Star Wars new canon musings

Hey everybody!
It’s been a bit of a Star Wars week here at spalanz.com, and today I thought I’d talk about some various musings that I’ve been having about the franchise, with the new books and comics as well as thoughts on the new and up-coming movies… It’s going to be a ramble, but let’s begin!

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I’m really intrigued about what’s going to happen in this film. Something that I like the idea of is how VII mirrored IV so much, VIII might actually begin by imitating V before vectoring off really onto its own thing. There is a lot of footage in the trailer that shows the Resistance seemingly under attack, and I like the idea that this is an escape sequence much like the Battle of Hoth, where we may see a lot of similar story beats to the earlier movie.

We’ll also have a lot of Rey being trained by Luke and, if VII can be relied upon, Kylo Ren being trained by Snoke, which will somewhat follow the theme of Luke being trained by Yoda. But what else could we see? Some stories have been circulating that speculate the film starts with Leia meeting Snoke in a sort of meeting-of-minds, and she has to be rescued by the Resistance. I suppose the scenes that I thought of as an escape could equally be a rescue.

Leia is said to have an expanded role in VIII, which is excellent because she wasn’t in VII nearly as much as she should have been. But I guess we needed to see the next generation established. The idea that she meets with Snoke could be interesting as, like the rest of the world, I’m deeply intrigued as to who he is and how he fits into the world. I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll reiterate here: I don’t believe Snoke is somebody who we’ve met before, insofar as I don’t think he’s a clone of Palpatine/Anakin/Jar Jar, or whatever. I do think he’s a completely new creation, though he does seem to be known to Leia and Han, given their exchange before Han leaves for Starkiller Base in VII. I’m intrigued as to how he fits into the First Order hierarchy, as I would have expected to have seen him somewhere in Bloodline if he’s a major player. (Well, maybe I did!) Whoever he is, though, it needs to be fully explained in the movies, as the vast majority of moviegoers aren’t following the comics and novels and cartoons and everything else, and Disney knows this. The movies need to be able to stand on their own, and so I’m confident that we’ll be getting a full reveal in either VIII or IX.

Again sticking with the parallels with V, I think the climax will have an “I am your father” style explanation – though obviously, he won’t turn out to be Rey’s father or anything like that…

The mystery of Rey is, I think, perhaps the best thing to be coming out of the sequel trilogy so far. While I know plenty of people are rabidly chomping at the bit for anything, I think it’s being done really well in that I’m intrigued, but I find her interesting enough on her own terms that I don’t need to know who her parents were. Does that make sense? She’s great enough on her own terms, and I love that about her.

The new EU
This brings me on to something in general about the EU right now, though, which is a continuation of something I mentioned the other day. So far, we’ve only had two movies from Disney, but they’ve been movies that tell pretty decent stories, and which have succeeded in drawing me in to the universe they have created. Bear with me here…

The Force Awakens lands us slap-bang in the middle of the galaxy some 30-or-so years after Return of the Jedi, and while the interpersonal story of the main characters plays out pretty much okay, we’re left with so many questions about the state of the universe that we’re now in. Rogue One returned us to a more familiar time period, but has shown that there are so many questions that we thought we knew the answers to, but it turns out we barely scratched the surface there. While it can be irritating to a lore nerd such as myself to suddenly not know where we are in the universe, I’ve noticed that I’m actually starting to pore over all of the stuff that I can get my hands on once again, such as the Visual Dictionaries, and branching out into the YA books that I would usually avoid.

Basically, Disney has made me enthusiastic about Star Wars once again.

There is, however, a “but” coming…
Despite the fact that I’m now really intrigued by the new setting, including that for Rogue One, which has shown us a new way of looking at the time period of the original movie trilogy, I’m finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic about the new EU when I begin to devour the offerings we have that flesh out this landscape.

I’ve been particularly hard on the Aftermath trilogy (you can see exactly how harsh by checking out my blog reviews here, here and here!) However, I’ve been thinking again recently, and I’m fully prepared to completely re-evaluate those opinions in the light of anything we learn at the end of Episode IX. I think it’s very likely that there will be a number of things mentioned in passing during those books that will prove to be important later – not just the interludes, but a lot of the general story will likely make more sense when we’ve seen the whole trajectory of the sequel trilogy.

The rest of the novels that I’ve so far read from the new canon have been very much a mixed bag, with Heir to the Jedi being a particular favourite, but only Bloodline standing out for me as the absolute best and most important of them all so far. I don’t think I’ve read anything from the new canon that has managed to capture the feel of this new, Force-Awakened universe more than this book, and cannot recommend it enough to even the casual fans of the franchise. The others tend to fall into something of a “meh” category of general tie-in fiction that is really neither good nor bad, but overall you’re not missing anything by not reading it. This is in stark contrast to some of the Legends books, which often form important leads-in to films or provide important explanations of plot-points. Maybe the Disney films are too reliant on themselves to tell their story, leading to the novels not having a great deal to cover?

The comics from Marvel have, so far, been the single most consistent let-down in all of this, however. While a lot of my criticisms of the new canon can perhaps be explained away with “well, it’s still early days yet – Dark Horse and Del Rey had years to build up their lore!” (which is, incidentally, true), I feel that Marvel in particular has so far been playing so fast and loose with Star Wars in general, that it’s really wearing me down as a consumer. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve read probably half of the total content they’ve put out, and cannot think of a single issue or series that I can put my finger on and say, “that was great”. The Vader ongoing series was probably the closest we get to that, though I have only read half of it up to this point. The general ongoing series had a fantastic issue #1, and went downhill so quickly it was unbelievable. We’re now being treated to Han and Leia racing around a Star Destroyer as serious wartime adventure, and I just can’t believe they got rid of stuff like The Wrong Side of the War and replaced it with this!

First world problems, for sure, but I think we deserve better stories than this dumbed-down junk. The time period of the original trilogy was a period of civil war, according to the opening crawl of the movie that started it all – how about seeing some actual war stories, rather than this inane rubbish about three people hijacking a Star Destroyer, or the ongoing boredom of Han Solo’s not-wife.

For me, part of the problem with the ongoing series from Marvel is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a plan for the story these books are telling us. The time period between IV and V was always set at three years, in-universe, and was replete with “just another story” about Luke and the gang going up against the Empire, having a series of narrow scrapes, but always winning in the end. Sure, that’s the adventure serial type of story that inspired the movie in the first place. But when you just have endless one-shot storylines that have that “and they all lived to fight another day” ending, it’s kinda pointless. One of the main selling-points for removing the expanded universe as it was, was that they could start to tell more cohesive stories in the EU, but I’ve not yet seen any real evidence of that from Marvel. Yeah, the monthly books have had some nice interlocking connections, but nothing important has happened, and it’s all just much of the same junk that Marvel pumped out in the 80s.

I have been expecting a coherent narrative across the comics that ties in with the films, and any other novels that take place at the same time period. So far, the only consistencies seem to be that Dr Aphra has shown up as Darth Vader’s groupie, and Han Solo’s annoying not-wife seems to have grafted herself on as Leia’s informal attache. We don’t really have a stable of characters that Marvel has created, including villains for the rebels to go up against, so it all feels like so much diaphanous rubbish.

Are you familiar with the Republic ongoing series from Dark Horse, which ran for over 100 issues and spanned the period from Phantom Menace well beyond Revenge of the Sith? The series had a somewhat bumpy beginning as it followed Ki-Adi-Mundi on a variety of throwaway adventures that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, before it introduced the Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos and his erstwhile padawan Aayla Secura. While their adventures were interrupted with other issues, the series really picked up steam when John Ostrander and Jan Duursema were telling the story of these two, and a whole cast of recurring faces began to pepper the pages, to the point where now, if you read the whole lot, you get a wonderfully cohesive narrative arc that actually serves as a counterpoint to the prequel movies themselves.

My point is, Star Wars comics can be better than this! First of all, we don’t need big-name movie characters in Star Wars books in order to make them interesting, not least because those stories tend not to have any real sense of danger to them. We know Leia is always going to survive any and all stories set between A New Hope and The Last Jedi, because she is in those films. Showing Leia at death’s door in the Annual #2 had absolutely no sense of drama to it, because we know she’s fighting fit again in Empire. So why not focus on a larger cast than just the movie three, and put them in danger, instead?

It would take no imagination to come up with stories involving other rebel agents – agents in the mould of Cassian Andor, for instance – who might well serve alongside Luke on a dangerous mission to uncover a supply train that the rebels desperately need – medical supplies, whatever – and then put that rebel agent in the spotlight for the next arc where we follow a commando team on an undercover mission into an Imperial arms depot. Maybe that agent survives, to become a more regular fixture in the ongoing series, or maybe he dies heroically, and his protege makes it back to Yavin with the news, whereupon she can become a more regular character. I came up with that in the about-fifteen seconds it took to type. There are more people in this universe, and more stories to be told, than the adventure of Han and Leia’s race around a Star Destroyer to see who can be called captain of the bloody thing!

I’m beating on the comics quite badly now, and I’m very aware that there are still plenty of these books that I’ve not yet read. I think it would be hilarious if the next arc I pick up is the best thing I’ve read from the new canon since Bloodline

This blog is already getting pretty hefty here, and the tone has been somewhat whiny in parts, so I think it’s time to draw it to a close. In conclusion, then, I think the movies are doing a tremendous job of setting up a new world order, of sorts, and I’m incredibly intrigued by how they’re managing to change the Star Wars universe for the better. The novels have been hit and miss, though everyone should head out and read Bloodline if they haven’t already done so. And while I’ve yet to read a new comic that I like, I remain optimistic that there may be an arc out there that I can finally say, that’s fantastic!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to get other peoples’ opinions on this! We’ve been in the new EU for almost three years now, and I’m interested to see what you fine folks make of the state of things!

Star Wars comics catch-up!

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

Star Wars Rebel Jail

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

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

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

Star Wars Last Flight of the Harbinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X-Men: the prequels

This past weekend, I had a bit of an X-Men-fest, as I watched the new X-Men trilogy, having finally picked up Apocalypse on DVD. So thought I’d come here and ramble on a bit about my thoughts on the trilogy, because why not!

X-Men First Class

First Class kicked off the new trilogy in 2011, and was classed more as a prequel than a reboot of the film series that had begun back in 2000. I’ll get to that series in due course, as some of those films are just awesome! First Class is, without a doubt, an amazing movie. It’s set during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and absolutely nails the 1960s setting no end. The backdrop of fear of a possible third world war is particularly apt for the fear of mutants in the real world, and some really interesting moments come out in these themes.

We essentially get the origin story of Professor X and Magneto, as we see the supervillain Sebastian Shaw and his attempts to incite the nuclear war. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto here deserves particular note as, of all the mutants, I find his to be the most compelling performance. Whether it’s because he has the most grueling of the character arcs here, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just think his commitment to the role is fantastic.

Indeed, there’s a certain commitment to the storyline that really makes this movie something special so far as superhero films are concerned. Of course, there’s the usual plot of a supervillain trying to destroy the world – in this case, Shaw wants to bring about the nuclear apocalypse to rid the world of humans, leaving only mutants behind. But the way in which the Cuban Missile Crisis is woven into the storyline makes you feel like this is a much more serious film than folks in fancy costumes doing crazy stunts. It has that, don’t get me wrong, but it really does stand apart from a lot of the other things on offer.

X-Men Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past followed in 2014, and is a sequel to both First Class and the original trilogy’s The Last Stand, as we see the terrifying future of the Sentinel programme unleashed on mutants across the globe. The original cast is back to reprise their roles, right down to the tiny cameo of Anna Paquin’s Rogue, and we even get Rebecca Romijn as Mystique briefly.

Days of Future Past is, of course, one of the iconic X-Men comic book stories. Published in 1981, it deals with Kitty Pryde being sent back in time (to 1981, from the dystopian future of 2013) to prevent Mystique’s assassination of Senator Robert Kelly, which has caused that future. In the movie, Wolverine takes that central role, and is tasked with preventing the assassination of Dr Bolivar Trask, who originally created the mutant-hunting Sentinel robots in the comics. Following on from First Class, Days of Future Past is set in 1973, and the pivotal moment around the assassination takes place at the Paris Peace Accords. However, unlike its predecessor, the time period in this movie really feels pasted-on, and there’s no real reason for the movie to be set here. I mean, it could have just as easily been set in the 1960s like the first, or the 1980s like its source material. At any rate, there are some interesting twists of time along the way as Magneto, learning from Wolverine that Mystique dooms mutant-kind to pursuit by the Sentinels, decides to kill his erstwhile Brotherhood of Mutants colleague before she can kill Trask. It is then Magneto that almost turns the world against mutants, but Mystique, by saving President Nixon from Magneto, brings about some degree of mutant toleration. Wolverine is captured in 1973 by Colonel Stryker, who takes him for his infamous Weapon X project, while miraculously Wolverine manages to return to a present-day that has managed to avert the crisis of X3, and both Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey and James Marsden’s Scott Summers are alive and well.

For me, while this is still an enjoyable-enough movie, I thought the time period issue was a little unnecessary – although I did love the fact that Magneto was held responsible for the JFK assassination. I found the more interesting parts to be the “present day” Sentinels storyline, and thought it was really cool to see the X-Men band together for survival. Of course, anytime we get Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in a story together is to be cherished! Peter Dinklage as Bolivar Trask was a surprise to me, but he played the part so well, I have to mention it.

Annoyingly, we only learn that some of the mutants from First Class, such as Azazel and Angel, were evidently captured by Trask and experimented upon in order to create his Sentinels project, but we don’t hear anything about folks such as Emma Frost, who had a significant role in the earlier film. It’s probably too much to hope that we’ll get another movie, too, so, um… yeah…

X-Men Apocalypse

Last summer, we had the third movie in the prequel trilogy, Apocalypse. Following the brief post-credits scene in Days of Future Past, we start in ancient Egypt with the first mutant, En Sabah Nur, as he attempts to transfer his consciousness into another victim in order to stay alive, but the ritual is interrupted and he is entombed for centuries. Cults around the world have been dedicated to him, however, and in 1983, he reawakens, and determines to rule the world. As one does.

He first begins to gather followers to him – his four lieutenants. First to be gifted with power from him is the Cairo pickpocket Ororo Munroe, followed by Psylocke, who is working for the black marketeer Caliban, and finally Angel, who is an underground brawler in East Berlin. Mystique, having rescued Nightcrawler from a fight with Angel, learns of what’s happening and decides to go to Professor X for help. Recently arrived at the mansion is Scott Summers, who has manifested his powers of shooting lasers from his eyes and needs help to control it. There, he gets off to an initially frosty start with the telepath Jean Grey…

Meanwhile in Poland, Magneto has been working in some kind of generic industrial environment, and exposes his powers to save a coworker from harm. The local law enforcement catches up to him, and kills his family by accident. In Magneto’s devastation, En Sabah Nur comes to him and offers him untold power at his side. With his four horsemen around him, En Sabah Nur learns of Cerebro as a way of tracking mutants, and infiltrates the Xavier Mansion to capture Professor X. Attempting to fight them off, Havok causes a massive explosion that implodes the mansion, though the arrival of Quicksilver means that everyone is saved unharmed – everyone, that is, apart from Havok himself.

Colonel Stryker arrives at the mansion and captures Beast, Quicksilver, Mystique and Moira, with Jean, Cyclops and Nightcrawler managing to smuggle themselves along for the ride to Alkali Lake. Jean, Cyclops and Nightcrawler manage to free Mystique and co, after a gratuitous Wolverine cameo, and they head off to stop En Sabah Nur from destroying the world. Nur is using Magneto’s power to basically rip apart the world from its metallic core, and he plans to transfer his consciousness into Professor X’s body in order to gain his mind control powers and thus enslave the human race. As one does. Mystique and the others show up, and after a climactic battle that involves all of the X-Men coming together, including turning both Magneto and Storm from Nur’s side, they manage to destroy him and end the threat.

I don’t know what it is about the third movie of an X-Men film trilogy, but they always attempt to go huge, and they always seem to fall flat. I say “always” like we’ve got trilogies coming out of our ears, but hopefully you know what I mean. Again, the 80s style is just “there”, and we get an almost-totally pointless scene where Jean, Scott, Jubilee and Nightcrawler (somehow) go to see Return of the Jedi, where Jean makes a comment about the third movie always being bad – an apparent dig at The Last Stand, but I think it could be equally true of this movie, as well.

Quicksilver is back, and while he says he knows Magneto is his father, there isn’t any on-screen connection between the two, which kinda made me mad when I watched it. I mean, we can’t get Magneto in an Avengers movie because of this? The character was vaguely annoying in Days of Future Past, but didn’t really have a significant part to cause me much angst. Here, however, he’s pushed forward in a manner that almost seems overly-deliberate. I’d read something a couple of years ago that said Fox deliberately used him in order to cause Marvel/Disney problems with the Avengers and, honestly, it feels about that level of spite. Hopefully someone will do a House of M movie and just wipe the slate clean…

While I’m on the subject of annoying characters, Nightcrawler was similarly a let-down. The son of Azazel and Mystique in the comics, I’d hoped we’d see something of this broached in the movie when Mystique rescues him early on, but nothing. He turns out to be some kind of attempt at comic relief, but again, it’s pie-in-face level of annoying and I’d rather not have him in the movie if this is what we’re getting. Which is a shame, because Alan Cumming did such a good job with the character in X2.

I really liked Magneto’s character arc in First Class, and while it confused me a little in Days of Future Past, I could still kinda see where he was coming from. In Apocalypse, however, it was kinda sad to see him function merely as a henchman of the big bad guy. His storyline was also a little silly, though more because the film‘s storyline is silly. I mean, sure, I get that En Sabah Nur wants to rule the world because he has a massive ego or whatever, and I get that he thinks humanity relies too much on technology and so forth, but why does that need Magneto to literally destroy the earth? Doesn’t he think that might lead to him having no humanity to rule? Hm. As with a lot of these things, the villain plot just seems kinda stupid and not very well thought-out. At least Shaw’s plan for nuclear apocalypse had some sense to it…


For me, then, the prequel trilogy of X-Men just seems to get progressively worse, starting with a really strong movie that was a credit to its genre, and moving to just some mindless action-movie stuff that has some good and interesting moments, but otherwise just falls flat. I mean, the third movie has the core of something resembling Fall of the Mutants, but that storyline feels grafted on to the pre-existing characters from the film’s own universe, which has its own agenda with the Magneto-Mystique-Professor X triad, that we end up with this weird issue of the movie’s plot somehow taking a back seat. It’s this problem of constantly wanting to go bigger, without realising that the first movie was so good because it was pretty well-contained. The second movie went wider but, because it featured mutants in two pretty self-contained time periods, managed to keep things under some degree of control. The third, however, just feels like a mess, ironically similar to The Last Stand, which tried to bring in so much more of the lore of the comics and so many more characters, and ended up with a bit of a hash. Seems that any X-Men movie that features both Angel and Pyslocke together is doomed…

Recent reports seem to indicate that the X-Men series is due for another relaunch in the future, so who knows where we’ll be headed next!

Captain America at 75

Hey everybody!
It’s time for game day here at spalanz.com, and today I’m showcasing another game that I had for Christmas, one that was released back last Spring: it’s the Captain America 75th Anniversary expansion for Marvel Legendary!

Captain America 75

Time for a little history, I think. Captain America first hit the comic book scene in March 1941, designed from the outset as a patriotic supersoldier to help wartime morale, as readers saw him fighting the Axis powers in the trenches. Post-war, he was discontinued from 1950 until his return in 1964 under the authorship of comics legend Stan Lee, and has remained in publication ever since. In 2007, Captain America was killed, and Bucky (Winter Soldier) takes on the mantle of Cap. Some time-shift shenanigans allowed him to come back from the dead in 2009, but the supersoldier serum that made him so powerful was neutralised in 2014, causing him to age rapidly, and Falcon took up the mantle of the first avenger.

It’s been a long and distinguished career for Captain America, and to mark the 75th anniversary of his arrival on the comics scene, Upper Deck released the small expansion to commemorate that, bringing some of that history to the game with Winter Soldier, Betsy Ross and the Falcon’s incarnation as Captain America.

Captain America 75

There are, of course, new keywords to go along with all this stuff. Man (and Woman) Out Of Time is very similar to Teleport from Dark City, allowing you to set up combos with your cards. However, unlike Teleport, where you just set the card aside until your next turn, Man/Woman Out Of Time lets you play the card, then put it aside to play it again on your next turn, getting more value out of the play. It’s a really nice concept, but it can lead to some pretty good combinations going off – in my first game I used Winter Soldier with Black Panther, and the two allowed me to draw so many cards, it was insane!

Saviour is the second hero-centric keyword, which reflects Captain America’s protection of the ordinary folks. If you have 3 or more saved Bystanders in your victory pile, the Saviour keyword triggers, which might be drawing cards or whatnot. It’s a really thematic ability to have in a Captain America set, anyway!

Captain America 75

Saviour also brings us on to the villains of the set. We get two, Arnim Zola and Baron Zemo, the latter’s strength being Saviour-dependent. I could be wrong, but I feel that Zemo is possibly the first mastermind that could be nigh impossible to beat unless you have specific heroes in your deck, as his health is 18 unless you have 3 Bystanders in your victory pile. He always leads the Masters of Evil (WWII), all of whom have the ambush effect of capturing a bystander, which builds-in a possible way to get Bystanders, but with the wrong cards, you’re left with a very luck-dependent game. (That said, in my game I was playing with the Captain America (Falcon) hero, who has a lot of ways to rescue Bystanders, so when Saviour hit, Zemo suddenly went from virtually impossible to kinda squishy, and the game was over quickly enough).

Zola brings us to our final keyword, Abomination, which gives the villain a boost to their fight rating equal to the hero’s printed fight rating below its space in the HQ. Zola himself gains a bonus equal to the total fight rating of all heroes in the HQ. It’s petty nasty, though can be highly situational, as if you get the Abomination villains above heroes who don’t have a fight rating, they’re kinda average.

Captain America 75

This is a pretty great expansion, if for no other reason than it gives us the Winter Soldier, one of the most compelling characters in the Marvel universe! The Captain America 1941 hero-set has some of the classic comics art from the golden age, I’m not a fan myself but I’m sure plenty of fans will appreciate. The smaller expansions for Marvel Legendary have all been really great, and at the price, it’s hard to find anything bad to say about them – £20 for 100 cards, five new heroes, two masterminds each with a new villain group, and four new schemes. I mean, what’s not to like?! Even with the base game, you get a great variety to the game. Definitely recommended!

Secret Wars I

Hey everybody!
Tuesday means just one thing here at spalanz.com: boardgames! Today, I’m taking a first-look at one of the big-box expansions for Marvel Legendary: Secret Wars volume one. It’s an expansion that came out almost a year ago now, in support of the Secret Wars storyline that was Marvel’s thing for 2015. Not knowing anything about that storyline, I was nevertheless intrigued by the look of a lot of the cards and mechanics, though have only now gotten round to playing with the game!

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

In true big-box expansion style, there are a whole load of new cards – 350, according to the back of the box! In addition to the ‘more of the same’ heroes and villains and masterminds, we get a couple of other interesting twists that I’ll get to shortly.

The superheroes of the game are predominantly divided into The Illuminati and The Cabal, which sounds really intriguing to someone who doesn’t know what either of those things mean in the Marvel universe! There are also Avengers and X-Men, and a new Spider-Man, so there’s a broad spectrum there. The four masterminds are really odd, however, and have kinda fired my interest to see just what the storyline was about! We have a zombie Green Goblin, a wasteland Hulk, a “goblin queen” Madelyne Pryor, and a “super sentinel” called Nimrod. All very interesting! It’s important to note that some of the artwork – and perhaps, some of the concepts – is from the original Secret Wars event that ran throughout Marvel comics in the mid-1980s, which I’m slightly dismayed to note means it’s roughly as old as I am… Anyway!

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

From what I’ve seen thus far, there aren’t any massive changes to game play, you just do as you always do in this game, recruiting heroes and fighting villains, all the while trying to stop the mastermind before his scheme goes off. They have made a few small changes to the way the game can play, of course, by enabling some villains to become a second mastermind if they escape! Looking at the Wasteland Kingpin card in the above picture, you can see he has a Master Strike ability, which will trigger if he has escaped and is placed as a second mastermind. These new bad guys don’t replace they current mastermind, but rather act in concert with him, meaning you need to fight extra hard to win! While this didn’t trigger in the game I played, I really like the idea, and I hope that we see it happen on future villain groups, also!

A new bystander is added to the game, a Banker, who gives you recruiting power when you rescue him, but only to buy a hero below the bank. A new small deck of cards is also added, Sidekicks, who allow you to return them to the Sidekick deck to draw two cards. You can only buy one per turn, though Black Panther’s rare card allows you to just gain three of them, and they can prove to be really, really useful when you need to dig through your deck for the better cards! I also thought this new deck was super thematic, as a Sidekick is basically providing you with a modicum of help without being too overpowering in and of itself.

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

Time for the big change to the game: the one vs many mechanic.

Marvel Legendary is a co-operative game, where the players work together to overcome the evil mastermind and win. However, in the manner of Descent, you can now have a player take on the role of that evil mastermind, and actively work against the players!

The mastermind player has a deck of Ambition cards, though he does also get a starter deck of SHIELD agents like the regular players. On his turn, the mastermind flips over the top of the Ambition deck rather than the top of the villain deck, and places it face-up in an Ambition row. He can spend the attack points to play any of these Ambition cards, which have a universally bad effect for the hero players, but the mastermind player can still recruit heroes and defeat villains if he wants to.

I haven’t tried this mode, and was only able to summarise it above by reading what the rules sheet has to say on the subject. My first impression of the mode is that it feels distinctly tacked-on, though it’s probably the best way to implement such a mechanic onto an established game.

To be blunt, there isn’t really any meaningful interaction between the regular players and the mastermind player: the ambition cards are basically ways to mess with the regular players, but the players will likely know what the mastermind is going to do because they can see all four ambition cards at all time in the row. I imagine this mode would see the regular players just carry on as they always do, with the odd collected groan if the mastermind then plays a card that forces them to discard all of their attacking superheroes, for instance. But there’s no way to stop them on their turn, and it just feels a bit like the mastermind would be a marginal player in the game. Maybe it plays completely differently, though, so I suppose I’d have to try it first.

It’s worth mentioning that this is only volume one, and there are a few more Ambition cards in volume two (which I have played previously, and will hopefully get round to taking a look here soon!) These new cards do much more interesting things, though are still in the vein of messing with the regular players rather than the more directly interactive stuff. But I think I might be expecting too much from the mode of play, and as I said above, it’s probably the best way this could be implemented.

Marvel Legendary Secret Wars

There’s a definite flavour that comes out of this box, and it definitely makes it worthwhile for a purchase. I’ve already said that I don’t really know anything about the storyline, but this didn’t really impact on my enjoyment of it, though I would imagine that knowing the story would have a distinct advantage as you could get some really flavourful villain and hero groups going on there. I have played with volume two, and this will have its own blog, but I’m not sure how the two fit right now, if indeed they do at all, as there are distinctly different themes from the second box.

All in all, really enjoyable to play, and definitely worth getting if you haven’t already done so!

Catching up with Marvel Star Wars

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

Time to investigate more #StarWars #comics I think!

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

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

Wasn't too impressed by the Leia miniseries, let's see what Lando has to offer! #StarWars #comics

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

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

Continuing my catch up with #Marvel #StarWars, it's time for the Chewbacca series!

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

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

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

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

More Star Wars musings!

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

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

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

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

But anyway, that’s getting really rambling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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