AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3 out of 5
Star Wars Vol. 1
(Art by John Cassaday, Simone Bianchi, Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger)
The adventures of the heroes of the Rebellion; Han, Luke, Leia, Chewie and the droids, in the immediate aftermath of 'Episode IV: A New Hope'. Featuring encounters with Hutts, Imperial Stormtroopers, vengeful ex-partners, ruthless bounty hunters and one particularly angry Sith Lord.
After the Star Wars licence spent two decades at Dark Horse, it reverted to Marvel (who published the original Star Wars comics during the 70s and 80s) with the acquisition of the rights to the franchise by (evil) Disney. Marvel's very first move was to begin an ongoing series unimaginitively titled 'Star Wars' set in the overused and tedious period immediately after the Death Star's destruction. I was not impressed and, consequently, avoided reading any of this series for a long time.
So, when I finally did bite the bullet, what did I think? Well, the truth is that all of the downsides I expected are here in this collection of issues 1 to 12 of the series and the one that always irks me the most is that it's almost impossible for a writer to say anything new about these characters at this point in the timeline. Han has to still be the one-foot-out-the-door type, Leia has to still have all her prickly edges towards the others and Luke has to be totally without Jedi training. So, once you've established that your main characters can just act out the roles that were cliched twenty years ago, pretty much all you can do is walk them through a series of set pieces, but which can't overly affect the larger Star Wars universe.
Despite all of that, Aaron actually managed to create enough interesting and exciting set pieces to largely win me over. My favourite was certainly the bit where Han and Leia try to stomp Darth Vader to death using an AT-AT but I similarly enjoyed seeing a blinded Luke using his brief training from Obi-Wan to best Boba Fett, as well as the scene where Chewbacca goes toe to toe with Dengar on Nar Shaddaa.
For me, what made the book genuinely interesting, however, was Luke's story. Disillusioned with his skills as a Jedi (after getting spanked by Vader), he goes in search of Jedi lore. Whilst, as mentioned above, his Jedi training can't advance too much, I did love the scene where he unlocks a room full of Jedi holocrons and begins to understand that there is a great deal of Jedi lore still to be discovered. It reminded me pleasantly of some of the better bits of Kevin Hearne's 'Heir to the Jedi'.
4 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: Captain America
(Art by Ron Garney)
A secret mission in North Korea reveals that a new version of the super soldier serum has been created. During the mission Steve Rogers battles another super soldier and discovers that he is none other than Frank Simpson, the man who operated as Captain America during the Vietnam War.
The Ultimate version of Steve Rogers is fiercely patriotic, wilfully obnoxious and strongly jingoistic in almost a caricature of how the world sees America and, to a certain extent, how it sees itself. I was therefore really interested in the idea of a version of Captain America whose faith in the U.S. Government was shattered by the complex morality of the war in Vietnam, in a way that couldn't have happened with the more clear-cut morality of the war against the Nazis.
Frank Simpson here is a brilliant character (in the mainstream Marvel Universe he's the villain Nuke and even appeared in Netflix's Jessica Jones), who genuinely still loves America but is infuriated by the holier-than-thou myth propagated by its government and embodied in Steve Rogers. The scenes where Simson tries to bring Rogers to understanding of the lie he represents were some of this book's best scenes. This felt like a really strong and interesting deconstruction of what Captain America means as a symbol and how that symbol, and by extension America itself, means very different things to different generations.
Unfortunately in the latter half of the book it feels like Aaron chickened out a bit of the deep moral quandaries he introduced. Simpson suddenly stops making very valid points and devolves into a cliched 'psychotic former operative', becoming a very obvious villain. Meanwhile Steve Rogers, who could have actually been somewhat reflective of the lessons Simpson represented, doubles down on his American patriotism and says that he's well aware of the shady stuff the US got up to in the Cold War but it's okay because everyone makes mistakes. It's such a hideous brushing aside of the interesting points being made that I can't help but feel like Aaron was editorially reigned in and told to make the story more pro-American at the end. Murica!
This book, which started so strongly and was doing a good job of tackling some pretty weighty real-world issues, is totally let down by its failure to have Cap learn anything or even really acknowledge that Simpson had a point at all. A really disappointing ending.
2 out of 5