Hellboy (2004)

It’s time for Birthday Week to go to the movies! Continuing my obsessive look at all things Hellboy this week, I thought it high time I took a look at the movie that, for me, started it all. Of course, the comics pre-date the movie by more than a decade, but I wasn’t familiar with them before seeing Big Red in action here…

Hellboy (2004)

The movie is basically the origin story of Hellboy, picking out a lot of the threads that we see in the comics, and building on the Seed of Destruction storyline to give a satisfying main story overall.

We start with the Tarmagant Island incident in 1944, with Rasputin opening a portal and bringing forth Hellboy from another dimension, then we fast-forward to the modern day and the BPRD, with a new recruit John T Myers joining the team to work as Hellboy’s liaison. Very quickly, the action moves to a museum break-in where an ancient daemon known as Sammael has been awakened by Rasputin and his disciples, Ilsa and Kroenen. Sammael goes on a rampage, and while the Bureau believe it to have been killed, in actual fact two more have been birthed from its carcass, thanks to Rasputin’s curse of multiplicity.

Myers works to bring Liz back to the team, as she had previously left due to mistrusting her own powers of pyrokinesis. The team are sent into the sewers to attempt to destroy the Sammael eggs, and while most of the agents that accompany them are killed, they also manage to capture Kroenen. In reality, Kroenen had given himself up by feigning death and, once inside the Bureau, manages to kill Professor Bruttenholm. The Bureau is taken over by FBI agent Tom Manning, who directs a mission to Moscow to end the Sammael threat and, hopefully, that of Rasputin and his followers.

In Moscow, the team tracks down the nest in Rasputin’s mausoleum, and while Liz manages to incinerate the eggs, they are captured. Rasputin sucks out Liz’s soul from her body, and uses it to cause Hellboy to use his stone right hand to awaken the Ogdru-Jahad and bring about the apocalypse. Myers manages to reach out to Hellboy, however, reminding him that Bruttenholm raised him to defy his destiny and choose his own path. Hellboy stabs Rasputin, whose death throes release a tentacled monster that Hellboy manages to defeat by detonating a belt of grenades inside the beast.

Hellboy (2004)

For me, this movie really encapsulates the feeling of Hellboy from the comics. We’ve got the half-demon wandering about in graveyards and reanimating corpses, we’ve got him hunting disgusting daemon creatures – it’s really fantastic. While Ron Perlman does steal the show as the titular character, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, and Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, also have their parts to play – though due to going through the backstory, I think Liz is definitely the more short-changed of the two. John Hurt’s Professor Bruttenholm lends a dignified presence to the movie, though I think it’s really the villains that provide so much of the enjoyment here.

Hellboy (2004)

Rasputin is quite the character, and Karel Roden’s performance is quite chilling at times, especially when he’s in his suit doing his puppet-master routine. Ladislav Beran as Kroenen is a whole different kettle of fish, though – creepy doesn’t even begin to cover it. Beran has a fluid grace that really sets your teeth on edge, and when he’s gliding down those stairs in Bruttenholm’s office… urgh, gives me chills to just think about it!

Hellboy (2004)

Kroenen is definitely the character that benefits the most from his movie incarnation. Everybody comes over from the page to the screen fairly similarly, but for Rasputin’s lieutenant, we have a sort of amalgamation of a couple of the comic book characters. He’s part Nazi scientist, with his surgical compulsion and all, and an expert assassin – a less-mad Red Skull, I suppose. He’s the embodiment of almost the entire Nazi scientist enclave that exists within the comics, and I love how del Toro has managed to distill so much down into the character. Truly wonderful.

Something should also be said for the way the story is handled. It is often said that this movie takes Seed of Destruction as its starting point, but the Sammael threat is so far removed from that of the frog monsters that I don’t really think we can talk about them together. The story is an original one that nevertheless takes the essence of the comic book story and makes it work.

Hellboy (2004)

I’ve not seen the new movie, but while this one exists, I don’t think there’s a need for it. I’ve read the film was a flop, which is a shame, as I think the Hellboy universe really would benefit from a big screen showing, branching off into the BPRD proper and all, but part of me wonders if this failure might then allow for del Toro and Perlman to come back for the Hellboy 3 that we’ve heard teased over the years?

Hellboy: part two

Hey everybody!
It’s still birthday week here at spalanz.com, and all week I’ve been rambling about Hellboy in my own, inimitable style! Today sees a return to the comics that started it all, as I turn my gaze onto the third and fourth books in the trade paperback series!

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Unlike the first two, these books are basically short story collections, bringing together one or two-issue books into the trade paperback format. The stories span a wide expanse of both releases and also points on the Hellboy timeline, with escapades from the 1950s right up to the 1990s, in-universe. They’re a mixed bag, ranging from the two-page Pancakes right up to such monumental stories as Box Full of Evil. I’m not going to attempt to cover all of the stories contained in the books, but instead touch on a couple of what I consider my favourites…

The Chained Coffin & Others collects seven stories, of which we have Mignola’s favourite, The Corpse, as well as three fairly substantial stories that have a long reach throughout the lore. The titular Chained Coffin story tells something of the origin of Hellboy as a half-daemon, following Hellboy as he returns to the ruined church in East Bromwich where he first appeared in 1944. He has a dream of a woman recanting on her deathbed her sins of being a witch, only for her soul to be claimed by the daemon Azzael who then turns to Hellboy, calling him “my favourite son”. It’s quite a short one, but we learn a bit more about Big Red’s ancestry, so definitely worth a mention!

the wolves of saint august

The Wolves of Saint August is a werewolf story that has a bit of a creepy feel to it, but then I suppose that’s true of most of these stories! There is a very definite sense of atmosphere in the tale, as we follow Hellboy and Kate Corrigan as they investigate an abandoned village in the Balkans. It’s really very creepy and atmospheric, and well worth the read to see how the tale unfolds for itself! Finally, Almost Colossus follows on from the events of Wake the Devil, as we see the homunculus from Czerge Castle run amok with Liz Sherman’s powers. The team track it down in order to restore Liz’s powers, as the homunculus has been sapping her will to live. We get a bit of backstory on the whole thing, and the hilarity of the fact that Hellboy names the chap Roger… anyway!

The Right Hand of Doom is a similar collection, bringing eight stories together in roughly chronological order, starting with the two-page Pancakes story and building up from there. There are plenty of short tales that often feel more like vignettes from the universe, as we see a lot of stuff breeze by like the Japanese floating-heads story, the St Leonard’s Wyrm story, and the Vârcolac story. They’re stories that were written for much larger collections, and serve in their original outing to give a sense for what Hellboy is all about. Reading them in this format doesn’t really work, for me, as they all just feel a bit like throwaway adventures that don’t feel like they add too much to the overall storyline, as much as any such thing can be said to exist in this sense.

right hand of doom

The final two stories, however, are a bit more meaty. The Right Hand of Doom does go someway to address the existence of Hellboy’s stone right hand, though it is yet another account of Hellboy’s history up to this point, as Hellboy explains his story to the son of Malcolm Frost (one of the three paranormal investigators present in East Bromwich on the night Hellboy first came to earth). Not an origin story per se, but certainly hitting all of the story points that we’re by now familiar with.

Box Full of Evil is the final story, and finally we get Hellboy and Abe reunited for an adventure! The two are investigating the strange reappearance of Igor Bromhead after his release from prison. Bromhead, using a hand of glory, has broken into an English mansion and removed a small box and a set of tongs, which the two BPRD agents immediately realise have links to the legend of St Dunstan, who is said to have trapped Satan in a box. Bromhead releases the devil, taking the form of the daemon Ualac, and when Hellboy arrives, his destiny to bring about armageddon is once again addressed. The story is really quite involved, and feels like it has a lot more substance to it than the others that appear in the volume, so was definitely a fitting finale!


I think I definitely prefer my Hellboy stories to be longer tales than the sort of one-shot stories we have collected in these two books! That’s not to say that they’re bad, per se, it’s just a lot more satisfying to read a fairly meaty story that can bring the full depth of Mignola’s talent for weaving folklore and myth into his universe. Wake the Devil is the archetypal story at this point in the lore, and I feel like most of these other tales are merely background.

Nevertheless, I enjoy seeing Hellboy taking part in an adventure that manages to pull together one or two elements of folklore and superstition, and it all helps to add to the character overall.

I think it’s quite informative to fans of the board game to read these stories, as they go a long way to explaining a lot of the enemy miniatures that have been included there. I must admit to feeling a bit puzzled when they revealed minis for things like the monkey with a gun, or St Leonard’s Wyrm, as they’re hardly the more important aspects of the Hellboy mythos. However, as I said in my blog about the game, the Hellboy comics are – largely – made up of these sorts of vignettes and short tales that feature Hellboy going up against some aspect of folklore or myth, which is why the modular design of the game and its one-shot-style play fit so well. If you read the comics, you realise that this isn’t really a campaign, but instead a series of standalone adventures with a rough chronology that can, on the whole, be enjoyed by themselves.

They’re definitely worth a read, anyway!!

Hellboy: part one

Hey everybody!
This week marks my fifth year of blogging here in my quiet corner of the internet, and to celebrate, I’m taking a look at one of my favourite comic books, the classic Hellboy. Let’s start with the first two books, Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil.

Hellboy 1 & 2

Seed of Destruction is very much the origin story for Big Red, and while creator Mike Mignola had previously written a short story introducing his concept for the character, it’s here that we start his story proper. Back in December 1944, in East Bromwich, England, American troops and three paranormal investigators are drawn to a convergence of energy that seems to indicate something is about to happen, thanks in part to the precognition of England’s premiere medium, Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. However, at the critical moment, Lady Cynthia realises it is far to the north that a second epicentre has opened – it is there that the Nazis have gathered, led by a mysterious monk figure who is intent on opening a portal to another dimension to bring about the end of the world and allow the Nazis to claim victory in the war: Project Ragnarok.

While the portal is opened, it is in East Bromwich that the agent of that doom appears – a tiny red “ape” with a stone right hand. The Americans dub him Hellboy, and take him with them back to the USA, and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD).

Years later, Professor Bruttenholm finally returns from a two year polar expedition. Bruttenholm, one of the investigators from East Bromwich and Hellboy’s surrogate father, is recounting some of the adventure to the now-mature half-demon when frogs start appearing, and the professor himself is killed by a frog-monster. Hellboy manages to kill the creature, however.

Following the trail of the frog monsters, Hellboy and his colleagues Liz Sherman and the amphibious Abe Sapien travel to Cavendish Hall, home of two of Bruttenholm’s companions on his polar expedition. Lady Cavendish reveals that her family has been inexplicably drawn to the arctic for generations, but the death of her two sons on the expedition might finally mean an end to this. Further investigation brings Hellboy into direct conflict with the monk-like figure who led the Nazis in 1944, none other than Rasputin. He wishes to awaken the Ogdru-Jahad, the seven gods of the apocalypse, and destroy the earth. Rasputin has captured Liz, and attempts to use her fire-control abilities to augment his own and awaken the Sadu Hem, a mystical totem brought back from the arctic by Bruttenholm and the two Cavendish brothers before they were transformed into frog monsters. The Sadu Hem should then have the power to awaken the Ogdru-Jahad, however Abe manages to spear Rasputin through the chest (with the help of the zombie-like Elihu Cavendish, founder of the dynasty) and rescue Liz.

Wake the Devil pretty much picks up where Seed of Destruction ended, with Rasputin’s disciples from the 1944 project – Ilsa Haupstein, Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, and Leopold Kurtz –  coming out of a deep freeze in a castle high up in Norway. Meanwhile, the Bureau is tasked to track down the body of Vladimir Giurescu, an almost-mythological figure who is believed to be immortal, and was once hoped to head up one of the Nazis many doomsday projects, ‘Vampir Sturm’. The BPRD teams up to track the body to three separate locations within Romania, where Hellboy quickly finds himself at the correct location, coming face to face with Ilsa Haupstein, and her attempt to revive Giurescu.

Others on the team land at different sites in Romania, and Liz’s team discover an unusually large homonculus in the ruins of Czerge Castle. The homonculus attacks them, attempting to drain Liz’s energy, until Bud Waller manages to shoot it, causing it to run off. Meanwhile, Ilsa sets the cyborg Nazi Unmensch on Hellboy, the two having a massive fight that eventually leads Hellboy to a room in the castle where Giurescu is being revived by the goddess Hecate, who turns out to be Giurescu’s mother.

Hellboy battles Hecate, while Rasputin promises Ilsa immortality if she is willing to step into an iron maiden. The torture device kills her, but is placed at a crossroads with a chained Hellboy just as Giurescu comes back to life and tries to kill him. Hellboy defeats Giurescu, a fragment of whose soul then enters the iron maiden. However, in the extraction from Romania, the BPRD manage to lose the body of Giurescu, and the iron maiden mysteriously disappears.

Hellboy frogs

The first two books in the Hellboy series are absolutely cracking. While the first story remains relatively straightforward in the telling, with some folklore thrown in among the tale, by and large it is the story of a mad monk attempting to bring about the end of the world, using frog monster minions to do his bidding. The initial backstory of Project Ragnarok is there, but only to form the initial backdrop to the main tale.

In the second book, we have what Mignola is perhaps best at, weaving mythology and folklore into a story that also takes in the mysticism of the occult and linking strongly with Nazi scientists, to provide a wide-ranging, highly-textured and detailed storyline. While Seed of Destruction is perhaps required reading to give you the background, Wake the Devil is really what Hellboy is all about, and manages to encapsulate the character and the series in just one book.

I think it’s incredibly impressive the way Mignola manages to treat all the various threads of folklore into the narrative, and it’s a bit of a treat to see the way these tidbits manage to make it into the storyline. Overall, the dark gothic feel of the Hellboy universe is wonderful and these first two books in the series really help to put you on the road that the Hellboy books travel.

There is so much to enjoy in these books that I can barely convey the breadth of the story in this review. I’ve tried to hit a lot of the points because I think there will be significant mentions and stuff later on, but I’m now a bit worried that I’ve made it sounds slightly muddled in the re-telling!

Top 10 Star Wars Comics!

Hey everybody!

I’ve been playing with movies again! At the weekend, I cobbled up a video running down my favourite 10 Star Wars comics from Dark Horse, since it’s a topic that’s been coming up a lot throughout this blog. So I thought you might like you see it!

First of all, this list was hard to put together. There are a lot of awesome comics from Dark Horse; trying to whittle the corpus down to just ten was super difficult.

10. Dark Lords of the Sith
I’ve talked about the Tales of the Jedi series here. Dark Lords of the Sith is, for me, such a good story because it’s the first in this series that feels comfortable in its surroundings. It introduces Exar Kun, who is a tremendously great character, but continues the tale of Ulic Qel-Droma begun in Knights of the Old Republic. It was very difficult to decide between this and The Sith War – or, y’know, to have a joint entry, especially seeing as how they’re very closely related, and could legitimately be grouped as such. But DLS has that special place for me simply because, as I said, it feels more natural, and not quite so bogged-down in scene-setting.

9. The Wrong Side of the War
The final story arc in the Empire run, I loved this tale when I first read it because it told a really awesome story. After building up Janek Sunbar in To the Last Man, which just felt like another Empire story (albeit a really enjoyable one), everything seems to coalesce in this story to make it one that feels like a real “timeline” story, like it has actual meaning for the characters. It also brings together a number of characters from the Empire run into something like a cohesive story, and links strongly to the Jabiim storyline from In the Shadows of their Fathers, an excellent story that sadly just missed out on making this list! In a sense, it also feels like it needs My Brother, My Enemy as a kind of coda for the story, but overall, I feel it’s worthy of standing on its own.

8. Claws of the Dragon
It was hard to decide which Legacy story to include, as I read these comics all in one go, thus it feels like one long story to me. However, Claws of the Dragon has a similar feel to DLS, where the scene has been set, and we’ve had all of the foreplay in a sense, so we’re now into the real meat of the series. All of the main characters we’ve seen so far have important roles, and of course, who can forget that shocking reveal! Exceptional storytelling.

7. Darklighter
One of the best, and indeed, if I was ranking these things purely on the storytelling and not on their sentimental/personal effect for me, it would have ended up much higher. Darklighter weaves the tale of Biggs prior to his death in the trench run, and he emerges as one of the most compelling characters of the entire saga. This comic uses a lot of the cut scenes from A New Hope that featured Biggs and Luke, so it’s pretty amazing to actually have that side of things too.

6. Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand
This was one of the first Star Wars comics I read, and I was tremendously impressed with it. We follow Mara Jade immediately following the fall of the Emperor, as she tries to put her life back together. It shows awesome development of the character, and while a lot of the Mara Jade stories tend to be almost irrelevant in terms of the overall timeline, this turns out to be really very enjoyable.

5. The Last Siege, the Final Truth
So #5 and #4 are examples of essentially a two-volume entry that really do deserve to stand on their own. I love the Quinlan Vos storyline, and used to regularly re-read it from Republic through the Clone Wars, and could quite happily have included almost every entry in this top ten. However, the Siege of Saleucami really deserves to be singled out for greatness itself. For long-time readers of the Republic and Clone Wars stories, this tale has a lot to offer, as we see a lot of the “stable” of characters from throughout that series come together, almost as one last hurrah. Particularly important here, however, is the inclusion of the two-part Trackdown story, where we learn about Tholme training with Anzati assassins very much in a samurai-esque fashion, which speaks highly to the meta-origins of the franchise. Stunning artwork abounds – including Oppo Rancisis unleashed! Whoa!

4. Light and Dark
This entry is really a place-holder for the entire Quinlan Vos storyline, which began in Twilight and ran all the way through the Republic series. It’s pretty much top-notch storytelling, and I’m planning to do a blog showcasing just why I love it so much at some point. However, Light and Dark features four standalone stories that come together into a beautiful tale of Quinlan’s career during the Clone Wars. As a big Count Dooku fan, I particularly like seeing the Sith Lord’s manipulations during his eponymous Jedi: Dooku story (as well as all those Ishi Tib!). If you only ever read one story from the Clone Wars run, however, it ought to be this one.

3. Betrayal
My top three were, in one sense, no-brainers, but as I said earlier, this was also a really tough decision to make, given the high quality of Dark Horse comics over the years. The highest-placed of the three Empire entries is Betrayal, the inaugural arc of that series. I can still remember the sense of unadulterated joy the announcement of this comic stirred for me, as we were promised a different look at the Empire, stories set within the corridors of power rather than purely from the rebels’ point of view. Betrayal introduced Grand Moff Trachta, and features a web of deceit and, indeed, betrayal so dense that it takes a couple of read-throughs to really see the beauty of it. Highly recommended to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen!

2. The Path to Nowhere
If you’ve read my recent ramblings about the Dark Times series, you’ll know how highly I rated this comic. It’s a really beautifully-told story, one that interweaves the lives of Vader and the Emperor with the rogue Jedi Dass Jennir and the rag-tag crew of the Uhumele. There’s a real sense of the quest as the good guys try to find Bomo Greenbark’s missing family, with truly horrible results, and while this comic is actually incredibly bleak and grim, it’s nevertheless so wonderfully constructed that you can enjoy it as a piece of art. Truly amazing work, this.

1. Crimson Empire
Should be no surprise about the top spot, if you read this blog from last year. This was the very first Star Wars comic I read, and introduced me to the medium along with a whole cast of awesome characters, headlined by Carnor Jax and Kir Kanos. Some amazing artwork, and a storyline that is utterly compelling, all the more so because it doesn’t feature any of the big movie characters, this tale should be on everybody’s shelf. It’s as simple as that!

***

So there you have it, guys, my top ten! I’m sure I could probably augment this, adding in some more around the Legacy and the Quinlan Vos stories, as I predominantly view these things as storylines and don’t break them down into individual arcs. I enjoyed this look through the comics, anyway, and I think I might soon do something for the novels, as well!

What are your thoughts? Do you approve? Are you surprised there were no X-Wing/Knights of the Old Republic/Original Marvel stories in there? Are you scandalised I didn’t pick Dark Empire for my #1 slot? Let me know what you think!

Buy them from amazon:
Dark Lords of the Sith
The Wrong Side of the War
Claws of the Dragon
Darklighter
Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand
The Last Siege, the FInal Truth
Light and Dark
Betrayal
The Path to Nowhere
Crimson Empire

All About Vader

Hey everybody!
I’ve recently been reading the Darth Vader comics published by Dark Horse between 2011 and 2014, four arcs written by Haden Blackman and Tim Siedell. Bit of a mixed bag, if I’m honest, and pretty much all of them suffering from just-another-story-syndrome. Back in the day, we used to get Star Wars stories that formed a cohesive narrative, predominantly in the novels of course, but series like Star Wars: Republic and Star Wars: Legacy showed that the comics could do that just as well. Following the release of Revenge of the Sith, however, both Dark Horse and Del Rey seemed to make a conscious effort to move away from providing an actual timeline, and instead opted to “tell a Boba Fett story” or, as is the case here, “a Darth Vader story”. The result tends to be a story that exists in a vacuum and, by the end of it, leaves you wondering just what the point of that was, in the grand scheme of things.

So let’s take a look!

Darth Vader and the Lost Command

Darth Vader and the Lost Command kicks things off with Vader leading a search for the son of Grand Moff Tarkin (who knew?) into the Ghost Nebula. There, they uncover a conspiracy for the Atoans to secede from the nascent Empire, under the leadership of Admiral Garoche Tarkin. It’s a pretty good story, actually, with some awesome fight scenes and a small cast of compelling characters.

We see an interesting side to Vader here, where he is still stricken by the concluding events of Episode III. It’s a device that we see used first in Empire: Betrayal, which was published as the prequels were still being made, and seemed at the time to be a cheesy way to tie-in, but in retrospect seems entirely appropriate. That Vader’s memories here are being affected by the Atoan Shaman, Saro, is just more interesting, as we see what Vader had hoped his future would be. Very interesting, anyway!

This miniseries was the only Star Wars story I read in 2013, and the first that I read following my moving house that year, so has some fond memories for me in that respect, as well. However, it is still well worth picking up. Unfortunately, Dark Horse only collected it, and the other Vader series, in hardback, which just messes with my shelf-edge presentation too much, so I have kept the original comics individually instead. I’m strange like that…

Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison

Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is a more curious beast. Published in 2012, it tells the story of another insurgency against the nascent Empire, led by an instructor in the Imperial Academy on Raithal, a general named Gentis. His motivation is actually very compelling, that he is driven to despair over seeing so many of his sons killed in Palpatine’s name. However, as the story moves along, I found myself asking “so what, you’ll kill the Emperor, set yourself up in his place, and start having other peoples’ children die in your name? Jackass.” But maybe that’s just me.

The story is told from the point of view of one of the Raithal cadets, Laurita Tohm. Disfigured in a terrorist attack on his family’s gas mining station, Laurita emerges as an ambitious lieutenant who I was worried would turn out to be one of these “I’m a good Imperial” types, but actually proved to be quite ruthless as the story got going. Gooooooooooooooooooooooood. The ending was really quite unexpected, but so very, very appropriate that I actually laughed aloud! Does that make me a terrible person? Well, possibly, but it was a good ending.

Something I was very excited about, seeing the cover of issue 4, was the appearance of Grand Moff Trachta. First introduced in the aforementioned Betrayal storyline, he has become one of my favourite Imperials, something that has really been heightened by the fact that, for years, he had only made one appearance in the literature. I’m going to be writing about the Empire storylines when I get to them, but for now, suffice it to say that he’s always struck me as a real Imperial’s Imperial, and I’ve longed to see more of him. However, his appearance in Ghost Prison, while entirely justified, fell much flatter than I’d hoped. In the end, he’s the one who turned out to be the Imperial-with-a-conscience, and the character felt cheapened for it. It felt like Blackman was trying to foreshadow the events of Betrayal by showing his disapproval of Vader and his methods, but I don’t think Trachta is the type to confide his feelings about the Emperor’s Enforcer to a cadet he barely knows. Hm.

Of the two Blackman stories in this series, Ghost Prison definitely feels like “just a Vader story”. The whole point of it seems to show the Dark Lord to be a ruthless leader, but we already knew that. So, hm.

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin

Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin was published in 2013, and has always struck me as a wonderful title for a comic book series. As I’m sure you all know, Star Wars was heavily influenced by Oriental culture, and the title of this arc sounds like a samurai movie or something. To me, it does, anyway.

This story was pretty good, too. I’m always a bit wary of such things – a wealthy industrialist’s son is killed by Vader, so he goes after revenge by hiring assassins to kill Vader, it seems so ridiculous a plotline! But then, we the audience have seen what Vader is like – in-universe (at least, in-Legends-universe), Vader is a shadowy figure sent by the Emperor to make things happen. Outside of the inner circle, very little is supposed to be known about him. As such, these kinds of plotlines are kinda forgivable.

Something I really enjoyed about this story was the headless serpent thing. The Star Wars universe is supposed to be vast, where all manner of strange things take place. Seeing weird cults like this reminds us (reminds me, at least) that it really is full of all manner of stuff. I thought it was done really well, and the focusing-crystal thing that Vader finds on that moon didn’t actually feel cheesy at all (read it – you’ll know what I mean then!)

The conclusion was also really effective, with the Emperor proclaiming his dominion over Vader. Completely in-character, and quite creepy for it. All in all, this was a cracking tale, and ushered Tim Siedell into the expanded universe oh-so-late! Well worth picking up, even if you can only find it in hardcover.

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows

Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows is the fourth in this quartet, and like Ghost Prison before it, is told entirely from the point of view of someone other than Vader. It’s actually an old Clone Trooper who’s doing the talking – an embittered clone who has come to hate the Jedi since they abandoned him to die, and sees in Vader something of a kindred spirit. However, things aren’t as rosy as he first thought in the New Order, and he eventually escapes for a more humble life.

Clone Troopers with minds of their own have become a disconcerting theme in the wake of the Clone Wars cartoon series, one that must surely make the old clonemasters of Kamino pull their metaphorical hair out in the face of such failure. However, this comic shows that in a different light, and it actually becomes pretty compelling as a result! Despite the fairly grim narrator, there are some moments that made me chuckle.

A lot of this one, however, felt a bit like some of the old Empire issues – particularly, To the Last Man. I suppose people want to see the Empire having crushing defeats as well as unbridled victories, but there were a lot of panels that put me back on Maridun with Lt Sunbar. That’s not to say it was a bad thing, of course, it just didn’t feel particularly fresh or anything. Coming towards the end of Dark Horse’s run in 2014, it’s almost tempting to think they shifted resource away from the Star Wars line to bulk out their other titles and ensure a continued readership into 2015, and certainly these issues are quite full of full-page adverts for their other titles. Maybe I’m just being cynical, however.

At any rate, the main point of this story seems to be that, once again, Vader is a ruthless leader. In fact, there were a couple of points where Vader felt like an incompetent leader – while these stories are all set in the early days of the suit, Anakin was never supposed to be that bad in the Clone Wars. As someone who always led from the front, it surprised me that he would stay back here. Anyway. For me, this was a disappointing finish to the series, but the strength of Lost Command and Ninth Assassin tends to overshadow anything overly negative.

So there you have it! A bit of a mixed bag, and all of them unfortunately fall into the “just another Vader story” category. With Marvel’s ongoing Vader series starting imminently, I’m intrigued as to what they’re going to do about these things. The Marvel series is to be set between IV and V, of course, whereas all of these stories take place immediately after III, but given that Kieron Gillen basically has only the slightly nuanced movie villain to work with, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the character this time around.

There are nevertheless some really good books to be found in this series – don’t let the Legends banner put you off!

Buy it from amazon:
Darth Vader and the Lost Command
Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison
Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin
Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows

Dawn of the Jedi (3)

Hey everyone!
Well, after my look through the first two story arcs of the Dawn of the Jedi series from Dark Horse, I suppose it’s only right that I take a look at the final part of the trilogy…

Dawn of the Jedi

As you may recall, I have some fairly mixed views on both the previous issues – which you can read about here:

Force Storm                                          Prisoner of Bogan

The third story picks up where the last left off, though a year has lapsed since that last book. Now this, I like: there appears to be no such thing as hyperspace travel in this period (“Good!” I hear you cry!), so everybody moves around at sublight speeds. It therefore takes the Rakatan force a year to penetrate the system – a really nice point, though one at odds with the fact that they appear to have crossed the galaxy, from Tatooine to the Deep Core, over the course of the three books. Hm. Anyway!

here be spoilers!

Daegen Lok is now leading the Je’daii, and in an alarming number of panels he looks very similar to Quinlan Vos during some of the latter’s Clone Wars escapades… That aside, the book deals with the invasion in a really great manner. It’s action for almost the entire book, and I for one was really actually very impressed! We also get to spend a little more time with the Rakata, and get to understand a little more of their motives and so forth.

Something that really bugged me, however, was the love story between Shae Koda and Xesh. I hadn’t mentioned it in the second blog as I’d been hoping I’d been reading too much into things, and it wouldn’t happen, but alas, it does. I can’t decide whether this was a good move or not – that it felt inevitable might be good, because Star Wars is almost meant to be one long trope after another, but there’s that nagging sense that nobody is doing anything differently anymore, and it’s almost like the love story was put in “because there needs to be a love story”. It felt like it should have been a big moment, but I found myself bored by it, sadly. (Also, as a side note, Xesh reveals his “real name” as Tau – that just made me think of the Warhammer 40,000 race…)

Once the love story is out in the open, we see Xesh’s big betrayal of the Je’daii, which I supposed served to heighten my distaste for the romance. To me, the betrayal didn’t need any more layering, but again, it felt like the whole love story was added in to add to the sense of personal betrayal. But anyway. I admit to being a bit confused by the proceedings here, as at one point it felt a bit like we were leading up to a “it was all a dream” scenario – was it really Xesh on the planet, or merely his shadow?

The denouement comes when everybody meets down at the bottom of the Chasm, which has been with us since the first issue of course, and turns out to be the Infinity Gate to end all Infinity Gates, which the Rataka want to control. After a crazy duel between Daegen and the chief Rakata, Skal’nas, and one between Xesh and Shae, the Rakata are defeated with the death of their leader. Felt a bit too easy, that – the Rakata apparently felt Skal’nas’ death through the Force, and headed off to vie with each other for supremacy. However, with the Infinity Gate destroyed, there was no longer a point to fighting for control of Tython anyway. While the rest of the Je’daii lick their wounds, Xesh and Shae head off into the Tython wilderness to start a life together.

Ah, schmaltz!

I said above that I liked this one, and I did, but there were a few things I wish we had more of, and a few that I wish had been left out. I said we saw more of the Rakata, but we’ve really only scratched the surface here, so it’s a sad thing that we won’t be getting any further issues in the series.

Something else that I thought really salient, but have kept it until now to discuss, is the whole issue of how the Je’daii became the Jedi and Sith Lords of later eras. In this harmonious pre-Republic age, we have the light and dark sides, but we have pureblood Sith as Je’daii warriors, and it all seems a little screwy. There is a Council, though we don’t really get much info on that. It’s quite difficult to reconcile what we’re reading about here with what we know comes later, so in a sense it would be very useful to see where we’re headed, somehow. All that said, however, there is still the issue of it being bad for Je’daii to be forming attachments, while at the same time we see Je’daii who have married and had kids, etc. There’s a lot to wrap your head around, and I for one am really sad that we haven’t had the opportunity to see more around the Je’daii tenets in this era, to compare and contrast with those of the later Jedi. It’s something that I suppose you’d take for granted in a novel, say, but a comic has other priorities. (There is, of course, the novel Into the Void, set before the comic series, which I plan to move onto next). Anyway, it would have been nice to have seen more of the principles of the order, aside from that very brief scene with the rancor dragon.

Oh yeah, there’s a rancor dragon. She’s called “Butch”.

Dawn of the Jedi

The rancor dragon actually brings up another point. We see a lot of facets of both the later Jedi and Sith cultures, here for instance we’re almost telegraphing the Sith Alchemy of Ludo Kressh and his ilk, for instance. It’s an interesting blend of the two, but an odd mix all the same. I suppose this oddity fails to convince me that this really is how the Jedi Order began, which sounds pretty damning really, but there you have it. There are some very potent whiffs of a suitably epic origin, but when it’s all over, I just didn’t feel like this did the idea justice.

So in short, it’s an interesting little series, though one that I feel could have been so much better than it was. That’s not to say it’s awful, it just could have been better, principally in its distance from the core timeline.

Dawn of the Jedi (2)

Hey everybody!

Following on from last week’s post about the inaugural arc of the Dawn of the Jedi series, I’m back with a quick look at the second arc, Prisoner of Bogan, which I read last night!

Dawn of the Jedi

here be spoilers!

A lot of my criticisms of the first book hold strong here, also. For an ancient timeframe, we’re sure seeing some standard tech – at one point, we see jet packs that are virtually the same as that of Jango Fett, for instance. There’s next to no sense of temporal space in this story, which is a shame, as one of the main selling points, it seems, was the fact that this story takes place in the ancient past of the Jedi.

A small point, too, is the Noghri battle-master character, Tave. I must admit, whenever I see a Noghri prior to Heir to the Empire (that isn’t a member of the Imperial death clans), I just cringe. One issue of the Republic storyline (#68: Armor) in particular really grates on me. The reason being, Noghri are supposed to be something of a backwater race before the Clone Wars, unheard of in galactic society. So I was unimpressed there. I was also unimpressed at how he’s shown as being the same height as the others, when Noghri are supposedly much smaller. Hm.

But, you know, if you put these things aside, this is actually a pretty good story. While it seems to labour under exposition at times, it nevertheless feels much more action-packed than the last book, which really suffered from its own exposition.

The story contains the meeting of the mad Je’daii Daegan Lok – the prisoner seen in the first arc – with Xesh, the imprisoned Force Hound who was sent to Bogan in the previous book. Daegan Lok had a vision of an invasion of people wielding laser swords, and when Xesh appears and recognises them as Forcesabers, Lok is determined to forge his own and lead the Je’daii to victory. There are some really interesting themes coming out of this, and I particularly liked the way the story plays around with the perception of Lok as mad.

As it turns out, another Je’daii Ranger, Hawk Ryo, shared that vision with Daegan Lok, but he renounced it and returned to the Je’daii fold. We get to explore the system a bit more, as Hawk leads a band of Je’daii in an attempt to recover the fugitive prisoners. On Tython, however, there is discord as the Masters begin to consider the possibility that Daegan Lok may have been right, after all. By the end of the story, they’re forced to admit they were wrong, and begin to muster for war!

Dawn of the Jedi

We also see more of the Force Hound Trill, above. The Force Hounds were an interesting idea from the last story, and while I’m not sure I really wanted to know more about them, we get it here anyway, and it is pretty interesting. Turns out to be a lot of subterfuge and intrigue going on in the Rakata camp, which I actually got a bit confused by at first, I think because we haven’t really seen all that much of the Rakata so far.

Above all, however, I suppose I most appreciated the way this story ties in quite wonderfully with previous Star Wars comics. The biggest, for me, was the return of the Kwa and the Infinity Gates. Remember Infinity’s End, from 2000? Quinlan Vos, still recovering from his flirtation with the Dark Side in Twilight is sent to Dathomir and all sorts of nonsense starts happening around the Star Chambers and such? Well, the story is taken up again here, and merged into the birth of the Rataka and the Infinite Empire. While I didn’t really care for that story, it was nonetheless nice to see these odd bits of information taken up every so often, helping to keep it all one big story!

So yeah, a better story than the first, though still not without problems. It serves as a nice segue into the third arc, however, with the promise of war coming to the Tython system…