Catching up with Marvel Star Wars comics

It’s been a while since I last caught up with the Star Wars comics – almost a year, in fact! If you read that linked blog, then you might know the reason for this delay – I’ve been so unimpressed with the ongoing series and its overall lack of meaningful content to the Saga, that I’d effectively given up. Sure, I’ve still been collecting these things monthly, but I just couldn’t bring myself to want to read anything more. However, after feeling a bit at a loss for reading material, and realising just how many comics I have to catch up on, I’ve made a return to the new canon, starting with the Darth Vader series…

When we last caught up with the Dark Lord, it was in the crossover event Vader Down. Almost worryingly, it’s been two years since I read these earlier comics! Just where does the time go?! Anyway. After those events, which saw Doctor Aphra captured by the Rebels and Vader assigned Inspector Thanoth as a liaison with Tagge, Vader is dispatched to the mining world Shu-Torun to resolve some industrial difficulties. Seems a bit weird, sending Vader for such a thing, but then we get a lot of this sort of thing, where the premise is never what it seems, or is merely a backdrop to a wider storyline. The mining conflict on the planet, where several ore barons have rebelled against the Empire’s demand for nigh-impossible quotas, almost becomes a backdrop to seeing Vader in conflict with Doctor Cylo from the earlier issues in the series. I thought it was interesting at first how he seems to be working much better with the various adepts Cylo has created, though that soon dissolves as the twins Morit and Aiolin try to defeat him, and end up seemingly killing each other instead.

The book ends with Thanoth sending a message to Vader, letting him know Aphra has been discovered. While the storyline itself was very much a throwaway one to my mind, it does feel like we might be returning to the wheels-within-wheels that characterised the second arc and Vader Down, which can only be a good thing!

End of Games is the final storyline in the Vader ongoing series, and brings all of the various plot threads nicely together. Vader concludes his vengeance against Cylo, who we learn was responsible for creating the suit that keeps the Dark Lord alive. Cylo almost shuts Vader down, but through the Force, everybody’s favourite bad guy manages to win the day. Triple Zero and Beetee, having recovered Doctor Aphra after her escape from the Rebels, bring her to the Executor, where she basically tells the Emperor everything that Vader has been up to in a bid to win his protection. Far from being annoyed at his apprentice, however, Palpatine applauds Vader’s cunning, and in turn, Vader pushes Aphra out of an airlock. Does she survive? Well, the Aphra ongoing series would be kinda redundant if she didn’t, now, wouldn’t it? Though I think it’s nice that that series was initially untitled in the solicitations in order to keep the suspense.

End of Games is quite a huge finale to the series, and I think it certainly rounds everything off really nicely – while I have found them a little uneven at times, I think overall the Vader series has been really very good – and the art has been just incredible!

I wish I could say I enjoy the Star Wars ongoing series, however! Yoda’s Secret War kinda picks up after Vader Down, in that we start off with Threepio being held by the Empire and boring them all with his incessant jabbering about nothing. Luke is, understandably, distraught at one of his friends being held captive, and decides to just head straight off to rescue him. Along the way, he once more turns to the journal of Obi-Wan, and reads about one of Yoda’s escapades on a world where all the kids are at war, and the adults have retreated inside a mountain that happens to be alive.

Look, this story is very weird, and I think the overall point of it is something to do with not judging things on their first appearance, or something. You know, because Obi-Wan left the journal more to help instruct Luke in the ways of the Force than as a series of bedtime stories about the days of yore. I must say, though, while the ongoing series has just been a letdown for me so far, the Obi-Wan journals have been particularly disappointing, as I don’t feel they really add anything to the story, such as that is.

I think this is becoming a serious issue for me now, that Marvel’s Star Wars comics have consistently failed to provide any kind of proper, cohesive narrative beyond a need to fill another slot in the solicitations every month. We’re not getting anything that is actually important to the storyline, and it’s just driving me nuts wading through these books in the hope that maybe, just maybe, there may be something worth reading. Dark Horse tried to forge a kind of ongoing series in their Empire comic that told significant storylines such as the Grand Moff Trachta plot against the Emperor, or the very human drama of Luke’s reunion with Tank, to say nothing of the Darklighter story arc. And while that series did have odd patches that didn’t feel like they were really more than just throwaway stories, overall the series felt like it was a meaningful part of the Star Wars canon. Seriously, Darklighter is an incredible piece of storytelling, and I can recommend it to anyone. So far, Marvel has just failed to deliver on anything that is anywhere near the same level, and I’m wondering if it’s even worth carrying on with these books now. When you compare something like The Wrong Side of the War to Last Flight of the Harbinger, I’m frankly disgusted the Story Group has let it pass! But I’ve ranted about this before, after all…

That’s a lot of emotive language, for sure, but I just can’t get past the fact that these new stories we’re getting are just meaningless in the wider scope of the Star Wars lore, and I’m just tired of having throwaway story after throwaway story. We need something better, damn it!

After the Vader series had finished, Doctor Aphra clearly made it out alive as she gets her own ongoing series, which is kinda nice to think that a completely new, non-movie character gets this treatment. I’d found her a somewhat difficult character to get my head around, as it’s almost like Han Solo teams up with Darth Vader, it just felt so unlikely, somehow. But through his ongoing series, we learn that Vader really just sees her as a means to an end, in building up his own powerbase away from the Emperor. In a lot of ways, then, it’s a continuation of Vader’s association with the galactic underbelly that had been seen back with the bounty hunters in Empire.

Aphra, the first arc in the series, picks up after End of Games as we follow the doctor on a quest to restore her doctorate credentials after her estranged father has called them into question. He persuades her to help him on a quest to uncover the existence of the Ordu Aspectu sect of the Jedi from thousands of years past. The adventure takes them to Yavin IV, where the Imperials are still sifting through the Rebel base under the command of Captain Tolvan, an interesting new Imperial character who I’m hoping becomes more of a feature, as we really need anchor points in these comics, and this would be a great way to do that!

Aphra and her father eventually find the ruins of the Ordu Aspectu citadel, confirming their existence, but find more than they’d bargained for in the survival of one of the leaders, Rur, in a crystal (that, for some reason, is never referred to as a holocron, but I get the impression it basically is that).

The first arc is heavily influenced by Indiana Jones, from the estranged father, to the double cross at the beginning, right to the ending where the Rur crystal is deposited in a warehouse for safe keeping not unlike the lost Ark. Somehow, though, it doesn’t overly detract from the story, and it was nice to return to Yavin and see what’s up there, so I have high hopes for this series!

This blog is kinda getting long now – not helped by my rambling rant earlier! – so I’ll end it here with the second crossover event, The Screaming Citadel.

Much like Vader Down, we get a standalone issue that introduces the series, followed by alternate books from the ongoing series and its new partner, the Doctor Aphra ongoing series. Aphra teams up with Luke in an attempt to open the Rur crystal, which obviously she didn’t really deposit in that warehouse at the end of her own series. It’s interesting to see Luke quite desperate to follow the Jedi path that Obi-Wan firmly placed him on, but the fact he seemingly never gets very far is a little dull now. I know we can’t have Luke very Jedi-like before Empire, but I think if that must be the case, then they should stop doing these things and instead focus on making him the war hero that he seems to be when we see him as the leader of Rogue Squadron.

Anyway! Aphra and Luke head to Ktath’atn, whose Queen famously grants favours once a year, provided they’re interesting. It turns out the Queen is something of a vampire, and longs to feed on Jedi. Learning of what’s happened, Leia, Han and Sana all head off after them, where we learn that Sana and Aphra have had some kind of relationship in the past. Hm. After some attempts to implant parasites in Luke and Han (who actually does end up infected), the Queen is defeated and Aphra makes it out with her activated Rur crystal. The storyline ends with the Queen’s body being discovered by relic hunters, and the parasite infection continuing…

While it wasn’t as interesting a storyline as Vader Down, it’s still nice to see the characters from the two series crossing over like this every so often. I’m even finding myself warming to Sana this time around, which is a turn-up for the books! The fact that Aphra is here confirmed as gay was an interesting touch, something that first cropped up towards the end of the Aphra storyline, with her attraction to Captain Tolvan. While it has previously felt like Disney has been forcing the issue that there are gay characters in the Star Wars universe now, I think there’s a very good case that Aphra, of all the new characters we’ve seen, needs her sexuality confirmed if they’re to continue playing up the Indiana Jones line.

I thought it was interesting that Triple Zero gives Leia almost a lesson in morality when he calls into question her use of Han and Luke as tools. We’ve previously seen Leia almost as the head of a spec-ops team, but we’ve not had a great deal out of her character-wise so far. It also fits entirely with her persona at this point in the movies, and really gels with how she is in Echo Base.

The story reminded me a lot of the Vector crossover event from Dark Horse, with its emphasis on parasite infestations and Jedi from the distant past. Whether that was intentional or not, who knows, but it is interesting to see potential antecedents for the stories like this.

I can’t talk about these comics without mentioning the artwork, either. This is more often evident in the crossover titles, where the respective teams handle their own issues, leading to two distinct art styles that can often be quite jarring. I much prefer the ongoing series art from Salvador Larroca, who is responsible for most of the Vader series as well – there is a beautiful realism to the art that reminds me of my favourite Star Wars artist Tsuneo Sanda, and I just adore it!

Anyway, there will be a lot of issues from the Star Wars ongoing series to catch up with next, so hopefully there will be something more interesting to read next time I write one of these blogs…!

Star Wars comics catch-up!

Hey everybody!
Continuing the theme from earlier this week and the classic Assault on Hoth, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the quick catch-up I had with the Star Wars ongoing series from Marvel. Despite collecting up issue after issue, I’d not actually read any of the new series for over a year, so it’s time I try and make the long slog to catch up with what’s going on…

Star Wars Rebel Jail

First up, then, we have Rebel Jail, which comprises issues 16-19 of the ongoing series, and is framed by two more stories “from the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi”. Rebel Jail takes up where Vader Down left off, as Leia and Sana (yeah, Han Solo’s not-wife) deposit Doctor Aphra on a secure Alliance jail that is positioned ridiculously close to a sun for security. Only it’s not so secure, as the facility is infiltrated by a mysterious figure who turns out to be the guy sent to infiltrate Coruscant in the first Star Wars Annual, Eneb Ray. Turns out he was trying to make Leia into the leader he believed the Alliance needed, by forcing her to kill the Imperial prisoners held there.

The story was a bit of a let-down, particularly seeing as how it was drawn out over four parts. I did like how the Annual was brought into this universe, as I was beginning to wonder if these things would ever amount to anything, so that was good. (My only previous experience with such things has really been the DC annuals, which tend to be side stories at best). I’m disappointed that Sana Starros is still around, however. The character is constantly made out to be a mercenary and only hanging around because Leia is paying her for her services – but we already have that storyline in Han Solo at this point in the timeline. I would have preferred to see a few more real rebels fleshed out into the background, and maybe even get some folks like Toryn Farr in on the pre-Hoth action, you know? While they could be downright silly at times, Bantam often made an excellent effort to integrate these characters across all points in the timeline, building up a proper stable of characters that all felt part of the mythos. I get that Sana is a scoundrel, and we’re probably expected to respond better to her than a rebel operative, but it just feels a bit redundant somehow.

The two Obi-Wan stories, while nothing particularly special in and of themselves, are still notable for the really cool artwork that show an aging Obi-Wan that is part-way between Ewan MacGregor and Sir Alec Guinness. Issue #15 introduces the Wookiee Bounty Hunter, Black Krrsantan, who has already made an appearance in the Vader ongoing series that took place correspondingly later in the timeline. There was a reference to his being on Tatooine in that story arc that is now resolved here, anyway, and I really had a bit of a thrill from getting that connection! Something that Marvel can never be accused of is bad continuity in major series like these, and their multitude of crossover events show that they are dab hands at placing little tidbits like these across their products, which do help to make the whole thing feel like a cohesive universe. Issue #20 really pulls the two previous Journal entry stories together, as Black Krrsantan faces off against Obi-Wan in the Dune Sea. We also get a fairly surprising insight into the relationship between Obi-Wan and Owen Lars, which I kinda want to see more of. I mean, I get that Owen is hostile to Obi-Wan to protect Luke from him, but I’d like to see how their relationship managed to get to that point, you know? Presumably Owen didn’t go overnight from that final scene of Revenge of the Sith, where he takes delivery of the newborn Luke from Obi-Wan, straight to pounding his fists around and shouting til he’s purple for the crazy old wizard to stay away from his family, you know? Anyway!

Star Wars Last Flight of the Harbinger

The Last Flight of the Harbinger is next on the list, starting with a bit of a prologue as we follow Sergeant Kreel (the Games Master from the Showdown on the Smugglers’ Moon arc) leading an elite group of stormtroopers against the rebels. I don’t actually know if this is meant to replace the notorious 501st regiment “Vader’s Fist”, but it’s certainly built up as an elite group of soldiers who are hard-as-nails, so who knows.

The rebels are attempting to break through the Imperial blockade of the planet Tureen VII, and the only thing big enough to break through with is an Imperial Star Destroyer. Leia, Luke and Han manage to steal the ISD Harbinger, forcing its crew to abandon ship, then pilot the war machine through space and straight at the cordon of the planet. When Imperial High Command hears of this, Vader sends Kreel and his men to recover the ship, which is inexplicably flying at sublight speed across the galaxy. The stormtroopers infiltrate the ship, but cannot re-take the Harbinger before the rebels fly it directly at the Imperial ships above Tureen VII.

While Rebel Jail was a bit drawn-out, this storyline was pretty much one of the worst kinds of goofy story I’ve yet encountered in the new canon. Allow me to ramble for a moment…

First of all, the entire five-issue arc seems to have hinged upon the idea of “Hey, you know what would be cool? If Luke and the gang hijack a Star Destroyer!” So we have a blockade of a planet that is apparently impregnable – the actual cordon, like so many comic-book planetary cordons, is in a ring around the equator, and does not exist in three-dimensional space. You know those blockade runners that are so prevalent in the universe? Why not just use one of them? They have “blockade runner” in their name, they might be built for this very task. Nope, we’ve got half a dozen people stealing a Star Destroyer, and also successfully managing to fly it with that many people, too…

Secondly, Han and Leia have a foot race around the ship to see who will be the captain. It actually features as the cover art for one of the issues, too. I can’t even begin to explain just how inane this event is, so I’ll just leave it there.

The story is also just another one of these throwaway things, which is beginning to irritate me about almost the entire new expanded universe so far. I won’t get into full-blown rant here, because this blog is running kinda long already, but suffice it to say, the only book that seems to be anything more than “just another adventure for Luke and the gang” is the excellent Bloodline. There are just so many books and comics coming out that really seem to have no impact on the greater Star Wars storyline, it’s honestly beginning to depress me as a Star Wars fan, and probably the single biggest reason why I’ve not picked up any of the new comics in over a year.

It’s a similar story with the Star Wars Annual #2, which sees Princess Leia injured during the line of duty on Skorii-Lei, and helped by a new character called Pash Devane. Pash is kinda interesting, as she’s not your usual female comic book character, but rather a heavily-muscled type who was forced out of her career as an engineer when the Empire came, and now survives by doing menial labouring. Pash at first expresses apathy towards the Rebellion as well as the Empire, but we get a typical Leia story that sees the Princess change someone’s mind. It’s the usual kind of throwaway story that I mentioned earlier about these Annuals, but worth mentioning just for the different depiction of females in the universe.

The next arc in the ongoing series is, I believe, a longer Obi-Wan Journal, so I’ll leave that for another time. I’ll be back soon with some more musings on Star Wars comics, catching up with the Vader storyline!

Catching up with Marvel Star Wars

Hey everybody!
In addition to re-watching the Clone Wars TV series recently, I’ve also been reading my way through some of the recent Star Wars comics from Marvel. They’ve been a bit hit-and-miss, if I’m honest, but let’s take a look!

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Time to investigate more #StarWars #comics I think!

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First on the list is Princess Leia. I was really interested by this series when it was announced, though I have to admit, I wasn’t overly impressed. The story follows Leia in the immediate aftermath to the Battle of Yavin, but it’s a bit weirdly done, if I’m honest. More than anything, it feels a bit rushed, with very little time spent on much of anything. We follow Leia as she tries to unite the Alderaan expatriots, first from Naboo and then Sullust, ending on Espirion. It’s interesting, but as I said, a bit rushed. She’s teamed up with an Alderaanian pilot who has something of a frosty relationship with her, but it kinda thaws but kinda not by the end. The Naboo portion really didn’t live up to my expectations, and the Sullust part just felt out of character somewhat. Finally, the Espirion bit seemed just tacked-on in order to bring about a conclusion.

I’m a huge lover of the planet Naboo, and feel like this in particular could have been given more time. Indeed, if the story had been that Leia was going to rescue a hidden group of Alderaanians, was unwittingly betrayed and managed to defeat their pursuit, that would have been a better story. By adding in all of this extraneous stuff, nothing is given enough time to develop, and it’s just left me feeling a bit meh about the whole thing.

Lando was a bit better. We see the con artist steal a ship in order to clear a debt – only it turns out to be the Emperor’s ship, and he’s not impressed! There are some twists and turns, but obviously Lando survives to later run Cloud City and stuff. What I found most interesting here was the way Lobot is used in the story. He’s basically a guy with cyborg implants, who is constantly fighting against those implants asserting themselves over his neural pathway. Kinda spoiler alert: in order to save the others, Lobot succumbs to the implants and is turned pretty much fully into the cyborg we know from Empire. It was really cool to see that, I have to say – so many stories seem to ignore him!

While it is a bit far-fetched at times, overall I thought the story was pretty good for what it tries to do. It’s not going to set the world alight, but if you’re a Lando fan, then you’ll enjoy it.

Finally – Chewbacca. Oh boy, is this one a mess. A comic that focuses on the big Wookiee is always going to be somewhat predoomed by the fact that Chewie is unintelligible to the audience, and while stories have been told previously that use square brackets to give his lines, I was a bit concerned. As it turns out, the story mainly focuses on the denizens of a far-flung planet as they are forced to mine beetle larvae that somehow help to power blasters – a planet that Chewie has managed to crash-land upon. The daughter of one of these miners manages to enlist his help to free the miners, framing the overlord as a Rebel sympathiser in the bargain.

The story was just…dumb. Chewie’s interactions with the kid were weird, as she went from cautious and trying to scavenge food from him to pretty much demanding he help the miners escape and calling him out as a coward between panels. The artwork was pretty great, though a lot of the Chewie portraits had him looking almost ironic, like he wasn’t really taking the whole thing seriously? I don’t know. It didn’t really sit well for me as a story, and really felt just irrelevant to the canon.

The only thing I would say is worthwhile are a couple of flashback panels where we see Chewie being taken prisoner by Trandoshan slavers. Remember, Chewie’s backstory as an Imperial slave freed by the Imperial cadet Han Solo is no longer canon, so this can pretty much go any way. I’m guessing the upcoming anthology movie that shows us Han’s background will likely feature Chewie prominently, so we can likely expect to get the full story there, but it was interesting to note these little bits.

So anyway, the first three miniseries were something of a mixed bag, and not really what I would call hugely relevant. The Leia story tries in this regard, but I feel it fails to deliver, leaving us with a bit of a mess overall, while Lando and Chewie are pretty much throwaway stories with little impact, that will mainly appeal to fans of the characters rather than the franchise as a whole. Lando was probably my favourite, simply because the characters were nailed, but I’m not about to say you need to go out and buy any of these things!

More Star Wars musings!

I feel like this could become a theme soon, as I’m spending a lot of time with fiction from the Star Wars universe, particularly surrounding the new movie. Having recently finished the excellent Bloodline last week, I watched The Force Awakens on DVD at the weekend and was mightily impressed with it second-time around.

Let’s be honest, the film rocks! I caught a lot of things that I think I’d missed first time around, and found myself focusing more on stuff like Rey’s flashback/hallucination/whatever it might be, because I was expecting it this time. A lot of stuff really interests me about the movie, but I think the overriding thing that piqued my interest this time around was Lor San Tekka, Max von Sydow’s character who appears for, what, a whole five minutes of the film’s opening scene? The Visual Dictionary has described him as belonging to something called “the Church of the Force”, which itself is really intriguing, and I suppose goes some way to explaining why he thinks of Leia as “family”, but I hope we get to see a lot more of this explained in the future comics and novels.

Although his first line, “This will begin to make things right”, does feel a little too much like a dig at the Prequels, which I still kinda like…

Of course, fanboy nerds like me will always find something to poke at, and there were one or two things that I found myself thinking, ‘I wish they’d done it like that’, or whatever. I enjoyed the movie when I first saw it in the cinema, but in the ensuing days and weeks I kinda felt a bit down on it, largely because it felt like such a blatant rehash of what had gone before. However, I think a lot of my initial complaints about the lack of a sense of history have begun to be addressed, primarily by the aforementioned Bloodline, and I do think that it’s as a result of that novel in particular that I was so interested in watching the film again, if not in my subsequent enjoyment!

But anyway, that’s getting really rambling.

Following the movie, I then turned to a recently-released short story anthology, Tales From a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Aliens:

I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting with this one, if I’m honest, but I suppose the ‘Tales‘ prefix there put me in mind of the Bantam anthologies from back in the day.

The book is a collection of six stories released as part of the Journey to The Force Awakens, and deals with some of the background characters we see in the film. Of all six, only one of them actually has a speaking role – Unkar Plutt, the garrulous junker. The rest are the set-dressing characters that, in true Star Wars style, become fully fleshed-out characters here.

This book is weird! The chapters are super-tiny – just one page in some instances – and the overall feeling is that this is a weird collection of tales. We have a Star Wars version of Masterchef meets CSI; we have a weird kind of Frankenstein-esque story; there’s a cautionary tale about internet dating – it’s all just decidedly, well, not Star Wars-like, to me! By about halfway through the book (the Masterchef/CSI crossover, in case you were wondering), I’d decided to just take these as really throwaway stories that happen to make reference to stuff like Maz Kanata and the like, because I found it really hard to take them seriously. The final tale, The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku, has almost an interesting storyline to it, as we follow the guy in the red helmet from Maz Kanata’s castle in a treasure hunt to recover a crashed Separatist cruiser. Turns out the treasure is a cryogenically-frozen clone trooper who had discovered Order 66 had been hardwired into the clone troopers’ minds, and tried to warn the Jedi.

Overall, they felt a bit silly, and a part of me is a bit annoyed by the entire Journey to The Force Awakens marketing ploy in retrospect. I’ve not read absolutely everything from this campaign, don’t get me wrong, but I’m surprised at how little information we actually get from any of these stories that are sold on the basis they provided the lead-in to the movie. Shattered Empire, for instance, was a story about Poe Dameron’s mother flying errands for Luke and Leia, while Aftermath was just such a huge let-down given the fanfare it received on release, I can’t bring myself to go back over that.

That said, I am feeling excited about the new lore that we’re getting for Star Wars right now. I know I’ve talked a lot about this, but Bloodline was a really excellent novel, and has put me in a much more positive frame of mind for seeing what comes next. I’m even looking forward to seeing the next installment in the Aftermath trilogy, despite my feelings on the first book! Though that is possibly because the second book, Life Debt, hasn’t had anywhere near the same hype…

The Vader series has recently been announced as cancelled, which has also gotten me thinking about the comics that we can look forward to soon. We’ve got a few more miniseries to go through yet, though, including a Han Solo series starting next month, so maybe Marvel will just continue providing one-shot series like this. I hope not, as I like my comics to have more of an ongoing feel to them, though as the Vader article says, it’s always a concern that such a series can get to a point where issues are published for the sake of it, with a few major storylines peppered through. At least it’ll be going out on top!

The Rogue One comic tie-in was also announced as cancelled yesterday, which seems slightly concerning the Vader cancellation, but hopefully this is merely pushed back rather than outright off the agenda. Given that Rogue One is taking place in a much more stable continuity, I’d have thought this would be a much safer place to set a comic. But what do I know?!

At any rate, I’m really excited to see what’s coming next for Star Wars!

It’s Saturday!

Hey everybody!
I woke up in such a good mood this morning, and so far, the day has not let me down. It’s been rather wonderful, even if I say so myself, so let me share some of this awesome with you fine internet folk!

I went up to Chester this morning, which in itself is nothing really new as I tend to go there most Saturdays – it’s where my nearest Games Workshop store is, after all. I picked up some Ironjawz, after eyeing them up for a long while, so I’m hoping they can lift me out of the painting lapse I’ve been in for a while now.

This week is all about the Flesh-Eater Courts, the new zombies basically being repackaged. However, while there aren’t any new models coming, there is a new Battletome to accompany the release, something I found quite interesting. We’ve seen this with Seraphon/Lizardmen, of course, but still. There is something irresistibly creepy about the lore of these guys, and I find myself marveling at the way Games Workshop manages to seduce me so well – I was actually considering a pre-order!

Age of Sigmar Flesh Eater Courts

In case you missed it, there’s something afoot in the Mortal Realms, as it appears the rumours of an Age of Sigmar-themed boxed game appear to be true. Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower has had its teaser trailer up this morning, and it looks filled with Tzeentchy horror and some interesting barbarian-like folk – I’m particularly intrigued by that chap up in the top left corner wielding a warhammer, looks like a warrior priest to me…

While in Chester, I also picked up some books, including the new Bloodlines novel that purports to fill in many of the gaps in the lead-up to The Force Awakens, and another Justice League book, The Grid.

I haven’t mentioned some of the recent comics I’ve been reading, so I think I’ll do a bit of a catch-up here, anyway. Starting with The Grid, this appears to be one of the stories that leads into the Trinity War crossover event, and starts by swelling the ranks of the Justice League with all manner of extras, as seen during the previous arc, Throne of Atlantis. We have Firestorm, Atom, and Element Woman, among others, and if I’m honest, I feel a bit like we’re diluting the awesome team dynamic that hooked me into the Justice League in the first place.

The first part of the book, anyway, deals with the attack on the League by the villain Despero. He is given a Kryptonite ring and attacks the Watchtower, causing it to plummet to the earth and, when Superman flies up to prevent a catastrophic hit into the east coast, he is beaten back by the ring. It’s only by the intervention of Martian Manhunter that Despero is driven back, though he flees before any of the main Justice League show up on the scene, leaving everyone thinking Atom defeated him.

It was a cool story, though there are a lot of pages where nothing really happens – at least, nothing that feels like it interests me somehow. Which was a shame, if I’m honest.

The second part of the book is the Trinity War crossover, something I got really confused by when I tried to read the issues in Justice League of America. The Trinity War crossover arc deals with all three Justice Leagues – that of Superman et al, the JLA that includes Martian Manhunter, Hawkman et al, and Justice League Dark, which features Constantine and Deadman, among others.

JLA started off pretty interestingly, I thought. Amanda Waller and Steve Trevor set up a second Justice League, with the idea that it would stop any possible threat from the main Justice League of Superman etc. They investigate the Secret Society of Super Villains in what was a fairly confusing storyline, for me, though it was cool to see a new group of superheroes interact into a cohesive whole, something I really enjoyed about the first Justice League book. It was also great to read a story with Martian Manhunter, a character who had intrigued me since playing the DC deck-building game.

I’m not really a fan of Constantine, which has been putting me off buying the Trinity War storyline, but given that it seems to be a big part of this world, and I believe it leads into the Forever Evil stuff, I think I may have to invest at some point…

Almost completely off-topic now, I’ve also been reading the first Green Lantern book, Sinestro. I’ve never honestly been all that interested by this guy but, as happened with Aquaman, I was intrigued following the first Justice League book. I actually bought this one months ago and, after the success of Aquaman, I’d feared I might become enamoured of another superhero and throw loads of money at the various Lantern books. Well, it’s with something of a heavy heart that I say, I wasn’t as keen on this solo series as I was with Aquaman. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to see where this Hal Jordan came from and whatnot, but given the fact that he doesn’t actually have his powers during this book, and is essentially a pawn of Sinestro’s attempt to rescue the natives of his homeworld, I felt it was a bit odd, and I couldn’t really see where this fit with the Green Lantern of the Justice League book.

I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt, however, and have ordered the second volume, which is on its way to me as I type, so my opinions may change soon, but yeah, I was feeling a bit meh about this. Plus, the art changed for the final story in this volume, which I really didn’t like!

At any rate, I’m sure I’ll be getting round to more of the comics on my shelf soon. Having read so much good stuff about it, I’m decided to move onto Star Wars: Bloodlines next, so I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on that!

Hope you’re all having as excellent a Saturday as me!

Marvel Star Wars catch-up!

It’s May the Fourth! Happy International Star Wars Day, everybody!

To celebrate this most august of days, I thought I’d catch up with the first year or so of Marvel’s new Star Wars comics, then write a blog in my best rambling fashion for you all. Don’t mention it. So, without further ado…

The first arc of the ongoing series, Skywalker Strikes, I’ve already talked about a little over a year ago – well, I talked about half of it, at least. I even made a video about it, which wasn’t the best quality, but still!

The story begins with the rebel attack on an Imperial weapons factory, headed by our favourite three heroes. During the attack, Luke stops to help some of the trapped workers, and ends up confronting Vader for the first time in the new continuity, with disastrous results. Realising he’s no Jedi yet, he heads back to Tatooine to see if he can get any answers from Ben Kenobi’s old house. Unbeknownst to him, Vader has set a bounty hunter on his trail – none other than the notorious Boba Fett! Fett confronts Luke but, with the help of R2, manages to escape capture, having found an old journal written by Ben with the express purpose of helping Luke on his journey into the Force. Meanwhile, Leia and Han begin scouting for a new rebel base, run into an Imperial patrol, and hide in one of Han’s old smuggler’s haunts, where they are apprehended by a woman claiming to be Han Solo’s wife…

This series started off really spectacularly. The attack on the weapons factory and all that was just terrific. I’m still at war with myself over whether I can really let the old continuity go, however, as it’s the lore I grew up with and all the rest of it. Having Luke explore his Jedi heritage comparatively early in the timeline does leave some questions – why is he so incompetent during the early stages of Empire? Previously, this had been explained by his putting Jedi business on the back burner and focusing more on being the poster-boy for the rebellion.

I have to say, I was irritated by the fact that Boba Fett appears to be the only bounty hunter working in the galaxy, and his reputation as being the most feared etc remains as bad as it ever was in the now-Legends canon. I mean, the amount of time he goes up against the Big Three and doesn’t manage to bring them in, he should be an embarrassment by now…

The most annoying thing, for me, was Han Solo’s wife, Sana Solo. But more on that shortly…

The second arc, Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon, sees Luke travel to Nar Shaddaa, to find a smuggler who will sneak him onto Coruscant so that he can explore the Jedi Temple there. Revealing his lightsaber, he is captured by the Jedi collector Grakkus the Hutt, a weirdly muscular crimelord who desires to pit him against various beasts in his arena. Hm. Grakkus’ designs are thwarted when Leia and Han show up, Leia having struck a bargain with Sana to get her to the Smuggler’s Moon and rescue Luke. Things turn out worse when Grakkus’ master of ceremonies reveals himself to be an Imperial spy called Sergeant Kreel, and calls in the Empire to deliver Luke to Vader. Leia, Han and Chewie manage to rescue Luke, and Sana reveals that she isn’t really Han’s wife, they had a sham ceremony as part of a scam, but Han absconded with her cut.

The first two arcs are separated by a standalone issue, “from the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi”. This is a story about Obi-Wan’s time looking over Luke on Tatooine, and I’ve got to be honest, really tuned me out from the get-go. While I can see the attraction of having this kind of meta-story in an ongoing series, I’m not really a fan. There has been another such story released as issue 15, and a third planned for issue 20, so it seems like Marvel are using this as a framing choice, but yeah…

The Showdown arc was fairly good, and reminded me a lot of Legends stories that have seen heroes pitted against monsters in gladiatorial arenas, something that was popular after Attack of the Clones. Emissaries to Malastare springs to mind, of course, but anyway. The repository of Jedi lore collected by Grakkus was an interesting idea that I was saddened to see let go, but I guess Luke can’t learn too much too soon…

The payoff with Han’s “wife” was entirely unsatisfactory, however, and annoyed me even more than when she was introduced. The whole thing just came off like an attention-grab, and I seem to recall was marketed almost as such, “you’ve gotta read this!” and so forth. It just felt really badly handled, and was ultimately kinda pointless – we could have gotten Han and Leia to Nar Shaddaa without it, you know? Whether she shows up again will remain to be seen, but yeah…

I did think it interesting how closely Sana resembled Salla Zend, Han’s old flame from The Han Solo Trilogy and Dark Empire. That Salla had an intense desire to marry Han in the novel Rebel Dawn is an interesting link here, at any rate…

Leaving the ongoing series for a while, let’s delve into Vader!

The first arc, merely called Vader, is a little bit weird, but overall actually really good. I’m one of these people who prefers to read comic books in complete arcs rather than issue-by-issue, one of the reasons why I’ve not made more of an effort with this one I suppose, but I think if I had been reading each issue as it was published, I might have been turned off to it. Let’s delve a little deeper here.

The arc opens with Vader being demoted in the wake of his failure at Yavin. Remember General Tagge from the Death Star briefing room scene? Well, he left the Death Star shortly after said scene, so has actually survived to become one of the top-ranking military officers of the Empire. The Emperor has promoted him to Grand General, and he is now essentially in charge of Vader. Tagge assigns him a liaison officer, Oon-ai, who turns out to be a traitor when Vader is on a mission to destroy a pirate outpost.

Deciding he needs his own resources outside of Tagge’s purview, Vader enlists the aid of the “archaeologist” Dr Aphra in obtaining a private army of battle droids. The two travel to Geonosis with her modified protocol and astromech droids, both of whom provide some comic relief in their incessant urges to torture humanoids. Vader destroys an insane Geonosian hive queen and obtains the private army, then discovers the Emperor has been working to replace him with a series of adepts trained by Dr Cylo, an agent of the Emperor who uses cloning technology to essentially remain immortal.

The first arc is decidedly weird. The weirdest thing, for me, was the inclusion of these replacements for Vader. While I totally buy the Emperor’s reasoning – he tells Vader that the incident on Mustafar disappointed him, and Vader will likely never reach his potential now that he is encased within the famous black suit. This is an idea that has previously been explored in the Legends canon – though it was developed along the lines of Vader’s suit keeping him from reaching his potential and therefore from overthrowing the Emperor. But anyway, among these adepts is a mad scientist who controls a series of droid drones with her mind, and a Mon Calamari cyborg General Grievous-wannabe. It’s all decidedly weird, and I can’t decide whether it smacks of the same urge to be different that Han’s “wife” appeared to embody.

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The second arc, Shadows and Secrets, has got an awful lot to recommend it. The last arc ended in the same place Skywalker Strikes did – with the same panels, in fact. Boba Fett reveals the rebel pilot’s name to the Dark Lord: Skywalker. Vader realises he has a son, and his anger at the Emperor is doubled. However, he decided to keep his own counsel on this, and heads to Tatooine himself, to see if he can discern anything further. Coming up dry, he returns to business and puts down a smuggler network on Son-Tuul, confiscating the wealth for the Empire. Aphra recruits a band of bounty hunters, including Bossk no less, to steal the credits. They only manage to recover a small portion, however, but this plan is revealed to be a ruse for Vader to get some capital behind him and further his own agenda away from Tagge’s prying eyes. Despite Oon-ai’s treachery, Tagge assigns Vader a second liaison, Inspector Thanoth, and assigns him the task of discovering who stole the credits.

The wheels-within-wheels plotline develops as Vader pursues his own agenda through Aphra, who first uses her criminal connections to find a Naboo mortician who confirms Padme was not pregnant at the time of her funeral, then secondly manages to confirm the location of Skywalker on the desolate world of Vrogas Vas. Vader determines to proceed there, not realising that it is part of a plot set in motion by the Grievous cyborg wannabe, General Karbin…

This story arc is the kind of Star Wars story that I adore. The manoeuverings of all the major players are a delight to read, as we see Vader pursuing his duty with Thanoth while knowing what is going on and trying to steer the investigation away. It’s also really intriguing to see Vader discovering more of the past around Padme’s death and such. It also made the earlier stuff with those “replacements” almost justified, as we get to see them as part of a wider storyline. Sure, I wish they weren’t quite introduced in that way, but overall, I find it interesting to see the power-plays within the Empire, and hopefully we’ll get a lot more of that as the series progresses.

Last up, we have the crossover event that has effectively provided the finale to the first year of Marvel’s publishing, Vader Down.

Vader proceeds to Vrogas Vas, and finds himself in the middle of a rebel training exercise. Clearly, Luke isn’t alone on the world. He manages to wipe out an entire squad of pilots, prompting Luke to realise who’s in that TIE fighter. Luke rams Vader’s ship, and the two crash on the surface, setting off a double manhunt as the rebels try to capture Vader while Aphra and her droids attempt to capture Luke. Han and Leia travel to the world, Han to rescue his friend, and Leia to remove the tyrant complicit in the destruction of Alderaan.

The story progresses as Luke is captured by Aphra, but rescued by Han, while Vader, alone in the wastes manages to destroy squad after squad of rebels sent against him. Leia has a chance to shoot him, but realises rescuing her friends is more important than revenge. Just when Han and Luke are again almost captured by Aphra and her droids, Leia saves the day by punching the archaeologist! General Karbin shows up to claim the prize, but Vader uses the Force to pull his shuttle from the sky and Luke is again reunited with his friends. The rebels leave the wasteland planet with Aphra as their prisoner, though Luke is regretful he’ll never get to explore the ruined Jedi Temple on the planet.

I have to admit, I really liked this story as well. There were quite a few times over the course of reading both ongoing series where I thought the direction Marvel was taking Star Wars was just plain silly, and part of me was in mourning that something as interesting as, say, Empire: Betrayal, was being replaced with this stuff. However, Vader Down has served to allay almost all of those feelings, and I’m currently in a place where I’m really excited to see what happens next!

A lot of this story felt derivative of several elements from the Legends canon. Vader alone on a planet had been explored in the Empire ongoing series, for example, and the Jedi Temple ruins felt like something out of Dark Forces. Whether that helped me to enjoy it more, who can say. It was certainly an enjoyable story that I felt rewarded readers of both the series over the first year of publication. There was also the air of the team-up in here, as we have characters from both series crossing over. While this has never been an issue in Dark Horse’s tenure, because the ensemble cast of Star Wars has almost always been at the disposal of the writers, the two series from Marvel have felt fairly distinct from each other, even though Vader and some others have appeared in both. Maybe it’s just my own perception, having burned through all 30 comic books in very quick succession over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Overall, I find this whole experience of catching up with Marvel’s comics to have been quite interesting. I’ve gone from fairly dismissive of them by constantly comparing them to Dark Horse, to really enjoying what they have to offer – particularly the Vader issues – and looking forward to what’s coming next. Part of my enjoyment of Star Wars stories has always been around seeing the old favourite characters and locations cropping up, and seeing just how so-and-so is entwined into the plot, but I think I need to stop thinking like that now. Sure, we have Dengar turn up in the Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon arc (whoa, there’re two bounty hunters in the galaxy!) and he still appears to have his murderous compulsion as regards Han, but I don’t think we’re going to be seeing a great deal of this going forward. Instead, I hope we can get a recurring cast of more characters and locations soon, so that the new Star Wars universe can begin to feel familiar once again, as the seeming need to appear different to what has gone before it in the Legends canon has led to perhaps too much new, which in turn leaves the galaxy feeling pretty isolated and stuff.

It’s certainly an interesting time to be a Star Wars fan, though!

Ghostbusters comics!

Let’s continue with birthday week here at spalanz.com, with a look at something I’ve only fairly recently discovered: Ghostbusters comics!

Ghostbusters comics

Shocking stuff, I know, but I was completely unaware of these creations until the board game from Cryptozoic, which stated it uses the artwork from the ongoing series from IDW comics. Having no idea such things existed, I decided it was time to investigate! That was in October 2014, and despite buying the second volume a couple of months later, I still hadn’t actually gotten around to reading them until preparations began for this very blog you’re reading now!

The ongoing series began in September 2011 and would eventually run to 16 issues. The two books I’ve read so far really have the feel of the movies in terms of the characters we know and love there, and since reading them a few days ago, I’ve been trying my best to track down some more!

The first book collects the first four issues that tell a story connected to the first film in the series. Gozer the Gozerian is attempting to come back to this plane of existence, only this time doesn’t want to make the mistake of having its form chosen entirely at random. Instead, it has spawned a new creation, called Idulnas, who will attempt to sway the Decider (Ray, in case you’d forgotten) into choosing a much more horrible, destructive form. Well, despite Idulnas’ attempts otherwise, Ray still chooses the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and the story ends with New York under six feet of marshmallow.

The second book continues a couple of the plot threads, but takes our intrepid quartet upstate to Schenectady, where a paranormal manifestation has taken over a theme park. The manifestation possesses Peter Venkman, though Venkman manages to exorcise himself and the ghost is busted. The book ends with Egon following a hunch about the increased ambient PKE-readings around the city that leads him to an old schoolfriend he thought dead, Eugene Visitor. Turns out, Eugene has captured Death, meaning he didn’t die in school, but also that nobody else is truly dying, hence the increased paranormal activity.

They’re a fantastic pair of books, and I can’t believe it’s taken me over a year and a half to get around to reading them! Sure, the first book is a little derivative of the movie, but I thought this posed an interesting question about the nature of the Ghostbusters franchise as a whole – just what is it all about? The movies show us four guys who managed to come up with a way of dealing with paranormal activity in New York City, and so run around with proton packs and shooting ghosts into traps. That’s really it – there’s no big drama in their personal lives, as those personal lives aren’t really all that important to the story. We get four almost caricatures, and then the game is afoot!

So it was interesting, to me, to get a storyline that begins to explore who these people are. It’s early days, of course, as there are a whole load of these books available on amazon, but I liked in particular seeing the character development of Peter Venkman, all-too-often relegated to being smart-mouthed comic relief. During his possession in the second book, we get to see more about him, but we also actually get to see just how capable he is in such circumstances. Ray and Egon get along because they’re the nerdy-scientist trope, and Winston is the everyman who answered a job ad, but why is Peter even there? Well, now we know. The others aren’t ignored either, as we get a little bit more light shed on each. It was interesting to see more of Egon in particular, and I hope more is explored there in later volumes.

Definitely worth the trouble getting hold of these books!

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