Review: “Red” by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner

Title: Red
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Cully Hamner
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: WildStorm, 2009

This is one of those cases where your expectations will affect your experience. I first encountered Red, as did many, through the film starring Bruce Willis.

Honestly, I loved that movie. So when the library got a copy of the comic it was based on, I snapped it up. While the movie was more or less based on this comic, it was a very different animal. They added a LOT of material, for one thing. They’d have to, given how short this was. But they also completely changed the tone. The comic was entirely straightfaced about its over-the-top violence, and there was not a joke to be had. It was all rather grim. The film was an action comedy. Both were good, but they were very different. You need to be aware of what you’re in for, and temper your expectations accordingly.

The plot? The plot is simple. I can sum it up in two sentences. The new politically-appointed head of the CIA learns the scary truth about the agency he is now in charge of and orders the death of its greatest operative, the now-retired Paul Moses. The kill squad fails, leaving Moses bloodied and on a rampage to find the men who ended his solitude. That’s really all there is to this, but it’s very well executed. Small details like Moses standing in his kitchen during a storm, reliving the lives he’s ended with every crack of thunder, or the flashbacks he experiences when he takes up a sniper rifle once again, really lend some emotional weight to a character that is not entirely sympathetic even as they remind us that he is, in fact, a self-described monster. There’s some definite political commentary here, but its more generally aimed at American foreign policy (in the guise of the CIA) than it is any particular individual. I would recommend it, assuming you can stomach the violence.

CONTENT: Strong, gory violence throughout. PG-13-grade profanity. No sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon” by Jason Aaron & Stuart Immonen

Title: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Series: Star Wars #8-12 (Official Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

I very much enjoyed the first volume of Marvel’s ongoing Star Wars series, but many other reviewers took issue with it for playing things safe and giving us a story like many we’d seen before. These criticisms are not completely unfounded, I’ll admit, but neither are they completely fair. Either way, this is not a problem the series has going forward…. This second volume also includes the one-off flashback story The Last Of His Breed, featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi adjusting to his exile on Tatooine.

Luke Skywalker has successfully escaped the clutches of the bounty hunter Boba Fett, but all he got for his troubles was the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi–no small prize, but probably not all that helpful in furthering his Jedi training. So what’s the next logical step in learning about the Jedi? Try and sneak onto Coruscant to infiltrate the old Jedi Temple, of course! But when his attempt to find a discreet ship and pilot in a seedy bar on Nar Shaddaa goes horribly awry, Luke finds himself the prisoner of Grakkus the Hutt. In addition to the traditional crime and vice, Grakkus has made a name for himself as one of the foremost collectors of Jedi artifacts. Now Luke faces the battle of his life in Grakkus’ arena, billed as “the last Jedi” and pitted against a fearsome creature for the amusement of Grakkus’ fellow crime lords….Meanwhile, Han and Leia are out scouting potential locations for a new Rebel base when they run across a figure from Han’s past. Her name is Sana, and she claims to be his wife….

As with the previous volume, this was some stellar work. Jason Aaron nails the banter between Han & Leia, to the point where you can almost hear Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford delivering the lines, and Luke’s mix of cockiness and self-doubt is spot-on for his character and situation. Also of note is Stuart Immonen’s spectacular artwork. From the character closeups to the panoramic vistas, this was pure Star Wars. Also amusing was watching our entire cast wade into battle wielding lightsabers. Did Luke manage to salvage anything of value from Grakkus’ stash on his way out? I guess we’ll have to wait and see….

CONTENT: Moderate violence, not too gruesome most of the time. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo and flirting.

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Review: “Star Wars: The Last Of His Breed” by Jason Aaron & Simone Bianchi

Title: The Last Of His Breed: From The Journals Of Old Ben Kenobi
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Simone Bianchi
Series: Star Wars #7 (Official Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Back to the Marvel ongoings! This is a one-off flashback story featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi as he tries to adjust to his “Old Ben” persona about eleven years before the events of A New Hope. It’s issue #7 of Marvel’s current Star Wars ongoing, and will be collected in Star Wars Vol. II: Showdown On The Smuggler’s Moon.

It’s been seven years since the rise of the Empire, seven years since the death of the Jedi and the Republic. Formerly one of the greatest Jedi of his generation, now Obi-Wan Kenobi lives a life of obscurity on the desert planet of Tatooine. Where once he protected the innocent of the galaxy, now “Old Ben” forces himself to look the other way lest he draw the Empire’s notice as Jabba’s thugs extort water from the locals. All that matters is protecting the boy, Luke Skywalker, on whose unknowing shoulders rest the fate of the galaxy. But there are limits to the patience of even the greatest of Jedi….

This was a good one. The story was solid, and it’s always interesting to see Obi-Wan’s state of mind during his exile. Was this done better in John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi? Yes. That goes without saying, if only because he had more than twenty-four pages to tell his story. At any rate, Kenobi isn’t canon anymore, so we’ll not dwell on it. Simone Bianchi’s art here was stellar, I must say, and his Kenobi managed to blend Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness superbly. I would very much like to see more of these one-off excerpts from Obi-Wan’s journal appear in future issues of the comic.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. Mild violence. No sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Vow Of Justice” by Jan Strnad & John Nadeau

Title: Vow Of Justice
Writer: Jan Strnad
Artist: John Nadeau
Series: Star Wars: Republic (Backup story in Star Wars #4-6)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Vow Of Justice is a tale that ran as a backup feature in issues four through six of Dark Horse’s ongoing Star Wars comic, later retitled Star Wars: Republic. It was included in the trade paperback collection Prelude To Rebellion, and was reprinted in Star Wars Omnibus: Rise Of The Sith.

This story features a much younger version of Ki-Adi-Mundi as a recently-knighted Jedi returning to his home planet of Cerea for the first time to end the reign of a local warlord who had terrorized the region before Ki-Adi-Mundi’s departure for the Jedi Temple. What he finds on arrival, though, is not what he expected….Can the newly minted Jedi Knight hold true to the Jedi ways, or will he allow the Dark Side a foothold by taking vengeance on the raiders for their persecution of his family?

This shorter tale isn’t as problematic as the main story, even if it is fairly predictable in its conclusion. Definitely worth tracking down, especially if you’re a fan of Ki-Adi-Mundi. This story is set thirty-five years before The Phantom Menace, or sixty-seven years before A New Hope.

CONTENT: Mild violence. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo, including a few scantily-clad characters.

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Review: “Star Wars: Prelude To Rebellion” by Jan Strnad & Anthony Winn

Title: Prelude To Rebellion
Writer: Jan Strnad
Artist: Anthony Winn
Series: Star Wars: Republic Vol. I (Star Wars #1-6)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Continuing my trek through some of the earlier Star Wars comics, we come to Dark Horse’s first ongoing series set in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Originally simply entitled Star Wars, the series was retitled Star Wars: Republic to avoid confusion when Dark Horse began publishing a second ongoing focused in the era of the Original Trilogy films. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to the series as a whole using the Republic subtitle in these reviews. This story was reprinted in the eponymous trade paperback, which also featured the backup tale Vow Of Justice, and in Star Wars Omnibus: Rise Of The Sith.

Jedi Knight Ki-Adi-Mundi serves as the Jedi protector for his homeworld of Cerea, a relatively primitive world far from the beaten path of interstellar travel. Cerea isn’t a member of the galaxy-wide Republic, but there are those who would very much like to change that–open up Cerea as a market for modern technology and exploit its unique natural resources. When violence breaks out at a pro-Republic rally and his daughter is implicated, Ki-Adi-Mundi is sucked into an investigation of smuggling, murder, and conspiracy….

This one was pretty mediocre, and doesn’t fit very well with the other stories in the same era. Partially this is a function of this story being the first published in this era, even before The Phantom Menace. When this was released, it wasn’t known that Jedi were not allowed to marry. Later the writers were forced to retcon the backstory and explain that Ki-Adi-Mundi was granted an exception to this rule based on his species’ low birth rate. While we know the Republic was growing corrupt in its final days, here it appears downright villainous. I don’t want to say that this was bad, but it wasn’t great–especially compared with some of the later arcs of the same series.

This tale is set one year prior to the events of The Phantom Menace, and occurs simultaneously with Jedi Council: Acts Of War.

CONTENT: Mild violence. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo, including a couple scantily-clad women in Jabba’s court.


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Review: “Star Wars–Battlefront: Twilight Company” by Alexander Freed

Title: Battlefront: Twilight Company
Author: Alexander Freed
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2015

Not going to lie, I am insanely excited for the new Battlefront game. Nevertheless, video game tie-ins are always a touchy proposition. For every Halo: The Fall Of Reach there are a dozen that don’t work nearly as well. This one? This one manages to be not only a great tie-in, not only a great Star Wars novel, but a surprisingly solid military novel in general.

In a galaxy torn by war, few have seen more death and destruction than the troops of Twilight Company. Every time there’s a dirty, dangerous job to do, it seems Twilight draws the short straw. Twilight has its fair share of ideologues, same as any unit in the Rebellion, but that’s not Sergeant Hazram Namir. Namir doesn’t fight because he believes in the Rebellion, he’s not even sure he believes the Rebellion is fundamentally different from the Empire. Namir joined Twilight because fighting was all he’d ever known, and the Rebellion was as good a cause as any. Now he fights for his brothers in arms, his adopted family. Lately, however, Namir can’t shake the feeling that Twilight deserves better than he can give it….

This is not your average Star Wars novel. Instead of mythic heroes waving lightsabers in the face of capital-E Evil, Alexander Freed offers up a tale of ordinary men and women wrestling with that age-old question that eventually occurs to every soldier: just what is worth fighting—and dying—for? The result is a remarkably mature and nuanced entry into a franchise more often known for stark moral divides. The bodycount is high, which on the one hand accurately reflects the game it’s hyping, but on the other hand is odd for a Star Wars novel. Like I said, though, this is far from a typical Star Wars novel. This is a gritty, bloodstained war story that has more in common with Saving Private Ryan than it does the mythic tones of most Star Wars stories. At the same time, though, this is still pure Star Wars. It’s just that here we take the spotlight off of the more mythic characters and focus on the ordinary men, women and aliens living and dying around them in the background. If you’re after a light, cheerful read in which Good triumphs over Evil with only minor setbacks, you should look elsewhere. Bottom line: If you’re more interested in an examination of the cost of war on those who fight and die in the mud, then this is well worth the cost of admission.

CONTENT: Strong violence, occasionally gruesome, and with a massive bodycount that includes a not insignificant number of the named protagonists. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo.

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Review: “Star Wars–Jedi Council: Acts Of War” by Randy Stradley & Davide Fabbri

Title: Jedi Council: Acts Of War
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Davide Fabbri
Series: Star Wars: Jedi Council #1-4 (Legends Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2001

Shifting gears a bit, this time out we’re visiting a setting a little closer to the events of the films. The Dark Horse Comics miniseries Jedi Council: Acts Of War takes place only a year before the events of Star Wars–Episode I: The Phantom Menace (that’s 33 BBY, if you’re keeping track). This story was published as a standalone collection, and reprinted in Star Wars Omnibus: Rise Of The Sith.

Before the galaxy was engulfed in the Clone Wars, transforming the Jedi into generals, they served to keep peace across the galaxy-spanning Republic. One such threat comes in the form of the Yinchorri, a warlike species newly accepted into galactic society. When the Yinchorri begin trying to carve out a small empire for themselves among the stars, Jedi Master Mace Windu dispatched a pair of Jedi to manage the crisis. Their mutilated bodies were soon delivered to the office of Chancellor Valorum. Now the Council must mount a full-scale expedition to end this threat to peace in the galaxy, as well as seeking to uncover just who is pulling the strings of the Yinchorri….

This was a well-executed story. It can be somewhat difficult to keep an appropriate degree of tension in stories featuring characters you know will survive based on later appearances (Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Mace, Adi, etc.), but the large cast keeps this from being an issue. Each of the characters here is well developed, and some of the new characters introduced in this miniseries would go on to become fan favorites across the franchise. The art is also of high quality, serving the story well. Is the story essential? Not particularly. It’s the first appearance of K’kruhk, though, and Randy Stradley enjoys returning to the character of Micah Giett on occasion in the pages of Tales. Plus, it’s always fun watching Palpatine’s labyrinthine plots to pave the way for his eventual rise….

CONTENT: Moderate violence, occasionally a bit gruesome. No profanity. No sexual content.

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