Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Last Jedi!

The Last Jedi! is one of the very best Star Wars comics, with memorable characters and an exciting, intricate plot. The plot succeeds where The Third Law failed by fitting seamlessly into the Star Wars setting, even enhancing it in a way that very few other comic stories could.

It begins simply enough, with Luke, Princess Leia, C3PO and R2D2 on a mission to rescue "Prince Denid of Velmor" who has crashed his spaceship on a planet, and they hope they can make friends with him.

They meet him and Princess Leia is immediately smitten with him, as shown quickly in two small panels and a line of dialogue. Princess Leia has a happy face as she says:
...We've come a long way to find you -- and it was worth the trip!
To which Luke adds:

However, the really interesting character they meet is Prince Denid's friend Jedidiah.

Jedidiah is dressed like a Jedi and has a stick instead of a laser blade, so Luke at first thinks he is "a JEDI KNIGHT?!" but then Denid explains Jedidiah's - or "Jedi" for short - tragic backstory where he turned down the chance to become a Jedi so he could save Denid, but "his injuries robbed him of his reason" and he began acting like he thought a Jedi should act.

Jedidiah has a unique look, and his madness is effectively conveyed by the wobbly speech bubbles and uneven text. It is easy to feel sorry for Jedidiah, but Luke takes against him and a caption reveals his thoughts and feelings on the matter.
The thing is a walking parody of Luke Skywalker's highest, most revered goal... and it makes his blood boil!

Later on, he says to C3PO:
Keep this crazy old guy away from me, will you, Threepio? I'm gonna have enough trouble without baby-sitting him!

Considering that Luke is one of the main characters and the hero of Star Wars, it is a strange and bold move that we the readers are not supposed to side with him when he thinks and says these things. He is being presented as definitely being in the wrong here.

They fly to the planet Velmor, and are just in time to interrupt the coronation of Denid's usurping brother Prince Anod.

Luke and Princess Leia are in disguise, which for her means a "gold" wig and for him a wig, a hat, an eyepatch and a moustache - Luke taking no chances that somebody from the Empire might recognise him.

Luke takes the fake name "The Bounty Hunter Korl Marcus" while Princess Leia pretends to be Denid's betrothed Loren. The real Loren is dead and does not appear in the story, but this is an excuse for Denid to spend time with Princess Leia.

The baddys of the story are introduced as Regent Zelor and his friend from the Empire, Captain Traal. So that Jedidiah does not have a monopoly on unusual speech balloons, Captain Traal's bubble drips with icicles when she says "Delighted" upon being introduced to Denid.

After Denid is confirmed to be the prince he says he is, Captain Traal wastes no time in trying to seduce Luke to her side.
I want you...
... to kill Prince Denid and his little queen at the ceremonial games tomorrow!

They kiff and Luke pretends to go along with it. Of course as soon as he leaves it is revealed that the baddys plot to kill him too, and then Zelor goes off to plot against Traal and Anod as well. Luke goes to tell Princess Leia about the baddy's sceheme - the part he knows about at least - but he finds she is with Denid and they are also having kiffs!
I love you Leia! Marry me, and rule with me, as my queen!
Denid, I...
Hush, my love... ...Don't say another word!

Luke only gets to speak to Leia the next day, and he is sarcastic and abrupt to her even when warning about a plot to kill her.
But Luke, if you knew about this last night, why didn't you--
Because you were too busy playing spin-the-bottle with Denid, that's why! May I be the first to congratulate you?

Meanwhile, in a sub-plot that seems to have diverged completely from the main plotline, C3PO is still looking after poor Jedidiah, but cannot find a droid to repair his brain.

The storylines begin to converge as it heads for the conclusion, when Luke double-crosses Captain Traal and then they are both double-crossed by Zelor and Anod. Luke gives himself away when he calls Princess Leia "Leia" (she's still in disguise, after all) and uses his "light-saber" (as Jedidiah called the Jedi laser blade earlier on, and Captain Traal calls it now when she recognises it).

Anod shoots Princess Leia and Denid, and Luke runs away as Traal, Anod and Zelor betray and shoot at each other, and Anod is the first to go

Luke is hunted by the other two, and thinks to himself that he is in trouble.
Both Traal and Zelor know the terrain--
"I don't.
"They both have blasters--
"I don't."
But I have something going for me they don't...
... The best ally in the universe...
"... The Force!"

A great picture representing Luke reaching out with the Force. The moment he does so Jedidiah, miles away with C3PO and R2D2, looks up and reacts, and his speech becomes lucid and normal and he leaps into action:

What? The young one -- he is in danger! I must help him!

Luke uses a clever trick to defeat Zelor, but then he is about to be shot by Captain Traal. Jedidiah races up and saves him...

... but Jedidiah is shot instead.
There is a burst from Traal's blaster, then, in a twinkling, it is over...
... and silence reigns...

Zelor and Traal have one more go each at Luke, but he defeats them both. Princess Leia and Denid wake up and meet Luke, who is grieving over the body of Jedidiah, his opinion completely turned around. Luke makes a speech:
... Somehow, this valiant old man found the strength and the wits to save my life... but lost his...
... He did that for me... though I scorned him and derided him in my heart! He lost his life, and I lost him!

After that it is all over bar the wrapping up of the Princess Leia/Prince Denid romance sub-plot, which ends as it inevitably must with Princess Leia turning Denid down to go on being a main character while Denid will not be in it again. Ever the diplomat, Princess Leia says
I'm honored, Denid... more than I can say... but my place is with the rebellion!

In the final panels Luke sends Jedidiah's body into space in a "rocket-powered coffin" as he salutes him as "the last Jedi".

What truly sets The Last Jedi! head and shoulders above other Star Wars stories is the emotional impact of Jedidiah's sacrifice. Although he has only a pawful of lines of dialogue, his distinctive appearance and unique form of speech make him stand out immediately, and his tragic backstory is conveyed quickly and simply for an instant effect.

And not just on the reader - by having the opposite effect on Luke Skywalker, the hero, than on the reader, he becomes even more sympathetic. Cleverly, Luke returns to being the hero again at the moment he recognises Jedidiah's true worth and seeks to atone for wronging him.

This story also achieves the rare accomplishment of having Jedidiah both being  a Jedi and not being a Jedi. Jedi by name and nature, but not by training or title. The Star Wars setting had already set in stone that there could be no 'real' Jedi Knights beyond the characters we had already met, but Jedidiah was a clever way of working around that restriction. It is a trick that could really only ever work once, but it certainly works here.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Third Law

The Third Law is a clever and tightly-written story full of political intrigue, scheming, plotting and counter-plotting, and really the only thing wrong with it is that it does not feel like a Star Wars story at all.

Princess Leia, C3PO and R2D2 are on a mission for the Rebel Alliance to a planet that is nothing but a giant space bank. They want to get money to meet Paul Darrow buy more space ships, but Darth Vader is there too.

The exposition of the space bank's three laws is delivered by way of a huge sign with them written on it.

While a space bank is not intrinsically something that does not belong in Star Wars, the idea that Darth Vader is as subject to its laws as the rebels and so it acts as neutral territory where they cannot immediately fight definitely is something that does not fit in with anything established elsewhere in Star Wars.

Darth Vader has three aliens with him, each of whom has a superpower with which he plans to cheat the laws and kill Princess Leia's friend Viscount Tardi. The aliens are in disguise, but Princess Leia displays her cleverness by recognising them.

Most of the story is taken up with the three attempts to kill Viscount Tardi, each of which is foiled by Princess Leia with the help of C3PO and R2D2. These are enjoyable scenes, let down only by the foundation of the premise upon which they are built.

When all of his alien friends have been defeated, Darth Vader deals with Viscount Tardi personally using his laser blade.

At this point the story degenerates into an overly-convoluted mess of "I knew you were going to do that" and "I knew that you knew that I was going to do that" between Princess Leia and Darth Vader. Viscount Tardi was a droid all along, and R2D2 made a recording of Darth Vader using an illegal weapon so it looks like the goodys have won.

But then Darth Vader reveals that his plan was actually to steal the crown jewels of Alderaan that Princess Leia had with her and he knew about all along, so in the end he wins... and looks fabulous when he does so.

Because so many of the twists and turns of the story are only revealed to the reader at the moment they are necessary to create a surprise twist, it has the cumulative effect of making it seem that the writer is making it up as he goes along, and as a result it feels contrived and artificial.

Princess Leia is the obvious choice of main character for the story, but it does not ring true that she could come up against Darth Vader so soon after the events of The Empire Strikes Back without reacting to them, mentioning them or being affected in any way. In fact, as I said at the start, none of the events feel like they fit in with the rest of the Star Wars universe, making this a below-average and easily missable comic.

This would have made more sense as a Blakes 7 story, with Avon, Tarrant and Vila in place of Princess Leia, R2D2 and C3PO, and Servalan instead of Darth Vader. It would even work the other way around, with Servalan as Princess Leia and Avon as Darth Vader.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Droid World!

Droid World! is an unusual Star Wars story, because it features C3PO and R2D2 as the main characters in a way that is rarely seen after the original Star Wars film. It also uses the technique of starting the story in media res, not often seen in Star Wars comics, with C3PO and R2D2 being chased and shot at by pewpewpew guns on the very first page.

Three pages in they find themselves in a literal cliffhanger situation, and then the story goes back to explain how they got into the dangerous predicament they began in.

They are on a mission for the Rebel Alliance to Droid World, where only droids are allowed, and they find themselves in the middle of a civil war between Kligson, ruler of Droid World, and the baddy ZX3, who is a droid who works for the Evil Empire.

After killing Kligson, ZX3 sends his friends to chase C3PO and R2D2 and they wind up back in the position they started the story in. This time they are rescued by Kligson, who is not dead. He is not a cat, he is more like a good Borad (from Doctor Who's Timelash).

There is a big fight between Kligson's friends and ZX3's friends, and the good droids win at much cost and Kligson is left feeling sad.

C3PO and R2D2 leave and Droid World flies away, and that is the end of the story.

Droid World! is very imaginative, with great designs for many of the droids and Droid World itself, although ZX3 is not a very impressive or scary baddy because he just looks like a pink Stormtrooper. I certainly didn't need Scary Cat's help to not be scared this time!

There is good use made of both C3PO and R2D2's characters, and overall this is an enjoyable, if slight (it had time to tell the part where the droids were being chased twice, after all) story.

There was another version of the Droid World story, one with less pictures but with voice acting and sound effects to create a different experience. The art style is very different even if some of the scenes depicted are almost identical - Kligson looks different and ZX3 is red rather than pink. It tells the same story even if some of the details and dialogue differ.

Here it is on the internets:

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Doctor Who Night 2015: The Daleks Are Here!

The theme for this year's Doctor Who Night was: Daleks!

We started by watching Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. which I have already reviewed here. It was unusual to watch a film on Doctor Who Night instead of the TV series, but if we had watched the TV version of the Daleks Invasion of Earth then we may not have had the time to watch two more stories yesterday.

This time I noticed that the character of David Campbell from the TV version seemed to have his characteristics spread across three characters in the film: Tom Campbell got his surname, David got his first name, and Wyler got his Scottishness.

The second story of the Night was Day of the Daleks.

This is a great story even though the Daleks are not actually in it that much, leaving most of their work to Ogrons and the Controller's mannys, but you are never in doubt that they are the real baddys behind it all. The scene where the Controller stands up to them, redeeming himself before he is exterminated, is one of the best in all of Doctor Who.

I have seen Day of the Daleks before but only on a VHS video where the four parts of the story were edited together to make a film-like continuous version. This was the first time watching it on DVD as a four-part serial, and it felt strange because I had come to see the video version as the normal version, even though it would have originally been shown on TV as four parts.

The last story of the night was chosen to be Genesis of the Daleks, which I have already reviewed in six parts here, here, here, here, here and here, so I don't have much to add now. Mew.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Dreams of Cody Sunn-Childe!

The first Star Wars story to properly star Lando Calrissian (the coolest and best character in all of Star Wars) has a level of complexity and philosophical sophistication absent from most Star Wars stories, using its space opera setting to allegorically dicuss the rights and wrongs of pacifism.

It also features giant monsters fighting Star Destroyers, so there is something for everybody to be found here.

Lando is in space being handsome and helping Chewbacca look for Han Solo when they get lost and crash land the Millennium Falcon on a space island near a city. Chewbacca says
to which Lando replies
What are you talking about? I thought it was a perfect landing!

Chewbacca gets attacked by "a blood-eyed beast" and Lando bravely tries to help him.
It is most likely that, given time to ponder, Lando Calrissian would not have jumped so immediately into the fray...
But it's a bit late for regrets now!

Lando is not as brave (or as handsome) as Scary Cat, but he is brave (and handsome) for a manny. The "creature" is about to beat both Chewbacca and Lando when they are rescued by a strange alien.

Lando recognises the stranger as "Cody Sunn-Childe" and thinks he is a friend, but even though he rescued them he may not be a friend really, as we can tell from Lando's sore expression at the bottom of the page when Cody grabs his arm.

Cody takes them to the city where they meet his friends and he tells them they are "in another dimension" and deduces that the Millennium Falcon took them there by mistaik.

Meanwhile in space the real baddys of the story enter. They are Captain Plikk and Lieutenent Nizzon, and their Star Destroyers have found the "rent in the very dimensional fabric" that allows them to follow the Millennium Falcon through to the other dimension.

At the city Cody tells Lando his backstory, how he was once a rebel who learned magic powers, then became a pacifist and took his followers to the other dimension where they would not have to fight any more baddys.

Lando, like Ian Chesterton with the Thals, tries to persuade Cody not to be a pacifist, but then Cody tells him his dark secret - that the beasts, like the one that attacked Lando and Chewbacca, are
...The repressed horrors of my own soul!

This story is well-placed as the first featuring Lando after The Empire Strikes Back, as it shows his character development over a few lines of dialogue with Cody:
You've got as much violence in you as any of us. Probably more.

Yes! And I strive to keep mine at bay! That is the difference between us!

No-- the difference is that you've given up while -- after years of self-serving -- I've finally found something worth fighting for.

Unknown to Cody and Lando, the baddys are about to attack the city, on a page where the panels alternate between them.

"Slow to space normal speed! We've either stumbled upon a secret rebel base or a pocket of civilization uncrushed by the Empire's heel! They must be made to fear us -- attack!

"Space normal speed" is a term that Terry Nation would be proud of.

Lando's last speech to Cody before the baddy pewpewpew guns start firing at the city are ironic:
Hmmm. I wonder how long your "truth" would hold up if the war you ran away from came knocking on your front...


Lando and Chewbacca take off in the Millennium Falcon to attack the Star Destroyers all by themselves. They are being very brave, but everyone knows they cannot win.

Cody hesitates when faced with the dilemma: to use his magic powers for violence, or to leave Lando and Chewbacca to die. Although he does not make his decision until the next page, you can see his choice already made in his eyes in the last panel.

Cody sends giant monsters to attack the Star Destroyers, but only for a moment. He calls back his monsters and says to his friends
My friends -- long have I preached about "shining examples." Today I learned that -- unless tested by adversity -- an example has no meaning. I must prove the dream of peace worth living... by dying for it.

The Star Destroyers fire all their pewpewpew guns at the city at maximum power and destroy it.

Lando is very sad, he even cries in the third panel of the last page. He and Chewbacca escape from the other dimension in the Millennium Falcon and leave the Star Destroyers behind, trapped when the "dimensional doorway" closes.

This story wouldn't work with any other Star Wars character than Lando as the main character. His backstory, as told in The Empire Strikes Back, is complex enough that he can argue with Cody Sunn-Childe and grow as a character from it. The writer cleverly allows both Lando and Cody to be vindicated in their respective philosophical positions, but it is Cody who has to die to prove his point while Lando has to live.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Death Probe

Death Probe is the first Star Wars comic set after The Empire Strikes Back. Because it is not based on a Star Wars film, the art is much more comic-like in this story, although that may also be because t was done by a different artist from the The Empire Strikes Back comics (here the artist is Carmine Infantino, while the The Empire Strikes Back artists were Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon).

Death Probe's action really gets going on its second page, as the Death Probe of the title attacks a Rebel spaceship, and there is a large picture of it taking up most of the second and third pages as a Rebel says
An Imperial Probe Droid!
in large, friendly letters.

For a page it looks as though the protagonist of this story will be the Rebel "Rad Torlent" as he tries to warn the other Rebels about the Death Probe, but then it catches him and Rad Torlent goes
Only then does the real protagonist enter the story, and it is Luke Skywalker.

There is a page spent on recapping the events of The Empire Strikes Back for the benefit of any cats who may have forgotten what happened. It also highlights the difference in art styles between the different artists since for once they have been drawing the same events but in their own ways.

Luke and R2D2 are in a spaceship that is attacked by the Death Probe, which has taken over the other Rebel spaceship so they don't know it is a baddy until too late. They escape onto the baddy's spaceship where the Death Probe tries to kill them. The writer cleverly shown both Luke's Jedi powers and R2D2's robot powers being used to escape from the Death Probe's traps.

They come face to face with the Death Probe and then R2D2 uses his computer hacking skills to find out the Death Probe's plan - to crash this spaceship into the Rebel Alliance's fleet of spaceships and destroy them.

Luke has a plan, and there is another reference back to The Empire Strikes Back as he says
Yoda said it, Artoo: there is no try...!
Only do... or do not! And I mean to do!

The Death Probe knocks him out with an electric "power overload" but it also recognises the name "Luke Skywalker" and this accidentally saves the day, because it has been programmed by Darth Vader to capture Luke and this order supercedes its current mission. The spaceship turns around and flies back towards the Star Destroyer that sent it.

Luke tricks the Death Probe into allowing him and R2D2 to escape in a life pod. Admiral Krell, the baddy in charge of the Death Probe's mission, is happy because he thinks he is about to capture Luke, but he doesn't realise the spaceship is still programmed to explode until too late...

... so it blows up his Star Destroyer instead of the Rebel fleet.

This is a good story that manages to be exciting and has clever and well-executed twists. It has a small number of characters and they are all used well - pairing R2D2 with Luke was an appropriate choice because he is like a good version of the Death Probe so there is a thematic contrast there.

The final panel promises that the next story will have Lando and Chewbacca in it!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

The play's the thing

There was a play on TV yesterday. It was The Dresser on BBC2, and instead of being a play by Shakespeare, it was a play about a play by Shakespeare. It starred Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins, who at one point blacked up in an obvious reference to the BBC's 1981 version of Othello, in which he blacked up to play Othello.

I don't think I got all the references, but I know I got some so I am a clever cat!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Duel a Dark Lord!

Starcat reviews Star Wars comics: The Empire Strikes Back (part six)

This picture of Darth Vader and Luke fighting appears several times. Not only on the cover of The Empire Strikes Back Weekly #134, here it is again as the cover of Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago.... Volume Two.

... and again inside as the reprinted cover of the American Star Wars #44.

You can see why this picture would be used so much as it anticipates the fight we have been waiting for between the baddy and the hero. The entire plot of The Empire Strikes Back has been moving relentlessly towards this event, and this picture iconifies their struggle as one between evil and good by isolating them from the setting and placing them in an explosion of lines and lines and lines.

We can contrast that first picture with this one that accompanies the story so far. As the fight has not begun yet, it is also acting as a trailer for that scene, but here the background is more defined and we may recognise it as the carbon freezing room we saw in Betrayal at Bespin! The picture foreshadows, but the text gives nothing away - we have to read on to find out what happens.

With all the excitement about the upcoming laser blade fight, it could be easy to forget that there was a cliffhanger ending last time, which is resolved by Lando revealing that Han Solo is alive and has decided to have sleeps inside a box.

When Darth Vader decides to leave some of his mannys to guard Princess Leia and Chewbacca, Lando briefly stands up to him.
That wasn't our bargain! You said the Empire wouldn't interfere in--
I'm altering the bargain. Pray I don't alter it any further.

Darth Vader also uses the Force on Lando, but only for a moment. Perhaps it is this that finally pushes Lando over the edge into rebelling against Darth Vader, because while he goes off to fight Luke, the next we see of Lando...

...his mannys spring a trap on Darth Vader's mannys, capturing them and rescuing Chewbacca, Princess Leia and C3PO. They are too slow to rescue Han from the box, which Boba Fett has taken away in his spaceship, but more importantly Lando has teamed up with the goodys. There has been a second "duel" with "a dark lord" in this issue; Lando's duel of wits with Darth Vader.

The laser blade fight between Luke and Darth Vader is heavy with shadows, echoing the dark situation that Luke is in as he is losing.

Darth Vader cuts off Luke's paw.

SPOILER WARNING: Don't read the next bit if you don't already know that Darth Vader is Luke's father.

What a twist. Probably the most famous twist in any film ever made evar, and the same twist happens in the comic version. The precise wording of the dialogue is very slightly different:
Ben told me enough. He told me you killed my father!
No, Luke, I am your father.

As a cat made from socks, it is very difficult for me to empathise with Luke upon hearing this revelation. It think it would be roughly equivalent to Hoover telling me that it was really the Maker of Cats that made me.

Luke is surprised, and Darth Vader is hoping to capture him while he is surprised, but Luke still has the cleverness to foil Darth Vader's plan by jumping off while shouting

Luke falls out the bottom of Bespin and is heroically caught by Lando in the Millennium Falcon. They are chased by baddy spaceships, which appears to have been Darth Vader's backup plan.

The chase lasts until R2D2 turns the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive button back on and they escape from Darth Vader again.

The story is then wrapped up quickly in the last three panels, which shows Lando is now part of their team and is going to look for Han with Chewbacca. How much time they will actually spend looking for Han between now and Return of the Jedi is another matter, and may be somewhat similar to the amount of time Avon spent looking for Blake in season 3 of Blakes 7.

Next time I will begin looking at Star Wars comics that don't have film versions to compare them to, not many of which will come close to being as good as The Empire Strikes Back.