Friday, September 14, 2012
STAR WARS OMNIBUS: A LONG TIME AGO, VOLUME 4 (Part 1)
I had been waiting anxiously for this particular volume to come out, as it includes several of my favorite storylines from the Star Wars marvel comics of the early 1980's. What I'm going to do now is run through the various story arcs and give a quick review (or rather my opinions) on the writing and the artwork in each. Since there are a lot of stories present, I imagine this is going to take me a few posts to cover completely.
In case you had forgotten, this volume picks up where the last one left off, in the months after the capture of Han Solo (during the Empire Strikes Back). As before Han's friends are searching the galaxy to try and find Boba Fett and prevent him from delivering Solo. Before I get going on the first story, I'd like to discuss this running 'motif'. The assumption in these comics is that Boba Fett is having to run a 'gauntlet' across the span of the Galaxy. I had always kind of thought that Fett just flew back to Tatooine, but...well, in these books, it is a months-long odyssey at least. Every story begins with the characters on a mission to help track Han down or explaining why they are NOT doing so (i.e. they're on another, more immediately important mission). Reading the issues back-to-back, this gets kind of old, but if you look at the book as a monthly thing, well, it can almost be forgiven. In any case, I'll try not to belabor this point as I go from story to story.
THE MANDALORIAN ADVENTURE
This story arc is told in two issues, the first titled "The Search Begins", the second titled "Death in the City of Bones". In the adventure, Princess Leia heads off with Threepio to track down a lead on the planet Mandalore. It seems that Dengar (presented as a compatriot of Boba Fett) has been seen on the planet. Leia wishes to capture and question the bounty hunter to see if he knows the route Fett is taking with Han's carbonite-encased body.
What she finds instead is an Imperial sponsored slaving operation being opposed by a Mandalorian freedom fighter by the name of Fenn Shysa. Fenn is presented as having been a comrade of Boba Fett and one of the few survivors of their unit of 'Supercommandos'. While Fett left to find his fortune in the stars, Fenn and his friend Tobi Dala returned home- only to find their world in the grip of slavery and tyranny. Apart from this backstory, Leia also discovers that Fenn's rebels have captured Dengar. The crafty hunter refuses to talk, however, unless the Princess helps him escape. Using her feminine wiles Leia manages to distract and overcome the Mandalorian and free Dengar. Unfortunately, she is quickly betrayed. Evidently the hunter had some kind of tracking device on him which leads the local Imperials right to him.
Leia is captured and taken to a forbidding fortress constructed inside the skeletal remains of a truly colossal beast (the titular 'City of Bone'). Here, she is introduced to the Suprema, an odd-looking, reptilian being in charge of the Imperial slaving effort on Mandalore. Her imprisonment is short-lived, however. Fenn, having infiltrated the base in a suit of Stormtrooper armor, manages to rescue Leia and his previously imprisoned friend Tobi Dala as well.
Things escalate quickly from there. As Fenn's rebels attack the city from the outside, Slaves turn against their captors within- inspired by the running firefight of Leia and the Mandalorians versus the Imperials. Unfortunately, Dala is mortally wounded during the battle. Urging the others to go on, Dala manages to cause an explosion in the base which takes both his life as well as the Suprema's. Leia and Fenn escape, with Dengar in tow. Unfortunately, questioning reveals that the bounty hunter doesn't know anything about Fett's whereabouts. Thus, the mission ends in failure and disappointment for Leia, though with the consolation that Fenn and his rebels have struck a major blow in their own fight for freedom.
Though there are numerous canonical problems with this story (the origin/timing of the Mandalorian Supercommandos, for instance), I am actually quite fond of it. The action is fast-paced and feels very 'Star Wars' to me, with chases, and captures and running gun-battles. Likewise, the overall storyline struck a chord with me. So much so that I used it as the basis of a mini-campaign in my tabletop game, where my PCs joined up with Fenn and his rebels to finally defeat the Empire, once in for all.
Some things I laugh at include Fenn's last name: Shysa. Which, pronounced phonetically, sounds a lot like a rude word in German. Also, I found Fenn's pseudo-Irish (or Scottish?) accent to be odd. But the comics tended to do that when they tried to make a character sound 'exotic'. In fact, later in the series, the writers give Wedge Antilles a similar accent- which is very odd considering he actually SPOKE in the movies- and without accent.
As an interesting, final note, the expanded universe has retconned various aspects of this story. 'The Suprema' was classified as being of the Falleen species of reptilian humanoids. However, he does not look remotely like any representation of that species that I have ever seen. The 'City of Bone' has likewise (and very oddly) been retconned into being the ruins of a Mandalorian theme park. The giant skeleton is now explained away as a gigantic building/sculpture that was the centerpoint of this theme park. Yeah, because that is SO much more believable than it being just a giant skeleton. Meh.
As a fun side-note, the Mandalorian adventure ends with a epilogue that will lead into the next adventure. Chewbacca and Lando are onboard the 'Wheel' gambling space station (visited MUCH earlier in the comic series) and find out that Bossk and IG-88 (again portrayed as compatriots of Boba Fett) are going somewhere that Lando and Chewbacca do not seem excited to go. I like the fact that they used the Wheel as a location again, even if it is such a short little touch-point. It helps to add 'depth' to the setting they're creating in the series. At least in my opinion.
The Suprema: "Ahhh, fire. I like fire in a human. It sizzles so nicely when squelched."
Leia: "Tell me, Suprema, does the Empire give special training in arrogance--or are you one of the lucky ones with natural talent."
Fenn: Say pal, didja know yer shoelaces was untied?"
Stormtrooper: Gosh, no. Thanks, I guess they must've…HEY! WAITAMINIT! Stormtrooper boots don't HAVE laces!
Fenn: I know.
THWOCK (sound of stormtrooper getting pistol-whipped)
This 'era' of the comics is probably my favorite when it comes to artwork. Those involved were Gene Day and Tom Palmer- the latter of whom continues through many issues past these. Unlike in the earlier 'Chaykin' era, the characters look like 'themselves' (though aren't slavishly always in the same 'costume'). The technology looks like it does in the films (for the most part), too. I am all for artistic expression, but when you are basing a work off of something people are familiar with, I think there should be some compunction to represent that subject in a manner that LOOKS like the source material. Call me crazy.
THE STENAX SAGA
The next three issues of the comic series ("The Stenax Shuffle", "Return to Stenos", and "Fool's Bounty") detail the adventures of our heroes on the planet Stenos. The first such story is actually a flashback to an earlier mission that took place previous to the Battle of Hoth. To me, it seemed like an excuse to have a story featuring Han Solo again- who was no doubt a very popular character in the comic series, just as he was in the movies. In fact, the cover art for this first issue has a starburst touting the fact that it features Han Solo.
The Stenax Shuffle finds our heroes on the planet Stenos, looking to find a rebel cell that has failed to report in. While searching the ruins of a temple that the rebel group had been using as a base, the heroes find a group of smuggler 'friends' of Han Solo: Corellian ner-do-well Rick Duel, Dani the female Zeltron and Chihdo the Rodian. Duel claims to have been part of the lost rebel cell and convinces the rest of the group to help take up their 'mission' of finding a lost statue of great religious significance to the Stenax (a hostile, winged-humanoid species native to the planet).
The two groups work together for a time, though neither side really trusts the other. Amusingly, Han seems to be a bit wary/jealous of the attention that Rik Duel seems to be paying to Leia. Likewise, Luke seems totally flustered by the attention paid to him by Dani the Zeltron (presented here for the first time as an over-sexed, uninhibited humanoid species with magenta skin and hair).
Unsurprisingly to everyone, things fall apart once the statue is found. Duel attempts to betray everyone. First, he betrays the heroes to the local Imperials, causing the Stormtroopers to show up. Second, he betrays the Imperials by letting the Stenax know that the idol was found. Thus, while the Imperials attack our heroes, the Stenax attack the Imperials. In the confusion, Rick flees, intending to take the idol and sell it elsewhere. Unfortunately for him, the Imperial Governor was expecting this treachery and is waiting at Duel's ship. And just as unfortunately, Han, Leia and the rest manage to turn the wrath of the Stenax back onto Duel and the Imperials by telling them where their 'god' is and who has it. Thus, our Heroes flee the planet, even as Duel and the Imperials are swarmed by the Stenax.
With that flashback complete, we return to the present and turn to the next issue of the comic: "Return to Stenos". In this issue, Luke and Lando set out into the main starport-city of Stenos in search of clues to the whereabouts of IG-88 and Bossk, both evidently seen on this planet. Artoo and Chewbacca are forced to remain on the ship since only 'humanoids' are common on this planet (this seems a bit contrived to me, but I'll go with it).
Unfortunately for Luke and Lando, their attempts to keep a low profile are quickly scuppered when they enter their first cantina. Here, a man by the name of Drebble recognizes Lando and claims he was once cheated by him. He offers 10,000 credits on the spot to whoever captures Calrissian. A massive gunfight erupts in the cantina. Luke and Lando barely manage to escape- mainly through Luke's newfound Jedi leaping and lightsaber wielding abilities. They flee through the streets from an angry mob only to run into Rick Duel and Dani- who also seem to be in hiding. Dani in particular seems to be glad to see Luke- and again, Luke is amusingly flustered by her attention.
Luke tentatively agrees to help Duel and Dani find their lost friend Chihdo, but is quickly pulled away by Lando, who has spied someone moving a carbonite-encased body through the streets. The two report back in to Chewbacca and Artoo before pursuing the carbonite 'package' to a suspicious building. They break in only to find that it is Chihdo encased in carbonite, and that the whole thing was a trap set by Bossk and IG-88, who have the two surrounded. The issue ends on this cliffhanger note.
The next issue begins with Luke and Lando surrounded and seemingly doomed. At the last moment, however, Rik Duel and Dani emerge from hiding to aid them. Unfortunately, Bossk and IG-88 have too many henchmen- and iG-88 utilizes a powerful 'sonic shriek' to partially nullify Luke's ability to fight. In the end, Rik and Luke manage to escape. Lando and Dani are captured.
As Rik and Luke attempt to formulate an escape plan, we cut back to Chewbacca and Artoo, who have grown tired of waiting and sneak into the spaceport to take matters into their own hands. The two of them set about trying to recruit the Stenaxes, though the hostile Natives seem 'reluctant' to say the least. Meanwhile, Dani and Lando manage to escape from their captors- only to flee right into a carbon freeze chamber. Here, Bossk intends to freeze them in preparation for the capture of Luke (the big prize here).
Luke and Rik duel show up just as Dani and Lando are about to get frozen. But instead of battling, Bossk's men, they simply tackle Lando and Dani to the ground just before a wave of Stenax spears cut into the bounty hunters. It seems that Chewbacca was able to convince them to help afterall- simply by gaining their respect as a fearsome warrior. Bossk and IG-88 flee in the confusion.
The story ends with Chihdo saved and Rik Duel scheming on a way to get the Stenax to work for HIM. Luke, Lando, Chewie and Artoo leave disappointed- having reached a dead-end in their search for Han Solo. As they leave the planet, however, they find out they have a stow-away in the form of Dani, who has grown bored with Rik's schemes and wishes to pursue her capricious infatuation with Luke for a while.
I owned (and still own) two of the three comics of this story arc (the last two) and I always loved them. The story was lots of fun, with good quips by Lando, Luke and just about everyone. It was a nice mix of action and humor. I especially giggle at the scenes of Chewbacca 'sneaking' through the city- which include an especially exaggerated 'sneak' posture for him. Good stuff.
What really sold me on the story, however, was Rik Duel and his crew. Here we see what is essentially another 'adventuring party', only one that isn't at all 'heroic'. To me, Duel is very much a picture of what Han Solo COULD have become if he hadn't maintained a conscience. I particularly like that Duel and crew are 'villains' but of a notably 'grey' variety. They aren't evil per-se, rather, they're just incredibly greedy and self-centered.
Being a teenage boy at the time of these comic's release, I was also enamored with Dani the Zeltron. A promiscuous, magenta-skinned space babe? What's not to like? She was a fun character and I loved the interaction between her and Luke (and later Leia). I also respected the fact that the writers of the comic never abandoned the whole idea of Luke as a 'farm boy at heart'. He is completely (and amusingly) flummoxed by the attention Dani lavishes on him. He also never takes advantage of that. I like to think its because he's a 'nice guy' and that's what has always endeared Luke to me as a character. He's not the 'babe of the week' kind of hero. He's the paladin, and it is quite amusing to me to see how the knight in shining armor reacts to the femme fatale.
Han Solo (nervously jealous of Rik Duel's attention towards Leia): "Chewie, you stay here and keep an eye on.. on Leia. And things."
Rik Duel (later, yanking on Solo's chain): "I'll stay here and keep an eye on..on Leia. And things.
Lando: "Luke, you've got to leave this to a man with some style. A man of subtlety. A man who knows his way around cities. You go blundering around with that direct approach you usually favor and someone might remember that they've seen you here before. At least we know *I* won't be recognized."
(a split second later)
Angry Voice: "Stop that man! He's Lando Calrissian! I tell you that man is a cheat! He robbed me! Ten thousand credits to the one who captures him for me!!"
Luke (as gunshots zip by): "Did you really cheat him?"
Lando (as more gunshots zip by): "Luke, among men of business, 'cheat' is a subjective term. It's open to some very broad interpretations…"
Luke (as still more gunshots zip by): "Great."
As stated in the intro, this is going to take a few posts to cover everything, so... i'll see you when those future parts are written.