Panel Discussion

By Abby, Pranks, Beka, and Livi

As is the case with most of Star Wars’ universe, the galaxy of Star Wars comics is a big one. Starting all the way back in 1977 with Marvel’s original 107 issue run, comics have long played a significant part in developing new canon and telling stories in the universe. Now, with the license having returned after legacy with Dark Horse Comics, Marvel is working overtime to expand that already massive back catalog with new canon. There are currently almost twenty ongoing and short series books, ranging from short form character studies to sprawling chapters of a rapidly evolving universe. Like most of the new canon material, Star Wars comics are lovingly made – the inarguably talented people behind these stories like Star Wars a whole lot.

The good news? By and large, the quality of the current run of comics reflects that care and attention. The problem? With so many strong entries to choose from, the question rapidly becomes: where to start?

This week, NTMtB writers Pranks Paul, Olivia Watkinson, Beka Black, and Abby Gavit have diligently compiled a taster menu of their favorite new Marvel Star Wars comics. Whether you’re looking for an entry point into the Marvel comics or you’re just hungry for more Star Wars in general, these are a great way to wet the palate.

 

PRANKS’ REBELLIOUS AMUSE-BOUCHE

STAR WARS: SHATTERED EMPIRE

Written by Greg Rucka | Art by Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta, and Emilio Laiso | Colors by Andres Mossa

Shattered Empire gives us a tantalizing look into the first few days after the Battle of Endor.  Its cover is reminiscent of the iconic final shot of Return of the Jedi for a reason — this is a tale as that gives us some individual rare time with favorite characters from the Original Trilogy while setting up the state of the galaxy in The Force Awakens.  The miniseries sets up so many plot hooks and interesting concepts within four short issues which include Poe Dameron’s parents, ancient Force-sensitive trees, and evil messenger robots with Palpatine’s face that demand blood as proof of identity.

Though I am fairly ill-equipped to talk about the art in comics, Shattered Empire shines most in the action sequences and the dog-fights.  Capturing the likeness of actors is a fairly difficult task for most comics, and this title is no exception.  Luke, Leia, and Han look a bit dodgy in various panels, but all of the ships are spot-on.  Luke’s lightsaber is also rendered in a classic Marvel style (with a bit of a burst near the hilt) which is a fun reference that may or may not be intentional.

The work serves as a fairly zoomed-in character study of Han, Leia, and Luke, but the new characters are interesting as well.  We come to learn more about Rebel pilot Shara Bey in her interactions with Luke, Leia, and (briefly) Lando, which also gives us a sense of how these characters are viewed within the Rebel ranks.  Shara is a formidable character in her own right, and it’s refreshing to see her carry the title instead of her husband, Kes Dameron.   The icing on the jogan fruit cake is that during the events of Shattered Empire, Poe is two years old, making Shara a female protagonist of color who is also a mother.

The most impressive achievement of Shattered Empire is how it weaves in plot elements from the Prequel Trilogy into the era of the Original Trilogy.  The third issue features Leia and Shara flying N-1 starfighters in defense of Naboo, while the fourth issue depicts Luke and Shara hunting down a rare Jedi artifact that Palpatine stole from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.  There are subtler touches as well – as an example, Leia has a vision of Maul in the hangar where the fateful duel began.  The series concludes by sending the Bey-Dameron family to Yavin 4 where young Poe will grow up surrounded steeped in Rebel tradition.  

Poe’s Home Movies has excellent, diverse world-building that jumps around often enough to leave the reader wanting more.  I highly recommend you pick it up.

 

BEKA’S TRAGIC SALAD COURSE

STAR WARS: KANAN Vol. 1: The Last Padawan & Vol. 2: First Blood
Written by Greg Weisman | Art by Pepe Larraz (#1-5, 7-11), Jacopo Camagni (#6), and Andrea Broccardo (#12) | Colors by David Curiel

Star Wars: Kanan Volumes 1 & 2 is a 12-issue miniseries that shows a bit of what Kanan’s life was like before and after the rise of the Empire. Set in a series of flashbacks that Kanan experiences between the events of Seasons 1 and 2 of Star Wars: Rebels, Kanan: The Last Padawan focuses primarily on Kanan–then Caleb Dume–and his transition from student to scalawag after the death of his master, Depa Bilaba, during Order 66. In typical Star Wars fashion, Kanan: First Blood goes back even further in Kanan’s history to his time at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and his involvement in the Clone War.

While this comic isn’t very accessible to fans who haven’t seen Rebels, it still manages to be one of my favorites because it’s beautifully drawn and colored (Pepe Larraz is my art crush du jour for his compositions and spot blacks almost every day), it adds more heft to Kanan’s experiences within the show, and it offers a rare look at a clone’s perspective after the fall of the Republic.

Because Kanan’s flashbacks within this miniseries span from war to post-war, we get so much perspective from all sides. The young Caleb Dume develops a rapport with the clones and even a close bond of friendship with a select few; he enjoys their company, and later mourns them when they fall in battle. This added perspective drives home the pain of betrayal so much more when Palpatine gives the command to execute Order 66, and we are able to see what a heel-face turn it is without it being so removed as it is in Revenge of the Sith. For once, we get a small glimpse at how the clones act after the order in the resulting pursuit of the now-fugitive padawan. Further, when one of the clones in question literally gets some sense knocked into him, it highlights what the experience was like for them.

Alongside this rare insight into Order 66, the comic also introduces Janus Kasmir, a kick-ass Kalleran scoundrel who would become Kanan Jarrus’ primary influence outside of Jedi doctrine. Kasmir is quick on his feet, both physically and mentally, and presents himself as a hard-hearted criminal even if his actions contradict that. A good portion of The Last Padawan is about Kasmir begrudgingly taking Kanan under his wing and turning the wide-eyed, inquisitive padawan into a streetsmart ne’er do well, effectively acting as a precursor to the events of A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. If you’re a fan of Star Wars: Rebels at all, I highly recommend you give this a look.

And you know, if it weren’t for the fact that Kanan’s destiny was already sealed by the show, this comic could’ve ended up being Two Men And A Baby In Space. So that’s fun.

 

LIVI’S ADVENTUROUS ENTREE

STAR WARS: DOCTOR APHRA (ongoing)
Written by Kieron Gillen | Art by Salvador Larocca and Kev Walker | Colors by Antonio Fabela

Everyone loves a good scoundrel, and Doctor Aphra, the new Marvel ongoing series about, well, Doctor Aphra, is a very, very good scoundrel indeed. Or is that a bad one? As an extended riff on Indiana Jones as well as a re-introduction to the ‘ethically challenged’ adventure-archaeologist, Doctor Aphra is a heck of a comic. Aphra herself was a delight in the Darth Vader series, and it’s great to go into her backstory here and delve into her troubled relationship with her father (as every good Star Wars character needs to have) and the ways in which his obsession with the long-vanished Jedi cult of the Ordu Aspectu has shaped his daughter’s future.

The comic also has interesting things to say about how we interpret the past – Aphra’s own mercenary attitude to her work is contrasted with her father’s idealistic view of the Ordu Aspectu who, he believes, can save the galaxy: if he can just find them first. I particularly liked the moment in issue 3 where Aphra senior is amazed to learn that the Death Star was destroyed, recent galactic events having completely passed him by during his obsessive search for the Ordu Aspectu. It’s a neat touch to see two different ideologies at work and, while this goes some way to explaining why Aphra is the way she is, it’s never explicitly laid out and Gillen’s writing doesn’t excuse Aphra her own moral failings because of this. I would, however, have liked to see more about Aphra’s mother. Star Wars has precious few stories about mothers, and the fact that she’s introduced already dead is disappointing, given that the comic later alludes to an attitude that seems very similar to her daughter’s.

(Oh yes, and Beetee and Trips, Aphra’s ‘loyal’, murderous droids, are, of course, hilarious. But if you’ve read them in Darth Vader that’s hardly news)

Art-wise, it’s also great to see Aphra rendered by an artist other than Salvador Larocca (who, unfortunately, draws a flashback in the first issue)- whose work can kindly be said to have some issues with organic beings. Teen Aphra, in the flashbacks, barely looks like herself, and there’s some extremely unfortunate choices of expression that make the emotions of characters in some scenes hard to parse.

By contrast, Kev Walker’s lively, expressive art in the rest of the book gives Doctor Aphra an energy that perfectly suits its main character. His choice of practical outfits for Aphra in each setting- a trench coat for Yavin 4, cold weather gear when investigating the temple of the Ordu Aspectu- is an especially nice touch, and the way he draws Aphra’s expressions deftly underlines the humor of Gillen’s script. It’s actually been a bit of a disappointment to see her in other books where she looks much more comic-book-lady generic, alas.

Doctor Aphra is an engaging, fun book that’s equal parts Guardians of the Galaxy and Evil Space Indiana Jones. It’s a great place to start following the new Marvel Star Wars comics and well worth your credits.

 

ABBY’S DARING DESSERT

STAR WARS: HAN SOLO
Written by Marjorie Liu | Art by Mark Brooks | Colors by Sonia Oback

Star Wars: Han Solo is a short five-issue run miniseries following the events of Episode IV. Han (and Chewbacca, of course) is tasked by Leia to compete in the notorious and highly dangerous Dragon Void Run race as a cover to extract three highly valuable informants before they’re murdered by a mole among the Rebellion’s ranks. It’s one part Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to four parts The Fast and the Furious and it’s my absolute favorite new canon Star Wars comic thus far.

From beginning to end, the story revolves around the unspoken questions of ‘What is home and how is it defined?’ and ‘What are you willing to do for it?’. Marjorie Liu – known for her work on numerous Marvel’s X-Men books and Image’s sumptuous Monstress – uses every available story element to explore those questions. From Han’s old alliances and habits warring with new relationships he’s curated post A New Hope, the desires and motivations of the supporting cast, to the very physicality of the Millennium Falcon, ‘homecoming’ is on every page of these books.

While I’ve honestly never been a ride or die Han Solo fan, Liu may have officially won me over. She writes a Han whose life has been significantly shifted by the events of A New Hope even if he’s trying to pretend otherwise. He’s still brash and telling anyone who will listen that he’s entirely self motivated, but it’s clear from the offset that it’s more of a lie than it used to be. Liu’s Han is as careful as he is smart mouthed (and occasionally dumb); the balance of his caution with his stubborn daring is inspired. Liu’s Han feels genuine – not the rogueish badass that the character too often gets simplified into, but a complicated one whose self-preservation instincts are at now war with (or shifting toward protecting) new allegiances and deepening relationships. Further, Liu’s handle on the supporting cast is spectacular – Leia is fierce and incredibly clever in every panel she’s in; the racers and informants are shaded in such a way that both support the thematic elements of the storytelling and allows the characters to exist as their own entities rather than mere crutches for Han’s development or being shoehorned into a narrative motifs.

While there are a few moments in the series that feels obligatory (the climax of the race is more than a little hammy), by and large the writing is subtle and pointed without forgetting that it’s a story about Han Solo in a death trap race. It’s allowed to be a little overblown and all the emotional, careful plotting and writing that Liu does early in the series means when things get ridiculous in the third act that it’s easy to accept. The story’s earned it.

I’d also be painfully remiss not to talk at length about the art in these books. Mark Brooks’s interior work is, in a word, incredible. He nails character likenesses without being slavish to to the point of picture perfect accuracy; every character is brimming with personality and all the quirks that should only work on screen are somehow translated onto the page with equal vibrancy. But where the art really shines is in Brook’s sprawling page layouts. Brook’s handle on panel pacing is masterful – the beginning of the book is set in a crowded cantina and the details all but squash the characters off the page. Later, Brooks devotes a two page spread to an extended time lapse sequence that slowly ratchets closer and closer to its central character – effectively building tension by forcing the eye to travel the length of the entire spread. Coupled with Sonia Oback’s vibrant color work which expertly emphasizes the emotional and action oriented storytelling, the whole series is bursting with personality and an incredible sense of velocity. For anyone looking for a master class in how script and art can marry in mainstream comics, look no further.

Finally, on the off chance that none of the above has managed to excite you then I have just three closing words: interdimensional giant squids.

I think you know what to do.

————————————————

The author (@prosodi) is an incredible artist and an excellent human being who made the mistake of letting her friend Pranks write this bio.  She is a constant source of joy and reinforcement and a shining light within the Star Wars fandom.  Support her on Patreon and buy her excellent artwork, linked at http://prosodi.tumblr.com

Pranks is the host of Never Tell Me the Pods, a weekly Corran Horn and Bigger Luke discussion podcast.  Readers should be aware that like all Arcona, he is addicted to salt.

Beka (@shadowblindr) is an artist with strong opinions about things. She is also the co-creator of a soon-to-be-released Star Wars fancomic called Remnants. She’s bad at writing author blurbs and self-promotion but her art can be found on her twitter and sometimes on tumblr.

Olivia holds many opinions about Star Wars, a good deal of them contradictory. She loves Kylo Ren far, far too much. You can find her tweeting @liviwatka and rating various Sith Lords after minimal research at www.facebook.com/nevertellmethepods

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