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Spawn: Escalation

featuring Grant Morrison, Tom Orzechowski and Andrew Grossberg

(Art by Greg Capullo, Dan Panosian, Art Thibert, Mark Pennington and Todd McFarlane)

Book 4, featuring two stories of the Hellspawn vigilante.  In the first Spawn finds himself confronted by Anti-Spawn, an old enemy who has been imbued with Heavenly fire and sent to destroy him.  The second sees Spawn encountering the interdimensional magician Harry Houdini and attempting to avert a nuclear disaster.

This is very much a book of two halves, with one being infinitely better than the other.  See if you can guess if the better half was the one written by comics legend Grant Morrison or if it was the half written by two guys whose names I've literally never encountered before...

Whilst Morrison's contribution to this book is far from his best work, it's a perfectly satisfying example of a hero having to fight his equal/opposite.  I also particularly liked the fact that Spawn's habit of protecting the homeless and destitute comes back to save him at a critical moment.

The second half of the book, by Orzechowksi and Grossberg, is a rambling, nonsensical mess in which interdimensional scientists want to experiment by blowing up Spawn with a nuclear weapon, Houdini is an actual sorcerer and for some reason, despite it being written in the mid-90s, the Cold War is still a thing.  It's garbage, really, and the whole book is spoiled by it.

2 out of 5

 

Spider-Man Noir: The Complete Collection

featuring David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky and  Roger Stern 

(Art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, Richard Isanove, Bob McLeod, Tim Eldred and Paco Diaz)

In the Great Depression crime and corruption are rampant in New York City until a chance encounter with a mystical spider-totem imbues young Peter Parker with remarkable powers.

I was a little wary of this book, wondering if Spider-Man Noir was just going to turn out to be a bit of a gimmick (like the Batman stories where he's a pirate and that ilk).  However, I was pleased to find that the writers have fully embraced the noir vibe, as well as not shying away from the dark aspects of crime in the 1930s.  There's real emotional weight to this book and we learn early on that this isn't the optimistic do-gooder Peter Parker we're used to.  This version of Spider-Man is a deeply troubled and somewhat jaded individual who is very much the product of a dark time in America's history.

The villains on offer here are done justice too, with particularly dark and grim versions of familiar characters enhancing the dark tone of the story.  For example we get a version of the Vulture who is a cannibal and literally ate Ben Parker alive, as well as an incarnation of Doctor Octopus who is using Nazi funding to conduct horrifying experiments on kidnapped black people.  What I found interesting was seeing these characters not as costumed supervillains but as truly wicked humans who are, frighteningly, somewhat believable.

The Spider-Verse crossovers which make up the last quarter of the book did let it down a little.  Not that there's anything exactly wrong with them, it's simply that they have more of the mainstream Spider-Man feel to them which spoils the dark tone of the book up to that point.  But perhaps you'll need a more light-hearted palette-cleanser after the horror and misery of the rest of the book and, if nothing else, it perhaps does noir Peter some good to encounter some of his more hopeful and upbeat variants.

4 out of 5

 

Spider-Man: Spider-Man/The Sinister Six/Happy Birthday

featuring Stan Lee and J. Michael Straczynski

(Art by Steve Ditko, John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna)

Marvel's Mightiest Heroes Book 12.  Three stories including Spider-Man's first appearance, his first battle with the supervillain team-up of the Sinister Six and a retrospective story written for issue 500 of 'The Amazing Spider-Man'.

Spider-Man's origins are pretty well-known so there's not much to excite readers in the character's origin story here, unless you're the kind of person who looks forward to seeing Bruce Wayne's parents getting shot in whatever the next Batman movie is (honestly, the best thing 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' did was to not feature the whole radioactive spider scene).  I suppose it is interesting to see just how unpopular Peter was at school and be impressed that he didn't turn into a homicidal loner instead of a selfless hero.

I was a little disappointed by 'The Sinister Six' (still with Lee and Ditko before they fell out).  I've been reading stories with this iconic team of villains for as long as I've been reading comics but, honestly, their first appearance is pretty lacklustre.  I think it's the fact that they make a whole point of teaming-up because they can't beat Spider-Man alone, but then immediately decide to face him one at a time.  The shameless plugs for other comics via pointless cameos by other superheroes didn't help either.

'Happy Birthday' from Straczynski's brilliant run with the wall-crawler is far better, however.  When New York's heroes fight an interdimension horde of Nameless Ones, Spidey and Doctor Strange are scattered across time and space by Dormammu.  This leads Spider-Man to re-live pivotal moments of his timeline and have to reassess all of his past mistakes, whilst faced with the choice of interfering and preventing himself from ever being bitten by the spider.  Sure it's a bit corny and self-referential but it allows us to revisit some iconic comics moments, as well as giving Peter his mission-statement going forward.  I have to admit that the fact that this story is from when he and MJ were happily married helped me like it, because their relationship has always been something I've loved (damn you 'One More Day!').

3 out of 5

 

Spider-Man's Greatest Villains

featuring Stan Lee, David Michelinie,  Roger Stern , John Romita Sr. and Fabian Nicieza

(Art by Steve Ditko, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Pablo Marcos, John Romita Sr., Jim Mooney, Alex Saviuk, Keith Williams, Mike Esposito, Steven Butler and Bud Larosa)

Featuring stories from across three decades of Spidey's adventures, this book eight of the Wall Crawler's most iconic enemies; Mysterio, Venom, Vulture, Kingpin, Hobgoblin, Electro, Carnage and Doctor Octopus.

Spider-Man has one of the best rogues' galleries in comics, perhaps only rivalled by Batman, and its nice to have a book highlighting some of his most iconic and timeless enemies.  Unfortunately, the way this book is put together and the stories chosen are all a bit weird.  

The order of the stories presented is all over the place, going from a 90s story with Carnage to a 60s story with Doc Ock from one page to the next.  They seem to have simply tried to mix things up but it makes reading the book as a whole a jarring clash of styles and eras.  At least if the stories had been in chronological order there would have been a feeling of gradual change in style and tone across the decades instead of the jumble we get.

That confusing feeling is made worse by the specific stories chosen to illustrate these villains.  None of the stories here are in any way the most iconic confrontations between Spidey and the featured villain and most are second or third encounters between the characters, with only Mysterio's being his debut.  Worse still, some of the stories are taken from within larger multi-issue storylines, making their appearance here feel incomplete and adrift.

Generally speaking this book feels like a poorly edited, half-arsed attempt just to cash in on some famous characters without much thought given to the content or presentation.

2 out of 5

 

Star Trek: Countdown

featuring Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Mike Johnson, Tim Jones and Dick Wood

(Art by David Messina and Nevio Zeccara)

Two very different stories from opposite ends of Trek's comic book history.  The titular 'Countdown' acts as a bridge between the Next Generation movies and J. J. Abrams' 2009 reboot of the franchise, revealing the backstory of old Spock and the villain Nero.  'The Planet of No Return' was the very first Star Trek comic, published way back in 1967, and tells of a mission for Captain Kirk and company on a planet ruled by plant people.

I make no secret of the fact that I loathed Abrams' 'Star Trek', feeling it was noisy, unsubtle and totally lacking in a sense of wonder.  As a result, I was dubious about reading a story that tied-in to it.  However, 'Countdown' turned out to be really enjoyable.  It takes us back to the original Trek timeline and is set a few years after the events of 'Star Trek: Nemesis', focusing on Spock's efforts to save the galaxy from an exploding star by enlisting the help of a passionate mining captain called Nero.  It really felt like classic Trek and with appearances by Captain Data, Ambassador Picard, General Worf and freelance engineer Geordi La Forge, it felt like a proper continuation of the Next Generation storyline.  In fact, although 'Insurrection' was crap and 'Nemesis' was underwhelming, this book made me feel like I could happily have sat through some more adventures for that cast of characters (before Hollywood's reboot obsession erased them from the timeline).

The other story on offer here, 'The Planet of No Return', is (literally) a very different story.  It was written in the mid-sixties, when comics weren't terribly sophisticated, by people who clearly hadn't seen much Star Trek and who had totally failed to understand it.  Sure, Kirk was always a bit misogynistic, but I don't think he ever referred to a female crew member as 'honey' whilst on a mission and I'm damn sure that Mr Spock would never resolve a problem with a hostile world by using 'laser beam destruct rays' to wipe out all life on the planet.

So, one great story which made me nostalgic for the good old days and one dreadful story that made me amend it to include 'but not that old'.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Dark Encounters

featuring Archie Goodwin, Mary Jo Duffy, Chris Claremont and Michael Golden

(Art by Carmine Infantino, Gene Day, Bob Wiacek, Mike Vosburg, Steve Leialoha, Michael Golden and Terry Austin)

The second in the series of books reprinting the original Marvel Star Wars comics.  Straight off I'll say that I'm not a big fan of Goodwin and most of the stories here are written by him.  However, his is one of the best on offer here, 'Dark Encounter', in which Darth Vader battles the cyborg bounty hunter Valance. 

Ultimately though I enjoyed the stories by the other writers more than the majority of Goodwin's.  Among the others are a very early tale of Obi-Wan in the days of the Old Republic and Luke battling both a winged Dark Jedi and the legacy left behind by Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. 

This brings me to one of the most interesting elements of this collection; how it reflects the fact that Episodes V and VI had yet to appear.  Anakin and Vader are described as two separate apprentices of Obi-Wan, Jabba the Hutt is a humanoid and, most amusingly, Luke is still madly in love with his sister (cue the incestuous kissing). 

Overall, this isn't the best of these collections by far ('Wookiee World' and 'Far, Far Away' are my favourites).

Followed by 'A Long Time Ago...: Resurrection of Evil'.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Doomworld

featuring Roy Thomas, Don Glut, Archie Goodwin and Chris Claremont

(Art by Howard Chaykin, Steve Leialoha, Rick Hoberg, Bill Wray, Frank Springer, Tom Palmer, Alan Kupperberg, Carmine Infantino, Terry Austin, Walt Simonson, Bob Wiacek, Herb Trimpe, Allen Milgrom and Gene Day)

The first collection of Marvel Star Wars stories from the 70s, reprinted by Dark Horse.  This book begins with a six-part adaption of the original Star Wars film, 'Episode IV: A New Hope', by Roy Thomas. 

Among the other stories offered here are a great 'Magnificent Seven'/'Seven Samurai' story starring Han and Chewie (and featuring a man-sized green carnivorous rabbit called Jaxxon - I kid you not!) and a classic story of Luke's life on Tatooine, before he met R2-D2 and C-3PO, showing his friendship with Biggs and his piloting through Beggar's Canyon. 

I did feel that the book was let down by the rather tedious story arc which has the so-called star warriors trapped on a waterworld, facing pirates and sea serpents.  Approach this book with an open mind (it was the seventies, after all!) and you should enjoy it.

Followed by 'A Long Time Ago...: Dark Encounters'.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Far, Far Away

featuring Jo Duffy and Archie Goodwin

(Art by Cynthia Martin, Bob Wiacek, Art Nichols, Al Williamson, Ron Frenz, Sam De Le Rosa, Sal Buscema, Steve Leialoha, Ken Steacy and Whilce Portacio)

The seventh and final book of the Marvel collections by Dark Horse.  This book tells the stories of the war between the Alliance of Free Planets (the Rebels, basically) and the cruel Nagai.  Later in the book, things become even more interesting as we discover that the Nagai's invasion is the result of them fleeing the far more cruel and brutal Tofs (oddly designed creatures they are too; think the Incredible Hulk in a dodgy pirate outfit!). 

As before, I was impressed by the depth and maturity of the issues dealt with here, especially the relationship between Dani and Den Siva, and don't understand why these stories are dismissed as crazy and kitch even on their own back cover. 

I don't usually like comic relief characters in Star Wars (C-3PO and Jar Jar Binks . . . *shudder*) but I was actually amused by the antics of the Hiromi, a race of cowardly would-be conquerors. 

Comic book officionados may be dismayed when I say that the only thing I didn't like about this book is 'Supply and Demand' by the Goodwin/Williamson team.  Despite the fact that they are touted as 'comic book legends', I've never much liked their Star Wars work and that holds true with this story, which you may otherwise know as 'The Vandelhelm Mission'.  The rest of the book, however, is by turns tragic, exciting, funny and insightful.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Fool's Bounty

featuring David Michelinie, Jo Duffy, Ron Frenz and Bob Layton

(Art by Gene Day, Tom Palmer, Kerry Gammill, Ron Frenz, Bob Layton, Luke McDonnell, Klaus Janson and Tom Mandrake)

The fifth book of Dark Horse's reprints of the Marvel Comics originals.  Like most geeks, I'm a bit of a stickler for continuity, so for a long time I religiously avoided the old Marvel Star Wars comics from the times of the films themselves.  Recently, however, they have been largely accepted into the official continuity and I decided to take the plunge.  I was far from disappointed. 

The stories here are a series of adventures featuring Luke, Leia, Lando, Chewie and the droids as they try to catch up to the carbon frozen Han Solo between Episodes V and VI.  One of the stories, 'Hoth Stuff' is way off continuity-wise, however, and should be viewed as a so-called 'Infinities' story. 

There were three things in particular that I really enjoyed about this book, the first of which is it's sheer size; a whopping 380 pages!  The second is that one of Leia's missions takes her to Mandalore, where she becomes allies with Fenn Shysa and Tobbi Dala, the only two Mandalorian warriors (other than Boba Fett) to survive the Clone Wars.  The third and final element I enjoyed was the surprisingly regular and adult references throughout the stories, particularly where the very horny Zeltrons come into it.

Followed by 'A Long Time Ago...: Wookiee World'.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Resurrection Of Evil

featuring Archie Goodwin, Wally Lombego, Larry Hama, Mike W. Barr, David Michelinie and Chris Claremont

(Art by Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon, Carmine Infantino, Day, Stone, Thomas Palmer, Gene Day, Walter Simonson and Kupperberg)

The third book of the series isn't my favourite.  Much of the book is made up of short (often bizarre) adventures intended to be brief crowd pleasers (much like the 'Classic Star Wars' books).  However, I prefer a bit more depth to my stories, even short ones, and was therefore largely unimpressed by this book. 

It does, however, have two redeeming features.  The first of these is a full adaption of 'The Empire Strikes Back', inarguably the best of the Star Wars films.  The other is the 'Resurrection of Evil' storyline itself, in which the Empire has constructed a scaled-down but nonetheless powerful version of the Death Star, called the Tarkin.  Despite these two great stories, this book is unremarkable overall.

Followed by 'A Long Time Ago...: Screams in the Void'.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Screams In The Void

featuring Chris Claremont, David Michelinie, Louise Jones, Michael Fleisher and  Walt Simonson 

(Art by Carmine Infantino, Walt Simonson, Tom Palmer, Giacioa, Al Milgrom, Joe Brozowski, Vince Colletta, Rudi Nebres and Ron Frenz)

The fourth book of Marvel reprints by Dark Horse.  Set between 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Return of the Jedi', the majority of the stories here are short adventures of varying quality, depth and credibility.  Most are a bit unremarkable and too familiar, but there are a few elements to this book that do make it stand out. 

The first stand out element is one discussed in the book's introduction; the establishment of Lando Calrissian as a major character.  This book reveals how he goes from being the self-centred money-grubbing pseudo-villain of Episode V to being the heroic Rebel leader who suddenly turns up in Episode VI.  It also shows how he earns the trust of those people who haven't yet forgotten what he did to Han. 

Another great element to this book is the storylines involving Shira Brie, which are particularly interesting since her later incarnation, Lumiya, is the main villain of the Legacy of the Force novels. 

Finally, this book contains a story which is very dear to me; 'Shadeshine' by Michelinie.  I've had the original version of this story since I was a tiny wee nipper and continue to get enjoyment out of it, featuring as it does a solo (pardon the pun) adventure for Han involving shootouts, treachery and beautiful love interest. 

So, a mixed bag, but which is worth picking up for those parts that are good.

Followed by 'A Long Time Ago...: Fool's Bounty'.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... - Wookiee World

featuring Jo Duffy, Linda Grant, Roy Richardson, Randy Stradley and Ann Nocenti

(Art by Ron Frenz, M. Hands, Bob McLeod, David Mazzucchelli, Tom Palmer, Bret Blevins, Tony Salmons, Jan Duursema, Tom Mandrake, Sal Buscema, Cynthia Martin and Steve Leialoha)

The sixth book of the series of Marvel collections (reprinted by Dark Horse) is set after the end of 'Return of the Jedi'.  Here we get fourteen tales of adventure as the Rebel heroes help to establish the new government that will replace the fallen Empire. 

Two stories stand out as being something special in this book.  The first is Stradley's 'The Alderaan Factor', which deals with Leia encountering a Stormtrooper who also comes from Alderaan.  What makes this story special is that it's Stradley's first foray into the Expanded Universe that he became so involved with at Dark Horse as an editor and writer ('Jedi Council: Acts of War', 'Crimson Empire' etc).  It's also the first appearance of Yinchorr and the Yinchorri, both of which play parts in Stradley's later Star Wars stories.  The other notable story is Nocenti's 'I'll See You In The Throne Room', in which Luke struggles with the dark side and his desire for revenge. 

There are two other very good reasons to get this book and the first is, as the title suggests, the inclusion of Wookiees and their homeworld (the improbably named Kashyyyk).  The other great element is the two Dark Jedi featured here.  Flint is a misguided youth with more power than sense, but Lumiya is a potent cyborg dark sider trained by both Darth Vader and the Emperor.  Lumiya returns as the latest Sith Lord in the Legacy of the Force novel series, so read her backstory here first.

Followed by 'A Long Time Ago...: Far, Far Away'.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars Adventures: Defend The Republic!

featuring Delilah S. Dawson, Cavan Scott, Nick Brokenshire and George Mann

(Art by Derek Charm, Mauricet, Nick Brokenshire and Valentina Pinto)

Five stories focusing on the era of the Prequels and aimed at younger readers.  This book features iconic Star Wars characters such as Queen Amidala, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Rex, Yoda, Barriss Offee and (ugh) Jar Jar Binks.

Very often stories aimed at younger readers can actually have a surprising amount of depth and subtlety to them or can be enough fun that they transcend their intended audience and hold appeal for everyone.  This is not one of those times.  The stories on offer here are short, pointless and puerile, leaning more into goofy humour than action-adventure.

The one exception is 'Roger Roger' by Cavan Scott, which sees Obi-Wan and Rex befriending a malfunctioning Battle Droid, who becomes a surprisingly compelling character in a very short space of time.  The artwork, by Mauricet, is also far better than anything else on offer in this book.  In fact, this single story is the only reason I've rated this book as a two out-of-five instead of a one.

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars Adventures: Driving Force

featuring Ian Flynn, Delilah S. Dawson, Cavan Scott, Shaun Harris and Adam Christopher

(Art by Megan Levens, Margaux Saltel, Derek Charm and Manuel Bracchi)

Four stories starring Poe Dameron, Princess Leia, Rey, Maz Kanata and Tallie Lintra.

I've been increasingly exasperated with and hostile towards these Adventures anthologies and this book seems sent to specifically irritate me.  I really dislike (evil) Disney's Sequel trilogy and I positively loathe 'The Last Jedi', so here we have a book where three of the four stories take place among the sequel trilogy and which all have strong links to 'The Last jedi' in particular.

I have zero interest in stories set amid the Sequels, so three of these stories were immediately boring to me and the one story not set in that timeframe (Dawson's 'The Right Wrong Turn') stars Princess Leia and the absolute worst character from 'The Last Jedi', Amilyn Holdo, in a stupid adventure into Coruscant's depths which is insulting to everyone's intelligence in every way except to highlight why Holdo is a lunatic who should never, say, be left in charge of a fleet.

I found something, albeit often a minor thing, to like in all of the previous Adventures anthologies but this one was just drivel (if you're one of those weirdos who like 'The Last Jedi' like my friend Nick, then maybe you'll love this garbage...).

1 out of 5

 

Star Wars Adventures: Fight The Empire!

featuring Cavan Scott, Pierrick Colinet, Elsa Charretier, Ian Flynn, Shane McCarthy, Jon Waterhouse and Arie Caplan

(Art by Derek Charm, Elsa Charretier, Tony Fleecs, Nicoletta Baldari and Drew Moss)

Six stories, all set amidst the Galactic Civil War, and featuring iconic Star Wars characters like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and Jabba the Hutt.

As with the other Star Wars Adventures books I've read, the stories here are neither sophisticated or particularly interesting.  They're simplistic and filled with humour that would probably make anyone whose age is in double-digits roll their eyes.

There are a few elements to these stories which are intriguing, like Leia encountering Stormtrooper deserters or Sebulba becoming a space-racer, but none of those ideas is ever really given space to develop.

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars Adventures: Mechanical Mayhem

featuring John Barber, Elsa Charretier, Pierrick Colinet, Nick Brokenshire and Scott Peterson

(Art by Chad Thomas, Elsa Charretier, Nick Brokenshire and Mauricet)

Five stories starring characters such as Artoo and Threepio, Anakin and Padme, IG-88, Mace Windu and Max Rebo.

As with most all of the other 'Star Wars Adventures' books I've read, there's nothing too remarkable about the stories on offer here, being fairly shallow and bland, aimed at a younger reading audience.  Honestly, I should've learned by now to stop reading these IDW-published comic anthologies, but I keep hoping for a really good one which will transcend its intended age market.  This isn't it, unfortunately.

This book is slightly better than the others of the series, however, with a little more depth and subtlety than the other books showed.  Also, there was one story here which had such an original premise that it elevated the book as a whole; John Barber's 'Trouble Again' (a nice nod to the theme song of the 80s Droids cartoon).  In it we see Artoo and Threepio aboard the Tantive IV between Episodes III and IV, but what really struck me as a clever new angle was that since Threepio has his memory wiped in Episode III, he and Artoo have to rebuild their friendship from scratch.  It's made all the more interesting by the fact that Artoo still knows that they're old friends.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars Adventures Omnibus: Volume 1

featuring Landry Q. Walker, Cavan Scott, Elsa Charretier, Pierrick Colinet, Alan Tudyk, Shannon Eric Denton, Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Delilah S. Dawson, Sholly Fisch, Shaun Manning, Paul Crilley and Otis Frampton

(Art by Derek Charm, Jon Sommariva, Sean Parsons, Elsa Charretier, Eric Jones, Arianna Florean, Annie Wu, Sean Galloway, Jamal Peppers, Cassey Kuo, Gary Martin, Chad Thomas, Philip Murphy, Otis Frampton and Mauricet)

Seventeen stories, aimed at younger readers, from across the Star Wars mythos, featuring characters such as Han, Luke and Leia as well as Rey, Poe and Finn, plus the characters of 'Rebels', 'Rogue One' and more.

What I've read of the Star Wars Adventures line so far has been pretty underwhelming for three main reasons and this collection has all of those problems in abundance.  The first problem is the irritating framing story used a lot of the time in which Emil Graf tells stories to his droids whilst wandering around Wild Space in his ship.  This wouldn't be so bad if these bookends had some narrative of their own, but they are just pointless and irritating excuses to tell stories which could just have easily been told without them (which is exactly the case in several of the stories here anyway).  The second problem is the age group these stories are aimed at.  Many comics can appeal to younger readers without ever dumbing-down for them but that's absolutely not the case here and it means that this book is extremely hard to like if you're over, say, ten.  The final pitfall, linked to the last one, is the artwork on offer.  I'm no stranger to more simplistic or naieve styles of comic book art, but the low quality mostly on offer here is almost insulting and actively detracts from the stories themselves.

Despite all of that, there are a few stories on offer here that significantly make up for the shortcomings of all the others.  The first is 'The Trouble at Tibrin' starring Luke and Leia, then there's the 'Rebels' spin-off 'Endangered' (although this one does suffer from terrible artwork), plus 'Powered Down' in which Han and Chewie face off against 4-LOM and Zuckuss, and finally 'The Lost Eggs of Livorno' starring Jaxxon (if you don't know Jaxxon and his history in the fandom, then I pity you).  These handful of stories are definitely worth a read, but they're sadly not worth reading the rest of the book for (or the money that I spent on it, either).

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars Adventures: The Light And The Dark

featuring Michael Moreci, Katie Cook, Nick Brokenshire, Sam Maggs, Shane McCarthy, Jordan Clark, Casey Gilly and Daniel Jose Older

(Art by Ilias Kyriazis, Megan Levens, Cara McGee, Nick Brokenshire, Davide Tinto, Yael Nathan and Butch Mapa)

The first book of the relaunched 'Adventures' series, featuring nine stories starring the likes of Finn, Poe and Rey, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padme, Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Darth Maul, Val and Beckett, Grand Moff Tarkin and Marchion Ro.

I have to say that the stories on offer here are a big leap up in terms of quality from the ones in the previous Adventures anthologies, seeming less like mindless childish filler and more like proper mini-adventures for famous characters.  Even the art seems significantly improved, as if someone at IDW Publishing actually took the time to correct the faults in the first run of the series.

There were three stand-out stories for me here.  The first is 'Life Day' by Michael Moreci, just a fun little adventure which sees Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan (my favourite Star Wars character) helping the Wookiees to fight off Trandoshans.  The second is Shane McCarthy's 'The Hostage' in which we see Maul and Savage Opress working to build their criminal empire through cunning rather than force.  And the final highlight was 'Credits' by Jordan Clark, which stars Beckett's crew, one of the best things about the mess that was 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'.

I'm always less interested in stories that tie-in to (evil) Disney's trainwreck Sequel Trilogy but even those ones here weren't too irritating.

Overall a big improvement for the series, which is a shame because IDW lost the licence shortly after this.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Age Of Rebellion

featuring Greg Pak, Simon Spurrier, Marc Guggenheim and Jon Adams

(Art by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Will Sliney, Marc Deering, Marc Laming, Matteo Buffagni, Emilio Laiso, Roland Boschi, Marco Turini, Scott Koblish, Stefano Landini, Ramon Bachs, Caspar Wijngaard, Andrea Broccardo and Jon Adams)

Collecting the Age of Rebellion 'Heroes', 'Villains' and the Special, this book features eleven stories from the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.  Each story focuses on a famous character from the era of the Original Trilogy; Princess Leia, Grand Moff Tarkin, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Lando Calrissian, Jabba the Hutt, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, IG-88, Yoda and Rebel pilots Biggs Darklighter and Jek Porkins.

These stories are all relatively short and, by their nature, can't feature any really major character moments for any of the protagonists but nevertheless they're pretty enjoyable to read.  They add just a little bit of extra depth to the characters they feature and it's always nice to see familiar old faces in action again.  For me the highlights here were the two tales of bounty hunters, Boba Fett and IG-88, who have always been favourites of mine.

A solid and enjoyable anthology of comic book stories, but you won't be missing out on anything major to Star Wars if you skipped it.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Age Of Republic

featuring Jody Houser, Ethan Sacks and Marc Guggenheim

(Art by Cory Smith, Wilton Santos, Walden Wong , Marc Deering, Luke Ross, Paolo Villanelli, Carlos Gomez and Caspar Wijngaard)

An omnibus edition collecting the various one-shots of 'Heroes' and 'Villains' as well as the Special.  Beginning before Episode I and running right up into the Clone Wars, these eleven stories each focus on one of the major characters of the Prequel Era; Qui-Gon, Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, Jango Fett, Anakin, Count Dooku, Padme, General Grievous, Mace Windu, Ventress and Captain Rex.

Whilst this anthology covers the whole spread of the Prequel Era, you need to remember that each character only gets what amounts to a single-issue length story (less in the cases of Windu, Ventress and Rex), so don't expect any particularly deep or complex tales.  That said, there's absolutely nothing wrong with what we do get and each of these stories is a perfectly enjoyable Star Wars adventure.

I don't know if it says more about me than it does about the book, but I found the highlights to be the stories that focus on the villains (or, at least, antagonists), with Luke Ross' art serving the tone of these darker tales perfectly.  I particularly enjoyed seeing Count Dooku going about his pre-Episode II machinations and having to deal with Jedi interference, as well as watching General Grievous confront his own inadequacies in an abandoned Jedi Temple.

Overall, not a mind-blowing experience but nevertheless, to quote Senator Palpatine, a welcome one.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Boba Fett - Man With A Mission

featuring John Wagner, Ron Marz,  Thomas Andrews  and John Ostrander

(Art by Cam Kennedy, Adrianna Melo and Francisco Ruiz Velasco)

Four stories featuring the second coolest villain of the Star Wars saga (the first being Darth Vader, of course).  In the first story Fett is hired to hunt down the leader of a Rebel cell on a planet wracked by the Galactic Civil War.  Next Fett infiltrates the wreck of an Imperial warship to retrieve a precious hologram.  The third story sees Fett being hired by an ambitious Imperial officer.  Finally, in 'Agent of Doom' the last member of a dying species hires Fett to take revenge on the deranged Imperial officers who drove them to the brink of extinction. 

Contained in these four stories there is no great revelation about Fett's character and no events which will change the Star Wars galaxy.  However, what these stories do have is Boba Fett kicking ass!  So, whilst not the deepest of graphic novels, this book is fun to read and is substantially buoyed-up by the cool factor of its protagonist. 

One complaint I will make is the way Fett's speech is written in 'Agent of Doom'.  For some reason he seems to have temporarily lost the ability to talk in complete sentences.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars - On The Fields Of Battle

featuring John Ostrander and Randy Stradley

(Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Brandon Badeaux)

Book six.  Four more stories of the Clone Wars, set 21 BBY.  One features Mace Windu and a team of Jedi taking on a bounty hunting guild and is worth reading for the way the Jedi infiltrate the guild headquarters.  Stradley's addition is a slightly disappointing interlude thats only notable feature is to link one of the planets from his (and Mike Richardson's) 'Crimson Empire' to the Clone Wars. 

The last two stories are the best.  One tells of how Aayla Secura (who Lucasfilm seem to be trying to use as sex appeal - she's always half-naked) encounters Quinlan Vos, who's fallen to the dark side.  This story is made even better by the fact it features the Noghri and is told from the perspective of Clone Commander Bly (who, incidentally, kills Aayla in Episode III!).  The final story, 'The Dreadnaughts Of Rendili' has two plots.  The first features the stand-off and battle above Rendili and the second has Obi-Wan bringing Quinlan back into the fold of the Jedi Order.  I was hoping for a bit more of the Battle of Rendili but my disappointment was more than offset by Anakin's subsequent lightsaber duel with Dark Jedi Asajj Ventress on Coruscant.  There's also a brief appearance by General Grievous.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars - The Best Blades

featuring John Ostrander, Haden Blackman and Jeremy Barlow

(Art by Brandon Badeaux, Armando Durruthy, Tomas Giorello, HOON, Ramiro Montanez and Stacy Michalcewicz)

Book five.  Four stories of the Clone Wars, set 21 BBY.  The first is a bit dull because it deals with the politics of the war in the Senate, although it was nice to see former-Chancellor Valorum's fate. 

Ostrander's 'Bloodlines' is very cleverly written and plays with time in an interesting way, starting at the end and then telling the backstory.  There's also the continuation of the story of 'Last Stand On Jabiim' as Obi-Wan and Anakin are reunited. 

The best offering here though is 'The Best Blades' itself, a story about how Yoda himself is drawn into the murky combat and politics on the world of Thustra.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 2

featuring Haden Blackman, Welles Hartley and the Fillbach Brothers

(Art by the Fillbach Brothers)

22 BBY.  Three stories told in the wonderfully dynamic visual style of the Clone Wars cartoon series. 

Blackman's, 'Skywalkers' is the best offering, showing exactly what Obi-Wan was thinking of in 'A New Hope' when he tells Luke "He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior". 

The book is let down by the third story, 'Run Mace Run' which basically just features Mace Windu . . . er . . . running.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 3

featuring Haden Blackman, Ryan Kaufman, the Fillbach Brothers and Tim Mucci

(art by the Fillbach Brothers)

22 BBY.  Another collection of short stories, four this time, depicted in the style of the Clone Wars cartoon series.  There's an amusing Western-style story featuring Yoda here, but it is far outshone by 'Rogue Gallery' in which villains Dark Jedi Asajj Ventress and bounty hunter Durge find themselves confronting their most deadly foe ever; General Grievous, who kicks butt here, but was disappointly feeble in Episode III. 

I was overjoyed when I realised there was a story here featuring the Republic's Clone Commandos but was severely let down by two things; 1) they look rubbish in this visual style and 2) they get a whupping!

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 4

featuring the Fillbach Brothers, Justin Lambros, Ryan Kaufman and Haden Blackman

(Art by The Fillbach Brothers and Rick Lacy)

The fourth book in this series based on the Clone Wars cartoon consists of four stories set just before and during 'Revenge Of The Sith'.  The first story, 'Another Fine Mess' features R2-D2 and C-3PO foiling an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala.  I stopped finding the slapstick antics of the two camp droids amusing when I was about ten and nothing has changed since then.  This story lets the book down, to my mind. 

'The Brink' has Anakin coming to the rescue of a feisty female Jedi Knight called Serra Keto.  This story poignant because in it Anakin pretty much flirts with Serra but in the computer game of Episode III he kills her in the Jedi Temple. 

The third story, Kaufman's 'Orders' is the real gem of this book.  Lacy's cartoony Clone Commandos look much better than the Fillbach Brothers' version in the previous volume (from which the character Sarge is carried over).  We get a bit of an idea of why the clones so happily 'Execute Order 66' (the Jedi killed here, Traavis, is named after Kaufman's friend and fellow Star Wars writer Karen Traviss). 

Finally, 'Descent' tells of Tarfful and Chewbacca defending a Wookiee village against a squad of Clone Troopers.  Frankly, any story with Wookiees in gets my seal of approval.  Overall, not the best book of the series, but still great fun to read.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 5

featuring the Fillbach Brothers, Justin Lambros, Chris Avellone and Matt Jacobs

(Art by the Fillbach Brothers and Stewart McKenney)

19 BBY.  Four more adventures set just before and during Episode III.  The first, featuring Aayla Secura, is fairly standard by brings two things that are worthwhile.  The first is a Battle Droid with some character, continuing the humanisation of the soldiers of the war that has already been done with the clones.  The second is the fact that the story is set on Endor and I'm a little ashamed to admit that I was happy to see the Ewoks again. 

The next story deals with a rescue mission undertaken by Bail Organa and the famous starship Tantive IV (the first one you see in 'A New Hope' and rumoured to be the focus of the forthcoming Star Wars TV show).  The fourth story has a Clone and a Separatist mirroring one another's actions as each tries to save a planet.  The good thing about this one was the fact that it is the clone who proves the callous killer and the Sep who is the hero.  Finally, we get something that I want more and more of; a story of Order 66. 

Taking everything into account this is a good collection, but not a great one.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 6

featuring the Fillbach Brothers, Mike Kennedy and Haden Blackman

(Art by the Fillbach Brothers, Stewart McKenney and Rick Lacy)

I was quite disappointed by this collection.  I had been hoping for more Order 66 stories like we had in the last volume, but sadly that wasn't the case.  The first story features Saesee Tiin  stealing a Confederacy starfighter and is pretty unremarkable.  Next is a story featuring the ever-cool Clone Commandos, but once again I was disappointed as it lacked the poignance of the previous offerings. 

The third story was the best and features Ki-Adi-Mundi and several young Jedi fighting on Mygeeto.  What I liked about this story was that it recaptures the wonderful over-the-top dynamic nature of the TV series, represented here by a Jedi holding up a Star Destroyer with one hand (and the Force, of course). 

The final story has Kit Fisto and Plo Koon investigating a prison break.  The art here, by Rick Lacy, is a radical and interesting departure from that seen previously, but ultimately wasn't to my tastes.  Also, the depiction of Plo Koon as violent and callous seemed off to me.  It does have the redeeming feature of including the double-hard bounty hunter Durge.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 7

featuring the Fillbach brothers, Ryan Kaufman, Chris Avellone and Jeremy Barlow

(Art by the Fillbach brothers, Stewart McKenny and Ethen Beavers)

This series is really starting to lose it's appeal for me.  The novelty of its unusual art style and kinetic scripting has definitely worn off, leaving these four vignettes of Clone Wars action to stand entirely on their stories. 

That's a problem for 'Creature Comforts', which is nothing but Anakin and Obi-Wan hopping from the jaws of one wild beast to another.  'Spy Girls' is much better and features Padme and Sheltay Retrac (Bail Organa's aide) making like a couple of female James Bonds.  The only thing really remarkable about the third story, 'Impregnable' is the fact it stars the underused Jedi Bultar Swan. 

The final story of the anthology, 'This Precious Shining' is the most disappointing because it had the most promise.  It's the story of three Separatist soldiers who decide to disguise themselves as Clone Troopers to rob a Republic bank.  I loved this concept, but due to the nature of this book, that concept could not be developed in any great detail and the story is left wanting.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 8

featuring the Fillbach Brothers, Chris Avellone, Jason Hall and Jeremy Barlow

(Art by the Fillbach Brothers and Ethen Beavers)

Where once these little Clone Wars vignettes were very appealing to me, I now find them a little tedious.  I would much rather that these books featured a single story told in the style of the cartoon, than have four stories which never get chance to develop their potential. 

The first story here is a pretty boring affair featuring the smug and self-righteous Jedi Master Luminara Unduli.  The second story has a better concept (and starring character), featuring Dark Jedi/bounty hunter Aurra Sing returning to Nar Shaddaa to undertake a hunt.  However, as I say above, due to the short length of the story, the potential here is never fully exploited. 

Jason Hall's 'One of a kind' was my favourite story in this book, having a certain amount of emotional depth as well as the obligatory action.  It features Obi-Wan battling the bounty hunter Vianna D'pow on Kamino in scenes pleasantly reminiscant of the Obi-Wan/Jango Fett fight in Episode II.  The fourth and final story here features a Battle Droid which decides to break it's programming and live in peace.  Again, this idea never gets chance to fully develop, but the story has a poignant ending in which the droid just sits down under a tree and quietly lets its batteries run down.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 9

featuring the Fillbach Brothers

(Art by the Fillbach Brothers)

As you can see above, the Fillbach Brothers fully take the helm for the penultimate book of the series.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stories aren't all the low-script high-action pap which the brothers have contributed to the other books of the series.  The first story, however, is.  It features Dexter Jettster (the fat four-armed alien from Episode II) having a series of slapstick encounters on the planet Dractu. 

The second story is the best one here, featuring a Clone Trooper who is rescued from a drifting starfighter to find that, in his absence, the war has ended and Order 66 has been issued.  This already intriguing idea is made better by the fact that the ship which rescues him is packed with fugitive Jedi children.  The third story has Jedi Quinlan Vos battling a gang of thugs in Coruscant's sewers.  The fourth and final story of the book features Mace Windu battling a city full of zombies.  I kid you not. 

Overall, a slightly better offering than the last few of these books, but only by the smallest margin.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures - Volume 10

featuring Chris Avellone, the Fillbach Brothers and Jason Hall

(Art by Stewart McKenny, the Fillbach Brothers and Ethen Beavers)

The last in the current run of Clone Wars Adventures, and not before time if you ask me.  The stories in these books have long since stopped being a novelty, becoming repetetive and boring. 

The first of the four stories here is about a group of young Jedi living as farmers on Dantooine, the second features Anakin and Obi-Wan in their usual high-speed low-wit antics, the third is about a young Jedi Knight undertaking a secret mission and the last story is about a lone Clone Trooper and his psuedo-comical dealings with mischievous natives.  Only the third story, Jason Hall's 'Chain Of Command' stood out for me here and that was largely because it introduces an interesting new Jedi, Anise I'zak, who's headstrong and outspoken. 

Overall this book is a disappointing end to a series which was just dragged out too long.

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume 1: The Defense Of Kamino And Other Tales

featuring John Ostrander, Haden Blackman and Scott Allie

(Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons, Stephen Thompson, Ray Kryssing and Tomas Giorello)

Set in the immediate aftermath of Episode II.  Quinlan Vos, working in the criminal underworld, discovers that the Confederacy has discovered the location of Kamino.  The Jedi then rally their forces, including Obi-Wan and Anakin, to protect the clone production facilities.  Master Mace Windu then undertakes a mission to meet with dissident Jedi in the hopes of returning them to the Jedi Order.

It's hard all these years (and countless Clone Wars TV episodes, novels and comics) later to really remember just how exciting these stories were when they first came out.  The very first time the Clone Wars was explored!  It was genuinely uncharted territory back then.  It's therefore hard to know how someone who's already experienced all these years of Clone Wars media would find these stories now.  All I can say in revisting them is that I still think they're brilliant.

The opening story, with Quinlan, is very much a slow burn to begin this book and lacks the bombast you'd expect of the first ever Clone Wars comic.  However, to anyone who've read Quinlan and Aayla's adventures between Episodes I and II, then it nicely reaffirms their respective places now the rest of the saga has changed around them.  The middle section of this book is by far the best, as we get the Battle of Kamino told from three perspectives; featuring Jedi starfighters dogfighting, a Separatist Commander proving that their are heroes on both sides of the conflict and, my personal favourite, the introduction of the badass ARC Troopers.  Finally, there is a less epic but still engaging story in which Mace Windu confronts Jedi who have abandoned the order for various reasons since the beginning of the war.  The moral and ethical debates the Jedi have about the war are pretty engaging but the tension jumps up a notch when Asajj Ventress appears to complicate Mace's negotiations.

This remains exactly the sort of Star Wars book I want to read and it's nice to note that things like Ventress and the ARC Troopers are so ingrained in Star Wars lore now that even casual fans would enjoy seeing them in action here.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume 2: Victories And Sacrifices

featuring Haden Blackman and John Ostrander

(Art by Tomas Giorello, Curtis Arnold, Brian Ching, Joe Weems, Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons)

22 BBY.  Three stories set in the months following Episode II.  Obi-Wan and Anakin lead a mission to a moon of Naboo where they encounter two deadly new foes; the bounty hunter Durge and the Sith assassin Asajj Ventress.  Obi-Wan then allies with a team of unconventional Jedi to recover the cure to a deadly plague.  Finally, Jedi Masters Shaak Ti and Quinlan Vos have to lead Republic forces against a Separatist uprising on Brentaal IV.

I originally read this book as individual comics back when they were released, when the Clone Wars was a brand new and unexplored era for Star Wars storytelling.  These stories absolutely delivered what I wanted to see too, with Jedi going into full-scale battles against dangerous new enemies.  It was therefore nice to revisit this book and find that it still captures that spirit two decades later.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Obi-Wan meet and work with a group of loner Jedi outcasts who don't usually team-up but who each recognise the threat that the Separatists' new chemical weapon represents.  It means we get introduced to interesting new Jedi archetypes outside of those we've seen in the Prequel films but whose fates are genuinely undecided, adding a true element of danger to the story.

Ultimately, the best element of this book is three characters who appear in the first story.  There's Alpha, the sassy and irreverent ARC Trooper, who's not afraid to tell the Jedi when they're being stupid (Obi-Wan: "I think he cracked my skull" Alpha: "Wear a helmet next time").  Then, the two villains of the piece are just brilliant; with Durge being gleefully vicious and Ventress proving a match for the Jedi in every way.  Both of these characters (Ventress in particular) would go on to have much bigger roles in the Star Wars mythos, but here's where it all started.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Clone Wars - Volume 9: Endgame

featuring John Ostrander and  Welles Hartley 

(Art by Jan Duursema, Dan Parsons and Douglas Wheatley)

19 BBY.  The final book of the Clone Wars series.  As the war reaches its end the Jedi find themselves betrayed by their own troops and either killed or driven into hiding.  This book explores how some of the Jedi, including Quinlan Vos, manage to escape the fall of the Jedi Order.

I think it was in Matthew Stover's Episode III novelisation where it was said that Order 66 is not the end of the Clone Wars but it is its climax.  That's an idea that explored in detail here as the Jedi face the emotional and practical fallout of having been betrayed by trusted allies and having lost the war they fought so hard in.  As well as that theme, this book is literally the climax of Quinlan Vos' story arc told across years of the 'Republic' comics line, proving a satisfying endpoint for the character that's been through so much (I can't say I particularly like Quin as a character, but I can't deny the effectiveness of this story).

On top of Quinlan's story, we're also introduced to several new Jedi who face the trials of Order 66.  I particularly liked Dass Jennir and have similarly enjoyed his further exploits as told in the 'Dark Times' series.  Finally, we get the 'Purge' one-shot in which a group of fugitive Jedi (mostly familiar faces - including the deep-cut appearance of Sia-Lan Wezz) attempt to lure Darth Vader into a trap and destroy him.  It's a brilliant exploration of how lost the Jedi have become as well as a nice chance to see Vader at his fiercest.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Omnibus Vol. 1

featuring Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron and Simon Spurrier

(Art by Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato Jr., Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Kev Walker, Marc Deering, Marco Checchetto, Andrea Broccardo, Marc Laming, Will Sliney, Caspar Wijngaard, Emilio Laiso, Wilton Santos, Cris Bolson, Walden Wong, Don Ho, Scott Hanna and Elsa Charretier)

A huge collection of fifty-four issues featuring the immoral archaeologist Doctor Aphra, covering the years between Episodes IV and V.  Here we see Aphra working as an agent of Darth Vader before striking out on her own with the Wookiee bounty hunter Black Krrsantan and the psychotic droids BT-1 and 0-0-0.  With backstabbing and betrayal for profit her stock-in-trade, Aphra is challenged by personal connections; with her estranged father, with her enemy/lover Tolvan and with the young girl Vulaada who she takes under her wing.

Through her initial appearances in the pages of Darth Vader's series I was in two minds about Doctor Aphra.  I liked the concept of an Indiana Jones character in Star Wars but even more unscrupulous ("It belongs in an armoury!") but the tone of her stories felt a little bit like the writers were patting themselves on the back about how clever they'd been.  I also wasn't impressed by how she fitted in to the crossover stories 'Vader Down' and 'The Screaming Citadel', feeling that she just didn't play well against the main characters of the Star Wars saga.

So, the first third or so of this book was a bit underwhelming.  Not bad, but not great either.  However, things improved immeasurably once I got onto the stories from Aphra's own solo series.  I enjoyed the rogues gallery of allies and enemies she makes along the way, with Beetee and Triple-Zero managing to be both hilarious and genuinely terrifying.  I also particularly enjoyed Aphra's unconventional romance with Captain Tolvan (not 'unconventional' because they're gay, you understand, but rather because they take love/hate thing to a whole new level).  It's through Tolvan, Aphra's father and Vulaada that we actually get to see the title character face consequences for her actions that quick thinking and self-interest can't get her out of.  It's not about redemption per se, but rather just about the emotional connections we all make, whether we want to or not.

There is one major downside to the latter two thirds of the book, which were otherwise really good, and it's how Vader is handled.  Throughout most of it he's a terrifying presence always lurking just behind Aphra but when they actually come together again he suddenly becomes indifferent and even tolerant towards her.  Then when she unleashes her plot to get out from under his thumb I felt that the writer (Spurrier) did Vader an injustice in the interest of making Aphra seem cleverer.  Frankly, she puts one over on the Dark Lord of the Sith too easily to be credible.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Empire - Allies And Adversaries

featuring Ron Marz and Jeremy Barlow

(Art by Nicola Scott,  Brandon Badeaux , Jeff Johnson, Joe Corroney and Adriana Melo)

Presented here, in the fifth book of the Empire series, are three stories set about six months after 'A New Hope'.  The first features BoShek, the smuggler in that movie who points Obi-Wan in Chewbacca's direction in the cantina.  BoShek finds himself helping a beautiful and charismatic woman escape her enemies, only to discover that she isn't what she seems to be.  This is a nice little story about an underused character which packs a good twist at the end. 

The second story is about Han and Chewie reentering the treacherous criminal underworld to secure supplies for the Rebels.  This story is an antidote to the previous volume in which we see Leia getting amourous with an old flame.  It's good to see that the man who uttered the immortal line "I know" when Leia says she loves him, isn't the lovesick puppy that some of these comics have portrayed him as. 

The final story is by far the best.  Luke and Red Squadron (the precursor to Rogue Squadron) find themselves confronting Imperial forces on a jungle world.  Out of the jungle comes Able, a Clone Trooper trapped there since the Clone Wars.  I don't know what I loved more; seeing a Clone Trooper battle Stormtroopers or the irony that Able becomes a Rebel when it was his brothers that helped raise the Empire in the first place.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Empire - The Heart Of The Rebellion

featuring Welles Hartley, Ron Marz, Randy Stradley and Judd Winick

(Art by Paul Chadwick, Davide Fabbri, Christian Dalla Vecchia, Tomas Giorello and Adriana Melo)

Four tales telling stories of Princess Leia.  The first is the best, showing Leia before 'A New Hope' as she becomes a leader of the Rebellion (and meets a certain heavy-breathing dark sider!). 

I also liked the fourth story, a Valentine special which plays to the hopeless romantic in me.  Set just before 'The Empire Strikes Back' it features Han and Leia as they become trapped in a Hoth snowstorm and are forced to consider their feelings for one another.  It's got some great dialogue too . . . Leia: "Could you possibly be any more repugnant?!"  Han: "Another hour with you sister, and I'm sure I'll be setting records!" 

Generally speaking I've never liked Leia much (well, except for when she was in that gold bikini...), which detracted from this book for me.  I somewhat suspect that the female Star Wars fans will prefer this one.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Empire - The Imperial Perspective

featuring Paul Alden, Jeremy Barlow, Welles Hartley and Ron Marz

(Art by Patrick Blaine, Brian Ching, Davide Fabbri, Christain Dalla Vecchia and Raul Trevino)

0 ABY.  Four stories told, as you can probably guess, from the perspective of the Empire.  I really enjoyed 'To The Last Man', which is basically 'Zulu' but with Stormtroopers instead of Michael Caine! 

However, unsurprisingly, this book's best features are the two tales of Darth Vader.  In one he is lost in the wilderness with only his rage to sustain him and in the other he is faced by the consequences of a past atrocity. 

An interesting collection of stories, but nothing that'll change the Star Wars galaxy forever.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Empire - The Wrong Side Of The War

featuring Welles Hartley and John Jackson Miller

(Art by Davide Fabbri, Brian Chin and Christian Dalla Vecchia)

0 ABY.  The seventh and final book in the Empire series contains two stories about individuals questioning their loyalty to the Empire.  In the first, by Miller, none other than Darth Vader has to root out a traitor aboard his own Star Destroyer.  I liked this story because it showed a more calculating side to Vader's ruthlessness. 

The second story, by Hartley and which gives this book its name, takes up the majority of the book and provides a great conclusion to the Empire stories.  In it a team of Rebel have to infiltrate an Imperial base to rescue one of their own (captured in 'Star Wars: Empire - In The Shadows Of Their Fathers').  Among the Rebels are familiar faces from elsewhere in the series including Basso, Able, Narra, Deena Shan and someone named Luke Skywalker.  However, what made this story stand out for me is the fact that it continues the story of Janek Sunber, who proved to be a heroic Imperial in 'Star Wars: Empire - The Imperial Perspective'.  The plot thickens further when it turns out that Janek and Luke are old friends (Sunber turns out to be the 'Tank' mentioned in the Episode IV line "That's what you said when Biggs and Tank left"). 

By bringing together so many characters from other stories in the series, 'The Wrong Side Of The War' makes a great bookend.  As you can imagine, themes of trust, loyalty and duty are prevalent throughout the book.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Forces Of Destiny

featuring Elsa Charretier, Pierrick Colinet, Jody Houser, Devin Grayson, Beth Revis amd Delilah S. Dawson

(Art by Elsa Charretier, Arianna Florean, Eva Widermann, Valentina Pinto and Nicoletta Baldari)

A tie-in to the series of animated shorts of the same name intended to celebrate the female heroes of the Star Wars saga.  Here we get five stories starring Princess Leia, Rey, Hera Syndulla, Ahsoka & Padme and Rose & Paige Tico.

I make no secret of how much I loathe the Sequel trilogy and how much I resent (evil) Disney rebooting the Star Wars canon, so it will come as absolutely no surprise then that I had absolutely no interest in the stories featuring Rey, Rose and Paige.  The one with Rey is just a brief aside within the events of 'The Force Awakens', and the one about Rose and Paige falls down by starring characters no-one actually cared about in the first place (but no, that doesn't mean all the bullying the fanbase levelled at Kelly Marie Tran was okay in the slightest - shame on anyone involved).

Far more enjoyable were the stories starring Leia, Hera, Ahsoka and Padme, with Leia's story being my personal favourite.  In it she has to overcome her own shortcomings to help establish Echo Base on Hoth and its a rare insight into her struggles with being a leader.  However, despite being more enjoyable, there's nothing truly outstanding about any of these stories and they're just disposable mini-adventures.

All that aside, women are great and I really enjoyed the idea of a Star Wars graphic novel dedicated to celebrating that fact.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View

featuring Ben Acker, Renee Ahdieh, Tom Angleberger, Ben Blacker, Jeffrey Brown, Pierce Brown, Meg Cabot, Rae Carson, Adam Christopher, Zoraida Cordova, Delilah S. Dawson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Paul Dini, Ian Doescher, Ashley Eckstein, Matt Fraction, Alexander Freed, Jason Fry, Kieron Gillen, Christie Golden, Claudia Gray, Pablo Hidalgo, E. K. Johnston, Paul S. Kemp, Mur Lafferty, Ken Liu, Griffin McElroy, John Jackson Miller, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel Jose Older, Mallory Ortberg, Beth Revis, Madeleine Roux, Greg Rucka, Gary D. Schmidt, Cavan Scott, Charles Soule, Sabaa Tahir, Elizabeth Wein, Glen Weldon, Chuck Wendig, Wil Wheaton and Gary Whitta.

Published in aid of charity and to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of 'A New Hope', this anthology features forty stories retelling key events from Episode IV from a point of view outside of the main characters.

As you can imagine for an anthology with forty different stories, there is a huge variation in quality and content here.  On the one hand we get some great character pieces such as Gary Whitta's 'Raymus' or Pablo Hidalgo's 'Verge of Greatness' but on the other we have the contributions of Tom Angleberger and Jeffrey Brown which constitute little more than a punchline.  Then there's the off-the-deep-end one which features Palpatine's reaction to Obi-Wan death as told told through Shakespearean verse.

Now that (evil) Disney's rebooted canon has had a few years to bed-in authors also now have the opportunity to actually weave in a bit of the larger continuity and here Kieron Gillen takes the opportunity to tell a story of Doctor Aphra from his comics series and E. K. Johnston gives us a follow-up to her novel 'Ahsoka' (written with help from the real-world voice of Ahsoka, Ashley Eckstein).  Both of these stories hit the right notes and fondly reminded me of a time when the Star Wars canon was vast and fascinatingly interwoven.

Now, a fair chunk of this book features stories set in an around Mos Eisley and therefore any old EU hand like myself will naturally compare them to the now quite old anthology 'Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina'.  Personally, I found this section of 'From A Certain Point Of View' to be pretty tedious as it retreads a lot of ground covered way back in the 90s regarding characters who were never worth much more than a single short story anyway.  Also, where 'Tales...' had its authors write overlapping and interweaving stories, no such effort is made here and some of the stories pretty much contradict each other immediately.  Now, the publishers have defended this as being interlinked with the theme of the whole anthology, but that just seems like an excuse for lazy editing.

So, whilst there are some genuinely good stories here, there's enough bad or boring stuff holding the book back that it comes out overall as just 'okay'.

One final note is to say that I was surprised by just how dark the twist is in the story written by Star Trek alumni Wil 'Shut up Wesley' Wheaton.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Han Solo - Imperial Cadet

featuring Robbie Thompson and Gerry Duggan.

(Art by Leonard Kirk, Daniele Orlandini, Cory Hamscher, Edgar Salazar, Marc Laming and Will Sliney)

Two stories tying-in to 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'.  The first, titular, story follows Han as he enrolls in Imperial service and has to deal with the conflicts caused by his lack of respect for authority, his desire to return to Corellia as soon as he can and loyalty to his new teammates.  The second story has Beckett, Rio and Val running into trouble whilst taking on a job to clear their debts with Crimson Dawn.

I wasn't a fan of the 'Solo' movie and, as a long-time lover of the Expanded Universe (or 'Legends', if you must), I didn't enjoy the changes made to Han's backstory either.  However, Han's time in Imperial service has only been lightly explored in the past, so I was willing to give this story a try.  It turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable, with the irreverent and independent Han having to learn the hard way that his selfish actions can have nasty consequences for those around him.  (And if you're an EU purist like me, the only thing here that can't be reconciled with the old canon is how/why Han joins up in the first place).  In fact, there's also a nice callback to the old EU comics of the 70s and 80s (when Marvel had the licence the first time).

The story of Beckett and his crew was lightweight fare, but enjoyable nonetheless.  They were one element of the 'Solo' movie I did really like and the fact Val and Rio were written-out so quickly was one of the film's many failings.  So it's nice to spend a bit more time with them here.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Heroes For A New Hope

featuring Mark Waid, Charles Soule and Gerry Duggan.

(Art by Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Alex Maleev and Phil Noto)

Since recovering the Star Wars licence Marvel have been singularly unimaginative in naming their miniseries and therefore here we're presented with an omnibus containing 'Princess Leia', 'Lando' and 'Chewbacca' (the latter not to be confused with the Dark Horse miniseries by Darko Macan), all of which are set in the tedious and overused 'just after the Death Star is destroyed...' period.

As you can probably tell, I wasn't too enamoured of the concepts behind this book going into it and the first story, Waid's 'Princess Leia' didn't do much to assuage my doubts.  In fact, what this story does is highlight the fact that Princess Leia actually isn't that great a character in her Rebellion days and only really works when used in conjunction with the likes of Han or Luke.  Here her diplomacy and selflessness feels painfully forced and at the same time, focusing on her efforts to reunite Alderaan survivors, this story also takes her away from the Rebellion itself, meaning that she doesn't even get to show her role as a leader among the Rebels.  It's not all bad; I liked the fact that we see a fleet of Alderaanians come together independent of the Rebels or Empire and I also very much enjoyed seeing Leia go to Naboo, where a mural of former Queen Amidala causes her to, very briefly, have a Force vision.

Soule's 'Lando' is a far better story all round, as we see the gambler and conman bite off more than he can chew when his gang of thieves inadvertantly steal Emperor Palpatine's personal yacht.  This could easily have been a generic scoundrel story but the difference is made by two things; the first of which is seeing the effects being close to Sith artifacts has on the thieves.  The second, more obvious, difference is Calrissian himself.  I loved the fact that his belief that blasters are a last resort for when you've run out of smooth-talking is a wonderful counterpoint to the more common Han Solo scoundrel story where Han's policy is to shoot first (unless George Lucas interferes).

Finally, we get Duggan's 'Chewbacca', wherein the titular Wookiee crashlands on a planet where a feisty teenage girl recruits his help in saving her people from a ruthless tyrant.  This isn't a bad story, but there's not really much that's new or meaty to give it any real substance.  Nice to be reminded how much of a badass Chewie is in his own right though.

Overall this omnibus is a mixed bag which collectively balances out at 'okay'.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Hope Dies

featuring Kieron Gillen and Cullen Bunn

(Art by Salvador Larroca, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, Ario Anindito, Roland Boschi and Marc Laming)

Book 9 of Marvel's series, set 1 ABY.  The Rebellion is celebrating the launch of its new fleet when they are betrayed by one of their allies and caught in a trap that sees them facing the might of the Empire and the wrath of Darth Vader.

I'm not a huge fan of the post-Episode IV time period for storytelling and all too often the things that go on there are fairly irrelevant to the Star Wars saga as a whole.  In the main story here, however, Gillen delivers us a major battle of the war and manages to capture that feeling of nearly-overwhelmed desperation on the part of the Rebels that gave such emotional resonance to 'The Empire Strikes Back' and, more recently, 'Rogue One'.  And on the subject of that latter film, here we get to see the ultimate fate of some of the supporting characters introduced there.

The thing that did spoil this otherwise thoroughly enjoyable story, however, was the fact that I'd kind of read it before.  Back when Dark Horse had the licence they also told a story in which the Rebel fleet was betrayed and then ambushed by Vader, having to flee with terrible losses.  It still works here, but if you have read the 'Rebellion' series then be prepared to re-tread some familiar ground.

The other story here, by Bunn and from the fourth annual of the series, is one of the irrelevant and inconsequential ones that I mentioned not liking above.  However, it does have two redeeming features.  The first is seeing Luke and Vader separately react to getting their hands on some hate-imbued Sith lightsabers and the second is not only seeing Luke have a crack at podracing, but having Vader watching and listening to the announcer say that humans can't do it.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars Insider: The Fiction Collection - Volume 1

featuring Ryder Windham, Christie Golden, Timothy Zahn, Michael Reaves, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Matthew Stover, David J. Williams, Mark S. Williams, Jason Fry, Jeff Grubb, Karen Miller, Ari Marmell, John Ostrander, Alexander Freed and John Jackson Miller

A fully-illustrated collection of short stories originally printed in 'Star Wars Insider' magazine.  A mixture of old canon (Legends) and new canon (evil Disney), the stories range from the Dawn of the Jedi era all the way through to the Legacy era and feature characters such as Darth Vader, Vestara Khai, Lando Calrissian, Dash Rendar, Han Solo, Jaina Solo-Fel, Cad Bane and the pilots of Blade Squadron.

I'll be totally honest and say that I probably over-rate this book if taken on the quality of the stories featured alone, but for me it was so nice to reacquaint myself with familiar characters and situations from the now-defunct EU canon that I enjoyed it immensely as a result.  Karen Miller's 'Roll of the Dice', for example, is a fairly unremarkable story, but the sheer fact that it stars Wedge Antilles and his spy-trained daughter Myri gave it enormous nostalgia power from its associations with the X-Wing novels.

Of course don't be deceived into thinking that it's not worth reading this if you don't have nostalgia for the EU canon because there are a number of stories which are part of the current canon, including an enjoyable X-Wing-esque set of four stories which follow the B-Wing pilots of Blade Squadron from the Battle of Endor through to the Battle of Jakku.

Regardless of which canon you prefer (or if you couldn't care less and just like Star Wars), there are some really good short stories here, many of which either show us previously unknown adventures of familiar faces or expand upon the settings of longer novels, or both.  For me the highlight was Matthew Stover's 'The Tenebrous Way', a tie-in to James Luceno's brilliant novel 'Darth Plagueis', which follows the thoughts and plots of Darth Tenebrous as he is murdered by his apprentice (Plagueis).

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars Insider: The Fiction Collection - Volume 2

featuring John Jackson Miller, Paul S. Kemp, Alexander Freed, Jason Fry, Timothy Zahn, Christie Golden, Jennifer Heddle, Joe Schreiber, Edward M. Erdelac, James S. A. Corey, Michael Kogge, Janine K. Spendlove, Sylvain Neuvel, Delilah S. Dawson, Jason M. Hough and Mur Lafferty

A collection of twenty short stories originally published in Star Wars Insider magazine, featuring tales from the old Expanded Universe (Legends) and from the new canon (evil Disney).  Ranging from the days of the Old Republic up to the Legacy era, these stories star characters such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Malgus, Hondo Ohnaka, Jaina Solo, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian and Asajj Ventress.

As with the previous volume, I was immensely pleased that this book allowed me to once again dive into the now-defunct EU canon that I loved for twenty-odd years, with tales tying-in to novels like 'Kenobi', 'Scoundrels', 'Maul: Lockdown' and 'Honor Among Thieves'.  The new canon stories, on the other hand, felt oddly shallow and detached.  Honestly, they actually felt more like the stories which used to be published in the 'Star Wars Adventure Journal', with major Star Wars characters being featured as cameos, if at all.  The exception is certainly Michael Kogge's Lando story which not only does that character justice but which also fits nicely into the events of the Rebels TV series.

All that said, this book as a whole definitely feels like the B-list stories, with the first volume feeling like it had the pick of the best stories overall.  There's still plenty to enjoy here but it's just not quite as good as its predecessor.  However, I certainly hope they keep producing these anthologies because I know there's plenty more great Insider fiction yet to be collected.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Menace Revealed Vol. 2

featuring John Ostrander, Pat Mills,  Doug Petrie , Tim Truman, Scott Beatty, Bob Harris and Dean Motter

(Art by Jan Duursema, Ramon Bachs, Randy Green, Davide Fabbri, Sanford Greene, Jerome Opena and Isaac Buckminster Owens)

Part of Marvel's reprints of comics released when Dark Horse had the Star Wars licence, these nine stories take place between Episodes I and II of the Prequels.  Here we get four stories of the amnesiac Jedi Quinlan Vos and his struggles with the dark side, two tales of Mace Windu, two stories featuring the Jedi-killing bounty hunter Aurra Sing and the tale of a young Jedi coming to the aid of a Princess in need.

It has to be said that Dark Horse did far more interesting things with the Star Wars licence than Marvel have done so far and here we get a whole range of stories featuring Jedi, smugglers, bounty hunters, Dark Jedi and the (pre-'The Clone Wars' re-imagining) Nightsisters of Dathomir.  There's loads of cool and exciting stuff here as well as some interesting exploration of the lines between the light and dark sides of the Force.  I particularly liked the dynamic between Ki-Adi-Mundi, his vengeful Tusken Raider Padawan A'Sharad Hett and the weirdo Jedi known as The Dark Woman.

For me this book's biggest downside is Quinlan Vos.  He rapidly became a fan-favourite thanks to these comics, which led to him showing up in The Clone Wars TV series with a bizarrely altered dude-bro personality.  (It's worth noting too that this book features the original introduction of Aayla Secura, who George Lucas liked so much he put her into 'Attack of the Clones' and 'Revenge of the Sith').  Here, however, Quinlan's original personality was 'moody Jedi edgelord' and, honestly, I rapidly got pretty sick of images of him brooding.  As I say, lots of fans loved the darkly brooding Quinlan, but it never really landed with me, so detracts from my overall enjoyment of the book a bit.

Still, some of the most enjoyable Star Wars comic arcs ever written from a much-missed era of Star Wars publishing.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars Legends: Forever Crimson

featuring Archie Goodwin and Matthew Rosenberg

(Art by Walter Simonson, Bob Wiacek, Carmine Infantino, Al Williamson, Tom Palmer, Rick Bryant, Dave Simons, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Andrea Broccardo, Cam Smith, Kerry Gammill, Ze Carlos, Jan Duursema, Stefano Landini, Luke Ross and Leonard Kirk)

This book collects four issues of the original 70s/80s run of Marvel Star Wars comics plus the special revival issue #108 published in 2019.  Here we get the story of the droid-hating bounty hunter Valance and how an encounter with Luke Skywalker awakens his compassion and leads him into a confrontation with Darth Vader.  Then, after the events of 'The Empire Strikes Back', the vengeful Domina Tagge plots to unleash a terrible plague upon the galaxy in order to destroy both the Empire and the Rebellion.  Finally, after the rise of the New Republic Domina Tagge's scheming inadvertantly brings about the resurrection of the long-missing Valance.

The quality of the old Marvel Star Wars comics varied greatly and they suffered from some pretty major flaws.  Despite all of that I loved them and really enjoyed the 'A Long Time Ago...' books which collected them.  So, whilst it's a shame that the Star Wars licence got taken away from Dark Horse, I like that Marvel reclaiming the licence led to this book, which is something of a love letter to those classic comic books of the 70s and 80s.  It's particularly pleasing to see the creation of a single revival issue following on from 1986's #107 (and featuring Jaxxon!), the only new entry into the Expanded Universe (AKA Legends) canon since (evil) Disney bought Star Wars.

For fans of Marvel's current crop of Star Wars series, this would be the perfect place to find out where characters like Valance, featured in 'Bounty Hunters', and Domina Tagge, featured in 'Doctor Aphra', first tangled with the heroes of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars Omnibus: Droids And Ewoks

featuring David Manak and George Carragone.

(Art by Warren Kremer, Ernie Colon, Guy Dorian, John Romita, Mary Wilshire, Jon D'Agostino, Carlos Garzon, Jaqueline Roettcher, Marie Severin, Joe Sinnott and Al Williamson)

This omnibus encompasses the entire runs of the 'Droids' and 'Ewoks' comics which tied into their 1980s cartoon shows.  The first half of the book follows the adventures of Artoo and Threepio between Episodes III and IV, set around 15 BBY, as they travel from world to world, acquiring a host of new and interesting masters on the way.  The second half of the book, set around 3 ABY, focuses on the Forest Moon of Endor and the magical adventures of a group of Ewoks led by Wicket W. Warrick.  To top it all off, there's a time-warp crossover story in which the droids travel into the future and meet the Ewoks.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these stories.  Sure, they're not 'Watchmen', but not every comic has to be; sometimes its nice just to read simple adventures featuring familiar characters.  And I have to say that Marvel's droids stories from way back when are every bit the equal of their more modern counterparts by Dark Horse.

Of course, if you're looking for the more gritty and dark side of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, then you'd best look elsewhere.  Also suspension of disbelief is necessary because these stories come from a time when continuity wasn't important and therefore they think nothing of having the droids timetravel to the future.  You'd think the Ewoks in 'Return of the Jedi' might have mentioned it (but I guess Obi-Wan never mentions that he's met the droids before either).  Moreover, the Ewoks stories feature a lot of magic and fantastical creatures that can sometimes be hard to accept (there's a sentient mountain which cries, for instance).

Overall this book is a bit of harmless fun and nostaglia.  If you're not in touch with your inner child then these aren't the droids (and Ewoks) you're looking for.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space Volume 1

featuring Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, Len Wein, John Stephenson, Ryder Windham, Mike W. Barr, John Wagner, John Whitman and Robert Rath

(Art by Howard Chaykin, Tony DeZuniga, Walt Simonson, Klaus Janson, Dave Cockrum, John Tartaglione, Carmine Infantino, Pablo Marcos, Gene Day, Steve Mitchell, John Stokes, Alan Davis, Glen Johnson, Jim Nelson, Patrick Zircher, Cesar Macsombol, Gary Erskine, Ken Steacy, Glen Mullaly, Bill Hughes and Ron Randall)

A mixed bag of all the Star Wars stories that Dark Horse couldn't fit under the titles of one of their other Omnibus editions, including UK-exclusives from the 70s and 80s, formerly 3D comics, excerpts from the Star Wars Kids magazine and stories which were originally free gifts with toys and cereals.

As you can imagine with such a mixture, the quality of what's on offer here varies greatly but I will say that, as a fan of the original Marvel-era Star Wars comics, it's worth buying this book for the first half in which we get a whole host of new stories by the likes of Thomas, Goodwin and Claremont which were originally only published by Marvel in the UK (in the good old days when the UK still got cool Star Wars stuff first instead of having to wait a month after the Americans get it - if we get it at all).  Perhaps the best moment of these early stories is in Goodwin's 'The Day After the Death Star' in which, during the after-party of the ceremony at the end of 'A New Hope', Han and Luke hike Leia up onto a table so that she can give Chewie his medal too.

In this book we also get a series of stories written by comics legend Alan Moore.  These stories, predictably, take the Star Wars galaxy in a darker and more twisted direction, featuring ancient nihilistic priests, demons and inter-dimensional god-like beings.  One of the great things about shared universes is that it gets to showcase different writers' take on the same source material and Moore's offerings here are perhaps the pinnacle of that concept.

Wrapping up the book are a few short but enjoyable tie-ins to the likes of Droids and Shadows of the Empire.

Overall this will be a bit too fractured and random for a great many readers, but to long-time Expanded Universe fans, particularly those who want to know where a great number of Abel G. Peña's references come from, this is all-but essential reading.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Purge

featuring John Ostrander, Haden Blackman and Alexander Freed

(Art by Douglas Wheatley, Jim Hall, Alex Lei, Mark McKenna, Chris Scalf, Marco Castiello and Andrea Chella)

19 BBY.  Set in the immediate aftermath of Episode III, these four stories follow Darth Vader's efforts to wipe out the remnants of the Jedi Order.

The first story is by far the best here as a group of Jedi from across the Star Wars Expanded Universe (I was particularly pleased to see Sia-Lan Wezz from the 'Invasion of Naboo' RPG) gather in order to lure Vader into a trap.  As well as some interesting moral debates among the Jedi, I really enjoyed seeing the depth of Vader's hatred for his former compatriots.

The second story follows Sha Koon, niece of Master Plo Koon as she also attempts to lure Vader into a trap in the depths of Coruscant.  Meanwhile the third story follows Vader as he confronts the two Jedi who are behind an uprising on an Imperial factory world.

The fourth and final story is unique in that it focuses not so much Vader's mission to kill the Jedi but more on his efforts to destroy their legend and turn the general populace against them.  It's one of the few Star Wars stories which tackles the question of why, after only two decades, the galaxy has all but forgotten the Jedi by the time of the Rebellion.

Overall the Jedi Purge is one of the most interesting, albeit tragic, plotlines in the Star Wars mythos and this book is an excellent exploration of that theme.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Rebels

featuring Martin Fisher, Jeremy Barlow and Alec Worley

(Art by Bob Molesworth, Ingo Romling, Eva Widermann, Ruairi Coleman and Cosmo White)

A collection of forty-one short stories from the Rebels Magazine and the Rebels Animation Magazine.  This book charts the adventures of the crew of the Ghost as they fight the Empire, as well as telling the stories of their various allies like Ketsu Onyo, Cikatro Vizago, Fenn Rau, Ahsoka Tano, Wedge Antilles, Saw Gerrera and Lando Calrissian.

I've always been surprised by how few tie-in stories there have been for the Rebels TV series, especially since I consider it one of the best things (evil) Disney has done with the licence to Star Wars since they acquired it.  However, it's usually overlooked in favour of The Clone Wars (which is great at times but has waaaay too many filler or mediocre episodes) and therefore hasn't had a huge impact on Star Wars publishing.  It's nice then to have this book, which does an excellent job of capturing the themes and tone of the TV series.  Primarily, it nicely captures the theme of the importance of family, as well as the tonal balance of light-hearted banter and knowledge that there will be more defeats and losses before the end of the conflict comes.  They were impressively complex things for the TV series to convey and it's nice to see them carried over into this book.

On top of the themes and tone, I was also pleased to see that the stories here don't all just centre on the core Ghost crew and instead branch out into telling other stories of the Rebellion in its early days, most notably with a mission for now-iconic Saw Gerrera and the shady adventures of Lando.  There are also plenty of iconic villains on offer too including Agent Kallus and the Inquisitors, not to mention brief appearances by Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader.

There are two major downsides to the book, however.  The first is simply that the art style is clearly geared towards younger reader and may lead older readers to dismiss the book as being for children (ironically similar to what happened with the TV series, actually).  The second, much worse, detriment to this book is the fact that each of the stories is so short, most only being a dozen pages at best.  The writers counteract this slightly by creating original characters who turn up in later stories, offering a tiny bit of cohesion to the book overall, but it's not enough to stop this feeling like a massive collection of short vignettes which have no overall story.

I enjoyed the book overall, but the fact that it's so fractured in its storytelling robbed it of the satisfying reading experience that an actual Rebels graphic novel might have had.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Rogues And Rebels

featuring Greg Pak, Charles Soule,  Ethan Sacks  and Simon Spurrier

(Art by Phil Noto, Luke Ross, Roland Boschi, Paolo Villanelli and Caspar Wijngaard)

Book 13.  Five stories, the primary of which sees Han captive to a crimelord, Luke having lost his lightsaber and Chewie and Threepio confronting Darth Vader himself.  The other four showcase Rebels Shara Bey and Kes Dameron, Vader, bounty hunter Beilert Valance and Doctor Aphra.

This book is the final volume of the 'Between Episodes IV and V' run of Star Wars comics and very much represents the series ending not with a bang but with a whimper.  The main story is the conclusion of the tale begun in Book 12, Pak's 'Rebels And Rogues', and is not only as silly, pointless and uninteresting as the first half was, but also gives this book the worst follow-up title in Star Wars.  Really, no-one burnt out any brain cells switching the words 'Rebels' and 'Rogues' did they?

The other four stories on offer are much more interesting but they're extremely short, representing mere teasers for the four ongoing series being launched or relaunched in the post-Empire Strikes Back timeframe (Star Wars, Darth Vader, Bounty Hunters and Doctor Aphra).  However, the storytelling on offer in these shorts is good enough to elevate the book as a whole from being rubbish to merely being okay.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Shattered Empire
featuring Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Roy Thomas

(Art by Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta, Emilio Laiso, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Howard Chaykin)

Three stories.  The main story, set during and shortly after 'Return of the Jedi' has Rebel soldiers Shara Bey and Kes Dameron (Poe Dameron's parents) fighting alongside the heroes of the Rebellion against the remnants of the Empire.  The two back-up stories feature Princess Leia on a mission immediately after the Battle of Yavin, and the first part of the original Marvel adaptation of 'A New Hope'.

The main 'Shattered Empire' story, by Greg Rucka, is a pretty solid one, showing us what it's like for the Rebels after the death of the Emperor but before the Empire has given up the fight.  The artwork is really good and there's some great moments depicted, such as seeing three Naboo N-1 Starfighters take on an Imperial Star Destroyer.

The downside to this main story is that it's much too short and the way it's structured, almost as four separate adventures, makes it feel a bit fractured too (ironic, considering the title).  I would have happily have read a much longer book about Shara and Kes in the wake of the Battle of Endor, conflicted by their desire for peace and their desire to keep serving the Rebellion.

What drags the whole book down, however, are the two back-up stories.  They each constitute only the first issue of their respective series and are literally only here as adverts for Marvel's other graphic novels; an advertising tactic that is made especially insulting by the fact that the books they're advertising have both of these issues included anyway.  It's really just a symptom of just how clumsily Marvel have handled the Star Wars licence since recovering it from Dark Horse and it annoys me beyond what it perhaps should.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales - Volume 3

featuring Ron Marz, Dave McCaig, Jay Stephens, Garth Ennis, Mike Kennedy, Christian Read, Jason Hall, Brett Matthews, Kia Asamiya and Scott Allie

(Art by Rick Leonardi, Terry Austin, Dave McCaig, Jay Stephens, John McCrea, Jimmy Palmiotti, Francisco Ruiz Velasco, Chris Slane, Christina Chen, Vatche Mavlian,  Kia Asamiya , Amanda Connor, Chris Brunner, Paul Lee and Brian Horton)

Twelves stories from across the Star Wars mythos with varying levels of canonicity.  Here we get stories featuring Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Boba Fett, Han and Chewie, Artoo and Threepio, Rogue Squadron, Obi-Wan and Anakin and Princess Leia (among others).

Whilst I always liked the range of stories the Tales series allowed writers to tell, I was also always disappointed when those writers chose to tell silly 'comedy' stories and there's a few of those here unfortunately.  Perhaps its just me and you may well find yourself enjoying seeing a toddler version of Darth Maul getting up to mischief in his hunt for a lollipop.

There are some really good stories here too though.  The highlights include one, by Marz, in which Darth Vader fights Darth Maul, who has been resurrected by a group of Sith sorcerers.  Another highlight is the story in which Maul first has the idea of his double-bladed lightsaber whilst hunting down a reclusive Jedi Master.  To my surprise I also enjoyed the story titled 'The Princess Leia Diaries', which tells of Leia's youth and her first steps onto the road to rebellion.

The hidden gem of this book, however, is 'The Rebel Four' in which the Fantasic Four are given a Star Wars makeover.  Here Doctor Doom is re-cast as Darth Vader and he kills the titular Rebel Four by, variously, stretching one to pieces, burning one to a crisp, crushing one with rocks and blasting one into nothingness.  I really liked that Jay Stephens did an excellent job of capturing the visual style and scripting of the 1970s FF comics.

Overall a good collection with just a few stories letting it down.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales - Volume 4

featuring Scott Beatty, Fabian Nicieza, Jim Krueger, Haden Blackman, Bob Harris, Jason Hall, Christian Read, Stan Sakai, Milton Freewater Jr., Adam Gallardo, the Fillbach Brothers, Chris Eliopoulos, Nathan Walker, Jim Beard, Jay Laird, Scott Lobdell, Brian Augustyn, Tod C. Parkhill, Mike Denning, Gilbert Austin, Jonathan Adams and Paul Lee.

(Art by Sanford Greene, Kris Kaufman, Timothy Il, Kagan McLeod, Michael Zulli, Jerome Opena, Clayton Henry, Jimmy Palmiotti, Ramon Bachs, Raul Fernandez, Stan Sakai, Adriana Melo, Fabio Laguna, Homs, the Fillbach Brothers, Jon Sommariva, Pierre-Andre Dery, Sunny Lee, Randy Emberlin, Kilian Plunkett, Todd Nauck, Jamie Mendoza, Sean Murphy, Paco Medina, Joe Sanchez, John McCrea, Joey Mason, Howard Shum, Lucas Marangon, Gilbert Austin, Jonathan Adams, Paul Lee and Brian Horton)

Twenty five stories from across the Star Wars saga, ranging from tales of the Clone Wars to the story of a grizzled old former Stormtrooper suffering from PTSD from fighting Ewoks.

As with the other Tales anthologies, there's a few crap stories here and, for the most part, they're the 'comedy' ones.  However, there was one of these less-serious stories that I did really enjoy and it's a parody of People's Court or Judge Judy, in which Han Solo, accused of killing Greedo in cold blood, uses badly-doctored footage in an attempt to prove that Greedo shot first.

The first quarter of this particular book is taken up with various stories of Mace Windu's Jedi adventures.  I really enjoyed seeing several different writer/artist teams tackle Windu and I actually could happily have read an anthology just based around that one character.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of this series, none of the stories gets enough time and space to develop into anything truly special.  Similarly, there are a number of Princess Leia stories here but they too never quite get chance to develop fully; although it's worth seeing the story of her first ever meeting with the Emperor.

Amid the bad comedy and the too-short-for-their-own-good stories, there are a few true Star Wars gems too.  The Stormtrooper story mention above is one such, showing the less child-friendly side of the Ewoks.  There's also a very interesting one in which Luke, as a ten year old, gets lost in a sandstorm and has a vision of being helped by a nine year old boy named Annie.  However, my personal favourite is 'Heart of Darkness' by Paul Lee, which features the Jedi Minch, a member of Yoda's species, confronting a Dark Jedi Master on Dagobah.

Overall, another mixed bag but with enough really good stuff to make it worth your time and money.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales - Volume 5

featuring Steve Niles, Adam Gallardo, Joe Casey, Rob Williams, Mike Denning, Jason Hall, Henry Gilroy, Andy Diggle, Peter Alilunas, W. Haden Blackman, Jim Pascoe, Ken Lizzi, Jeremy Barlow, Scott Kurtz, Andrew Robinson, Jim Royal, Tony Millionaire, Jason, Bob Fingerman, Rick Geary, Jim Campbell, Peter Bagge, Chris Eliopoulos, James Kochalka and Gilbert Hernandez

(Art by Davide Fabbri, Christian Dalla Vecchia, Greg Titus, Julian Washburn, Francisco Paronzini, Cary Nord, David Nakayama, Greg Adams, Ben Templesmith, Todd Demong, Henry Flint, Stewart McKenny, John Wycough, Will Conrad, Dub, Niko Henrichon, Pierre-Andre Dery, Ramon Bachs, Kris Justice, Lucas Marangon, Greg Tocchini, Eddie Wagner, Scott Kurtz, Nuria Peris, Sean Murphy, Tony Millionaire, Jason, Bob Fingerman, Rick Geary, Jim Campbell, Peter Bagge, Chris Eliopoulos, James Kochalka and Gilbert Hernandez)

Twenty eight stories from across the Star Wars galaxy and mythos, including adventures for our favourite Rebels Han, Luke and Leia, tales of the greatest of bounty hunters Boba Fett and a few of the never-ending war between the Jedi and their Sith counterparts.  Also, sadly, several focusing on Jar Jar Binks.

Perhaps more than any other anthology of the Tales series, this book swings between the extremes of awesome and awful.  There are some real gems of the Star Wars saga to be found here with Jason Hall's atmospheric 'Dark Journey', about a Jedi with a dark secret, and Haden Blackman's 'Revenants', in which Han and Fett square off during the Yuuzhan Vong War, being among the finest.

However, in an ironic nod to the Force, all of the good is balanced by the bad.  There is some real trash here which aims for 'amusing' or even 'humorous' but which comes out simply as 'how did this dross ever get published?'.  The worst offenders are, predictably, the stories starring Jar Jar Binks.  It's odd that the writers clearly reference the fact that Binks is a terrible character who almost everyone hates and yet nevertheless go on to tell stories in which the character does everything that makes people hate him.  It's like a form of masochism on the part of the writers.

Of the non-canon/non-serious stories on offer, there were two that I did enjoy.  Scot Kurtz's 'Rebel Club' is a nice homage to 'The Breakfast Club' but with Star Wars trappings (Han Solo and John Bender are kindred spirits).  The other story worth noting is Blackman's 'Into the Great Unknown' which features an unlikely but enjoyable crossover between Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Some great stories dragged down into mediocrity by some really awful ones.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales - Volume 6

featuring Joshua Ortega, Chris Avellone, Rob Williams, Ian Edginton, Kevin Rubio, Shane McCarthy, Thomas Andrews, Lucas Marangon and Nathan P. Butler

(Art by Dustin Weaver, Cully Hamner,  Brandon Badeaux , Steve Pugh, Roger Langridge, Michael Lacome, Serge LaPointe, Lucas Marangon and James Raiz)

The previous five collected volumes of 'Star Wars: Tales' were what's known to us fans (geeks) as 'Infinities', meaning that they are not considered part of the official continuity.  That's all different here, with only one of the ten stories falling into that catagory ('Fett Club' which is mildly amusing but detracts from the book as a whole). 

The entire Star Wars saga is covered here, beginning with two stories that link into the events of the 'Knights of the Old Republic' computer games.  The first of these, 'Shadows And Light', tells about the Great Hunt for the terentatek monsters and is my favourite story of the book.  Other stories highlight such characters as Darth Maul, a Clone Commando, Wedge Antilles and an Imperial pilot.  The longest and most intelligent story is the four part 'Nomad' which tells the story of a suspect Jedi and an amnesiac dark sider and is all about perception. 

A final mention goes to 'Equals And Oposites' (written by fan-turned-Star Wars VIP, Nathan Butler) which features the hero of the Dark Forces and Jedi Knight games, Kyle Katarn as he fights the menace of the Yuuzhan Vong. 

This is a great anthology and it's just a shame that after 'Tales' became in-continuity, the series was ended so there won't be any more like this.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales From Jabba's Palace

featuring Kevin J. Anderson, Barbara Hambly, Esther M. Friesner, Kathy Tyers, Marina Fitch, Mark Budz, Timothy Zahn, William F. Wu, Kenneth C. Flint, Deborah Wheeler, John Gregory Betancourt, M. Shayne Bell, George Alec Effinger, Judith Reeves-Stevens, Garfield Reeves-Stevens, Dave Wolverton, Daryl F. Mallett, Jennifer Roberson, Dan'l Danehy-Oakes, J. D. Montgomery and A. C. Crispin

Whereas 'Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina' had stories which merely shared a single common event (Luke and Obi-Wan entering the cantina), this anthology's stories slowly develop an overall story, each answering questions or revealing clues featured in the others.  The main threads of this story follow a plot to assassinate Jabba, a murder in the palace and, of course, the arrival of a certain group of Rebels. 

The two best reasons to buy this anthology are the story of Mara Jade's infiltration of the palace, written by her creator Tim Zahn, and also the story of how Boba Fett survives being slowly digested by the Sarlacc.  Another good addition is a 'what ever happened to...' epilogue in which the later lives of the main protagonists are summed up (Gartogg's is hilarious).

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales From The Empire

featuring Timothy Zahn, Kathy Tyers, Patricia A. Jackson, Michael A. Stackpole, Laurie Burns, Charlene Newcomb, Tony Russo, Angela Phillips and Erin Endom

A series of short stories taken from the 'Star Wars Adventure Journal'.  They are a mixture of styles and quality and lack the common themes of the other 'Tales from...' books. 

Jackson's story of a troubled Dark Jedi and Burns' tale set during the evacuation of Coruscant (set shortly before the 'Dark Empire' comic series) are the best of the lesser known writers.  However, the separate stories by Zahn and Stackpole are brilliant, giving us a 'before they were famous' view of Talon Karrde, Mara Jade and Corran Horn. 

The icing on the cake is the all-new novella by Zahn and Stackpole, 'Side Trip', in which a group of Rebels and CorSec officers are dragged into a plot against Black Sun hatched by Admiral Thrawn and Darth Vader.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales From The Mos Eisley Cantina

featuring Kathy Tyers, Tom Veitch, Martha Veitch, Timothy Zahn, A. C. Crispin, Dave Wolverton, David Bischoff, Barbara Hambly, Daniel Keys Moran, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Doug Beason, Jennifer Roberson, Jerry Oltion, Kenneth C. Flint, M. Shayne Bell, Judith Reeves-Stevens and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

The first Star Wars anthology, this book has several stories linked together by the moment in 'A New Hope' when Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han and Chewbacca in the Mos Eisely cantina. 

The tales vary greatly in quality and in their importance to the Star Wars universe, but the best are Zahn's story of two Mistryl warrior women, Tom and Martha's story of Greedo, which features background characters from Tom's 'Dark Empire' comics, and Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens' tale of epic romance beginning in the cantina and ending in the battle above Endor.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales From The New Republic

featuring Timothy Zahn, Michael A. Stackpole, Kathy Burdette, Chris Cassidy, Tish Pahl, Patricia A. Jackson, Laurie Burns, Paul Danner and Jean Rabe

The sister book to 'Tales from the Empire', this book seems a little lacklustre compared to its predecessor. 

The Zahn and Stackpole novella, 'Interlude at Darkknell' is an interesting story about Garm Bel Iblis, Moranda Savich, Hal Horn and Ysanne Isard, but doesn't have a patch on 'Side Trip'.  Zahn's other addition to the anthology is of better standard, centring on Mara Jade and acting as a prelude to his Hand of Thrawn duology. 

Jackson brings another worthwhile story about the Dark Jedi Adalric Brandl and the best of the rest is two stories by Chris Cassidy and Tish Pahl, the second of which involves a guilt-wracked Kyp Durron.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: Tales Of The Bounty Hunters

featuring Kevin J. Anderson, Dave Wolverton, Kathy Tyers, M. Shayne Bell and Daniel Keys Moran

The best Star Wars anthology and one of the best books of the franchise all together.  Each of the stories here is of novella length and tells in depth the origins of the hunters (the six seen in 'The Empire Strikes Back'), how they fit into the films and what they went on to do afterward. 

The best offering is IG-88's tale by Anderson which is a delight to read and will leave you awestruck to see just how far the droid's ambitions take him (that's no moon, that's an assassin droid - that was a plot clue by the way!).  Boba Fett's tale is also of considerable worth as we get a glimpse of the character's strict code of ethics when Jabba the Hutt offers him Princess Leia - in that bikini - as a sex toy. 

Dengar's tale by Wolverton involves the best character development as Dengar is diverted from his hate-driven killing spree by the woman he falls in love with.  The other two stories aren't quite so good, but are still very much worth reading. 

My final recommendation of this book is the character whose presence is felt throughout the stories, giving them a touch of menace; Darth Vader.

5 out of 5

 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Grievous Attacks!

featuring Veronica Wasserman, Tracey West and Rob Valois

An anthology of Young Adult novelisations of episode from the first season of the 'The Clone Wars' TV series (22 BBY).  In 'Rookies' we see a group of rookie Clone Troopers facing combat for the first time, 'Downfall of a Droid' sees Anakin set out to recover the missing R2-D2 and 'Lair of Grievous' has two Jedi confronting the cyborg General in his own fortress.

This biggest problem with this book is simply that the first season of 'The Clone Wars' wasn't actually that good.  Don't get me wrong, I did come to love the series, but to begin with it was shallow, obvious and featured dialogue so dreadful that even George Lucas might shudder.  When you then transfer those elements into very short adaptions aimed at younger readers, it becomes even more artless.

Of the three writers on show here; Valois shows the most flair at working with the material, Wasserman's is the most straightforward and uninspired and West has a really weird grasp of the source material, particularly in turns of phrase like 'mech droid' which she uses over and over again but which I'm sure has never ever been used to refer to Artoo before.  Why not just say 'droid'?  Did she have a word count to fill?

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - In Service Of The Republic

featuring Henry Gilroy and Steven Melching

(Art by Scott Hepburn, Dan Parsons and Ramon K. Perez)

22 BBY.  Here we get two stories, one long and one short, set amid the titular Clone Wars.

The first story has Jedi Masters Plo Koon and Kit Fisto matching wits with Dark Jedi assassin Asajj Ventress amid the Battle of Khorm.  I enjoyed reading a story of the Clone Wars that didn't feel the urge to include Obi-Wan, Anakin or Ahsoka and which therefore actually makes the conflict feel more widespread.  In this story we're also introduced to a great new group of somewhat cynical Clone Troopers and get to see the early career of Captain Ozzel (the Admiral who Darth Vader chokes to death in 'The Empire Strikes Back').

The second story is very short and kinetic, having previously been released as a freebie on its own.  It's nothing special, but it does once again show us the wider conflict, focusing on Master Kit Fisto and the little-used planet of Rishi.  It's no fault of the writer here (because they were created years before), but the natives of Rishi look very silly to me; anthropomorphic talking owls.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - From A Certain Point Of View

featuring Tom Angleberger, Sarwat Chadda, S. A. Chakraborty, Mike Chen,  Adam Christopher , Katie Cook, Zoraida Cordova,  Delilah S. Dawson , Tracy Deonn, Seth Dickinson, Alexander Freed, Jason Fry, Christie Golden, Hank Green, Rob Hart, Lydia Kang,  Michael Kogge , R. F. Kuang, C. B. Lee, Mackenzi Lee, John Jackson Miller, Michael Moreci, Daniel Jose Older, Mark Oshiro, Amy Ratcliffe, Beth Revis, Lilliam Rivera, Cavan Scott, Emily Skrutskie, Karen Strong, Anne Toole, Catherynne M. Valente, Austin Walker, Martha Wells, Django Wexler, Kiersten White,  Gary Whitta , Brittany N. Williams, Charles Yu and Jim Zub

Following on from the first 'From A Certain Point Of View' anthology, this book was released to celebrate the 40th anniversary of 'The Empire Strikes Back' and features forty stories highlighting background characters and elements from Episode V.  Included are tales of the Rebels of Echo Base, Vader's cadre of ruthless bounty hunters, ambitious Imperial officers and the inhabitants of Cloud City, amongst others.

Anthologies like this are, by their very nature, a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of the stories and writers involved and that's certainly true of this book.  However, I would say that overall the quality of this book is higher than that of the one focused on 'A New Hope', which seems fitting since ESB is definitely the superior movie.  (Fight me, if you must).  Despite that there are more than a few stories here that land with a dull thud, particularly where they feature new characters that no-one cares about doing things that make no impact on the story of Episode V whatsoever.  A couple are also really horrendously edited so that I had to read some sentences two or three times before I figured out which order the words were supposed to go in.

There are also some stories here, primarily but not exclusively by experienced Star Wars authors, which are really good.  'Ion Control' by Emily Skrutskie was perhaps the best story by an author who was otherwise unknown to me, being a great story of one of the Rebels who orbit the heroes of the Saga but who isn't a main character in her own right otherwise.  Among the experienced Star Wars writers, it was particularly nice to see John Jackson Miller get to continue the story of some of the characters he featured in the first ever novel of (evil) Disney's new canon; 'A New Dawn'.

For all the general ups and downs in quality, there is one story here that deserves to be singled out as raising the quality of the whole book by its presence.  Whilst, as an old EU (Legends) fan, it was nice to see a general willingness to reference older stories that the new canon had, until recently, seemed embarrassed to admit existed (I was particularly pleased to see Kem Monnon feature - if you know, you know), there was one story which excelled in telling its own tale whilst honouring what has come before, something that the first '...Certain Point of View' anthology often failed at.  That story is Jason Fry's 'Rendezvous Point', starring Wedge Antilles, which is perfectly written in the style-of and is a loving homage to the X-Wing series of novels by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston.  It was so good that it left me wishing that I was actually reading a full-length X-Wing novel by Fry.  (Please, Lucasfilm Publishing, please).

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures - Volume 2

featuring  Daniel Jose Older , Charles Soule, Claudia Gray,  Justina Ireland  and Cavan Scott

(Art by Nick Brockenshire, Harvey Tolibao, Pow Rodrix, Toni Bruno, Sam Beck, Jason Loo, Yael Nathan, Jesse Lonergan and Stefano Simeone)

A collection of adventures from across the High Republic featuring Jedi tackling the Nihil, the Drengir and the Hutts, among other challenges.

The bulk of this book is made up of stories, by Older, continuing the adventures of the young Padawans introduced in Volume 1 of this series, beginning with the attack on the Republic Fair (231 BBY), continuing through a confrontation with the Hutts and the Drengir and ending with a Nihil attack against Takodana (Maz Kanata's home from 'The Force Awakens', if it sounds familiar)

We then get a series of shorter tales which range from an adventure with Bell Zettifar and Loden Greatstorm from before the High Republic series began to Vernestra Rwoh's first meeting with her Master, Stellan Gios.  Whilst less engaging than the main storyline, it was nice to see some vignettes of characters from across the High Republic story era.

It may be that this far in (for me; two novels and five graphic novels) that I've finally started to get to grips with the main players of the High Republic, but overall this book felt more settled and less unfamiliar than some of the other High Republic stories have.  The appearances of characters from other mediums felt more natural and less forced, meaning that seeing the likes of Bell Zettifar or Ram Jomaram didn't feel as incongruous as they could have.  Strangely, this book was the first time that I felt as if the High Republic had a cohesive narrative, which was particularly weird in an anthology with tales from various timeframes.

It's far from perfect or mind-blowing, but this was a very solid and enjoyable addition to the High Republic era.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars: The High Republic - Jedi's End

featuring Cavan Scott and Charles Soule

(Art by Georges Jeanty, Ario Anindito, Karl Story, Victor Olazaba, Mark Morales and Guillermo Sanna)

Book 3.  Two stories; one wrapping up the initial run of the High Republic comics and one finally revealing the story of Marchion Ro's origins and his Jedi-killing Nameless.

Scott's story continues the tale of Keeve Trennis as she finds herself caught between her mentor Sskeer, who is suffering from an illness that causes him to lapse into bouts of anger, and Marshal Avar Kriss, who is skirting perilously close to the dark side herself.  This story had the benefit of having a solid antagonist in Lourna Dee, the only Nihil character to have been given anything approaching a personality up to this point in the High Republic publishing explosion.  This story also benefits from being intricately wrapped around the devastating defeat suffered by the Jedi at the end of this first Phase of High Republic stories.

Soule's 'Eye of the Storm' acts as an epilogue to Phase 1, giving us the essential backstory of the primary villain Marchion Ro and his quest to humble both the Jedi and the Republic.  Part of me was tempted to mark this book down on the basis that it is absolutely insane that the main villain of the series (comprising at least three novels, three YA novels, three younger reader novels and eight graphic novels) is only given characterisation and motivation in this brief epilogue.  But it's not this book's fault that the HR series as a whole hasn't been very coherently put together and, in fact, Soule does an excellent job of filling in the blanks that have been missing all this time.  If you've only read, say, the novels, you're definitely going to want to read this comic too, if only to actually understand why Marchion Ro is treated like an important character in them.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars Vol. 2

featuring Kieron Gillen, Jason Aaron and Chris Eliopoulos

(Art by Angel Unzueta, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Mike Mayhew, Jorge Molina, Scott Hanna and Chris Eliopoulos)

The second omnibus of Marvel's ongoing series (not to be confused with the Dark Horse series of the same name by   Brian Wood  ) set between Episodes IV and V.  Here, among other things, a Rebel spy comes face to face with the true evil of the Empire, Princess Leia has to deal with a prison break and the heroes of the Rebellion steal a Star Destroyer.

Gillen's story was probably my favourite part of this book, featuring a Rebel spy who discovers a sense of how futile the war against the Empire is when his plans are sent awry by the intervention of Emperor Palpatine himself.  This story also has a nice payoff in the later part of the book, written by Aaron.

Aaron writes the majority of the rest of the book and it can be broken down into three main story arcs; the jailbreak, the Obi-Wan flashback and the capture of the Harbinger.  The first of these was elevated above the mundane by having it focus on three badass but very different women who put aside their difference to win; Leia, Sana Starros and Doctor Aphra.  I was very conflicted about the Obi-Wan section of the book, on the one hand I'm always keen to see more Jedi action (Obi-Wan in particular) but on the other it felt pretty contrived and out of place in this series.  If you want to tell an 'Obi-Wan on Tatooine' story, why not just give it its own series, rather than plonking it down in the middle of this series about the Rebellion.  Of course, if you the reader want a much better 'Obi-Wan on Tatooine' story, go and read John Jackson Miller's 'Kenobi'.  The Harbinger story arc had its ups and downs with some really great moments, like Sana pointing out what's obviously really going on behind Han and Leia's bickering, but also a really stupid and, ultimately, unfulfilling premise; seriously, if it was that easy to disable and hijack a Star destroyer, why aren't the Rebels doing it every other week?  I did like SCAR Squad though; a diverse commando unit of Stormtroopers who reminded me fondly of the Clone Commandos.

The book finishes off with Eliopoulos' short story about Artoo bumping into things.  It is not good at all and ruins the tone of the book as a whole.  I know that it was included as a bonus story and a tribute to the late, great Kenny Baker, but I would rather not have had it here.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars Vol. 3

featuring Jason Aaron, Kelly Thompson, Dash Aaron and Jason Latour

(Art by Salvador Larroca, Emilio Laiso, Andrea Sorrentino and Michael Walsh)

A series of adventures from Marvel's ongoing series, set between Episodes IV and V.  Here we see the heroes of the Rebellion rescue C-3PO from the clutches of SCAR Squadron, learn of an adventure undertaken by Master Yoda decades before the Galactic Civil War and follow scoundrels Lando Calrissian and Sana Starros as they swindle pirates, Hutts and the Empire.

I've never been a big fan of Han, Luke and Leia stories set in this time period (for the dual reasons that there's already too many and that the characters can't develop at all), so it was nice to see this book feature the adventures of some characters beyond the core ones.  Whilst there are stories focusing on the Rebel heroes, for me the highlights were all the ones that didn't.

Among these other characters are Yoda, SCAR Squadron and the very suitable duo of Lando and Sana.  All of these tales were pretty enjoyable, although much as in the last volume, the framing of the Yoda story is horribly contrived (Luke stops piloting his X-Wing mid-mission to read a book).

As for the adventures that do star Han, Luke and Leia; they're fine but don't really cover too much new ground.

4 out of 5

 

Star Wars Volume 4: A Shattered Hope

featuring Brian Wood and Zack Whedon

(Art by Facundo Percio, Dan Parsons, Carlos D'Anda, Davide Fabbri and Christian Dalla Vecchia)

The final book of the series features three stories, two by Wood and one by Whedon, featuring the famous faces of 'A New Hope'. 

In the first, set immediately after Wood's 'Star Wars Volume 2: From the Ruins of Alderaan', Darth Vader's wrath leads him on the trail of the traitorous Colonel Bircher, with a novitiate Ensign witness to the Sith Lord's ire.  The second of Wood's stories here picks up after the end of 'Star Wars Volume 3: Rebel Girl' and shows how Leia, reeling from her setbacks in that previous book, seeks to find hope by rescuing an old friend.

Of these two stories, the first is by far the best, showcasing Vader at his most driven and ruthless, as well as showing the beginnings of defiance against the Emperor in him.  The second story reads more or less as just another 'just after the Battle of Yavin...' adventure of the week and, in fact, includes a terrible characterisation of the bounty hunter IG-88; whose presence should make the story much cooler but fails here due to mishandling by the writer.

The third story, by Whedon, is a short adventure for Han and Chewie in the days before they joined the Rebellion.  There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but by the same token, there's nothing particularly interesting about it either.  Unless, of course, you count Davide Fabbri's artwork, which is always a welcome addition to any Star Wars story.

2 out of 5

 

Star Wars: War Of The Bounty Hunters Companion

featuring Justina Ireland, Daniel Jose Older, Alyssa Wong and Rodney Barnes

(Art by Ibraim Roberson, Edgar Delgado, Luca Pizzari, Kei Zama, David Baldeon and Guiu Vilanova)

Four stories tying-in to the War of the Bounty Hunters event, set between Episodes V and VI.  Jabba the Hutt employs his former favourite bounty hunter Deva Lompop to track down Boba Fett, Zuckuss laments the loss of his friend and partner 4-LOM, Boushh is hired by Crimson Dawn to strike the Tagge Company and IG-88 must be rebuilt following a disastrous encounter with Darth Vader.

Well, it has to be said that here you get exactly what was advertised by the title of this book; a series of stories which act as companion pieces to the main 'War of the Bounty Hunters' story (by Charles Soule).  This means that for this book to make any sense whatsoever, you definitely have to have read that one first.  If you have done so, then this book provides a few details filling in around the main plot, but not much more than that.

What I did enjoy here was seeing all of the featured bounty hunters actually being good at what they do.  There's been a weird trend in Star Wars stories (even before evil Disney rebooted the canon) to make these B-list antagonists basically incompetent buffoons for our heroes to repeatedly get one over on.  Here, however, we genuinely get a sense that these are dangerous and talented mercenaries, giving them back the sense of badassery which they exhibited when they first appeared in 'The Empire Strikes Back' (well, except for Boushh).  It's nice to see some of my favourite characters finally being done justice.

3 out of 5

 

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron - Battleground: Tatooine

featuring Michael A. Stackpole, Jan Strnad and Ryder Windham

(Art by John Nadeau, Jordi Ensign and Monty Sheldon)

Two stories, with one taking up most of the book.  Like every other character in the Star Wars universe, the Rogues find themselves on Tatooine.  There they have to secure a large cache of Imperial weapons before the Empire reclaims it itself.  This is a good little story that's very well written and is a perfect tie-in to Stackpole's 'The Bacta War'. 

The other story was one that was originally released as a free gift in cereal boxes.  So, as you can expect, it's nothing terribly ground shaking.

4 out of 5

 

Superman: Birthright - Part 1

featuring Mark Waid and Otto Binder

(Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Greg Alanguilan, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye)

Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection.  In the title story we get to see how Clark Kent made the choice to create a public persona in order to use his superpowers to help people.  As Superman goes into action in Metropolis for the first time he meets lifelong friends and his most determined enemy.  Also included is 'The Shrinking Superman' from 1958 in which the Man of Tomorrow is confronted by an impostor from the shrunken Kryptonian city of Kandor.

I've never been a huge Superman fan, but Mark Waid's main story here is a solid and enjoyable retelling of how the character started his career as a superhero, sort of a 'Superman: Year One' type of thing (Hmm.  I'll have to check to see if there is an actual 'Superman: Year One' out there...).  Suitably, there's a real tone of hope to this story and whilst there are occasional dark undertones, it feels upbeat and positive in a way that the 'introduction' of Superman should.  Although the introduction in the book singles out 'Man of Steel' as being the movie equivalent, I don't think Zack Snyder's colourless, dour interpretation is anywhere near as good as this.  Instead, this story put me in mind of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies that I adored as a kid (and have a great deal of nostalgia for as an adult).

Nostalgia also worked to the benefit of the back-up story in this book too.  Often in these Graphic Novel Collection books the throwback story marks an interesting point in comics history but serves as a reminder of how far comic book writing has come on in the intervening years.  Here, however, I totally managed to embrace the campy storytelling of 'The Shrinking Superman' because it fondly reminded me of an old Superman annual that I read over and over as a kid.  Sure it's not a sophisticated story but you've got to love the ironic humour of the scene where the impostor Superman tries to disguise himself by putting on a suit and glasses, convinced that the real Superman couldn't possibly recognise him now.

4 out of 5

 

Superman: Birthright - Part 2

featuring Mark Waid and Jerry Siegel

(Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Greg Alanguilan and Al Plastino)

Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection.  The title story picks up where Part 1 left off, with Lex Luthor launching a campaign to discredit Superman and paint him as a the vanguard of a Kryptonian invasion force.  The second story on offer here, 'How Luthor Met Superboy' from 1960, reveals how the characters knew each other in Smallville and where Luthor's undying emnity for Superboy/Superman originated.

The conclusion to Waid's 'Birthright' is very enjoyable, as we see Superman struggle with holding to his intention to be a hero despite the distrust of the people he's trying to save.  Its also interesting to see the childhood (well, teenage) history that Clark shares with Lex, as well as how Lex has consciously blotted it from his mind.  In fact, this book is as much an exploration of Lex's insane world view as it is of Superman's origins.  The relationship between the two characters here is a perfect reflection of how intrinsically linked they are, with Waid giving the same dichotomy as Batman and the Joker.

The second story, the throwback one, is a lot less enjoyable.  It's a style of comic book storytelling that was already dated in 1960, let alone sixty years later.  That said, it was interesting to discover that the childhood friendship gone wrong that Waid used in 'Birthright' was actually an idea reimagined from this much earlier version.

3 out of 5

 

Superman: Last Son Of Krypton

featuring Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza and Jerry Siegel

(Art by Adam Kubert, Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson Magalhaes and Joe Shuster)

Part of the DC Graphic Novel Collection, containing three stories.  The title story sees a Kryptonian child arrive on Earth and, when the US Government attempts to take control of the boy, Superman chooses to adopt him as he himself was adopted by the Kents.  However, the arrival of young Christopher Kent heralds the return of one of Superman's most iconic enemies; General Zod.  In the second story we get a glimpse of family life with the entire Kent clan as they take an outing to an alien world.  The third story is a reprint of Superman #1 from 1939 and retells Superman's origins, as well as revealing how Clark Kent got his job at the Daily Star (that's just what the Planet was called then, Clark wasn't working for the low-brow trashy British tabloid of the same name).

The emotional core of 'Last Son of Krypton' is a strong one, with Clark and Lois unable to have children of their own but being given the chance to adopt one in need, much as Jonathan and Martha Kent did for Clark.  If anything, it's a bit of a shame that this new family dynamic doesn't get the chance to develop for very long before Zod shows up to ruin things.

I found it intriguing that not only did Richard Donner, director of the iconic Christopher Reeve Superman movie, co-write this story but that it seems to be Zod's first post-Crisis appearance.  Honestly, if such an iconic villain didn't get dragged out of the woodwork before 2006, I'm genuinely impressed with DC's restraint (usually after each of their continuity reboots, the first thing they do is have the heroes encounter their most iconic villains again for the 'first' time).

'The Best Day' by Busiek and Nicieza does give us a little more time with Christopher Kent as part of the family, but sadly it's just a bit of a fluff piece.  Nice to see Kara included in the family time though.  (Was Conner dead at this point?  I lose track.)

The throwback story from 1939 is a nice way of seeing how the character got started but also goes to show just how crappy superhero comics were in those days.

3 out of 5

 

Superman: Man Of Steel

featuring John Byrne and Jerry Siegel

(Art by John Byrne, Dick Giordano and Joe Shuster)

Part of the DC Graphic Novel Collection.  The main story here is a retelling of Superman's origin and early days, whilst the back-up story is the character's first-ever appearance in the pages of the iconic 'Action Comics #1'.

I'm not a fan of reboots and I rarely enjoy updated retellings of stories we all know by heart (God knows nobody wants to see Bruce Wayne's parents shot in that alley again), so I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the 'Man of Steel' story which makes up the majority of this book.  Intended as a relaunch of the character in the wake of Marv Wolfman's 'Crisis on Infinite Earths', in which the DC multiverse was collapsed into a single (sort-of) coherent universe, this story reboots and updates key elements of Superman's mythology for the modern day (back when 'the modern day' was 1986).  

The story powers through key moments in Superman's history in order to catch up to the point that the hero's ongoing adventures could resume, showing us him choosing to become Superman, meeting Lois Lane for the first time, his first run-in with Lex Luthor and the discovery of his Kryptonian heritage.  For me there were two highlights to this; one of which was getting a new and, ironically, less-bizarre origin for Bizarro Superman, now a failed experiment by Luthor to duplicate Superman himself.  The other element I loved was the new version of Superman's first meeting with Batman and how it's wildly different to their instant-buddies relationship of the 50s and 60s.  Perhaps what I loved most about it was seeing Batman almost immediately outwit Superman, proving why the all-powerful Kryptonian would ever want/need to ally with Batman in the first place.

Pretty much every fan of superhero comics should read Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's first-ever Superman story, because it almost single-handedly created the genre.  It's also interesting to see Superman not-entirely developed too; unable to fly but instead able to leap really far, for example.  Personally, my favourite element is seeing just how fierce and independent Lois is back then, part of her character which got lost in the subsequent decades of her thirsting for Superman (but which was later reclaimed, thankfully).  Despite all that, the storytelling on offer in this second story is pretty much as shallow and obvious as you could expect from a 1938 comic book.

4 out of 5

 

Superman Returns: The Movie And Other Tales Of The Man Of Steel

featuring Martin Pasko, E. Nelson Bridwell, Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar, Geoff Johns, Joe Kelly and Jami Bernard

(Art by Matt Haley, Mike Collins, Ron Randall, Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Yanick Paquette, Dexter Vines, Rich Faber, Jim Royal, Brent Anderson, Ray Snyder, Pascual Ferry, Kano, Dave Bullock, Duncan Rouleau, Renato Guedes,, Marlo Alquiza, Keith Champagne, Jorge Correa, Jaime Mendoza and Cam Smith)

Six stories, beginning with the adaptation of the movie 'Superman Returns' in which the Man of Steel attempts to pick up the threads of his old life after being absent from Earth for five years.  The other stories retell Superman's origins, have him match wits with Lex Luthor and spend New Year's Eve answering calls for help around the world.

The movie 'Superman Returns' isn't awful, being a quaint and somewhat unambitious homage to the classic Christopher Reeve movies and intended to relaunch the onscreen franchise.  Honestly, Brandon Routh was a pretty good Superman and I'm glad the 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' TV series gave him a second chance (the less we say about Kevin Spacey, the better, however).  The adaptation offered here is brief and by the numbers; hitting most of the major plot points without capturing any of the movie's charm.  Also, the plot point it doesn't really bother with was probably the most interesting aspect of the whole film; is that Superman's kid?

The other stories on offer here are perfectly fine but largely unremarkable.  Well, unremarkable except for the fact that one of them is written by Mark Millar but ISN'T a dedicated character-assassination of a beloved superhero.  Also, the other story that I feel I have to remark on is the one where Supes travels the world to experience New Year's in every time zone.  I like the concept but writer Joe Kelly's grasp of geography and/or how time zones work is so awful as to drag you right out of the story.  I mean, it's a running joke among the rest of the world that Americans couldn't find Australia on a map if they tried, but I'd expect better from a professional writer.

2 out of 5

 

Superman: Secret Origin

featuring Geoff Johns and Jerry Coleman

(Art by Gary Frank, Jon Sibal and Al Plastino)

Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection.  The title story recounts the struggles of Clark Kent's teenage years, as he first adopts the mantle of Superboy, before following the adult Clark into his new job at the Daily Planet and his debut as Superman.  The second story, from 1958, is a tale of Clark's days at the University of Metropolis as he tries to keep his dual identity secret from a brilliant science professor.

The main story here, 'Secret Origin', is a complete misnomer.  There is almost nothing in this retelling of Superman's early days that hasn't been covered elsewhere.  I recently read Mark Waid's 'Birthright', which this book directly contradicts at times, and that's a much more adult and insightful take on Superman's origins.  Once the story here gets to Metropolis what we get is largely a rehashing of the first Christopher Reeve movie.  Now it has to be noted that Johns was once the assistant to the director of Superman, Richard Donner, so this is clearly a deliberate homage but it definitely leaves you feeling like you would rather have just sat down and watched that classic film (not to mention the equally awesome Superman 2).

Overall, 'Secret Origin' is a competent but ultimately redundant retreading of familiar territory.  Maybe if you've never heard of Superman before you'll enjoy it, but then I would have to wonder what planet you're from.

Similarly, the throwback story by Jerry Coleman is perfectly fine but also largely unremarkable.

2 out of 5

 

Superman/Batman: Alternate Histories

featuring Brian Augustyn,  Mark Waid , Jon Bogdanove, Judy Kurzer Bogdanove,  John Byrne  and Chuck Dixon

(Art by Alcatena,  John Byrne , Humberto Ramos, Joe Staton, Horacio Ottolini, Ron Boyd, Dan Davis, Wayne Faucher, Dennis Janke, Andy Lanning, Rob Leigh and Ande Parks)

A collection of four Elseworlds stories.  One sees Batman recast as the 18th Century pirate Leatherwing whilst another, set in the 1920s/30s, has Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent fighting over the mantle of the Bat.  There's a tale of an alternate America where Kal-El helps to overthrow his grandfather who seized control of the country in 1770s and an alternate origin for Steel set amid the horror and cruelty of a slave plantation in the 1860s.

DC's Elseworlds stories have a tendency to have a clever 'what if...?' premise but not actually much substance beyond that.  The stories on offer here are definitely more insightful than some others I've read but, due to their short length, still all feel underdeveloped.  However, no-one could argue against the power of a story which sees John Henry Irons rising through tragedy to build himself a suit of righteous armour and throw off the oppression of those who've kept him and his family enslaved.  With some serious alternate history issues there's the danger of trivialising them through the introduction of superheroes, but here it feels justified.

3 out of 5

 

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

featuring Jeph Loeb and Edmond Hamilton

(Art by Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Curt Swan, Stan Kaye and John Fischetti)

Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection, this book contains the titular story in which Superman and Batman are declared outlaws by the President of the United States, Lex Luthor, and a throwback story from 1952 which has the first time the two characters teamed-up.

I was a bit concerned, due to the title and some of the imagery on the title pages, that this was going to be a story of Batman and Superman fighting and anyone who's seen Zack Synder's car-crash movie can tell you that there's not a lot of interesting mileage in that idea.  However, instead the title refers to the fact that DC's two premier heroes find themselves on the wrong side of the law and hunted by heroes who they once considered friends.  How we get there is a bit contrived (Kryptonian asteroid headed for Earth; must be because Superman's evil) but I actually really enjoyed seeing exactly why these two are DC's premier heroes (sorry Wonder Woman, you're getting there but you're still not Clark or Bruce).  Between them they're smarter, stronger and just more experienced than anyone that Luthor can throw against them.

It has to be said that at times this book veers too sharply away from the tedious 'hero versus hero for reasons' that it could have been and the internal monologues of the two title characters go a bit too far in their adoration of each other to the point that you wonder if they're going to take time-out and get a room in a motel together.

Weirdly, that's not too far away from the plot of the 1952 story by Edmond Hamilton, 'The Mightiest Team in the World!', in which Superman and Batman find out each other's secret identities after being forced to share a cabin on a cruise (no, really).  Why would any cruise company ever force a billionaire customer to share a cabin with some random investigative journalist?  Doesn't matter, don't think about it.  Oddly enough for the first-ever team-up of these comics powerhouses, the antagonist is just a jewel thief and the heroes spend more time wondering whether Lois Lane fancies Batman more than Superman.

All in all this book is worth reading for the 'Public Enemies' story but the back-up story is remarkable only for being the first team-up.

3 out of 5

 

Superman/Batman: Supergirl

featuring Jeph Loeb and Otto Binder

(Art by Michael Turner, Richard Starkings and Al Plastino)

Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collection.  In the first of the two stories in this book we see the Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl reintroduced to the DC Universe.  Arriving on a ship from Krypton as a teenager, Kara immediately falls under the protection of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman but each of them has their own fears and hopes for the girl.  Those fears and hope are pushed to the limit when Darkseid makes a bid to control the powerful young woman.  The second story, from 1959, shows the first ever appearance of Supergirl as Superman's cousin.

I like the updated version of Supergirl that Loeb introduces us to.  Her story is very familiar but I like that she has a depth that was previously somewhat lacking in the character; here's she's very much her own person with her own agenda instead of just a sidekick to Superman.  The reactions that the 'DC Trinity' have to her feel very justified too; Batman is naturally suspicious, Superman his desperately hopeful and Wonder Woman sees a girl she can train and liberate.  It's also significant that none of these parent figures consider Kara's own feelings and desires to any great degree.

Character aside, however, the actual story of Loeb's part of this book felt a bit lacking to me.  The pace is set way too high, to the point that I had to re-read sections to make sure my copy wasn't missing pages.  It crams in Kara's arrival, first meetings with Superman and Batman, her training on Themiscyra, an attack by Doomsday clones, a rescue mission to Apokolips, a visit to Smallville, a second confrontation with Darkseid and Kara's debut as Supergirl.  It's far too much to cover in such a short space of time and as a result the story feels rushed and unsatisfying.

The throwback story, 'The Supergirl from Krypton!', once again (or should that be 'originally') covers Kara's arrival on Earth in a rocket and meeting with Superman, but this time we do get a little bit more information about her childhood on a splinter of Krypton and how her parents sent her to follow Kal-El.  There's nothing wrong with the story until Kara actually comes to live on Earth.  Where it all becomes a bit 'Yikes' is when Superman rapidly gets over his joy at having a cousin and immediately packs her off to an orphanage and forbids her from using her superpowers.  I suppose it makes an interesting contrast with Loeb's story; here a young woman gets no say in her own life and in the more modern story she gets almost no say.  That's forty years of progress in women's rights, right there.

3 out of 5