Of Bats and Owls

Batman New 52

Continuing the theme of discovering new books and such, I’ve been investigating some of the comics from DC’s New 52 series and, since enjoying those involving The Flash, I’ve moved on to the caped crusader himself: Batman!

A little history. I’ve been a Batman fan for a very long time – I adored the Tim Burton films growing up, and will be getting around to featuring those on this blog soon, in fact. Indeed, I actually learnt to read from the book of the movie, my mum feeling I’d pay more attention to a book I was interested in. Growing up, Batman Returns was one of my all-time favourite films – however, over all these years, I never once thought to read an actual Batman comic…

Well that has changed!

I’ve been buying all my graphic novels from my local Waterstone’s, and had been eyeing up the Batman Court of Owls book as a potential for the list, as I love a story that features a secret society, and finally snapped it up a couple of weeks back.

Let me tell you, I was really impressed with this book. It took some time for me to get into – indeed, I actually read it in single-issues for a couple of nights. However, once I’d gotten into it, I really, really enjoyed it, and quickly snaffled the second book, also!

The New 52 was a soft-reboot from 2011, where DC wiped most of the slate clean, leaving the basic premises of their heroes in place but building new stories around them. So Batman is still Bruce Wayne (oh, spoiler alert…) and is still a billionaire industrialist orphan, etc. The first arc deals with the Court of Owls, a new enemy created for this story as a secret society that has effectively ruled Gotham City for decades through fear, helped by their cadre of assassins called Talons. We follow Batman as he discovers links with the Court and his own family, in the wake of an attack by a man dressed in an Owl suit (it’s actually better than it sounds!) The story is really good, and as the sense of intrigue builds, I got really involved and interested in how the story would develop. I had hoped to enjoy the story, of course, but I hadn’t considered the idea that I might actually become so invested!

The first book ends as Batman is captured by the Court, fights his way out of their labyrinth and escapes, and is pursued by the Court’s Talons. Volume 2 then picks up with the Night of the Owls, as the Talons are unleashed on the city. While most of them head to Wayne Manor, some are dispatched to other movers and shakers within the city’s civic life. Alfred calls in the help of the Bat-allies, from whence a series of tie-in comics were spun into a crossover event during 2012. Volume 2 continues with Batman overcoming the main Talon, before some odd issues added in at the end that explore some more of the history, such as the Court being responsible for Alfred’s father Jarvis’ death, as well as a tie-in with Mr Freeze.

Night of the Owls is a collection of the crossovers, so features a number of the issues that have already been collected in Volume 2, alongside issues from Nightwing, Batwing, Batgirl and Red Hood, among others. I mention these four specifically because they are the ones that stick out the most for me. The formula for each is quite similar – each superhero tangles with a Talon in defense of an important person – yet for folks like myself, who don’t read these other comics, crossover events like these give a handy sampler of the other books, and offer something of an easy-access point. While Nightwing has made multiple appearances in the first two volumes of Batman’s comic, I’m now super-interested in learning more about Batwing, and have ordered the first volume in that ongoing series to see what I’ve been missing! I’d also never heard of Red Hood before, but found myself really enjoying that story – though the placement within the book felt a little odd. Red Hood and his Outlaws get tangled up with a rampaging Mr Freeze before the story that shows his escape from Arkham Asylum. But anyway, it’s a small point.

While the storytelling is really great, the artwork can be a bit hit and miss – and not just in the crossover book. I really liked the aesthetic of the first volume of Batman, once I’d gotten into it, but found the various different looks of the issues collected in volume 2 to be quite jarring.

A great little collection there, anyway – highly recommended to people looking to get into the Batman line, or indeed looking to see what else is on offer in the Batman family of comics!

Shattered Empire

So I’ve been meaning to get round to this for a long while now – issue four was delivered last month, after all! I was also hoping to do a small video review, as is my want with new Star Wars stuff lately, but I’ve been feeling under the weather of late, so I’m sticking to the written word instead. Now that this exciting preamble is out of the way…

Shattered Empire takes place both during and in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Endor, which is perhaps obvious given the cover of issue one. There are actually three distinct episodes in the miniseries, which follow the adventures of Lieutenant Shara Bey, a pilot from Green Squadron during the battle. First off, an Imperial garrison on the other side of Endor is destroyed; then, Shara flies Princess Leia to a diplomatic mission to Naboo that goes kinda wrong, and finally she flies Luke to an Imperial Research Facility to recover some Jedi artifacts.

here be spoilers!

Overall, I liked the story, but I felt it was a bit rushed in parts, possibly due to trying to cover too much. The Luke story in particular felt a bit tacked-on, really. In fact, the Luke story didn’t do the comic any favours overall, as it came across as being more in the realm of fan-fiction. Follow Shara Bey as she works alongside Han, Leia and Luke! Yeah, right. But putting that to the side, it wasn’t all that bad.

The Endor storyline continues with Han and his ground assault team (though no Judder Page, which is a bit sad). The team includes Shara’s husband, Kes Dameron. Folks who have been following the spoilers for Episode VII will know who their son is, then. So we’re treated to a bit of the backstory there. I won’t deny, even though I’m still currently less-than-enthused for the new film, it was kinda nice to have that sort of recognition.

The Naboo storyline was really interesting, but ultimately far too rushed for my liking. In fact, the end was such a fizzle that I feel it really damages the book. Leia is attempting diplomatic negotiations with the Queen of Naboo, Soruna, to support the Alliance in re-establishing the Senate. Just as Naboo throws their support behind it, the Empire attacks – by altering the weather. They have an Imperial Star Destroyer at their disposal, and they’re tasked with destroying the planet by the dead Emperor, so they drop satellites to mess with the weather, rather than just delivering an orbital bombardment. It’s Legends now, of course, but there’s a great scene in one of the New Jedi Order books – I think it’s Rebel Stand – where Wedge discusses these things, and the point is made that a Star Destroyer is capable of levelling a planet with ease. After all, it’s kind-of in the name… But anyway, Leia, Soruna and Shara head up to stop the Imperials (of course – three antique fighters against the Imperial war machine…) and Lando shows up to chase the Empire off while Soruna destroys the satellites.

The story had such a great set-up, but really ended with me in amused disbelief. Bantam were always criticised for having stories where the Empire shows up with a terrible new weapon but the Rebels always win in the end, often with ease, and here we have Marvel doing the exact same thing! The fact that this is tying into the new film seems to be leading a lot of folks to overlook at the actual story in and of itself, instead concentrating on ferreting out the hints of things to come. Hm.

I do like Naboo, though, and I really liked the fact that Leia could sense Darth Maul’s presence in the Theed hangar. That was cool. There’s also the start of what looks like the Imperial counter-propaganda against the Rebel victory at Endor with the launch of Operation: Cinder. The Emperor has tasked some select few to continue the war, quash the rebellion, and also destroy any links to his own history, it seems. Hence the attack on Naboo. That was interesting, and something I hope we see explored in more detail – like, say, the second Aftermath novel?

The Luke story was a bit weird. Shara pilots the shuttle for Luke (because he’s such a bad pilot apparently?) to an ISB facility to recover two trees that used to grow in the Jedi Temple. They recover them, and he gives her one. The comic ends with Shara and Kes planting the tree as they retire on their new home, Yavin IV. So…yeah… Force trees? Hm. I was kinda hoping for something else, but that’s just me.

Overall, it was a good comic, with a lot of interesting ideas and stuff. The fact that some of them seemed a bit weird seems to be par for the course with Marvel at the moment (I’m hoping to catch up with their ongoing series at some point here, as well). But hopefully some of these ideas won’t disappear, as there are some potentially interesting stories to be spun out!

Star Wars Shattered Empire

What do you think? Have you read the comic? Looking forward to the movie? Let me know in the comments!

Back in the day, part two

Hey everybody!

Last weekend’s look at some of the Classic Star Wars comics was so enjoyable, I thought I’d take a look at some more! Starting where I left off, then, let’s check out Luke’s mission to Fondor!

Classic Star Wars

This is actually a good premise: set against the construction of the Super Star Destroyer Executor at Fondor, Vader attempts to wheedle out some treacherous admirals with the assistance of Admiral Griff, a new recurring Imperial character. Griff’s plan is to test the loyalty of the admirals by suggesting working with the Alliance to sabotage the SSD project, lest Vader’s prestige with the Emperor increase any further. A message is sent to the alliance at Yavin, and Luke volunteers for the mission to get away from Han and Leia, as he feels jealous of the relationship the two are building following Ord Mantell. At Fondor, Luke manages to spy on the project, storing the information in Artoo, then escapes with the help of the transport pilot Tanith Shire. Cue lots of early-80s-style “courtship”, which Luke is a bit taken aback by.

Classic Star Wars

Anyhow, with Vader aware of a strong Force presence, Luke escapes in a barge drone, and crash-lands on Ophideraan, where it transpires Tanith has been sending Imperial barges to crash-land for the Serpent Masters. This whole story is a bit daft, if I’m honest, and it was a bit of a chore to get through at times because of that. Serpent Masters? It’s all a bit too fantastical for Star Wars, in my opinion…

Concurrent with this, Han has dropped Leia off at a planet called Kabal, where she’s trying to recruit more rebels, which seems to be a de facto role for her in most of these early stories. Anyhow, when Luke and Tanith escape Ophideraan, they land – where else? – on Kabal, where Leia sees them kiss goodbye. Oh, these early tales! In the pre-Jedi world, there was so much awkwardness around this triangle!

The Imperials show up, and the rebels escape Kabal only to find themselves in a deadly trap cooked up by an Imperial weapons technician. Some radiation experiment went wrong, and he’s now awaiting death at the hands of a neutron star or somesuch. Again, it’s a pretty weird story, and feels like a filler-story between the main storyline of the ongoing series – such as the newspaper strip can be called a series. Well, anyway…

Classic Star Wars

Again, the rebels are escaping, and they rendezvous with one of Leia’s newly recruited rebels, a reformed pirate chief named Silver Fyre. It soon turns out that Han knows her from his chequered past, although nothing is really made of this beyond the fact that he knows her, and is suspicious of her because of her past conduct. Anyhow, Han loudly talks about the information that is still hidden within Artoo, convinced they’re being bugged, and it turns out that’s right! Some weirdness results, as Silver Fyre and the rebels go on an underwater safari in search for the Demonsquid. Yes, that’s right – it’s like that sequence in The Phantom Menace, only not…

Classic Star Wars

The story carries over into volume two, The Rebel Storm, where the heroes survive the squid, expose a traitor within Silver Fyre’s organisation, and manage to finally get back to their base on Yavin.

Wait, they’re still based out of Yavin IV? Yes, apparently so! The Imperials know they’re there, too, as they have the moon blockaded, and yet nobody seems to have done anything about this situation. Hm. Anyway, the Falcon makes it through the blockade, and is followed by an Imperial craft that crashes into one of the Massassi temples, awakening a Night Beast! First serpent riders, then demon squids, and now this. It’s like D&D, only it’s not…

The Night Beast actually figures really quite nicely into the later stories around the Yavin IV temples, as it seems to be some sort of Force-aware construct/beast, something you could totally imagine Ludo Kressh creating. We also get to learn some of the early lore of the temples, as we’re told the beast is guarding the ruins after its masters left the galaxy – not quite how it was portrayed in Tales of the Jedi, but no matter. Luke manages to convince it to stop its rampage, and all is well in the world once more…

Classic Star Wars

News soon reaches the rebels that Obi-Wan Kenobi has been seen on Aridus, so Luke heads on over to check it out. This is one of those stories that is actually pretty goofy, and yet has managed to permeate the lore to become more than it actually is. Spoiler alert: it isn’t actually Ben Kenobi returned from the dead, but an actor hired by Vader to lure Luke into a trap. Once this actor sees how much Kenobi meant to Luke, he betrays Vader and let’s Luke escape. Setting aside the fact that Luke has seen Kenobi die, he’s actually quite annoying here anyway – in order to set up the actor’s change of heart, Luke is given lots of “I love you, Ben!” style dialogue, which begins to feel a bit out of character. Yes, Luke thought he was “a great man”, but the way Luke idolizes Kenobi here begins to belittle Luke as a character, like he can’t function without his old mentor. But anyway, it’s not a terrible story, it’s just a little weird.

But weird is par for the course with some of these things! I’ll explore this some more in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say, the early years of Star Wars were replete with this, well, weirdness!

The further adventures of Dr Jones!

Hey folks!

I’m continuing the Birthday Week theme today, with a look at the further adventures of Indiana Jones! Yes guys, there’s more to this franchise than some movies! (And, I think, a Disney ride?)

I get really excited when I discovered there were books and comics for a series like this. Last year I discovered comics for Ghostbusters, and was in awe! I discovered Indy books five or six years ago now, and snapped up what were described to be the best – the quartet by Max McCoy.

Indiana Jones

There are a dozen or so novels from Bantam, published during the 90s in the aftermath of Last Crusade, and McCoy wrote the final four. Some of the earlier books are apparently goofy, but these last four are apparently much better.

Well.

I haven’t read any of the earlier ones, but these chaps can be really pretty weird!

A small confession, I’ve only actually read three of the four pictured above, having not made it to Secret of the Sphinx. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but I can’t honestly say that they’re the best books I’ve ever read.

They do have a classic adventure feel to them, and they obviously have the characters that we know and love from the movies. But overall, they just don’t feel like Indiana Jones. There are a lot of moments where Indy is completely out of character, predominantly in terms of speech patterns, that make me wonder what on earth I’m actually reading. A lot of the movie tie-ins that I’ve read in the past have been successful because the characters feel like those from the source material, and speech is a big part of that.

Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone began really promising, with a jungle adventure that serves to explain the remark from Temple of Doom about Indy’s activities in British Honduras. I was enraptured! But it soon fell quite flat, though there was the one saving grace that these books are really easy to read – I’m a slow reader, but I read half of this novel in a day. This book also brings Mussolini’s Fascists to the Indyverse as enemies, and it works pretty well.

The stilted dialogue, often arising out of the apparent need of the author to educate us, has made me think that perhaps these novels are aimed at a much lower age range. Not that I’m a snob or anything, but I sometimes felt I was being talked down to during this book.

My biggest criticism, however, comes from a sort of side-McGuffin. Indy is in British Honduras to retrieve a crystal skull, which he doesn’t realise is cursed. Indy winds up believing said curse, which causes big problems for him throughout the three novels I’ve read. Seriously? What happened to his Raiders attitude, of a lot of hocus pocus and the boogieman? Hm.

Indiana Jones and the Dinosaur Eggs is a bizarre one. Derivative of Temple of Doom, we see Indy head to Outer Mongolia by way of Shanghai, which leads to some gratuitous cameo appearances, but also fails to hit the spot for me. Remember in the second movie, Wu Han dies reminiscing about the many adventures he and Indy have taken? It always felt like they’d been buddies for many years, not the barely two years this novel sets it at. Also, Wu Han is barely in the adventure. But anyway.

Another entirely superfluous cameo comes at the very beginning, where we see Rene Belloq seemingly meeting Indy for the first time also. Some Nazis appear, but the main villains of this piece are Mongolian bandits, which also fell a little flat for me – we have Indy in China around the time of the conflict with Japan, why not investigate that a little? There is a lot of history here that has remained largely ignored by the West, I feel – perhaps because we had a lot going on with the growing Nazi threat in Europe – but it would have been really good to see it explored.

Anyhow, this is followed up by Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth. I have to admit, while I’m a big history fan, I didn’t really get the reference here – fortunately, all these books have a historical afterword that explains some of the real-life references made, seemingly in keeping with the need to educate. Apparently, a lot of intellectuals thought the Earth was hollow, with substantial space ripe for colonisation under the surface. Hm. It’s a notion that was kind-of explored in my absolute favourite science fiction novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, though I hadn’t realised it had actually been given serious thought until reading this, so I suppose the novel succeeded on that front!

While the other two novels are a bit weird, this one is downright odd. To start with, I don’t feel like it flows very well. The Nazis are the villains of this book, but there is a substantial part in the first half of the novel that feels like it should be a separate adventure, which really damaged the pacing for me. The premise of the novel is that Indy has been given a stone that leading members of the Thule Society are looking for, but after an extended altercation with the Nazis, they disappear from the narrative while Indy goes off on a treasure hunt, to raise the funds to pay Belloq (in another gratuitous cameo) for information as to the whereabouts of the crystal skull from book one. The search for the skull brings about the end game, an Arctic expedition that brings the Nazis back, but by this point there feels like too much going on, and the two strands of Thule Stone and Crystal Skull stories don’t really fit properly.

I suppose, of the three, I feel cheated the most by Hollow Earth, because it could have been so much better than it turned out to be, with the Thule Society references (remember my love of Tannhauser and alternative-history?)

Indiana Jones

But what about the comic-book adventures?

There are quite a few comics for the franchise, from Marvel’s adaptations of the films to Dark Horse’s endeavours of the 1990s. I’ve come quite late to Indy comics, picking up the omnibus when it came out in 2008, and have only actually read one of these stories, the adaptation of the Fate of Atlantis video game.

It’s another strange story, that sees Indy globetrotting in a whole host of contraptions, and while the initial setup looked like it could be going somewhere interesting, it ended up being just a bit weird and goofy again.

So this is something of a theme for the Indy literature out there, really, and leads right into Indy 4, too.

The Indiana Jones films have always taken some mystical object of religious significance, and spun a story around it of adventure and hijinks that has some sort of personal/moral level to it. These stories that I’ve been talking about here have taken a broader approach, by having the mystical object merely a historical artifact of some sort, and use it as an excuse to go on some random adventure almost for the sake of it. Which is partly the problem with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for me. The vital element of any sort of reason for the adventure has been taken away, and we’re left with something that’s just empty.

The stories are pretty good if you just want some escapist adventure to read, and they’re all pretty quick to get through, too. Unfortunately, however, they don’t really feel like Indiana Jones stories! But hey, that’s just my opinion – if you’ve read any, let me know what you think!!

Back in the early days…

Back in the early days, indeed!

Afternoon, all! Welcome to another blog about Star Wars comics!

I’ve been reading a lot of them lately, particularly some of the older ones, so thought I’d write something here about two volumes that, while currently difficult to find, will possibly be reprinted now that Marvel seems to be rummaging through the back-catalogue for stuff to print.

Have you ever wandered who was the bounty hunter Han and Leia ran into on Ord Mantell? Well, back in 1981 that story was told in the daily comic strip as The Bounty Hunter of Ord Mantell, which is a catchy title, I’m sure you’ll agree!

The bounty hunter in question is a strange chap called Skorr, who was specifically created to be a recurring villain and prevent over-exposure of Darth Vader in the early years.

Classic Star Wars

Basically, while out scouting for a new base, Leia and Luke are nearly ambushed by Imperials and their ship is destroyed: when they fail to check in, the Alliance presumes them dead, though Han refuses to believe it and heads off to see for himself. He rescues the pair, but in the process his ship is damaged and he needs to put into port for repairs – at Ord Mantell! There, the bounty hunter recognises Solo from Jabba’s posted bounty, and kidnaps Leia and Luke as bait to lure Han to his secluded base. Han follows Skorr to the base, and the three heroes are rescued by Chewie, but Skorr has planted a small homing beacon in Luke’s lightsaber, allowing him to follow the rebels as they flee the planet. They transfer the beacon to a life pod, which is picked up by the Imperials as they pass through the system on manoeuvres, and flee to Yavin IV.

It’s not a bad little story, very much in keeping with those being told around this time in the Marvel series, for instance. Luke is jealous of the apparent bond between Han and Leia, while still trying to come to grips with his growing power in the Force.

It was reprinted as part of Dark Horse’s Classic Star Wars line back in the early 90s, in the now-scarce In Deadly Pursuit.

Classic Star Wars

Well worth checking out if you can still find it anywhere, of course!

Also under the Classic Star Wars banner come a few little gems in The Early Adventures!

Classic Star Wars

Gambler’s World is an adventure set not long after the events of A New Hope, and was the first of the LA Times’ daily strips. While Dark Horse went through a lot of work to re-format the panels to fit a conventional comic-book style, and deserve a lot of credit for doing so, the nature of the original medium is such that we get a lot of recaps every few panels or so.

We follow Luke and Leia, and the droids, as they travel to Vorzyd V – the Gambler’s World of the title – on a bit of a weird mission for the Alliance. A high-ranking official from the world wants to divert funds to the Alliance, as currently the Emperor is deriving far too many credits from the casinos. The mission has been discovered by a shadowy Imperial agent called Blackhole, however, who receives orders from Vader to find out who the official is by kidnapping the rebels.

Classic Star Wars

Blackhole is a now-legendary character of the EU. I mean this in terms of the fact that he is a character that looms large in the lore, not just that the story is part of the Legends line! His role in this story is something of a spymaster, and he would later be revealed to be the Director of Imperial Intelligence, in a messy arrangement that seems to exist outside the otherwise-established history of the bureau being headed by Armand Isard, then his daughter Ysanne. Hm.

Classic Star Wars

At any rate, Blackhole kidnaps Luke and Leia by using his black-armoured stormtroopers, but his interrogation is interrupted when C-3PO rescues them. There’s a lot of running around the planet, particularly following the droids on their adventures as they are almost-captured by a group of “Freelies” – orphaned children who smack strongly of 70s/80s punk.

Anyhow, the rebels manage to escape from Blackhole’s stormtroopers, ready to fight another day!

Classic Star Wars

Among the pages of this book are some assorted adventures of the big three, all very much in the vein of “the further adventures”-types, giving the fans something more back in the early years between movies. One of these, The Frozen World of Ota, features what I think is the first comics appearance of none other than Boba Fett!

This strip first came out in the summer following Empire’s release, and showcases the rebels on another ice world, when they’re captured by a bunch of the natives who are trying to repair the heating mechanism of their city. Fett initially works alongside Luke to try to fend off the native Snogars, but soon goes after Han as a side-trip in his primary objective of pursuing the Imperial deserter called simply Mole. The bounty hunter is foiled in his attempts at both, however, which allows our heroes to escape.

Along with his cartoon appearance in the fabled Holiday Special, this comic was apparently intended to help build interest for the character of Fett. For someone of so few words during the movie, he speaks an awful lot here, often showing off just how good he is (“Fools! My armor insures my victory in hand-to-hand combat!” etc). It’s good in that throwaway-story style mentioned above, though I’d still recommend this book more for the Blackhole story than for this one.

***

There are some really great Classic Star Wars stories to be enjoyed among the pages of these strips, and I’ll likely be investigating some more as time progresses!

Next week is a special week here at spalanz.com, however – make sure you come back soon for that!

More Star Wars!

Well, this was unexpected…

So soon after the GAMA Trade Show stuff for Armada and Imperial Assault, we’re given yet more Star Wars goodness from FFG at this weekend’s Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim!

Yes, I still haven’t played Imperial Assault, and while the expansion model of lots of small packs of miniatures is a little worrying for the bank balance, it is nevertheless pretty exciting to see the game expand in this modular way, as you can pick and choose what you want – especially for the skirmish play, but also adding in actual miniatures for the scenario stuff is cool.

Next deluxe for the LCG is, of course, a welcome announcement, and by the looks of it, we’ll be getting Imperials and Smugglers. As a side note, Imperial Entanglements always reminds me more of the West End Games supplement than Obi-Wan’s line in A New Hope, and I always feel happy to see stuff like that 🙂

Wave 7 for X-Wing was a bit of a surprise, though a lot of folks will probably think it’s long overdue. My guess would be we’re getting one rebel, one imperial, and two scum ships, the Kihraxz Assault Fighter being affiliated with Black Sun of course (and already in the LCG, to boot!)

Anyhow, it’s good to see all the lines looking healthy, and the promise of lots more Star Wars games to come!

But wait – that’s not all!

The Lando story sounds like it could be good. Of course, I’m a big fan of AC Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, and don’t really relish the idea of that being wiped away, but the comic is set sometime between Rebel Dawn and The Empire Strikes Back, so it’s possible that nothing will contradict the Bantam series there.

The Shattered Empire has already been briefly mentioned as part of the run-up to December’s film, and while I’m intrigued to see what Disney have decided to do with the post-Jedi era, the EU fan within me feels a bit insulted that the press release begins:

“The world has been wondering what happened after the fall of the Empire since the credits first rolled on ‘Return of the Jedi’ in 1983,”

We’ve known what has happened since 1990, and Heir to the Empire, thank you very much! Bah! So it’s with a degree of trepidation, and some scepticism, that I’ll most likely be reading this book when it comes out in September.

So while I’m still a bit sad about the loss of the EU as I knew it, the one bright spot on the horizon comes from this article on sw.com about the upcoming novel Aftermath, part of a trilogy that bridges the gap between episodes VI and VII with both new characters and “familiar faces”. Maybe Talon Karrde and Mara Jade live, after all? For all my love of the EU that I’ve just discussed, it’s something that I actually feel Bantam didn’t do all that well – the Empire fell at Endor insofar as the Emperor and Vader died, but what happened to the galaxy at large? Somehow, that epic sweep that the new trailer seems to sum up so nicely in the depiction of a crashed Star Destroyer was lost, and instead we got the X-Wing series, which was basically a set of novels showcasing just how awesome Corran Horn is as a person. But I’ve had that rant before. We do somehow lack that immediate sense of, just what the hell happened next?

Y’know, this may be the first Star Wars novel I buy in hardcover…

Star Wars: Aftermath

New Star Wars Comics!

Hey everybody!

So Easter is, sadly, over with now, and it’s back to the grindstone tomorrow. At least it’s a short week! It’s been lots of fun to just take the days at my own pace, anyway. As I’ve already mentioned here on this blog, Easter is the time of year when I re-watch the original Star Wars trilogy, so my entire four-day weekend plans have hinged upon three movies, which is just fantastic!

It’s always good to re-acquaint myself with these films, as I invariably see new things all the time. So, lots of fun to be had there. I usually like to combine the movies with some of the literature from this point in the timeline, as well – albeit literature that has now been sidelined. I really ought to get over that now, it’s nearly a year since they announced the direction they were taking with the universe! But anyhow. This year, I’ve not managed to get as many stories read as I’d like; of course, some of the classics from the Empire run have made an appearance, and I’ll be getting to a blog of those comics soon, but nothing really too stunning.

Last year, I read a whole bunch of stuff, including a lot of the short stories published in the almost-prehistoric Star Wars Adventure Journal, you can read those glorious comments here. And here. And a bit here. Oh, and here!

What I have done, though, is to catch up with the new Marvel comics that have been released!

As you might remember, Marvel started to publish Star Wars comics back in January this year, and to date, eight of the blighters have made it across the Atlantic and into my hot little hands. I was pretty impressed by the first issue in the ongoing series, which seemed to set up a pretty good story. Well, the story remains pretty good, I thought, although it was a little confusing at times. It ends really interestingly, as we seem to be in for something potentially awesome next, anyway!

Close on the ongoing series’ tail is a second series, Darth Vader, which I believe is going to be a second long-running title. This comic has some truly wonderful art, and is generally pretty awesome. I was a bit unsure of it at first, and I’d fleetingly seen some negative comments online about it, but I thought it was pretty good. It shows a whole different side to the story, one that I hadn’t really thought about before, and I must admit, I was pretty impressed by it. Some very interesting situations are being set-up in both series, and while a part of me is a little worried that it won’t deliver, I’m nevertheless suitably hooked now into this line to continue reading.

But wait! I also made a video of my thoughts, where you can get to see me in a glorious smartphone-quality clip talking about this, dodgy Welsh accent and all!

Ah, the future! Video stuff is fun to play around with, though I’m normally very shy and retiring, so probably won’t be doing a lot of this stuff. But you never know!

I’ve been doing a bit more painting this weekend, as well – my first Necron in what feels like a long time! He’s the chap from the Catacomb Command Barge, who has been primed and ready to go since before Christmas. It was actually quite pleasant to be painting Necrons again, I have to say. Whether I’m about to leap into action and finish the Barge itself is another matter of course, but fun all the same.

Make sure to come back tomorrow, for some retro awesome…

New Star Wars stuff!

Lots of chatter over the internets the past couple of days about new Star Wars literature coming in the run-up to December’s new movie, headed up from this article over on EW. Here are some of my thoughts, which I know you value highly!

A few titles we can confirm are Del Rey’s Star Wars: Aftermath, which sounds like it may serve as an epilogue to the original trilogy—and perhaps a prologue to the new one. Meanwhile, Marvel Comics will put out one prequel called Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens and another preview story told from C-3PO’s perspective.

One book to cover the 32-year in-universe gap between episodes 6 and 7? This is pretty awful, and hopefully wrong! There are so many awesome novels in this part of the history that I love so much, it’s going to be extremely difficult to remain objective when I get to read this Aftermath item. I’m hoping that it is merely just a sequel to episode six, and helps to explain why the events of the entire original trilogy are just pointless, as the Empire appears to have survived its apparent annihilation at the end of Jedi. (This is still a strong bone of contention for me).

A comics prequel to the film sounds like it could be good, especially if it’ll be as high-quality as the new ongoing series. I was initially sceptical about replacing the amazing Dark Horse run, of course, but I was really impressed with that first issue, and am looking forward to the Vader series when those issues make it into my hot little hands!

Also intriguing, although not strictly part of the “Journey To …” the next movie: Look for a series of novels retelling the events of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi from the perspective of various supporting characters. Which ones? The publishers aren’t saying just yet. (Fingers crossed for a Behind the Music-style look at what Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band thought was happening in Jabba’s throne room.)

Okay, so I’m not particularly excited by this, but I remain open to being surprised.

However, the worst is this:

Those hoping to find out what Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo have been up to for the past three decades will find it first on the page, with Disney Publishing Worldwide and Lucasfilm confirming that the titles will be filled with Easter eggs foreshadowing events in J.J. Abrams’ Dec. 18 movie.

What is it with Star Wars needing to foreshadow itself all the time? Whenever this has happened before, it’s always been just so bloody awful. Something that leaps to mind is the eternal angst from Anakin during the Clone Wars multimedia tie-ins, where authors took pains to show us how he would so obviously turn into Darth Vader, to the extent that it made the character ridiculous. I’m not really looking forward to seeing endless “event b was inevitable because of event a in story x…”

But anyway. Lots of Star Wars stories coming up, surely the law of averages will mean some of them will be great…

The Terminator

Hey everybody!
Today I want to talk a bit about The Terminator, one of the classics of sci-fi out there!

The Terminator

I’m in no way an expert about this stuff, I just enjoy it for what it is!

Terminator is one of the franchises that has a strong resonance with my youth, along with similar stuff like Judge Dredd and the like. I do love a good dystopia, and I suppose Terminator is one of the classics of the genre! The first film, from 1984, I only remember in parts (such as the nightclub chase sequence and the hydraulic press), but the second film, of 1991, was really a big thing when I was growing up, and I suppose I was at the sort of age where I was just a little too young to be able to see it, which made it take on a whole new lustre!

The rise of self-aware machines is, I think, a fantastic social commentary on the so-called “progress” of mankind, where we are determined to make ourselves obsolete. At times, it genuinely frustrates me, but as presented in the Terminator franchise, it’s not all that bad, and I can enjoy them for the human-rebellion aspect. Time travel is something that I usually try to stay away from, as it’s so often not done well, but that’s never been an issue for me with this, I suppose because the story is essentially ensuring the future happens as it is supposed to, and not changing it. But anyway.

The first movie is a really awesome piece of theatre. As with a lot of film franchises, Terminator suffers from having such an incredible first film, nothing that follows can really measure up to it. The pacing has, quite rightly, been lauded as being particularly tight, leading to some incredibly tense moments, and the action sequences are phenomenal. And is there anything more freaky than Arnie with no eyebrows?! When I first watched the film as an adult, something that first struck me was how the love story felt a bit tacked-on and, while not false, still a little forced. However, re-watching the film last night, it felt a lot more natural, with a lot of subtlety that I hadn’t picked up on the first time I watched it. It’s also worth mentioning that the soundtrack is just phenomenal, and really helps create the overall ambience of the film.

The second film, for me, doesn’t have the same “classic” feeling, instead becoming a product of its time – the early 90s, when punk had somehow become softened into an acceptable norm, and people are dropping f-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. It feels inferior to the first film when seen in close proximity, but otherwise it’s a pretty good movie, and well worth the watch. The T-1000 stuff was particularly groundbreaking at the time, and even today holds up really well, I think. I suppose the thing that puts me off the most is the fact that the story necessarily involves a lot of kid-time, as Schwarzenegger’s T-800 is sent back in time to protect the young John Connor. It still has a lot of nostalgia, though, and if nothing else, and a lot of fantastic action sequences!

Something else I’d like to mention is the comic 2029-1984, which is one of the best movie tie-in products I’ve ever come across. It’s from Dark Horse Comics, so you know you’re getting some good stuff, and I believe this is the last arc they’ve published. As its name suggests, the comic takes place partly in the post-apocalyptic 2029, and then in 1984, immediately after the first film ends. The story follows Ben, a freedom fighter alongside Kyle in the future, who is sent back to 1984 with his own mission and forms what can honestly be called Terminator 1.5. Something that I really enjoyed was the government’s reaction to Kyle’s interrogation tape, and fun little bits like this make it a real delight to read. I’ve not read any other Terminator comics, though it seems that most of them aren’t worth the time, but this one is a great read, and I can highly recommend it!!

So yeah, such are my thoughts! Stay tuned for more movie ramblings from me in the future, though, as I hope to make this something of a thing!

Marvel Approaches

So!

First of all, I did not go to Comic Con at San Diego, as I have been working. However, I’ve been waiting to hear if Marvel would be making any announcements about their upcoming Star Wars line, now that there are scant months left before the licence reverts to them.

SDCC revealed some details on three books: a Princess Leia title, a Darth Vader title, and an ongoing series. I must admit, now that we have some details on these things, I am beginning to lose some of my ire about the existing EU being trodden-over!

The Princess Leia story will be written by Mark Waid, and is due out from March 2015. starwars.com has put together a nice little feature with all three of the authors talking about there books, and here’s what Waid had to say about his:

So, our story is about Leia not long after the end of Episode IV deciding, “Well, as the princess, there are still responsibilities that fall to me, like making contact with any stray Alderaanians out there who may not know what happened. It is my job as princess to deliver the bad news. It is my job to bring those who survived by being in other places, together. It is my job to help preserve some sort of cultural heritage of my people, so that everything my planet stood for and everything my people stood for doesn’t get forgotten.” So it’s a five-issue story [arc] that takes her across the galaxy in search of others of her kind to try and pull them together. Of course, some of them are going to be suspect, because they suspect this could be some sort of weird trap by the Empire. Some of them are going to be very angry, as they rightly or wrongly blame the house of Organa for what happened. Obviously, Leia will be traveling as low profile as she possibly can. If and when the Empire gets wind of the fact that Leia is doing is this, they’re going to be very interested themselves in what she’s doing, what she thinks she’s doing, and what information there is to be mined from these people.

Five issues of running around the galaxy trying to find stray Alderaanians, set in the aftermath of the Battle of Yavin? Sounds like it could be interesting. I really like the idea of a Leia story, as she seems to have been perhaps unjustly neglected by the Legends stories. There were a few issues of Dark Horse’s Empire series that saw Leia in action, but largely the classic trilogy era was filled with tales of derring-do from Han and Luke, with lots of pilots and soldiers and whatnot. Seeing what Leia gets up to will be really good!

I really hope we see people like Winter and Tycho Celchu brought back into the Canon fold. Something I had often thought about was whether Winter and Leia knew of each other’s survival, and imagined a fun little tale that saw them meeting up under fire with an emotional reunion. Of course, whether Winter will be kept on as a Canon character will remain to be seen, though I hope that most (if not all) of Zahn’s creations will prove to be too good to leave on the scrapheap. We shall see!

Next up, the Vader book will be written by Kieron Gillen, and is due from February. This is what Gillen has to say about his upcoming work:

The high-level concept is that it picks up very shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. Vader is the sole survivor of the greatest military disaster of all time. A disaster he isn’t entirely to blame for, but at least some of the blame is his. He completely let the Rebels escape with the plans. So this kind of comes back to him. So there’s an implied sense that Vader might not be in the Emperor’s best graces at this point in the story.
It’s a story set inside the Empire, but a lot of the driving force is Vader’s own personal choices and the people he keeps around him to achieve his aims. The one problem with doing a book like this is it’s just kind of, Vader plus dudes in uniform plus stormtroopers. It’s very gray, you know? If you move the story into the underworld and [bring in] some of the more colorful characters, you get a much wider tone without undermining Vader.

So, an Empire story, but we’ll be investigating Vader as a much more widely-drawn character, looking not only at his position within the Empire, and specifically how he rose from the debacle at Yavin to head of the Death Squadron, but also at the other aspects of his life, including his relationship with the Emperor and his contacts with the galactic fringe. This should be a really interesting story, I feel, and one that I had hoped we’d see back when Dark Horse launched their Empire storyline with Betrayal. I loved that book, but was a bit miffed when we meandered through generic rebellion stories for the most part. While it’s doubtful we’ll see Grand Moff Trachta, I still look forward to seeing a Vader story with some intrigue and stuff! So that should be interesting, too.

And finally, we have the ongoing series. From the mind of Jason Aaron, the series is set to begin in January next year. Says Aaron:

We wanted this to feel like the movies. We wanted to feel like we were hired to do the direct sequel to the original film. So in terms of look, feel, and tone, that’s what we’re shooting for. It’s very much a team book and we’ve got all the main players here. Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, the droids, and Darth Vader all get big moments in this first arc, and that’s our core cast going forward. I do want to be able to use Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’ve always liked the old Ben Kenobi version of Obi-Wan, so we will see him in some capacity.

I always get worried when people say these sorts of things, as they so very, very rarely deliver. But I’m forcing myself to have an open mind, so we’ll see what happens…

There will be “new stuff”, in terms of the comic universe, but there are also hints that we might be seeing stuff from the upcoming movie, which is an interesting idea. I imagine, though, that we won’t know it at the time. Unfortunately, the question of reviving Legends material was not broached. However, all three of these books will be crossing over at some point – particularly the Vader title with the ongoing series – in true Marvel fashion. That should be good for now, but could prove to be a nightmare in the future (if House of M was anything to go by…)

But still, I feel fairly excited about these upcoming stories now. While it’s a bit difficult, because it’s not going to be the Star Wars that I know and love, I’m still trying to keep an open mind, so have a cautious curiosity about it all…

Just, please, give us Mara Jade back!

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