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Tag: Star Wars

Who remembers that Mandalorian boyo, Fenn Shysa?

I bought this copy of Star Wars #68 in 1985 on a bright sunny day at a comic shop whose name I forget but was located on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, Alta.

With interest in Star Wars at one of its peaks thanks to the release of Rise of Skywalker and the success of the Disney Plus series The Mandalorian, it was only a matter of time before a humble blogger like myself dug up the long-forgotten tale of Fenn Shysa.

Who’s Fenn Shysa, you ask? Well, Mr. Shysa is one of 212 warriors whose mission of protecting the planet Mandalore got sidetracked when the Emperor commandeered those warriors to fight on his side in the Clone Wars. Only three survived, with the most senior officer, named Boba Fett, disenchanted with fighting for a cause, went into the bounty hunting business. That left the other two, Fenn Shysa and Tobbi Dala, heading back to Mandalore and fighting the slavers who had infested it.

They eventually ran into Princess Leia in Marvel Comics’ Star Wars #68-69 (Feb.-March 1983), who was searching for clues to whereabouts of Fett and Han Solo. The roguish Shysa was not an unappealing man, with his Irish brogue and handsome features, and he helped Leia find a clue to Solo’s location while defeating the slavers and setting back the Empire on Mandalore. It was not without its costs, however, as Tobbi Dala sacrificed himself for the cause.

Shysa later returned in the comic series post-Return of the Jedi as a member of the Alliance of Free Planets and Han Solo’s semi-serious romantic rival for Leia’s affections.

These comics are a bit pricey when it comes to originals, but interesting not just for the story, by comics veteran David Michelenie, but the art by Gene Day and Tom Palmer. Day’s breakdowns on 68 and pencils on 69 in particular were excellent and brought some real visual energy to the story.

Obviously, Shysa’s backstory for the origin of Boba Fett now clearly falls into the non-canonical Legends category, but he remains one of those memorable characters from that old Marvel run who wouldn’t be out of place getting a revamped or revival of some kind.

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Vader vs. Obi-Wan – Reimagined

This is an interesting little bit of filmmaking.

Clearly they went to great pains to recreate Vader and the Death Star, as well as putting Alec Guinness' likeness on a double of Obi-Wan. It's a lot of effort.

It lacks restraint, however. It's too over the top. It would never look right in the movie, as the few bits from the movie that are kept in this edit show. It's just waaayyyy too much.

Still, it's interesting to see old settings and actors recreated so convincingly.

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Marvel Recaptures ‘Star Wars’ License; Can It Recapture the Magic?

Star Wars #107 (Sept. 1986), the final issue of Marvel’s original run of Star Wars comics.
I really want Marvel to get Jo Duffy and Cindy Martin back and restart with Star Wars #108. 

After more than 20 years of publishing Star Wars comics, Dark Horse will give up the reins as Disney hands the license for the mega-franchise back to Marvel, the company that had it in the first place starting in 2015.

This move was absolutely no surprise to anyone after Marvel parent company Disney acquired Lucasfilm and the entire Star Wars property last year. But it’s a big change for fans of Star Wars comics given the job Dark Horse has done for many years on the property.

I grew up with the original Marvel series and collecting it was my gateway into the entire comics medium. Those comics have many quirks that came from being produced on a monthly basis in and around the original trilogy release. That meant Marvel had odd obstacles to the series, like being unable to resolve the major plot points of the movies and forcing them to avoid direct confrontations with Darth Vader or have the rebels race off to rescue Han Solo.

But there was some excellent work done in there that had real energy and remain good comics. I particularly liked the long run of Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino, which gave us the “Waterworld,” “Wheel” and “Valence the Hunter” storylines; the excellent run by David Michelinie and Walt Simonson that introduced Shira Brie and turned Luke into a traitor; and the final run by Jo Duffy and the delightful art of Cynthia Martin that was sadly cut short when Lucasfilm basically mothballed all Star Wars licenses in the mid-1980s. This was good stuff and I’d like to think Marvel could once again do a good job with Star Wars.

But Dark Horse and its approach of many miniseries and filling in the millennia-long history of the Galaxy Far, Far Away seems more in synch with what modern fans want from Star Wars comics. When Dark Horse began its Star Wars comics — picking up the Dark Empire miniseries that had originally been in the works at Marvel’s Epic line — it really was a huge part of an entire Star Wars renaissance that, along with the Timothy Zahn novels, reminded people how much fun this stuff was. It also took the entire canon more seriously and Dark Horse clearly put a lot of thought into its Star Wars comics and a lot of effort into the execution. There long ago were too many Dark Horse Star Wars comics for me to want to keep up with, but every year or so there would be something cool to pull lapsed fans back in. I’m thinking in particular of the very cool adaptations of the Zahn novels and, more recently, the Brian Wood series and the current miniseries adapting George Lucas’ rough draft screenplay into comics form.

I’ll be sorry to see the end of the Wood series in particular, but at the same time Marvel might be able to bring some raw energy and more focus to Star Wars comic-dom. Plus, I’d love to see a Marvel Omnibus edition of the old series. I’d have to dig deep and splurge for that one.

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Star Wars #1-3 tries hard to recreate late-1970s excitement

This is a good Star Wars comic book series, but not a great one.

Star Wars #1

The good parts of Star Wars #1-3 (Dark Horse, $2.99 each) are the intangibles: This is a comic set right after the very first movie (Episode IV, not Episode I) and therefore carries none of the weighty baggage the franchise began to carry with the complications of The Empire Strikes Back. It evokes the most simple pleasures of the series, back when Star Wars was just a super-cool, exciting movie and not a mythology or a franchise. For folks like me, who were kids in the summer of 1977 completely enthralled by the movie, that’s pretty powerful stuff. The covers by Alex Ross, the simple cover logo all evoke that simpler time and pure childhood love of Star Wars.

As for the insides, it’s pretty good, but I have some quibbles. Brian Wood overall has done a good job extrapolating events from Episode IV, and his focus on Princess Leia is very welcome indeed. But there are some areas where it falls short of the excitement a Star Wars title like this promises. A lot of it comes in the characterizations of the main characters: Luke, Leia and and Darth Vader. I’ll start with Vader, who Wood writes as embarrassed by the defeat at Yavin. Palpatine punishes Vader in his own special Sith way, handing control of Vader’s command vessel to another officer. These issues show a certain amount of political jockeying at the higher levels of the Empire, and that Vader is not very adept at it. (At least not yet — we’re only three issues in). Episode IV and V showed Vader as being so good at being bad that it’s scary. And seeing him mope about the Emperor taking away his keys to the family car is out of line with that.

Star Wars #2

Looking at Luke, Wood has him having grown up rather quickly. Episode IV showed him to be a promisingly gifted pilot albeit still naive, cocky and hotheaded about a lot of things. Here, he’s flirting with another female pilot and declared one of the top pilots in the Rebel Alliance. That may be true, but I don’t think anyone goes from day-dreaming teenager to some one so self-assured so quickly. That maturation is at the heart of Luke’s arc as a character throughout the trilogy.

And, lastly, Leia. It’s always nice to see the girls front and center in Star Wars, because there’s so few of them in the movies and, I think, so much demand from the legions of female Star Wars fans for more. I liked Wood showing Leia mourning the loss of Alderaan, but take issue with portraying her as a kick-ass pilot and ruthless soldier capable of killing an Imperial pilot with a point-blank laser blast as she does in the first issue. I always thought Leia’s strengths were more in her leadership abilities, her intelligence and a compassion that compelled her to act. In the original trilogy, we never see Leia fly anything except the speeder bike in Return of the Jedi. She completely sat out the battle of Yavin itself, and it makes no sense to ground so talented a pilot in such a last-ditch effort to save the base.

Star Wars #3

Those issues aside, the book is attractive, slick and entertaining to read. The art is by Carlos D’Anda, who delivers a clean and clear look for the series with a modern comics art style. It’s a bit cartoony in some cases for my taste, and I wish Han Solo looked his age here, but as someone who really digs the radical approach Carmine Infantino brought to Star Wars comics in the late 1970s, I can handle it and maybe it’ll grow on me. The Alex Ross covers are a huge selling point, though I can’t help but think the first three were a bit busy with their collage style — the more I look at them the more I have to think about what I’m looking at and the more I wonder what’s going on.

With Lucasfilm now part of the Disney machinery and Dark Horse’s Star Wars license widely expected to be living on borrowed time, I hope Wood and D’Anda have enough time with this series to really ramp up the excitement and deliver some Star Wars comics that add a chapter worthy of the name.

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Comic of the Day: Howard Chaykin’s Marvel Premiere #32 (1976)

Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976)

I’ll be heading down to the comics shop today to pick up Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss II #1, which I’m sure will be worth the effort. I’ve been on a bit of a Chaykin kick lately, so today I’ll offer a quick look at an oldie I picked up on a recent trip: Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976), featuring Monark Starstalker!

This is an early effort by Chaykin as both writer and artist, and it unfortunately shows. The good stuff is the artwork, which is sleek and well-designed. It’s pretty unusual stuff for Marvel at the time, though the style seen here would become more familiar with both Chaykin’s later work and Frank Miller’s style on his original Daredevil run. The individual panels and pages are well-designed and look decidedly un-comic-book-y for the era. Chakyin goes heavy on the blacks and it looks most like Chaykin’s work on Star Wars #1. (I believe Roy Thomas stated in an issue of Alter-Ego that I don’t have handy to confirm that it was this issue that prompted the Lucasfilm folks to specifically request Chaykin draw the Star Wars comic.)

While this looks great, it’s a complete mess to read. The story nominally involves a guy named Monark Starstalker, who’s a kind of bounty hunter pursuing a target on a remote planet. It’s a simple premise, but it gets bogged down in clunky exposition intended to inject a sense of reality into this world. The character is a prototypical Chaykin hero: hard-boiled, tough and irresistible to the ladies.

This book is also awfully murky looking — the heavy inks just didn’t translate well into the printing processes used for comics at the time. It’d be nice to see this done on better paper that could present the images more sharply and vividly.

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Last issues: Star Trek #61 and Marvel Team-Up #150

For some reason, I’ve always found final issues of comic book series to be of particular interest, especially ones from the pre-Internet, pre-fan press days. I’m always curious to see if there was any kind of attempt to wrap up the series creatively, or whether there was any kind of notice or explanation to readers that the book was going away.

Here is a couple of examples:

Star Trek #61 (Gold Key)

Star Trek #61 (March 1979) was the final issue of the original Trek comics series, published from 1967-1979 by Gold Key. I’ve long been a huge Trek fan and have all but eight issues from this series. (I’m missing 9-11, 14-16 and 58-59, in case anyone is interested in selling to me.) The Gold Key series was a real mixed bag. Some issues featured stories that deviated so radically from the Star Trek style that they are Trek in name only. Others, especially the later issues, were much better. They always featured nice art and, except for a couple issues like this particular one, very cool painted or photo covers. Also, there were no issue numbers on the cover, at least until this issue.

Marvel had long wanted the rights to do Star Trek comics, but was unable to get them away from Gold Key. That changed when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came along in late 1979. Paramount was looking to emulate the success of Star Wars with the picture, and Marvel was by this point looking like a pretty hot partner for this kind of licensing given the huge success of its Star Wars comic. So the plug was pulled on the Gold Key series, with this being the last one.

The story by George Kashdan is pretty entertaining. The Enterprise and the Klingons are both looking to secure a source of dilithium from an alien planet. The mysterious leader of the planet strikes a deal first with the Klingons. Kirk’s not pleased by this, and he’s even less pleased when Spock finds out this dilithium is synthetic and therefore highly unstable. The mysterious leader is revealed to be Harry Mudd, whose scam now threatens to destroy the Klingons’ vessel and start a war between the and the Federation — unless Kirk can stop it. The art by Al McWilliams is nice and polished — it’s clear and attractive and tells the story simply in that Gold Key style. It’s a really fun Trek comic.

And there’s absolutely no indication that it’s the last issue of the title. There’s no letters page, no blurb on the cover, no nothing. I’ve read online that a script exists for issue 62, so the end obviously came quickly for Gold Key’s version of Star Trek.

Marvel Team-Up #150 (Marvel)

Going in the completely opposite direction is Marvel Team-Up #150 (Feb. 1985), which alters the logo to read “The Last Marvel Team-Up,” and features a dejected Spidey in the corner box. The cover itself is a great Barry Windsor-Smith portrait of Spidey and the X-Men as they follow the cover blurbs’ advice and observe “A moment’s silence … before the action begins — .”

The story itself isn’t exactly an obvious finale. Written by Louise Simonson, the story sees Juggernaut go after the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak so he can give it (and Juggernaut powers) to his pal Black Tom Cassidy on his birthday. Black Tom is less than thrilled, and chaos ensues as both Spidey and the X-Men get involved in stopping the destruction. It’s a solid, mid-1980s Marvel comic, which means it has an actual story, competent and clear art from Greg LaRocque and Mike Esposito, and a lot of action. (All things Marvel should think about putting in its current releases.)

There is a blurb on the letters page from editor Danny Fingeroth announcing that MTU is indeed ending, but will be replaced by a new series called The Web of Spider-Man in six weeks. Of course, the “The” was dropped, and Web had a long life of its own.

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Reviews: Hulk #1, DD #5, Cold War #1, Last of the Greats #1, Aquaman #2, Justice League #3

The Incredible Hulk #1 was better than I expected. Not having read the book in years, I missed out on and don’t understand most of the Red Hulk stuff or what mental state Bruce Banner and the Hulk are in these days. I therefore expected to be confused, but wasn’t, though I’m sure it helped that I recognized the Mole Man’s underground minions. Writer Jason Aaron did a good of job of putting it all together and making sure there was some actual action in a first issue. The art by Marc Silvestri et. al was quite good — definitely Silvestri’s distinctive style but amped up with some nice detail that came through quite well in the inks and was well-complemented by Sunny Gho’s colors. That said, I”m not interested enough in the Hulk to make this a regular read at $3.99 a pop.

Daredevil #5 is another terrific issue from Mark Waid and Marcos Martin. This reads very, very smoothly and is clear enough that I think the average reader could pick it up and understand pretty much the whole thing. It looks incredible, too. Martin and colorist Javier Rodriguez deserve very high marks for making such a great-looking book.
Cold War #1 is a new, period espionage thriller from John Byrne that I was mildly disappointed with because I thought Byrne had done such a great job on the revived Next Men series. This isn’t quite as good as that, as it’s just a bit too restrained and dated. The dated part is on purpose, as though this is a series Byrne has wanted to do for decades, i.e., a time when this kind of thing would have been much more relevant. It’s still a nice modern Byrne comic, though, with solid art and decent storytelling. It just doesn’t have the kind of zip that a book like this should have.
The Last of the Greats #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Brent Peebles is for me a tough one. I like the concept, which is that seven alien beings came to Earth and used their powers to solve many of mankind’s problems in return for demanding control and fealty from the people of Earth. People then turned on them, and all but one were killed. The issue begins with six humans coming to the last of these aliens, dubbed the “Greats,” and asking for his help with a fairly big problem. But I think the execution is talky and exposition heavy, and think this could have been much more compelling by show more than telling.
On to the DC relaunch books, Aquaman #2 was about the same as the first issue — a story that’s slick and commercial if not particularly deep — but it was the cover that struck me the most. My first thought was it was a recolored version of the cover to Star Wars #64, my least-favorite issue from the original Marvel series. It’s close enough to be an homage — or a swipe if you’re so inclined — but it’s far too distracting for me and I don’t know I will remember much else about this particular issue.
Justice League has been getting better with each issue and #3 is the best yet. Finally, we get to meet Wonder Woman, and she both charms and kicks ass. The action kicks into high gear with a huge invasion from Darkseid’s minions, while writer Geoff Johns delivers a nice chunk of the ongoing Cyborg origin subplot. It’s interesting to note the ways in which Jim Lee’s art has evolved as well as the ways its stayed the same. The finale’s introduction of Aquaman gives him a hairstyle, facial hair and costume straight out of 1996. Some other details, like the cops on the first page also look a bit dated. But the way Lee draws his heroic figures — both men and women — has improved tremendously from his days on The Uncanny X-Men, with anatomy and posing that’s overall more realistic and more solid looking. Wonder Woman here is a far cry from the somewhat plastic looking sexy Psylocke from way back in the day. Anyway, issue #4 looks like it’s going to be a barn-burner.
That’s only a fraction of the stack I’m looking to get through, so I may just stay up late and read funny books until my eyes pop out of my head to get a look at more New 52, the Fear Itself epilogues and more X-Men: Regenesis.
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Al Williamson, 1931-2010

Word has been spreading  today that one of the all-time great comics artists, Al Williamson, has died at the age of 79.

I never met him, so I’ll let others fill in the details of his life and career, but I love his art and he remains one of my favorite artists of all time.
Like most fans of my generation, I first saw his work on Marvel’s adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and was completely and totally blown away. I loved Marvel’s Star Wars series, which was the first series I really collected as both a young reader and later as a collector. And even though I loved the series when it was drawn with incredible energy and dynamism by Carmine Infantino, I always wished deep down that there was an artist out there who could also make the comic look more like the movie.
And that artist was Al Williamson, who was working with co-penciler Carlos Garzon and writer Archie Goodwin on adapting Empire. It was gorgeous stuff, conveying the romance, the humor and the adventure while still capturing the special appeal and look of an actor like Harrison Ford. I loved it and was more than a bit disappointed when Williamson didn’t stick around as artist after Empire.
But he wasn’t gone completely. I didn’t have access at the time to the Star Wars comic strips that Williamson was doing with Goodwin because my newspaper didn’t carry it. But I definitely looked forward to Williamson’s return with Star Wars #50, which came out about a year after the Empire movie and was another landmark for the series.
I soon drifted away from comics and came back about four years later, thrilled to find one of the first issues of Star Wars I picked up when I started reading comics again was a “lost” Goodwin-Williamson job in issue #98. Jumping back in, I found that he, Garzon and Goodwin also had adapted Return of the Jedi in a four-issue series, as well as another classic Harrison Ford role in Blade Runner.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Williamson was a prominent inker at Marvel in particular, giving a lot of my favorite comics from Wolverine to Daredevil a distinctive, professional polish.
His Star Wars work was rediscovered along with the entire Star Wars phenomenon in the early 1990s. Dark Horse republished not just his Empire and Jedi work, but also turned the newspaper strips into color comics for which Williamson contributed the occasional new page and covers.
I also finally got a chance to see Williamson draw one of his favorite characters when Marvel published in 1995 a two-issue Flash Gordon series drawn by Williamson and written by Mark Schultz.
The 1990s also finally gave me a chance to read some of the work Williamson had done early in his career thanks to Gemstone Publishing’s reprinting of the EC Comics line in a new line of color comics and annuals. There I got to see at last the stuff Williamson had done early on, and it was as classically beautiful as I could have hoped. I particularly liked his adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury short story “The Sound of Thunder,” in Weird Science-Fantasy.
I never got to meet or speak with Williamson, so I have no idea beyond others’ recollections what he was like as a person. There’s still lots of Williamson art to enjoy, with IDW adding this summer Secret Agent Corrigan to its Library of American Comics series of reprints.
Looking through samples of his work today, I can’t help but be struck by the detail and care that he obviously put into creating both fantastic worlds and also believable characters. I wish more of today’s comics artists could capture even a fraction of Williamson’s ability to make his characters look like they’re real flesh-and-blood humans, or convey a character’s attitude so clearly with a natural pose.
I’m sorry to hear he’s gone. But I know that even if I should someday stop reading comics completely, I will always never forget the beauty of his artwork and the impact it had on me as a both a young comics reader and as an adult admirer of art.
I’ll finish with a small sampling of Al Williamson images I pulled from my collection and scanned today. If you’ve never seen it, I envy you and encourage you to seek out his work. It’s worth it.
 Splash page for “Upheaval” from Weird Science-Fantasy #24 (EC Comics, 1954), as reprinted in Weird Science-Fantasy #2, (Gemstone Publishing, Feb. 1993)

 Splash page to Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder,” from Weird Science-Fantasy #25 (EC Comics, Sept. 1954), reprinted in Weird Science-Fantasy #3 (Gemstone Publishing, May 1993)

Splash page for “Food for Thought,” from Incredible Science Fiction #32 (EC Comics, Dec. 1955) reprinted in Incredible Science-Fiction #10 (Gemstone Publishing, Feb. 1995) 

A 1970 strip from Secret Agent Corrigan taken from Library of American Comics #1, IDW’s Free Comic Book Day release in 2010.

 Interior Empire page showing a bit more of this scene than the final movie did, also from Marvel Super Special #16 (Marvel, 1980).

Interior page from Star Wars #50 (Marvel, Aug. 1981).

Page from the adaptation of Blade Runner appearing in Marvel Super Special #22 (Marvel, Sept. 1982).

 Key scene from Return of the Jedi, as seen in Marvel Super Special #27 (Marvel, 1983).

Splash page from Classic Star Wars: The Vandelhelm Mission (Dark Horse, March 1995). This one-shot featured a re-colored reprint of Star Wars #98 (Marvel, Aug. 1985).

 Page from Flash Gordon #2 (Marvel, July 1995).
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