Monday, July 11, 2011

Marvel Comics Star War: A long time ago... Volume 3

I am really loving the whole "Omnibus" series of Star Wars comics. But the 'A Long Time Ago' volumes are a particular treat. I was very sporadic in my comic book buying during the 80's, and so I missed huge chunks of the series. So for me, this is like a walk down memory lane and a chance to finally 'catch up' on what I had missed. What I'm going to do here is briefly discuss each storyline presented in the Omnibus, outlining the plot and my thoughts on it. So without further ado...

The Crimson Forever

This story is told in the "Giant Sized 50th Collectors Edition" and (I feel) is suitably 'epic' in scope. It begins with Lando and Chewbacca being called back from their search for Han Solo to help Leia deal with a developing situation. We find that Luke Skywalker (and several other rebels in his patrol) have been stricken with a mysterious disease (the eponymous "Crimson Forever") that colors the eyes and skin of its victims red before killing them. It seems that Luke had found a derelict Imperial craft with a dead crew- and a mysterious gemstone onboard that seemed to be the source of the trouble. Through Chewbacca, we learn (and are shown through flashback) that Han had encountered a stone like that on a previous misadventure- having been shanghaied into trying to steal it from a remote temple. It was here he learned that there were TWO gems, and if one was removed from the other, the "Crimson Forever" would result. Following this tale, we are shocked to hear that Luke has apparently succumbed to the disease.

Nevertheless, Leia, Lando and Chewie press on to find a way to stop the disease at its source. Traveling to the same remote temple that was the source of the gemstones, the heroes discover another derelict ship- this time, a House Tagge mining explorer. Boarding it, they find that this crew has also been stricken with the Crimson Forever- save for a small group- Lady Domina Tagge and her bounty-hunter bodyguards (who include Bossk, IG-88 and Dengar, apparently), who are trapped in a sealed (and shielded) area. Domina (of course) does some 'monologueing' here and reveals her plan. It was SHE who took the stones and tricked the Empire into stealing one of them (thus triggering the disease). Her intention was to bring doom upon both the Empire and the Rebellion. Unfortunately, things didn't quite happen the way Domina intended, thus her being stranded. And it is 'stranded' that Leia intends to leave Domina- until the wily Tagge says that she can 'undo' the death of Luke Skywalker- provided Leia rescues her.

Leia agrees and when the two stones (the one Domina had and the one the Rebellion had) are brought back together Luke does revive. The same can't be said for the other victims, however. Only Luke's ability with the Force allowed him to endure the effects of the Crimson Forever enough to recover. The adventure ends with Domina being released and the Rebellion sending the two stones off into the depths of inter galactic space where they (presumably) won't cause any more trouble. In an amusing footnote, Lando apparently informed Domina's bounty hunter bodyguards that the Empire would probably pay them a pretty penny if they turned their 'former' boss in.

Overall, this was a pretty good story- provided you can get past the somewhat implausible nature of the disease. It seemed to be some kind of 'radiation' that the stones projected and (to me at least) that makes the most sense, as sealed bulkheads, containers and full space suits seemed to prevent the disease from spreading. What I liked most about the adventure was the manner in which the characters acted. Leia and Lando in particular seemed to hew very close to what we saw in the movies. Leia was a strong, yet caring leader. Lando was subtle, smart and tricky- making use of a con to help Leia and himself escape Tagge's hunters.

As it turns out, I had been wrong in a previous post about the Tagge family disappearing as villains in the comic series. I was quite surprised to see Domina appear here and now I wonder if she shows up again at some point. Even so, I'm not sure Domina Tagge's plan made a lot of sense. I mean, it's a bit much to believe that a 'disease' of this sort would seriously impact the Galaxy as a whole. It didn't seem to be communicable past direct exposure to the radiation of the stones themselves. But then, Domina always struck me as a bit 'impractical' in her schemes and this one certainly was.

As far as the art goes, I was quite glad to see the team of Al Williamson, Tom Palmer and Walt Simonson take over in this issue. I never did care for Carmine Infantino. I mean, in these comics the characters AND their equipment all looked a lot like they did in the movies. While I'm all for 'artistic expression', I never thought that Infantino's art really captured the 'feel' of Star Wars.

Resurrection of Evil

Told over two issues of the comic, this storyline deals with the Empire's attempt to build a 'pocket' Death Star in the form of a battlestation known as "The Tarkin". After word reaches the Rebels, the heroes launch a desperate plan to infiltrate and destroy this new weapon. Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids pose as workers to get onboard. Once there, they must face not only Darth Vader (who senses Luke's presence) but also a cabal of Imperial Officers determined to kill both the rebels AND Vader. After numerous close calls, misadventures and fights the heroes find their attempts at sabotage seemingly foiled. Likewise, Vader narrowly escapes an attempt on his own life by the Imperial officer's conspiracy. The Rebels are forced to run for their lives and escape only with the timely intervention of Lando and the Falcon. With Vader in pursuit, the Imperial officers attempt to kill two birds with one stone by firing the superlaser and "accidently" destroying Vader AND the rebels. Unfortunately for the Imperials, however, Leia had managed to sabotage the firing circuits and the station blew itself up.

This story arc is one of the strongest in the comic series so far, in terms of characterization, art and capturing the 'feel' of the movies. In particular, I was happy to see all sorts of little character moments interspersed through the story- things that showed both the personalities of the heroes and how far they had come by this point in becoming true badasses. Leia, for instance, is able to take on several Stormtroopers in close combat. And Luke is shown using fledgling Force powers to help 'bluff' his way onboard the Tarkin. As far as characterization goes, it was nice to see that some attention was paid to Lando still being something of an outsider among the heroes due to his betrayal of Han. He is excluded from the mission due to distrust, but stows away and winds up saving the day- thus helping to take some of the edge off his relationship with Leia in particular. Even Vader got some cool moments- like when he 'suggests' that an Imperial officer 'take a walk'. The mind-warped officer does so- right out the airlock. Yes, a truly devious use of the Affect Mind power- and original, too.

I especially loved the added plot layer of Imperial Officers banding together to try and kill Vader. To me, this made perfect sense, considering how Vader treated those officers who "failed him".

Of course there were some 'weaker' moments to the story. I still don't quite buy that Lando could bribe stormtroopers- especially with fake spice, but...meh. It didn't ruin the overall plotline. And for once, the main superweapon was something that really seemed to make sense. It was basically JUST the superlaser from the deathstar, without all the other trappings or size of the previous battlestation.

A Princess of Mars

Okay, so that isn't really the title of this two-issue story arc, but might as well have been. The actual titles were "The Last Gift from Alderaan" and "Starfire Rising", but the whole thing was clearly a homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs "John Carter of Mars" series. This particular story begins with Princess Leia on a mission to investigate why the Empire is suddenly interested in the remote world of Shiva. Unfortunately, she quickly finds herself stranded on this world and under attack by hostile natives. She is just as quickly rescued by a local Warlord known as Aron Peacebringer (aka John Carter). In the days that follow, a plot by one of Aron's lieutenant's (Delios) is discovered. He has agreed to work with the Empire to conquer the planet and rule it in their name. The Empire's representative on the planet is a very odd looking being named General Sk'ar. Odd because he is a monstrous, non-human Imperial and because he seems to be wearing the native garb instead of any kind of Imperial uniform. It is never exactly explained if Sk'ar is from offworld (though this is suggested in dialogue) or if he is a native of the world, but of some odd, rare, monstrous species. In any case, Aron and Leia work together to thwart Sk'ar's scheme of anti-matter bombing the capital city of Shiva and taking control in the chaos. In the end, the heroes are victorious only with the timely intervention of Luke, Lando and the rest, who arrive in the nick of time. But the victory celebration is short lived when an Imperial Star Destroyer shows up. This too is overcome as Luke manages to lead the ship to its doom in the arms of a nearby black hole- managing to escape himself only by 'feeling his way' out with the Force.

Overall, this story-arc is a pretty straightforward adventure tale. It does have some odd and/or interesting twists, though- namely that much of the adventure is actually told through the somewhat stilted first-person view of Aron Peacebringer (again, a homage to the first-person viewpoint used in the Warlord of Mars series). There is also the sub-plot of Aron falling in love with Princess Leia- despite the fact he is quite happily married to his own Princess (the stand-in for Dejah Thoris). Aron never acts upon his feelings, however, which is good both for his marriage and the fact that if Leia had succumbed to the Warlord's charm it would have felt very out of character for her.

This story-arc really had an impact on me as a Star Wars game master, opening my eyes to the possibilities of incorporating other settings into the larger Star Wars universe. At the same time, it also highlighted some of the pitfalls of doing so. Namely that if you DO bring in an archetype from another fantasy/sci-fi setting, you should find some way to keep the focus on YOUR characters. It is for this reason that these two comics were rather jarring to me. I felt (and still feel) that these comics would have been much better if they had been told from the point of view of Leia rather than Aron Peacebringer- even moreso because Aron's involvement in the whole story is rather anti-climactic. I mean, in the final battle it isn't even Aron who saves Leia's life, it's the late arriving Luke. In all, I enjoyed this story, but it could have been a lot more interesting as a way to explore Leia's character. In fact, the story arc BEGAN and ENDED by examining Leia's thoughts about the loss of Alderaan and her place in the universe. I found that a lot more interesting than listening to Aron's internal monologue.

There are plenty of other Stories in this omnibus, but my time for right now is running short, so I'll continue in another post.

To be continued...

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