause is already tough but being on the Imperial wanted list offers a whole new experience.
If you thought that only the good guys have it tough, Vader’s future isn’t so bright either, after the Yavin debacle. Despite the Death Star being Grand Moff Tarkin’s brainchild, Vader is made the scapegoat for its destruction. To add insult to injury, the Emperor demotes Vader and strips him off his privileges (Star Destroyer, keys to the imperial washroom, etc).
While Vader begins his quest for redemption, the Skywalker name persistently clouds his emotions, paving the way for that inevitable father-son “bonding” moment we know so well.
Everyone has problems, even Rebel heroes and Sith Lords! The Empire is planning revenge and it almost gets it in this issue when Luke, Leia and Wedge narrowly escape from a fleet of TIE Interceptors.
The situation is further complicated when it is revealed that there is a mole within the Alliance, and the responsibility of neutralising the spy is added to Leia’s endless to-do list.
Overall, this series recaptures the magic of the original Star Wars movies, and serves as an easy jump-on point for movie fans. Having enjoyed the original Marvel Comics run, which stuck to the films’ continuity, this series is certainly moving in the right direction – especially with the march towards Episode VII in a couple of years.
The Alex Ross cover itself is worth the price of this issue – I just hope they’ll immortalise this in a T-shirt. The Force is indeed strong with this one!
Masks #1 and #2 (of 8, Dynamite, US$3.99)
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Alex Ross (#1) and Dennis Calero
In the movies, when ageing action movie stars team up, you call them The Expendables. In the world of comics, such a gathering is simply called Masks, as Dynamite unites all of its classic pulp heroes to deliver “true” justice to evildoers. Unlike Marvel and DC events where the characters are more easily recognised, the familiar faces in this outfit are only those with recent silver screen outings: the Green Hornet, Kato and Zorro.
Golden Age characters such as the Shadow, Spider, Black Bat, Green Lama and Miss Fury may not trigger any memories, unless you are already familiar with Dynamite Universe.
Masks is set in 1938 New York, where political changes are taking place after the newly established Justice Party comes into power. Instead of serving the people, its first acts are to raise taxes/fines and recruit criminals.
Governor Whiting, the man at the centre of this sweeping change, cements his position by stepping up the recruitment of “law enforcement agents” from the underworld. With a governor on the mob’s payroll and a battalion of hired thugs given carte blanche to implement their version of the law, New York becomes a fascist state.
I didn’t pay too much attention to the plot in issue #1, thanks to Ross’ stunning (as usual) illustrations. His absence from the interior artwork is sorely felt in issue #2 with both story and art going into freefall mode.
Bringing these heroes of yesteryear together seems rushed and there’s little room for characterisation. If this is your first encounter with the Green Hornet, you will probably figure that he’s a sissy – and the movie reaffirms this. If there’s one character that hogs the limelight, it is the Shadow, whose every appearance raises the book’s excitement level.
The announcement of Masks at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con got our hopes up, but the verdict is that this is so much like most Dynamite releases: promising, but over-promised.
The notion of uniting pulp characters is a promising concept, as it is a springboard for intriguing match-ups like the Shadow vs the Green Hornet vs Zorro.
As for the “over-promised” part, that refers to the excessive reliance on Ross’ ability and star power, and then depriving readers of his contributions in the second issue.
Apart from Ross illustrating the interiors for upcoming issues, the other saving grace I can think of is the inclusion of the Lone Ranger. Hopefully, his appearance can kick some sense into this union – and also into his descendant, the Green Hornet!
Comics courtesy of Earth 638 (2nd Floor, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS6/12, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya, tel: 03-78048380, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)