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Comic Review: Star Wars (2015) #8

Star_Wars_8_CoverStar Wars #7 left us with a doozy of a plot twist in the appearance of Sana Solo, Han’s wife. So although I was pretty ready to abandon Star Wars with John Cassaday, that cliffhanger got me picking up #8. The continuation of the story doesn’t disappoint. And though I do miss Cassaday’s art, Stuart Immonen does right by the characters and keeps the world familiar.

Spoilers ahoy!

One of the great things about Jason Aaron’s writing of Star Wars is that he’s clearly having fun. On the opening pages of #8, Imperial ships fly above the planet where Han and Leia have found refuge and then complications. The captain of the fleet orders the TIE fighters to attack. Upon receiving the order, a pilot responds, “I love my job. Long live the Empire!” We wouldn’t need this nobody’s dialogue to finish the scene. The scene is there to progress the rising action coming down on our heroes. But the addition of it lightens an otherwise dour two pages filled with military language. Seeing the personal joy this TIE pilot has is also fun for the reader.

When we get back to the point of the cliffhanger–the reveal that Sana is Han’s wife–Aaron immediately gives us blustering, back-pedaling Han, a mirror of the greeting with Lando in The Empire Strikes Back. What I loved about the development of this story is how ambiguous the truth is. Sana insists they’re married, that he’s a con artist scamming her as he’s done to other women in the past. Han denies that the two are married, denies the long cons, while Sana sticks to her story and tells him the time to run the con is up. Since we see Han as a hero, we want to believe his side, but how truthful his denials are is questionable. Sana’s got her own plans for the Princess though and blows up their shuttle to keep them from escaping. She wants to sell Leia to the Empire.

To add to the twistiness of trust, Leia herself doesn’t know who to believe and ends up acting against Han to protect her freedom, figuring Han might be in cahoots with Sana. I love that Leia doesn’t wait for Han to try to rescue them from the situation, that she takes control of her own rescue.

Also enjoyable is Aaron’s peppering of diction from Empire to add weight to their meaning. Han, attempting to sweet-talk Sana into letting them go, admits he’s a “scoundrel”. For the reader, then, watching the scene in Empire where he tells Leia that she likes him because he’s a scoundrel has new resonance, now calling back to this encounter.

Meanwhile Luke’s looking for Jedi answers, dismayed that he nearly lost his life over a bunch of stupid stories. Oh, Luke, don’t you know stories are everything? I appreciate how spot on Luke’s character is to the timeline of the films. He’s got the naive cockiness of A New Hope, easily dismissive of Obi-Wan’s gift to him. But there’s a growing awareness of his limitations. He’s still uncomfortable in his Jedi knowledge, forming the path to who he is at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.

Immonen doesn’t have the shadowy realism of Cassaday’s art, but his likenesses to Hamill, Fisher, and Ford are strong. The facial expressions and body language were frequently spot on to similar emotional moments from the films.

Immonen Pencils

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Comic Review: Runaways (2015) #1

runaways1coverThe new Runaways #1 came out June 17, but it wasn’t on my radar until two weeks ago. That’s when I read Lumberjanes Vol. 1 and started seeking out all the other things Noelle Stevenson has written. Many years ago, I ate up the original Runaways series run started by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona and continued for the stint by Joss Whedon. I lost track of it after that, but I continue to have a great fondness for it, so when I heard Stevenson was picking it up, I thought I’d check it out, ever hopeful.

Boy-howdy was I disappointed. I already knew that the Secret Wars Battleworld version of Runaways was vastly different than the original set-up. In fact, I knew that only one character overlapped–Molly, a pint-sized 12 year old with a super-strength mutation. But before we really get into it, here’s Marvel’s marketing description:

The best and brightest teens from all corners of Battleworld are chosen to attend a prestigious school on the planet’s capital! • But what does the new class do when they discover the school’s beloved headmaster is actually a diabolical super villain? RUN AWAY! • A SECRET WARS story like none other from the remarkable minds of Noelle Stevenson (LUMBERJANES) and Sanford Greene (UNCANNY AVENGERS)!

So, really, the whole set-up and character set is changed. I didn’t find it for the better. Though this is only issue #1, I found the characters’ introductions to be lackluster. The conceit of how they all come together is akin to The Breakfast Club–a bunch of students who otherwise don’t get along get in trouble with the school authorities and put in detention. Meanwhile, they’re all concerned about a skills test that will decide whether they can stay in the school or will be expelled.

The characters lacked any pizazz, depth, or uniqueness. Sure, they were delineated into different cliques by their clothes and interactions with each other, either positive or negative, but they largely all talked the same. I had been looking for the kind of quick-handed characterization of Lumberjanes with a touch of that wackiness. Perhaps that’s too much to expect from issue #1, but the characters left me so bleh I won’t be buying issue #2.

Furthermore, Sanford Greene’s art was fine but difficult to love. Close-ups had excessive etching, medium shots looked like Archie-style, and long shots looked like classic Annie.

However, there were glimpses of something better to come. I enjoyed the re-imagining of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as Victor Von Doom’s Institute for Gifted Youths. With it came a frame composition that easily called to mind posters for Hitler Youth. And here’s where the playfulness can be seen. The Hitler Youth here become Doom Youth, which becomes doomed youth. runaways1detention

I also enjoyed seeing the larger picture of Battleworld through the description boxes for each character. Since I’m only reading A-Force and Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps, I don’t have a full sense of the different regions of Battleworld, but this gave me a taste. Initially I was thrown off by the voice in those info boxes. It was distinctively young sounding with a touch of snark. Of course, the final reveal of the book gives a name and face to these student notes.

Also laudable was depiction of non-cisgendered characters. Sanna is extremely masculine, so much so that I originally took her for a him. Pixie and Jubilee previously dated but are now just friends.

But it doesn’t add up to a story I’m interested in seeing the development of. If you’re reading the series and want to convince me of its merits in the coming issues, I’d be glad to be proven wrong on this title.


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Comic Review: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #2

carolcorps2coverTo be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d continue buying Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps by issue until Wednesday when it hit the shelves. Then, when the opportunity to have it in my hands, right that day, presented itself, my previous practical notions of waiting for the trade paperback flew away…into the Void, you might say.

So here I am, having newly read issue #2 and only regretting my decision for one reason: if I were reading a trade paperback, I could immediately devour issue #3 and not agonize over the astonishing last page of this one.

My review of issue #1 was spoiler free, but I’ve come to find keeping subsequent issues spoiler-free leaves little to be said that wasn’t already covered. This is to say that there will be spoilers, but I’ll leave the final page for you to discover in your own reading. If you’d like to remain truly naive of the turns of screw in this issue, stop reading after the following summary blurb from Marvel. All you need to know from my end is that I highly recommend continuing to read this title. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson have penned an issue that does NOT disappoint.

Let’s get you spun up, Airman! After the explosive events last issue, Captain Marvel and her Carol Corps are determined to never again be left in the dark. Together they begin a secret and highly dangerous campaign… to go where no one has gone before.

What is it about alternate realities that engages us so readily? Why wouldn’t variations on a character we already know become tedious navel-gazing? The answer is simply: dramatic irony. We know where this is going. Or we think we do. And when our expectations are met but also overturned, we feel both smart (through our recognition) and surprised (due to the switcheroo).

In the last issue, Carol rescued a black man from a ship she and the Banshee Squadron were supposed to attack. They were told it was a ship of Ultrons (yipes!), but Carol got close enough in her flight to realize that the ship was populated with humans. Recognition in me makes me think, I bet this is Rhodey (although in my gut I’m kinda hoping it isn’t, since that really highlights the lack of black men in the Marvel universe). And of course it’s Rhodey. As the various heroes inhabiting the fragments of Battleworld look at their borders and wonder what’s beyond, they will be drawn to seek the answer, and in so doing they will meet each other. That’s the phase of the narrative we’re at.

The interplay between Carol and Rhodey is full of that dramatic irony tastiness. They don’t know each other, of course, but when Carol attempts to get answers on why he was there, she touches his hand. To her its a sign to him that she cares and is trustworthy. But to us, who know the previous narrative in which these two characters, or versions of these characters, had romance, that hand touch is full of romantic spark. Will they reconnect in that way in this reality? We can’t wait to find out!

Now that the Banshee Squad is set on figuring out what’s up in the sky, they are forever navigating who they can trust (besides each other) and how far. Rhodey needs a doctor, but calling in a medic would make the vulnerable. Carol goes to a medic she thinks she can trust, and Dr. Nayar does cover for her, at least temporarily, but the Banshees, especially Helen Cobb, want to act fast to mitigate the chance of their traitorous plans being discovered. Again, like in other versions of their story, Helen will openly question Carol’s choices, seeing herself as an equal, not a blind follower.

Captain-Marvel-and-the-Carol-Corps2

As the Banshees begin outfitting their planes for space flight, Carol visits the Baroness as a distraction. They play chess, and of course the game has metaphorical reverberations for the narrative at large. Baroness’s talk of the powerful queen (her, I assume), the symbolic power of the kind (Doom), and the ability to see the movements of the whole board make me question how much she knows about what Carol Corps is up to. Carol might be unbeatable in a fight, but the Baroness appears to be formidable in this game of secrets–and this is the Secret Wars, after all, so that might be to her advantage.

The final page brings all of these rising conflicts to a shocking head. One that, once again, swings the extra powerful punch through the help of dramatic irony.

 


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Comic Review: A-Force #2

Just a reminder–I’m not reading Secret Wars at large, so the greater context and ramifications that might be reverberating off of other comic series throughout the cross-over event are going to be entirely lost on me. However, when our toddler asked to go to the comic store on Wednesday of this week, I asked for A-Force #2 to be brought home.

aforce2runawaysIgnoring all else, this issue was worth the cover price for one panel depicting Nico’s girlfriends from her time in Runaways, especially Arsenic (may she rest in peace). I miss that young lady.

Okay, but moving away from my Runaways nostalgia, the issue opened up new questions about how this Battleworld runs, developed the relationships between the A-Force women, and gave us a better look at our sky-clad mystery lady.

Marvel’s marketing blurb:

With monsters appearing on the utopian island of Arcadia and threatening its inhabitants, She-Hulk and her team of Avengers set out to discover the source. But when they stumble upon a conspiracy that reaches far beyond Arcadia, She-Hulk may just find herself on the wrong side of the law!

aforce2coverWith the help of their Sub-Mariner pals, the team figures out what must have caused a prehistoric shark to attack Arcadia. However, the A-Force is still shaken by America Chavez’s imprisonment. Some, like long-locked Medusa, start openly questioning She-Hulk’s leadership. Meanwhile, Nico brings the sky-lady home to hide her from She-Hulk, afraid that she’ll be turned over to Doom or imprisoned like America was.

As with the first issue, this installment nicely weaves from action to character development. This is no small feat. In a comic like Iron Man or Spider-Man, or even Captain Marvel, the characters frequently interact with heavy sarcasm. That keeps the deep feels at bay. But A-Force’s characters are absolutely earnest. It takes a deft hand to move from girl-bonding character moments to out-and-out ass-kickery without making it feel campy, trite, or melodramatic. The title’s authors, Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson, totally pull it off in the writing.

Jorge Molina’s art is the other half of this success. His depictions of facial reactions build the fitting emotional tone. The sincerity stays true to the characters’ feelings and motivations without ever becoming over-the-top or ham-fisted.

As the twists of Battleworld revealed themselves to A-Force and they in turn attempted to piece together what this all meant, the narrative successfully got its hooks in me. aforce2page


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Star Wars Saturday: Marvel Star Wars #1 Director’s Cut Dismissed and Dismayed

star_wars_1_directors_cut_coverLook, I know it’s no new thing to be indignant in the face of outrageous commercialism. And while the initial idea for Star Wars might have been a noble undertaking to create a new mythology for a contemporary age, the purity of that was corrupted with George Lucas’ first licensing with Kenner. And on top of that, Lucasfilm and now Disney have been packaging and repackaging the films for decades. The only upside I can see to the endless commercialism of the Star Wars franchise is that sooner or later Disney will offer us the original cuts of the films on blu-ray, because we will buy it, and it will make them boatloads of money.

But, really, why was I surprised when I was checking the list of comics coming out this past week and saw Star Wars #1 Director’s Cut on this list? A director’s cut of a comic book? I think they’ve got their mediums crossed back at Marvel. Sure, popular comics will go into reprint in subsequent weeks following their original release to meet continued demand, but this was something more. And it’s priced at $1 more too. Was this really a thing now? Were they trying to make it a thing?

$5.99 rather than $4.99 gets you the full comic PLUS original script pages and early artwork designs. Okay. So, first of all, this isn’t a “director’s cut” which implies added or changed scenes to the narrative. Instead, this is a blu-ray with special features. I can only assume the editors at Marvel have heard of an analogy, so I’m not sure why I need to tell them this.

These are extras. Behind-the-scenes stuff. Now, let me first point out that plenty of comics give these extras away as part of the original printing. Issue #1 of Bitch Planet had test sketches for Penny and Kamau in the final pages. And many more comics print these special features in their trade paperbacks. Similar test sketches for the new costuming of Batgirl are in the back of the Batgirl Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside TPB. I can only imagine that some of these extras will be in the first Star Wars TPB.

So why am I surprised that Marvel/Disney is just milking their fandom for more rupees? I’m not. I am, however, dismayed even though I’ve been confronted with it in this particular fandom more than any other I’ve been party to.

Are the script pages by Jason Aaron insightful? Are the early sketches by my beloved John Cassaday illuminating? I don’t know. Marvel won’t be getting this particular $5.99 from me.

 


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Comic Review: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps #1

cmcc1coverDear reader,

I must warn you that Kelly Sue DeConnick is a slippery slope. First, I got Bitch Planet #1 shoved under my nose, and subsequently under my skin. Loving what DeConnick was doing in that, I downloaded the first three trades of her run writing Captain Marvel. And while my love for Carol Danvers isn’t quite the same as my love for Kamau and Penny, when I got wind that Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps was dropping this week, I waffled only a short while before deciding I needed it. And now, my dear readers, I’m ankle-deep in the Secret Wars–a position I want none of. If I’d taken the minute and a half to figure out that Carol Corps was part of the Secret Wars, I might have decided against going in. Marvel can keep its epic summer crossovers. Why? The estimated cost for keeping up with all of the Secret Wars titles in just the month of June is $205.49 according to The Hollywood Reporter. That’s just June.

Having said that, I’m pretty intrigued by what the first issue offers. First, I didn’t read the little blurb that sets the stage for the comic until I was about six pages in and figured I must have missed some important info. Sure, I’m used to the “previously on” info presented at the start of comic issues, but this being the first one, I wasn’t expecting there to be one, and it was a bit buried on the title page in a fairly unassuming print size. So anyway, I went in without a clue that Victor Von Doom was pretending to be a god and that our setting was a patchwork planet of fragments from the multiverse. Interesting. Weird. A bit of a brain-bender to imagine.

And here’s the problem. Already I’m wondering what the Fantastic Four are up to in this scenario. And Captain America. Curse you, Marvel!

So on this patch of Battleworld, as it is called, Carol Danvers leads a version of the Banshee Squad consisting of five women, including Helen Cobb. We start with them on drill maneuvers. They banter and are playful with each other. They’ve got balls and bravado. Their individual personalities are presented through their strategy and dialogue in the drill. There is an immediate understanding of how they fit together as a team. cmcc1

Then an alarm sounds. They’ve got incoming. What shows up changes Carol’s understanding of the make-up of the universe. Everything she thought was true is now in question. And she’s not one to shirk the truth.

Obviously, I don’t want to spoil anything. The reveals in this book are truly intriguing.

What else endears this issue to me? Women. Many women. Strong, independent, empowered women. This comic blows past the low bar of the Bechdel test as it rockets into space. Kudos to Kelly Sue and Kelly Thompson for showing how it’s done. Plus, David Lopez’s art, which has a 1940’s poster style to it. A strong, minimal line that gives Carol and her Corps a classy, timeless quality.

And my only complaint is the constant pull to expand my comic buying to take in more of the Secret Wars narrative.


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Star Wars Saturday: Review of Marvel ‘Star Wars’ #6

sw6coverI was not expecting a new issue so soon after #5 was released, but I’m glad. If you remember, I felt #5 was a touch “slight.” It was a transition issue, to be sure, so it was probably wise to get the next one into hands more quickly.

CONCLUSION OF SKYWALKER STRIKES! Luke vs. Boba Fett! Han Solo in hot water! This is the comic book you’re looking for!

Warning, this will be a spoiler-laden review. Cuz things got a little crazy. And this crazy is now canon, so says Disney. So say we all.

First, Luke and Boba Fett meet, and fight, and Luke levels up. Jason Aaron is deftly transitioning Luke from the noob of A New Hope to the much more adept Force-wielder he becomes by The Empire Strikes Back. The fight with Fett starts with a flash bomb to blind Luke. This taps that same trust of feelings Luke had to develop in the sparring with the probe on the Falcon in A New Hope or the bombing of the exhaust shaft that makes the Death Star go boom. By being blind and more or less outgunned by Fett, Luke gets into a space where new powers open up to him. He wins the fight by knocking Fett out by telekinetically dropping the box Obi-Wan had left for him on Fett’s head. The Force push isn’t something we’ll see him do until Empire.

luke boba fight

When Fett reports back to Darth Vader, he has to admit he lost the boy, but he does know his name: Skywalker. Vader’s response is wordless. His fists clench. He makes no more acknowledgement of Fett’s presence. Fett leaves, and Vader repeats the name: Skywalker. He cracks the plating of the window in his anger. Obi-Wan hid a son from him. If it wasn’t bad enough that he took appendages, he also took a son. Vader is not happy, and he wishes Kenobi were still alive so he could kill him again.

Of course, the real talking piece of this issue is the reveal of issue #4’s unknown bounty hunter looking for Han on Tatooine. Han has emergency landed Leia on a secret paradise planet perfect for the on-the-run seduction. There’s even a hidden stache of Corellian wine, which Leia throws back in his face upon realizing he’s taken this opportunity to put the moves on her, you know, when there’s important rebelling to be done. Then a ship that looks like a variation on the Falcon comes out of orbit and heads straight for them. Han recognizes the ship and tells Leia to run. The woman who disembarks is one Sana…Solo. She’s Han’s wife.

Star_Wars_6_Sana

Hrrm. So that just happened.

On the one hand, it changes nothing. Han’s a scoundrel. Having a wife he’s been dodging fits the type. And after six issues of seeing how well Jason Aaron is handling these characters, how true he’s being to them, I’m leaning towards trusting him and seeing where he goes with all of this. There are plenty of ways this story could unfold that wouldn’t involve Han being a total jerkwad. But even if he’s a partial jerkwad, well, we kinda already knew that.

But on the other hand, unless the marriage was of some sort of convenience or coercion, the romantic in me is disappointed to see Han possibly once having been in love with another woman. Sure, I’m completely down with flings aplenty. But I like the idea that it took Leia to make him want to commit–in this case to a cause more than to a settled life.

Plus side, she’s a female character of color. Minus side, she’s relegated to wife.

Although it might be a bit contrived, I’d love to see her be related to Lando. A sister maybe? When we first saw her as a bounty hunter, she wore a helmet that was reminiscent of Lando’s disguise in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. Plus then she could be the “what you pulled” Lando nearly punches Han for, not the Falcon.

But truly, the biggest upset has nothing to do with Sana–it’s in the announcement that John Cassaday will no longer be doing the illustrations. I’m hooked enough on Aaron’s story to stick with it another few issues to see if the new artist can evoke the films and characters like Cassaday did.