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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon

Title: Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon

ISBN: 9780785192145
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2016
Artist: Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen
Writer: Jason Aaron
Collects: Star Wars (2015) # 7-12

Rating: 4/5

There are a lot of comic series out there which start out great and do a lot of set up for a second volume, which then only proceeds to fall apart. Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon, is the perfect example of when this does not happen. It takes the interesting premise from the first volume and runs with it. This allows it be an improvement on the series as a whole and a good book on its own. If you read Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes and wanted to know if it was worth continuing, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

This volume start out with a flashback that fits into the current arc but also stands as an independent story. It features Obi-Wan living on Tatooine as “Old Ben” in the years before A New Hope. What is most unique about this story is how little it involves the usually theatrics and fighting of the main Star Wars series. Instead, Jason Aaron chooses to focus on Obi-Wan’s intense inner turmoil. Since Obi-Wan is posing as an old hermit, he cannot intervene in the lives of the oppressed people of Tatooine, and instead must watch them be beaten and robbed by Jabba the Hutt’s thugs. It is an interesting dynamic to watch play out and a unique part of the Star Wars story which has never really been explored before.

After this, the main story starts with Luke on his way to try and learn more about the Jedi by looking into their history. Before being able to do this, he is captured by a Hutt who wants to see him battle in a gladiator style deathmatch, billing him as the “Last Jedi.” This portion of the story is entertaining and somewhat enlightening at the same time. For one, seeing Luke go head to head with the villains here provides the action this story needs, while the Jedi history and training from the prison warden provide some explanation as to Luke’s proficiency with his lightsaber later on in the series.

However, the real gem of the story is the comedy/action that is Chewbacca and C-3PO’s misadventures. On their way to find Luke, Chewy and C-3PO have to deal with droid muggers, unhelpful bartenders, and even a bounty hunter. Yet they deal with them all in scenes which are, quite possibly, the funniest C-3PO has ever been. My favorite of these misadventures involved C-3PO commending Chewbacca on “letting the bartender go” because he thought it was a nice thing to do; when in reality, Chewbacca “let him go” off of the roof of the building they were on. In addition, this story also sees C-3PO do one of the most courageous things he has ever done when he sacrifices himself (temporarily) in order to save Chewbacca. These two have a great dynamic and I am glad to see Jason Aaron make full use of it.

The story is not all positives though, as the plotline involving Han and Leia ranged from average to below average. This story saw Han and Leia ambushed by Han’s “wife” who then proceeds to save them. It is a story which tries to establish some sort of relationship growth between the two but barely manages to do that. It isn’t awful to read, but this arc could have done just as good without it.

The only other flaw with this book is the random logical errors which pop up every now and again. For example, Han and Leia manage to avoid a plethora of blaster fire, and even return fire, without any cover whatsoever. Later, an EMP shorts out all of the blasters in the battle arena, however R2-D2 and all of the lights are still functioning perfectly. Finally, at the story’s end, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca all proceed to take down a bunch of imperial soldiers with lightsabers, despite having absolutely no familiarity with the weapons before then. On their own, each of these flaws does not matter much, but when put together, they start to make the story a little less believable and seem a little more flawed.

For the first issue in this collection, Simone Bianchi does the artwork. This works out incredibly well because it is a very different issue and thus deserves a different art style to match. Bianchi’s artwork is gritty and void of fun, which works very well in demonstrating the hopelessness and pain that Obi-Wan is feeling in this issue.

The rest of the collection is done by Stuart Immonen. Immonen’s work is very similar to John Cassaday’s work in the first volume. This is nice because it helps give a little more consistency to the series as a whole. However, Immonen’s artwork does not look quite as nice as Cassaday’s and is definitely not as detailed. For the most part, this is not that noticeable, as close-ups on characters look great. However, it is when characters are in the background where they do not look nearly as nice.

This book takes place between the movies Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back. While you could theoretically read this without watching the movies, it is highly recommended to watch them first, as much of the story builds off of them.

This story flows directly out of the events of Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes. The story will be continued in Star Wars Vol. 3: Rebel Jail.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol 3: The Shu-Torun War

Title: Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol 3: The Shu-Torun War

ISBN: 978078519979
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2016
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: Star Wars: Darth Vader # 16-19 and Annual #1 

Rating: 4/5

The volume begins by establishing the situation on Shu-Torun. Vader is betrayed by the planet’s rulers and, thus, has them all killed. The only member of the royal family he spares is the young Princess Trios, who he appoints as the new Queen. This opening chapter is a quick reminder of the Empire’s brutality and a testament to the ends they will go to in order to obtain what they want.

From here, Vader and Trios team up in order to secure her newly acquired power by stopping the rebellion taking place throughout the planet. Though the straightforward planning and direct attacks seen here differ from the more subtle maneuverings see in previous volumes, they are by no means less entertaining. In fact, seeing Vader go all out and hold nothing back is a bit of a refreshing change of pace, as he is no longer restricted by a random officer hanging around. While previous volumes could be seen as a testament to Vader’s intelligence, this volume works well as a testament to Vader’s strength.

Alongside showing off Vader, Gillen also manages to do a great job in building up the minor characters throughout this volume. This includes a betrayal from one of “the twins”, the death of the other “twin”, and some unexpected treachery from Cylo. However, the best case of character development is Queen Trios herself, who goes from a scared girl to a harsh and exacting ruler. It isn’t exactly wholesome character development but it is still a great progression, especially considering how short a time it happens over.

The Shu-Torun War‘s only major negative comes from Vader’s two maniacally comedic droids. In our review of Volume One, we talked about how these droids push the boundaries on comedy, especially when compared to the otherwise serious nature of this comic. Now, in this volume, it is more noticeable than ever. With Aphra missing, her moderation of the droid’s action is gone and they end up playing a much larger role than ever before. If you were someone who loved them from the get-go, then it is possible this negative may actually be a positive. However, I found them to be a bit too silly and distracting in an otherwise great book.

Once again, Salvador Larroca is able to deliver another beautiful looking volume of the Darth Vader series. Characters, locations, and vehicles all have a great level of detail and realism to them. The only real downside here is that the book’s plot mostly takes place underground, which does not lend itself well to overly imaginative backgrounds. However, Larroca still manages to make this work and shows a good level of creativity when drawing the various ornate palaces or complex machinery one would find in this underground world. Overall, The Shu-Torun War is another visual success for the Darth Vader series.

Darth Vader Vol. 3: The Shu-Torun War continues the story from Star War: Vader Down. Both stories take place between the movies Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Star Wars: Vader Down

Title: Star Wars: Vader Down

ISBN: 9780785197898
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2016
Artist: Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato
Writer: Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron
Collects: Star Wars: Vader Down, Star Wars (2015) # 13-14, Star Wars: Darth Vader # 13-15 

Rating: 4/5

The first crossover in this new Star Wars comic continuity reads with the excitement and thrills one would expect from such an event. Vader Down is filled with great fight scenes, unexpected twists, and plenty of awesome moments from Vader himself. However, outside simply being a crossover, the collection doesn’t offer much that feels unique. In fact, this volume seems to fall victim to overused tropes more often than the regular series does. All in all, this ends up being an entertaining crossover, not one that stands out as incredible or revolutionary, but entertaining nonetheless.

The crossover kicks off when Darth Vader is shot down by Rebel forces while on his hunt to find Luke Skywalker. Right off the bat, this premise is enough to grab reader’s attention. It takes Vader, a man we all know to be one of the most deadly human beings in the galaxy, and finally makes him vulnerable. He is still the unstoppable powerhouse that he always is but seeing him knocked down a peg proves to be pretty satisfying.

From here, a large portion of the story follows Vader’s reaction to this crisis. He is immediately set upon by hordes of Rebel soldiers, who he takes out with little trouble. He even goes so far as to state “All I am surrounded by is fear. And dead men.” when Rebel forces have completely encircled him, a moment that legitimately gave me chills when I read it. He destroys the Rebel forces in a creatively terrifying manner, and then goes on to take down Karbin, the man who engineered this crisis. Each battle he fights is awesome and makes Vader’s very presence one of the biggest highlights of this collection.

Moments not following the Dark Lord of the Sith mostly follow Luke, Han, Aphra, and the droids. While not as brutal or exciting as the scenes featuring Vader, these character’s adventures still manage to be entertaining. In particular, watching Han and Aphra play on each other’s overconfidence and seeing the evil droids interact with the heroes ends up being very fun. There  are also a number of places where the relationships between the characters are elaborated upon, creating some wholesome and even heartwarming vibes.

Unfortunately, a lot of what happens here also ends up feeling uninspired and predictable. Members of the rival factions meet their “counterparts” in battles that ultimately don’t produce any significant results. Some battles even stretch suspension of disbelief in order to maintain the status quo; for example, BT-1 has no problem killing a group of Stormtroopers but is somehow unable to cause any damage to R2-D2. Seeing these characters interact is still entertaining but it feels a bit cheap in how it is executed.

Another small problem with most of Vader Down is that the artwork here does not look quite as nice as it has looked in previous Star Wars titles. Instead, a more stylized style is presented by Mike Deodato. This style sees harsher lines and deeper shadows, with a lack of detail that can look strange in a few places. Deodato’s artwork is still alright, especially when it comes to drawing larger scenes where detail is viewed from a distance, but it still feels like a small step down in overall quality.

There are also three issues here drawn by Darth Vader artist Salvador Larroca. His work here looks just as good as it did in Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets (Review). However, it comes into a small amount of conflict with the rest of the collection’s art, which hurts the feeling of consistency through the event.

Star Wars: Vader Down takes place immediately after the events of both Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets and Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon. However, despite this being a crossover between two series, the events of the Darth Vader series are far more relevant here. Readers could understand everything happening here without reading a single volume of the Star Wars comic series.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets

Title: Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets

ISBN: 9780785192565
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2016
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: Star Wars: Darth Vader #7-12

Rating: 4/5

The plot this collection follows picks up right where the previous one left off. It sees Darth Vader attempting to search for Luke Skywalker while constantly under the threat of being exposed for his crimes against the Empire. This puts him and his allies in a number of intense situations; ranging from interrogating sources in the middle of a battle to blowing up an asteroid to secretly attack a spaceship. The book easily covers its bases when it comes to action.

However, these action-packed moments pale in comparison to the general tension created by the suspicions raised against Vader. At the start of the book, Vader’s team robs the Empire. From here, Vader is placed on the very team responsible for investigating this robbery. Watching him cover his tracks or purposely impede the investigation, all without raising suspicion against himself, makes for some nerve-racking entertainment. At times, the fear that Vader will be caught is so intense that the book feels like a genuine thriller.

When it comes right down to it though, the biggest highlight here, and number one reason to read this book, is Vader himself. Gillen writes Vader with a stoic sense of purpose that is absolutely terrifying. One scene sees a group of Rebels attempt to ambush him, only to later reveal that he lured them all in so he could slaughter them and use the resulting carnage to cover his tracks. In this comic, Vader is every bit the tactical and physical powerhouse that fans would expect him to be.

Though Vader effectively steals the show, this volume still does a good job in making the minor characters compelling as well. Shadows and Secrets elaborates on Aphra’s background, giving her a bit of tragedy to justify the bleak outlook she has toward the world. It also showcases her intelligence more thoroughly and makes her a bit more rounded of a character in general. In addition, Triple Zero and BT-1 are proving to be more entertaining and humorous as the series goes on. All in all, the minor characters here are quite nearly as well written as some main characters are in other comic series.

Salvador Larroca continues his work on the Darth Vader series by providing the artwork throughout this collection. Like the previous volume, his work here looks great and brings forward a cinematic quality that makes the scenes here look like they were taking straight from a movie. Many pages also feature a wonderful level of detail that adds even more life to the characters and locations. The only problem is that there are a few smaller panels where this detail is not present and characters look downright strange. However, these problems are rare and will likely go unnoticed by most readers.

Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets continues the story started in Darth Vader Vol. 1: Vader (Review). Both stories take place between the movies Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back.

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