Spider-Man: Spider-Man/The Sinister Six/Happy Birthday
(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 parent 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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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: 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
(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
(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
(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
(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: Empire - Allies And Adversaries
(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
(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
(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: 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: Heroes For A New Hope
(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 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 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
(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
(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: Tales - Volume 3
(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
(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 Force 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
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
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
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 Vol. 2
(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: X-Wing Rogue Squadron - Battleground: Tatooine
(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: 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
(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
featuring Jeph Loeb and Otto Binder
(Art by Michael Turner, Richard Starkings and Al Plastino)
Part of the DC Comics Graphic Novel Collections. 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