Easter 2016! part one

Hey everybody!
I’ve mentioned it before, but Easter is my absolutely favourite time of year. It’s nothing religious, for I’m not a religious person – rather, it’s a combination of chocolate, time off work, and some very wonderful memories! See, Easter was the time of year when I first discovered the Star Wars expanded universe, when my mate Dave pointed me in the direction of Heir to the Empire and said, “go read that”. What an amazing time! Between that and Crimson Empire, I was totally sold on the EU, and have made it my mission to make every Easter as Star Wars-filled as I possibly can.

As well as re-watching the original trilogy every year, I usually find myself slipping back into some kind of reading program, which I mentioned in one of my very first blog entries here on spalanz.com! I’ve recently re-read a lot of those posts, which kinda sounds a bit vain now I mention it, but it got me back into the mood like nothing else. I’ve already started, anyway, by reading the awesome A New Dawn (well worth picking up!) and have continued this spirit with The Force Unleashed graphic novels!

The Force Unleashed

Back in the mid-2000s, a new video game was launched as the next chapter of the Star Wars saga. The game was released in 2008, and spawned a whole media crossover event much like Shadows of the Empire back in the 1990s – having never played the game (despite owning the DS version for a while), I’ve enjoyed both the novel and graphic novel versions, as well as the Miniatures line and RPG supplement. But today, I’m talking comics…

The story follows Starkiller, Vader’s secret apprentice, as he fulfils missions for his master, namely hunting down and destroying Jedi. His first target is General Rahm Kota, a Jedi Master who survived the Clone Wars due to his mistrust of clone troopers – being surrounded by his own militia, Order 66 kinda just passed the guy by. Starkiller catches up to him over Nar Shaddaa and, after a fairly huge duel, manages to defeat him – though not before Kota senses he will himself be a part of the apprentice’s future.

Starkiller has been trained by Vader with the intention of one day toppling the Emperor, so to prepare him further for this, he is sent after a member of the Jedi Council. Shaak Ti has been hiding on Felucia following the conclusion of the Clone Wars. The planet is so rich in the Force that she is effectively hidden from any prying eyes, but not from Starkiller. Shaak Ti sends her apprentice, Maris Brood, into the Felucian jungle while she confronts Starkiller alone at the aptly-named Abyss – the maw of a Sarlacc monster! Shaak Ti is clearly powerful in the Force, but Starkiller uses his instinctual rage and manages to push her into the pit.

Upon his return to Vader’s side, the Emperor has discovered Starkiller’s existence, and forces Vader to kill him. Vader, however, saves his body and manages to somehow bring him back to life, whereupon he gives him a new mission – round up the Emperor’s enemies into a cohesive rebellion that will distract the Emperor’s spies long enough for Vader to strike his master down, thus ruling the galaxy with Starkiller at his side. It’s a fairly crazy scheme, but Starkiller goes along with it, and determines to find out if General Kota indeed still lives, to find out what his parting words were.

Starkiller finds Kota as a blind, drunk derelict slumming in Cloud City. He convinces Kota to join his cause following his defeat of the Emperor’s Shadow Guard – huge, black-armoured Force-sensitive killers. Together, they travel to Kashyyyk in an attempt to find Bail Organa, who has also been attempting to create a rebellion – and had in fact been searching for Kota to help. They only find Organa’s daughter Leia there, and manage to evade the Imperial presence on the Wookiee home planet and get Leia to safety. Kota surmises that Bail, having failed to recruit him, will have gone after Shaak Ti instead, so Starkiller returns to Felucia where the planet has begun to slip into the Dark Side now that Shaak Ti has gone. Starkiller finds Bail Organa being held hostage by Shaak Ti’s almost-deranged apprentice Maris Brood, and the two fight – Maris bringing out a Felucian Rancor at one point! She is defeated, however, and while Starkiller may have dissuaded her from following her dark path, she nevertheless flees into the wilderness.

With Bail on board, Starkiller travels to Corellia to meet with other senators dissatisfied with the Emperor’s rule. Together with Garm bel Iblis and Mon Mothma, the Rebel Alliance is about to be formed when Vader arrives to capture them. Starkiller faces off against his erstwhile master, and is defeated. The senators and Kota are taken to the still under-construction Death Star at the Outer Rim, where they are to be tortured by the Emperor himself. Starkiller attempts to rescue them, and while he manages to distract the Emperor and Vader long enough to allow the senators to flee, ultimately the Emperor kills the secret apprentice, revealing that he knew about Vader’s training all along. However, the two Dark Lords now have a significant problem on their hands, as they have unwittingly allowed Starkiller to become the galvanising martyr to the rebellion’s cause.

I really like this story! While its episodic nature belies its origins as a video game, with each vignette clearly forming a level of the game, it’s nevertheless a beautifully wrought pastiche of the prequels and original-trilogy, through its use of classic locations such as Cloud City as well as fleshing out places such as Felucia and Raxus Prime. The premise for the story is that Vader has trained the apprentice through fear and brutality, and as a result Starkiller is basically out of control of his emotions, allowing him to do all kinds of over-the-top stuff like pull Star Destroyers out of the skies and the like. Taken in the spirit that it is meant, the story is a lot of fun – not unlike the IG-88 tale from Tales of the Bounty Hunters, actually.

I’m one of these people who grew up with the Zahn ideas of the Corellian Treaty forming the rebellion, and I’ve always been a bit put-out by the notion that they were manipulated into doing so by the Emperor – and I find the involvement of the secret apprentice to be a little too close to the worst kind of fan-fiction at times, the kind where hugely significant plot threads are re-written so as to include the author’s pet character. But as I said before, taken in the spirit of the thing, it’s easy to overlook that.

There’s also an entirely gratuitous love story almost grafted-on. Juno Eclipse serves as Starkiller’s pilot for his missions for Vader, something that always makes me curious – is piloting that difficult that it’s easier to get someone to do it for you? Anyway, throughout the comic she serves mostly to provide cleavage – at one point, entirely unnecessary butt-cleavage – that leaves me feeling a little bit dirty. I’m not a video gamer, of course, but I get the impression that she’s created to appeal to the overly-machismo crowd and has little further function than just set-dressing. Which is unfortunate, because Star Wars actually has some really kickass women in the mythos, so I feel this has been a really missed opportunity.

I love the way Cloud City and Felucia are woven into this story, and in actual fact, the Felucian episodes have inspired me with my own fan fiction when I wrote the short story Chasing Shadows a couple of years ago. Indeed, the end of that story was written to almost tie into The Force Unleashed, as Vader learns Shaak Ti yet lives, so then sends his apprentice after her. So it has certainly been influential for me!

The Force Unleashed II

This one is a bit of a let-down, for me. It’s essentially a Boba Fett story, and while there have been Boba Fett stories in the past that are fairly decent, Enemy of the Empire for instance, this story makes him almost too human to be the fearsome character the films intend him to be. The basic premise is that Vader has created clones of Starkiller, and due to an accelerated ageing process, they have been going insane. They’re also convinced they’re really Starkiller, and are obsessed with tracking down Juno Eclipse. Juno and Kota now appear to be fully-fledged rebels, in charge of some portion of the fleet, which was an interesting move, as I’d have expected to see more “movie rebels” involved at such a high level. Anyway.

Fett tracks the Starkiller-clone to Cato Neimoidia, another nice throwback to the prequels, where his trail of destruction knows no bounds. He somehow finds a mechanic who has refitted vessels with new transponder codes for the Alliance, which allows him to find Juno and he takes her captive. Fett delivers Juno to Vader on Kamino, where somehow Starkiller (the real one? A clone?) and Kota turn up and, following a confusing fight, Juno manages to defeat Vader and she and Starkiller are reunited. Fett feels like he can’t kill Starkiller, and thus deliver on his contract, because the former secret apprentice is making out with Juno. And thus the story ends, with Vader a hostage of the rebels on Dantooine.

After the first story, this one really falls flat to me. I just, I don’t know what the point of it was. The first one has a nicely driven narrative to it, the second one feels just all over the place and a little bit too much like it’s just cashing in. It’s unfortunate, because even though the clone thing had kinda been overdone in the Star Wars expanded universe, there was some potential here for another story that serves to further tie the prequels and original trilogy together, as we see the showdown on Kamino and whatnot. Ultimately, however, this story becomes the sort of thing that Disney has essentially saved us Star Wars fans from.

Unlike the first one, however, I haven’t yet read the novel for TFU2, and I do know that the comic takes a very prescribed look at the events rather than presenting the whole story. So that may be worth looking into at a later date, whereupon I’ll doubtless come here and compare!

I recently read this interview with the game developer, and comic author Haden Blackman, about what a third installment would have looked like. The idea of Vader and Starkiller teaming up to go against the Emperor sounds like it walks that fine line of could-be-amazing, could-be-awful. I think I would like it if Vader ultimately killed Starkiller at the end, once and for all, as otherwise it just gets too messy with continuity and stuff. Though obviously, I’m talking about a pre-Disney continuity here! Suffice it to say, though, the idea sounds interesting…

In addition to watching A New Hope on Friday, I also cracked out this bad boy once again!

Escape from the Death Star

Escape from the Death Star wowed me last year as being a truly amazing gaming experience, especially if you watch the movie first! It’s definitely not easy, in fact the reliance on luck can sometimes make it soul-crushing, but I was particularly pleased this time when I managed to escape from the battle station and win! Was not expecting that, as Luke kept making ham-fisted rolls that got him trapped by stormtroopers for most of the game – as it turned out, Leia both disabled the tractor beam and was first onto the Falcon, and the game ended with Han leaping clear of his 8 pursuing troopers! What a finish!

I’m not sure if I’d put this game in my top ten, but for nostalgia purposes (I have such strong memories of trying to figure out how to play this with my brother) it’s a winner, every time!

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My world-famous pasta al tonno! #GoodFriday

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My Friday ended with my world-famous pasta al tonno, and some painting. More on the latter in tomorrow’s update blog, of course!! Though, if you follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I’ve returned to some old favourites this week, in an attempt to get them finished…

Whatever you’re up to over the weekend, I hope you’re having an awesome time of it! Stay tuned for more exciting Star Wars updates here, anyway!

Comics Catch-Up!

I’ve been catching up on some more DC comics lately, and it’s been wonderful! Let me wax lyrical about these books for a bit!

After reading the first Justice League volume (and loving it!) I’ve been checking out the next one, The Villain’s Journey. Following on from their origin story last time, we see the team fractured by the villain Graves, who briefly appeared in the earlier book as something of a fan of the League. It turns out Graves was poisoned during Darkseid’s attack, and his family perished as a result. Blaming the superheroes, he has collected information on each one’s weakness from their arch-nemeses. He manages to fracture the team, culminating in a massive fight between Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, which is broadcast around the world, destroying the reputation of the team. They manage to defeat him, though with some pretty fractured results.

While this book wasn’t as good as the Origin story, it was still nice to see how the storyline develops from the last book. However, being totally honest, I didn’t find it quite as good as the first story. It felt somewhat fractured, and while it was interesting to see more of the dynamics between the group and all that, parts of this felt like the obligatory “rift” style of storyline – the classic sequel that sets up the third act. It feels a little generic in this sense, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty decent enough comic book story.

Having enjoyed the first Justice League story so much, I bought a couple of other books featuring those heroes, to see what I’d been missing in the solo series, one of which was the first volume of Aquaman. Also by Geoff Johns, it serves as something of an origin story for both Aquaman and Mera, as we see them battle a piranha-like race called The Trench, who live deep in the ocean floor. Along the way, we see both Aquaman and Mera interact with the people of Amnesty Bay, in often pretty hilarious vignettes that show how “real world people” sometimes deride Aquaman.

This story is absolutely amazing. I’d never read an Aquaman story before, so didn’t really know what to expect, but was totally blown away. This book is just awesome! So entertaining – the scenes with folks asking for his help that demonstrate common misconceptions of the character are both humorous but also serve to really affirm Aquaman’s place as a superhero in the DC universe. I think not knowing anything about the character helped, because I came to this fresh and felt like I really learned something about him, but anyway, it was a really interesting story, and I’ve already bought the next two volumes in the series, as I can’t wait to see what happens next!

While I’ve found a new interest in Aquaman, I’ll always return to Flash as my favourite superhero. Following the last book, where we saw Flash confront Grodd in Gorilla City, this storyline sees Central City invaded by the gorillas, and Flash must team up with the Rogues in order to defeat them! There are some pretty neat twists and turns in this story, which ultimately sees Grodd removed to the Speed Force as Iris West and the others burst out in a Soviet tank.

Following on from the main event, there is a smaller story in here also, where those others who came out of the Speed Force with Iris have developed super powers. We get a brief look at Reverse-Flash, but the main story follows Flash as he tries to clear the Trickster’s name of a crime he didn’t commit – an interesting side story type of thing, but one that further helps to explore Flash as a character.

I liked this a lot more than the second book, which felt a bit odd, and had some strange one-shot stories tucked in the back of it. While King Grodd has ostensibly been defeated, it was nice to see the brief glimpse of Reverse-Flash that will hopefully promise a lot of awesome to come soon, anyway!

All in all, then, I’m really loving this discovery of the New 52 comics from DC, and I’m a little annoyed with myself for not having looked into this stuff sooner, to tell the truth. There have been some stand-out awesome stories from my delvings thus far, and even those stories I didn’t think as highly of are still good enough for entertainment!

Can’t wait to get round to some more real soon!

Justice League!

Oh my goodness you guys, I read this bad boy earlier in the week, and it was just awesome! I’ve been reading a variety of these New 52 titles recently, and had bought this one in an effort to become more schooled in the DC Universe. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, but I was going to see what it was all about.

I am so glad that I did!

The story, like all the New 52 books, is a soft reboot of the DC Universe, and as the title suggests, it’s an origin story of the team, so we see how they first teamed up. Knowing nothing about the Justice League (though I have watched at least one animated movie in the past, not taking a lot of it in!) I was all for an easy-entry storyline.

So we follow Batman investigating some weird flying guy who plants a strange metal box in Gotham. Green Lantern shows up, investigating the alien activity going on, and the story really builds from there. The two travel to Metropolis as Green Lantern suspects it might have something to do with “that alien”, Superman, and later calls in Flash to help investigate the box. It’s interesting to see the group dynamic at this point – Flash and Green Lantern obviously know each other, Superman is suspicious of everyone, and Batman is almost the butt of everyone’s jokes (“so, what can you do?”) The story shifts to follow the “birth” of Cyborg, linked to his father’s investigations of these alien boxes, before moving on again to Wonder Woman as she rushes off to a fight with the flying aliens in Washington DC. In the capital, the others turn up and are soon joined by Aquaman, who has been fighting the aliens underwater. It soon turns out the boxes are essentially extra-dimensional portals, which are used to allow Darkseid to arrive on earth in search of his daughter. The aliens capture Superman in what feels almost like a side-story – they intend to make alien supersoldiers from his genetic material? – but Batman shows up to rescue him. In a final move, the super heroes all work together to defeat Darkseid, earning the support of the people at last.

The story is really good, but the characters are done so damn well that I was in love with this book pretty much from the get-go! I particularly loved Green Lantern, a character in whom I previously had no interest – he was generally pretty funny, which I was surprised at as I usually dislike the smart-mouth types. In fact, I’ve since bought the first books in both the Green Lantern and Aquaman series to see what I’ve been missing out on! Superman was also a really cool character here, and I’m really interested in this whole thing with Darkseid, who I believe has some sort of history with the Kryptonian, so that’s interesting.

The whole story was just so great, I am really impressed with all of these books so far, and can highly recommend this one in particular to anyone who is a fan of superheroes!

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!!