Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Comic Reviews: Star Wars #2 and Darth Vader #1

Review by Joe David Thompson
Call it a hunch, but if you’re reading this, you probably have strong feelings for the words “Star” and “Wars,” especially when they’re strung together. This year saw the launch of Marvel Comics’ book run on the science fiction juggernaut in the wake of Disney’s acquisition. With the first in an all new trilogy of films, the first due out at the end of 2015, we also get an extensive array of comic titles from Marvel, beginning with what must be the flagship and foundation book, Star Wars, and spinning out with two character books, one for Darth Vader and another for Princess Leia.

For this book, Marvel chose Jason Aaron and John Cassaday to helm the writing and artistic responsibilities, respectively. And what an excellent choice it was. Opening a short time following the events of the 1977 film, the comic begins with the core group, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droid duo attempting to destroy an Empire weapons outpost. Darth Vader is onto the ruse, and the rebel fighter also discover a cadre of imprisoned and enslaved creatures that Luke promptly frees. Aaron does a remarkable job capturing the spirit and voices of the original trilogy and what attracted audiences to these characters and continues to do so. Cassaday delivers remarkable detail in his artwork, capturing the recognizable faces of the characters and stunning action shots that evoke the films.

Now in its second issue, Aaron and Cassaday continue to maintain the quality of their debut. Indeed the fun these two artists are having on this book jumps off the page. My only quibble with this latest installment comes during a battle scene where Luke’s choices leave the slaves he wants to free falling at the hands of the merciless Empire. Throughout it all, the book’s playful tone, truly one of its many strengths, is still in full effect, creating an uncomfortable counterpoint to the weight of the action. I’d have loved to see this act or murder be given a bit more gravity.

This past week the first issue of Darth Vader’s standalone book dropped, helmed by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca. Tying directly into the events of Aaron’s book, this issue begins in the aftermath of the depot attack, with Vader on the receiving end of the Emperor’s anger in the wake of the Death Star’s destruction and the loss of the depot. Vader is tasked with visiting Tatooine to treat with Jabba the Hutt and is kept in the dark in regards to the Emperor’s bigger plans. Through it all, Vader is intrigued more after his face to face run-in with Skywalker, a thread that appears to be running throughout the two titles so far.
Darth Vader is a much more sparse book than Aaron’s Star Wars, which doesn’t exactly work to the book’s advantage. I’ve accustomed to the crackling electricity of Gillen’s writing. Vader is an iconic character, especially as a villain, and the book does nail his menace through action and dialogue. Artist Salvador Larocca has an even tougher job rendering this to the page, as Vader doesn’t have the benefit of facial expressions normal characters can rely on. Additionally, Larocca must deliver the detail Star Wars audiences have come to recognize when it comes both to Vader and Tatooine. He proves he’s more than up to the task.

I can’t shake the fact that this book didn’t capture me. I’m a huge Gillen super fan, but I can’t help feeling like he might have been a bad fit for what Marvel wants from this title. Indeed, his writing feels boxed in, almost claustrophobic at times, which leads me to the conclusion Gillen soars best when given little to no restrictions. Given the weight of the title, I can only imagine with which the scrutiny these Star Wars books must be faced. Many pages are allso devoted to rehashing story details we already know, creating lulls in the pacing. Still, this is only one issue, and I’m not one to count Gillen out yet.

Joe David Thompson has been doing media reviews for websites such as Red Carpet Crash and the 405 Music Blog. For any questions or comments for Joe David Thompson, you can email him at jovid52@me.com and follow him on twitter @jovid52