Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Alex Ross

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.

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 4

I don’t have nearly enough books in the category that this post covers: Books about the art and lives of specific artists. I think there are a lot more out there, but for some reason I don’t have as many of them as I thought I might.

I’ll start with The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino, which I bought at a convention directly from the publisher and it was an autographed copy. I only met Carmine once, and it was at a convention and I simply said how much I had enjoyed his art on the old Marvel Star Wars series. That series was the one that got me reading comics and I had, as a kid, mixed feelings about the art. First, the comic was a lot better as soon as Infantino came aboard with writer Archie Goodwin. The stories were cool, fun to read, easy on the eyes and had some very clear storytelling. On the downside, none of the characters in the comic looked like the actors from the movie. That part bugged me enough — especially after seeing the bang-up job Mike Vosberg did on Star Wars Annual #1 — to write a letter to Marvel about it. All of which digresses from this book, which is an amiable recounting of Carmine’s career as he remembers it. That’s both a good and bad approach — there’s lots of good little anecdotes and plenty of cool artwork throughout the book, but there’s not much criticism. That leaves a few areas of comics history — especially during Infantino’s tenure as top editor at DC Comics during the late 1960s and early 1970s — no closer to any kind of definitive history than we were before. Still, fans of Infantino’s artwork should get a real kick out of this volume.

Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier is a very solid and enjoyable read that attempts to cover the life and work of Jack Kirby in a single volume. Given the sheer amount of writing that Kirby’s generated over the years, it’s obviously not going to be possible for any such book to cover every single thing Kirby did in the detail his fans would like. (For that, I always understood Evanier also was working on a much more detailed biography of Kirby that, I assume, will be published at some point in the future.) But this is a very solid account of Kirby, packed full of his amazing artwork and photos and well worth the time of die-hard and casual fans alike.

If you can’t get enough Kirby, then there is always The Collected Jack Kirby Collector. I have four volumes of this series, and expect a few more have come out I don’t own. These are terrific for getting into not just the specifics of Kirby’s career, but also his impact on the field and fans. The articles range from scholarly examinations of Kirby’s work to vintage interviews the artist gave over the years to recollections from people who either worked with Kirby or were just huge fans of his. Each volume also is generously illustrated with Kirby art, often photocopies of his original pencils. Reading this much about a single artist can be a bit overwhelming, so I read through these somewhat slowly, taking my time between stints to avoid Kirby burnout.



Mythology: The DC Comics art of Alex Ross is a beautiful art book packed full of Ross’ amazing paintings. No one really captures a sense of how classic superheroes would look in the real world quite the same way Ross does, with his extensive use of models, photo reference and an amazing talent for producing finished art that looks photographic. I think in a lot of ways, Ross’ art is better suited to being displayed in this kind of glossy format than in actual comic book stories, where painted art can slow down the reading process because it demands to be looked at. I bought my edition at a signing Ross did to promote its release a number of years ago at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. Putting on my Variety hat, I asked him what his favorite comic-book movie was. His answer: RoboCop.

Tim Sale: Black and White is a lovely art book produced by Richard Starkings’ Active Images. Printed in stark black and white on glossy paper, this book really shows off Sale’s atmospheric art to great advantage. The dark, inky pages are easy to get lost in, and there’s a career retrospective interview in there to boot. I think this particular book was released around the time Sale’s art was making a big impact on the TV series Heroes, back in its first season when it was quite the hot property.

Last on this list (for now) is Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens. This was a gift I received from a fellow comics fan on my 40th birthday and really loved digging in to. I had long known Stevens’ work from various pin-ups and, of course, The Rocketeer. But this books goes a lot deeper and shows some of his contributions to many other projects, including such great films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and the long-form music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It is a satisfying portrait of the artist, written mostly as autobiography but, unfortunately, finished by other hands after Stevens died from cancer a few years back.

One other volume that springs to mind is another TwoMorrows project, the Modern Masters series. I picked up the John Byrne volume at least in part because of some of the sketches from Byrne’s days at Charlton and later on X-Men. I also was pleasantly surprised to read Byrne talking about his days as a kid in Edmonton, Alberta, which is my hometown, and recognizing a couple of the places he described. In particular, I remember the newsstand at the downtown Eaton’s department story, which was right inside the front door and well-stocked with magazines, newspapers and paperbacks, though not too many comics by the time my teen-age collecting years kicked in. I also enjoyed Byrne’s brief recollection of Mike’s, a famous newsstand on Jasper Avenue that always had several spinner racks stuffed full of comics. I once made my father trudge over there on his way home from work to pick me up a copy of Star Wars #1 that I had seen there the day before but not had the 35 cents to pay for at the time. Here’s a story on Mike’s, which went out of business just a few months before my family moved to the States, complete with a photo of its distinctive neon sign.

I think I have one more post for this series, this one on comic book movies, including my own tome, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen.

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