Star Wars: Dark Vader and the Cry of Shadows #2
Tim Siedell (writer), Gabriel Guzman (artist). Cover by Felipe Massafera.
With both Marvel Comics and Star Wars now under the Disney umbrella, no one should have been all that surprised by the recent news that Dark Horse is losing the Star Wars licence after a 23 year relationship with the brand. While Dark Horse has put out some stellar titles over the years – and a few colossal stinkers – I’m excited to see what Marvel does with the franchise, especially since it looks as though Disney will try to establish a more cohesive take on the Expanded Universe concept.
Cry of Shadows tells the story of Hock Malsuum, a disillusioned former Clone Trooper who finds new direction as a soldier of the Empire, and as a devotee of Darth Vader. It’s a clever look at an element of the Star Wars mythos which is often overlooked, that is to say, to a lot of people within the narrative of Star Wars, the Empire were the good guys. Though the movies and most other media depict the Rebellion as underdog heroes, an underdeveloped theme was that the Empire was said to have enjoyed a good deal of popular support among the masses. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how Darth Vader could be a shadowy boogeyman to some, but a powerful symbol of order and control to others, especially among the military class. At the same time, it’s interesting to see how Malsuum’s quest for personal identity corresponds with his rise within the Imperial ranks – but also, one would assume, his eventual split with the totalitarianism that it represents, as he continues his development from numbered clone into a fully rounded person.
This is the type of well-drawn, well-written story that uses the Star Wars licence to its fullest, without just recycling the same type of story we’ve seen many times before. If books like this are how Dark Horse is finishing up its Star Wars affiliation, it’s at least going out in style.
“Curiouser and Curiouser”
Kyle Higgins (writer), Will Conrad (artist). Covers by Conrad and Jon Katz.
Hey, here’s a thought… having a minor character discover Nightwing’s secret identity might have a little more dramatic potential if he hadn’t been publicly unmasked four months ago in the first issue of Forever Evil, an action which was designed to have ramifications throughout DC’s entire “New 52” line. I suppose it’s too much to ask for DC’s writers to be on the same page – not that it’s their fault, that’s what editorial I for – but it’ really a stupid oversight to make. Even if you hand-wave it away by saying this story takes place before Forever Evil, the overlap still either neuters what Kyle Higgins is doing on this book, or it invalidates the plot twist in Forever Evil by telling us that the big events of that miniseries will probably be negated or reversed at the end of the story.
This issue sees Nightwing – decidedly not a captive of the Secret Society or anything of the sort – teaming up with uneasy ally Marionette, to go after their mutual enemy the Mad Hatter. We get a small peek into Marionette’s horrific past with the Hatter – but then, but issue’s end, we’re left guessing as to what parts of her story can and can’t be believed. Throw in some interesting artwork by Will Conrad, and this would probably be a book I’d be able to recommend, if only DC could get its shit together. As it stands, I find it hard to get invested in a storyline that could be imminently undercut by the whims of the editorial or marketing departments.
Amazing X-Men #3
“The Quest for Nightcrawler pt. 3”
Jason Aaron (writer), Ed McGuinness (artist and cover).
Can we all agree that Azazel is an incredibly stupid character, and that every relic of Chuck Austen’s abominable run on Uncanny X-Men from the mid 2000s should be forgotten forever? Thank you.
Alright, that said, if anyone has to plumb those depths, Jason Aaron is the guy to do it, since he has an amazing gift for taking stupid characters and making them much better than they deserve to be. As with the late, lamented Wolverine and the X-Men, Amazing X-Men is a book where Aaron is free to cut loose and have fun, and as a result it’s already become one of the best current Marvel series. It doesn’t hurt that Aaron has already introduced one of my favourite D-List characters to the team (Firestar, who sadly doesn’t appear in this particular issue), and that his first storyline involves the return of my absolute favourite X-Man, and in a way that’s both respectful to the character’s origins, and to the story that killed him off.
So dig it – Nightcrawler is dead, but the eternal rest in Heaven that he’s earned for himself has been cut short by his dickbag demon father Azazel, who is busy trying to annex both Heaven and Hell using a fleet of flying pirate ships, captained by some of history’s greatest monsters. The X-Men have been inadvertently sucked into the afterlife and split between a few assorted karmic resting places, and Storm is reunited with the Fuzzy Elf himself. It’s fun and wacky without being a pure comedy book, Ed McGuinness just kills it with his fantastic pencils – this book is pure quality, and every X-Men fan should be reading it.
Matt Kindt (writer), Tom Derenick and Eddy Barrows (artists). Covers by Barrows and Jon Katz.
So, this issue raises some interesting ethical questions about the proper priorities that come with being a superhero. The majority of the Justice League of America and the Justice League of No Fixed Address remain trapped within the Firestorm Matrix, which the Crime Syndicate apparently plans to use as some kind of ill-defined weapon of mass destruction. Stargirl and the Martian Manhunter have managed to escape, but both are somewhat the worse for wear, and they find themselves being hunted by the Secret Society. Now, the Manhunter wants to go after the Matrix, rescue the trapped heroes, and take a stab at maybe saving the world. Stargirl, on the other hand, wants to throw in the towel, accept that it’s the apocalypse, and go ensure the safety of her own family.
The way this comic is written, it seems like the reader is meant to side with Stargirl. She’s the optimistic, spunky young heroine, compared to the dour, aloof Manhunter. It’s implied that the Martian Manhunter is cold and detached in part because he’s already lost his family and his world, whereas Stargirl is following her heart. So what does it say about me, when I find her to come across as a selfish and petulant child, who clearly never learned either the Spider-Man lesson about power and responsibility, or the Spock lesson about the needs of the few and many? Am I a terrible person for thinking that if you have the potential ability to save millions of people from death, maybe your own family half a continent away can fend for themselves for a little while? Am I the kind of heartless, unfeeling alien that we’re supposed to think J’onn J’onzz is?
Or maybe this comic is completely wrongheaded, and that’s a part of the reason it feels like such a confusing mess. It feels like for four months, this comic has really gone nowhere, with a story heavily padded to match the pacing of the Forever Evil-dictated release schedule. The current narrative flows in and out of flashbacks to Stargirl’s past, though far less clearly than it did last month… and while the blurring between past and present events may be a conscious creative choice, this isn’t Memento, and Matt Kindt isn’t Christopher Nolan, so the end result is just an obtuse jumble that pulls the reader out of the story. And then there’s the line that says that Stargirl’s driving motivation is, and I quote, “an unfathomable sadness”. Let’s ignore for a second that a line like that would come across as trite and hackneyed, even if it didn’t inadvertently quote from a South Park episode – when you can take one of the few characters in the “New 52” that normally seems to be somewhat of an optimist, and boil her down to angst and moroseness… I mean, Jesus Christ, it’s like anything that might even be the slightest bit happy or pleasant is complete anathema to DC Comics.
Screw it… I’m going to go read Amazing X-Men again.
Revolutionary War: Dark Angel #1
“Girlfriend in a Coma”
Kieron Gillen (writer), Dietrich Smith (artist). Covers by Mark Brooks and Salvador Larroca.
“Revolutionary War” sees Marvel Comics revisiting the alleged fan-favourite Marvel UK line with a series of one-shot, wherein characters like Death’s Head and Dark Angel are dusted off to take another swing at the returning Mys-Tech organization. Hopefully, some of that meant something to you, because it’s all Greek to me – despite being a lifelong Marvel Zombie, my soul exposure to the UK imprint came from the occasions when I accidentally picked one up out of a quarter bin. It happened every so often… in my rush to snap up everything with Wolverine or Spider-Man on the cover, I’d inevitably end up with the odd copy of Warheads or Battletide, and I’d make a half-hearted attempt to muddle through the cyberpunk shenanigans before tossing the comic aside and moving on to Punisher War Journal.
So, I’m not saying that Revolutionary War isn’t good – it’s just not for me. I have no investment in or history with these characters, and Kieron Gillen isn’t wasting his limited pages trying to convert me to the cause. This is a comic written for pre-existing Marvel UK fans… if anyone out there has ever seen such a thing, please pass along the news accordingly.
Joshua Williamson (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist). Cover by Matteo Scalera.
Jackson Winters is a master criminal – if you need someone to arrange an Elvis-themed casino heist, he’s your man. He also has a nasty habit of running afoul of all manner of spooks and poltergeists, and other assorted occult weirdness. This issue kicks off Ghosted’s second story arc, which sees Winters forced to settle accounts over a failed heist from his past, as he’s given a job that’ll take him to Mexico’s seedy underbelly, and the world of human-trafficking devil-worshippers.
I picked Ghosted up as an after-though, based entirely on flipping through and spotting the genuinely unnerving panel of what Winter is being sent to recover. It was a striking image, made all the more effective because of how much realism and restraint new series artist Davide Gianfelice uses the rest of the time. My first exposure to Ghosted definitely me impressed – this was a well-written issue that consistently surprised me, but both defying expectations and avoiding obvious clichés. I’ll definitely be back next month, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the collection of the first five issues too.