Friday, January 16, 2015

Star Wars is Back at Marvel

Star Wars was, obviously to anyone who's read this blog, extremely important to my childhood. Seeing the film when I was five, in a tiny, packed movie theatre (people sitting in the aisles, and on the floor in front of the screen) changed me. I wanted to do THAT. I didn't really grasp exactly what THAT was for a few more years, but a course was set.

Part of the genius of Geroge Lucas was how he left opportunities for his universe, his story, his characters to expand beyond the film itself. Many people bemoan the toys and merchandise now, but...they were tools to find more stories for Luke, Han and Leia....

My stories. New stories. The concept, the universe, felt so vast that almost anything was possible. New planets, new adventures on old planets...How many sandboxes in this country became Tatooine between 1977 and the mid-80's?

Part of what fed that was Marvel's comic books, which adapted the original film in the first 6 issues, and then immediately jumped into new stories and new adventures. The first story arc after the film was, flat out so cool. A loose re-telling of The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven with Han Solo recruiting a rag-tag group of misfits and mercenaries to defend a backwater community from a gang on speeder bikes, essentially. I tell ya, I LOVED Jaxxon, a six-foot tall green rabbit who Solo recruited, created by writer Roy Thomas and artist Howard Chaykin, big legends of the industry. I often think that Jaxxon paved my path to being relatively unperturbed by Jar-Jar Binks.

George Lucas, however, apparently HATED the big rabbit. Thomas has inferred that the rejection of this character, and the demands of Lucas licensing, led to he and Chaykin walking away from the series. This led to Archie Goodwin and the truly great Carmine Infantino coming on board. Honestly, my memories of Star Wars in comics are dominated by Infantino's art.

 As time went on, and Star Wars reached the dark days after the release of Return of the Jedi, interest in the book waned, and, eventually, marvel cancelled it with issue #107. Right after I had subscribed, no less, the first and only issue I got of my subscription was #107.

The property was fallow for a long time, but when Timothy Zahn released his "Thrawn Trilogy" of novels, beginning with Heir to the Empire in June 1994. The release of those books marked a resurgence of Star Wars fandom that we are, really, still in. A smaller publisher, Dark Horse Comics, snatched up the rights to do Star Wars comic books in 1996, and continued to publish until 2014, last year.

That's eighteen years of comics. Mini-series, ongoing series, specials, etc, that touched on every era of the imagined history, and created a few of their own. The books embraced drama, horror, comedy, and really showed the sort of expansive creative canvas the Star Wars galaxy is. In my mind, even if I was a much more consistent reader of the Marvel comics of the 70's and 80's, Dark Horse is THE publisher that should be associated with Star Wars (even if I, myself, am uninterested in endless Boba Fett mini-series).

Well, of course, we all know that Disney bought Lucasfilm, Star Wars with it, and already owns Marvel Comics. Corporate synergy being what it is, Star Wars is now being published my Marvel again.

I read the first issue, written by Jason Aaron (he of the AMAZING Southern Bastards), with art by John Cassaday. It's good. No big complaints, but somethign does feel fairly....mechanical about the issue. It's wrapped up in a lot of bells and whistles, and a $4.99 price tag, that wants to scream "EPIC!!!," but the story feels a little forced. It's kind of hard for me to imagine that Luke, Han AND Leia, all high-profile Rebel Alliance members and associates, would all be assigned to the same espionage mission. They make a viable case as to why Han would be useful, but then undercut it by pointing out the price on his head, and who put it there.

But, y''s Star Wars. Sometimes shit happens just so the plot can move along. I can roll with that. The characters feel pretty true-to-form, and the action is appropriate.

However...and this is just me, your mileage may vary....

I liked the Star Wars ongoing series that Dark Horse began in 2013, at which point I think they knew they were losing the license, and took the opportunity to do a classic, Luke/Han/Leia series. It lasted 20 issues, was quite rewarding, and I think Carlos D'Anda's artwork is much more dynamic and appropriate to the concept (Cassaday is a bit too studied and stiff for my tastes...but it is pretty), and Brian Wood had a real solid handle on the characters. I was invested in what that team was doing, and it was sad, if fully expected to see it end.

That series was the first Star Wars I'd had on my pull list in years. Marvel's new series is, as well, and I am willing to give it a good six issues to well and truly grab me. It's a good, solid start.

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