Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marvel Comics Star Wars Omnibus 1: A Long Time Ago

I’ve mentioned before my love of (and some frustrations with) the Star Wars comics during their run with Marvel in the 70’s and 80’s. Well, lately I’ve gotten to revisit all this goodness with their “Omnibus” series. I’ve already spoken on a few of the stories to be found therein, but what I want to do in this post is just give an overview of the books in general and ‘review’ (however sketchily) the main story arcs that these comics follow.

Before I go into each arc, however, I want to discuss a couple things found throughout the book that are fun and amusing (at least to me). The first of these is the little “Hero” icon they put in the upper left corner of the cover of the comic book, just below the price and the issue number. In the earliest Star Wars comics, this features a suitably 70’s swashbuckling version of Luke skywalker, inexplicably wielding a red lightsaber and sporting long, flowing hair well past his shoulders. It makes me giggle every time I see it.

Another amusing thing found on each cover is the title of each issue- usually something highly exploitative like “DOOMWORLD!” and “THE SOUND OF ARMAGEDDON!”. And the ‘dialogue’ on the covers is likewise corny: Han: Keep firing, Chewie or this whole planet is DOOMED!... not to mention US!”; Vader: “You’ve escaped the WHEEL, rebels—But now you must face the wrath of DARTH VADER!”. Again, this is very much in keeping with the traditions of comics during that era- and in fact, the titles have a kind of pulp ‘serial movie’ feel to them that, while amusing, is endearingly so.

Also of note are the steadily increasing price tags of the comics themselves, hard to believe that comics used to only cost ¢30.

But now, without further ado- the story arcs themselves:

Star Wars

The initial issues of the series are (no surprise) the ‘official comic adaptation’ of the original movie. They’re more or less faithful to the movie in regard to the general plot- and even the script- of the film, but the overall ‘look’ of the comic is a lot more ‘exaggerated’, especially in the action scenes (but quite in line for ‘standard’ comic book art). It is worth noting that the very first issue probably has some of the sketchiest (even downright crappy at times) artwork of the entire series. I guess the illustrator (Howard Chaykin) needed some time to settle into the series, because there is a noticeable difference even between the first and second issues. I should also point out that issue 2 was the first Star Wars comic I ever bought- and I still have it (though it is in atrocious condition). It was this comic that set my impression for the entire series. Overall I liked it, but was disappointed (even at the age of seven) that it didn’t look more like the movies.

Eight for Aduba-3

I’ve already spoken about this story arc at length, so I won’t go into it too deeply here. Suffice it to say that Eight for Aduba-3 combines what I like best about the marvel comics and what I like least. It is a ‘rip off’ of the classice western “The Magnificent Seven”- which I think is awesome, and feels very Star Warsy. But on the other hand, it has big green bunny-men and purple porcupine men. Just incredibly silly. Overall, though, it exemplifies how I feel about the Marvel comics- some great ideas bogged down by some silly details.

The Dragonlords of Drexel

In this adventure, Luke crashes on a water-world, only to find out that it is the sight of a long running feud between a group of pirates (who use a secret weapon to force ships to crash land on their world) and a group of outcasts who have teamed up with huge aquatic dragons (the titular Dragonlords). The basis of the story is that the weapon the pirates are using to force ships to crash causes the dragons (which are sentient) to go insane and/or die. And into the middle of this charged situation stumbles Han Solo and Princess Leia, having been captured by a dreaded space pirate (Crimson Jack) while looking for Luke. The whole thing resolves in a titanic battle on the planet- where the good guys help the Dragonlords overthrow their pirate adversaries. The adventure then moves to space, where Han must outwit (and outfight) Crimson Jack in order for the whole group to escape.

While there are some decidedly silly bits to this story arc (some of the dialogue is stilted and childish), there are some interesting bits as well: The pirates of Drexel live on a GIGANTIC floating city in the form of a huge sailing ship. They even go as far as describing HOW they could build such a thing on a water planet (seems there are ‘underwater forests’. Okay, so its not ‘hard’ sci fi, but it looks cool). Han has some great dialogue with Leia as well- stuff that fits in well with their antagonistic relationship in the series as a whole. I found the whole space gun battle a little goofy, however, where Han and Crimson Jack square off in space…without space suits (they just had breath masks)- apparently protected from hard vacuum of space by their ships shield bubbles. Yeah. Right. Still, they get points for trying to give SOME ‘scientific’ explanation as to why they’re in space without suits.

Overall, a pretty entertaining and entirely original story that I could see working in any Star Wars campaign (though with a bit of tweaking).

Valance the Hunter

This story arc is unique in that it doesn’t directly include ANY of the main characters of the Star Wars films. Rather, it focuses on the origin of a bounty hunter named Valance who has a personal vendetta against droids in general and Luke Skywalker in particular. The reasoning for this is a bit iffy, though- Valance hates Luke because he is friends with his droids. That’s the whole reason (okay, so he was also disfigured at some point by the Rebel Alliance, but that isn’t put forth as the primary reason). We follow Valance as he tracks down what he thinks is Luke Skywalker, only to discover that it is actually one of the members of Han Solo’s mercenary troupe from Eight for Aduba-3 (someone who fits Luke’s description). In a fierce battle with the surviving members of Han’s group, Valance learns his mistake and it is dramatically revealed that he is a cyborg- thus explaining (?) his hatred of droids. He escapes, vowing to find the real Luke Skywalker.

My main problems with this story were centered around Valance’s reasoning for hating Luke Skywalker. The story seemed to imply that droids were somewhat ‘rare’ in the Galaxy, and the Luke’s friendly relationship with them was something of an aberration. This isn’t the impression I got from watching the movie. Droids were everywhere. And so it just seems silly- which makes Valance come off less as less of a threat and more of a complete loony.


I was surprised to stumble upon this story, which lasted only one issue (unlike the previous multi-issue story arcs. It is essentially Luke Skywalker thinking back on his youth on Tatooine. It starts with him recalling his dreams- about being a heroic space pilot and rescuing the beautiful slave girl from the evil space pirates. It then goes onto a ‘real’ story of him attending a party deep in the desert with all his friends. They’re suddenly ambushed by Tusken raiders, forcing Luke and Biggs to take one of their skyhoppers and go and warn the settlers that a raid is likely. With Bigg’s poisoned by a Tusken attack, it is up to Luke to pilot his way through a deadly obstacle course to safety.

My sporadic acquisition of Star Wars comics had caused me to miss this story entirely, which is a shame because I like it a lot. It is a low-key story that helps build some background for one of the main characters- in fact for my personal hero in the saga. The story also feels like one of the most ‘real’ stories in the comics up until this point- without any giant monsters or huge space battles to speak of.

The Wheel

This is one of the most complex and interesting stories in the comics up until this point. And to me, it reads very much like an adventure. While returning from their last mission on the Millennium Falcon, Luke suddenly collapses into a coma. While en-route to the closest medical help, the crew stumbles upon a wrecked ship that was made to look as though it had been attacked by the Rebellion. Fleeing Imperial pursuit, the heroes make it to a huge space station (and gambling den/resort) known as the “Wheel”. Run by an (ex) senator by the name of Greyshade (subtle naming there…), this station is ‘neutral ground’ due to the machinations of the Senator and the amount of money the wheel generously donates to the Empire.

From here, things get really complicated. Greyshade is evidently in love with Leia and seeks a way to force her to stay with him by using threats against her friends for leverage. In the meanwhile, an Imperial commander (Strom) seeks to overthrow Greyshade and assume control of the Wheel for the Empire (and himself). Seems that it was Strom who set up the fake rebel attack in order to turn public wheel sentiment against them as well as discredit Greyshade for not being able to protect the ship.

See? I told you it was complicated. And it only gets moreso as Han and Chewbacca are forced into a gladiatorial combat in order to pay off gambling debts incurred when Greyshade had his casinos cheat them. Luke, meanwhile, is struggling within his coma, evidently in a force-induced ‘vision’ where he confronts Vader and the dark side of the Force. This was evidently brought on by Luke ‘sensing’ Vader earlier while training. Coincidentally enough, the story then jumps to Vader, who is slowly tracking the Rebels down. This all sets up the final act where Greyshade betrays (but fails to kill) Strom, Han is evidently killed (by Chewbacca no less) and Leia finally agrees to stay with Greyshade in return for the lives of her remaining companions.

Knowing that he is losing control of the situation, Greyshade decides to flee with Leia, only to be betrayed and attacked by Strom. In a suddenly selfless act (evidently he really DID care for Leia), Greyshade sacrifices himself in order to allow Leia and Luke to escape- right into the waiting clutches of Darth Vader! Only they are saved at the last minute by Han and Chewbacca- seems that Han had faked his death earlier to he and Chewie could escape. Working together, they manage to escape Vader and flee to safety. Oh, and Greyshade? Seems his trusty droid managed to save him, too… evidently to sneak off into hiding (and a possible re-emergence later in the saga).

You know, reading the ‘abridged’ format below, things might seem a bit more confusing than they actually were. The various story arcs wove into eachother nicely. I found the story to be quite well done and very ‘adult’ in its complexity. Up until now, the stories had all been pretty black and white: heroes shoot bad guys and win. But here we have ‘grey’ personified in Greyshade, who isn’t inherently evil, just selfish. I also found the idea of there being /some/ places where the Empire isn’t in complete control to be refreshing and even a bit realistic. I wonder just how much this story influenced the character of Lando and the setting setting of Bespin in the second movie. There are remarkable similarities.

Silent Drifting

Another ‘one-shot’ story, taking place within a single issue. This one is framed by Leia telling a story about Ben Kenobi during his days as a Jedi Knight (as told to her by her father). Ben is riding on a starliner when it comes under attack by alien pirates (yeah, they used pirates a lot in this comic). Through his tactical capability, cleverness and steely resolve, Ben helps the ship escape and finds the traitor onboard who had been helping the pirates track the liner. All in all, it was a pretty good story. And interesting in its portrayal of Ben Kenobi as a young(ish) almost brash personality- and in a rather cool black ‘uniform’ of sorts. What was a little disconcerting was Ben’s casual killing of an antagonist who tries to stab him with a knife. Yeah… he didn’t just take the man’s hand in this case.

Siege at Yavin

In this multi-issue story arc we find the planet Yavin under siege by Imperial fighters striking at them from a secret base somewhere within the system. The rebels are slowly being whittled down and will soon face ultimate defeat. Luke and Leia scout out the situation and tail a suspicious mining cruiser to the gas giant Yavin itself. There, a tunnel opens in the clouds, allowing reinforcing TIE fighters to be sent to a space-station base within the destructive atmosphere of the planet itself. This station evidently generates a ‘safe zone’- and the aforementioned tunnel with which to access the base (and to send out attacks). Luke and Leia only narrowly manage to escape back to Yavin. Once there, Luke volunteers to fly a suicide mission in a captured TIE fighter. He’ll blend in with the other TIEs and fly into Yavin’s atmosphere to destroy the station- even though it means that the station will not be able to generate the tunnel necessary for him to escape. He succeeds, and manages to escape with the help of the Force.

Now, I find the premise of this adventure to be a bit iffy. Why would the Rebellion remain on Yavin long enough for this to happen? Why would the Empire not take direct action against them? Who knows. If you can get past THAT hurdle, however, the story is pretty fun. I especially like the introduction of a new and original villain into the mix. Seems the whole plan was the brainchild of Baron Orman Tagge. A rival of Darth Vader’s, Tagge seeks to discredit the Sith Lord by succeeding in destroying the rebels. Thus, the whole operation is ‘privately funced’ by Tagge’s wealth- it isn’t an Imperial military operation at all. Tagge and his family are destined to become recurring villains in future issues.

Return of the Hunter

In another single-issue story, we pick up with Valance the Hunter once more. Still pursuing his mad vendetta against droids and the droid loving Luke Skywalker, he finally manages to find and corner his prey. But even as Valance has Luke at his mercy, he is moved to allow him to escape by the loyalty and self-sacrifice of C-3PO, who places himself in danger to protect Luke. Valance is forced to reconsider his opinions on droids and his own self-loathing (due to his cyborg nature).

Again, the premise is silly here, but it's a fun little show-down between a Cyborg and a fledgling Jedi. It also gives the villain, Valance, more depth than he might otherwise have. You know, given another motivation, he might even be an acceptable recurring villain in my book.

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