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Review: “Star Wars–Agent Of The Empire: Hard Targets” by John Ostrander & Davide Fabbri

Title: Hard Targets
Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Davide Fabbri
Series: Star Wars: Agent Of The Empire Volume II (Agent Of The Empire #6-10)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2013

I’ve been going through my backlog of Star Wars comics, and I realized that I never got around to the second arc of John Ostrander’s stellar Agent Of The Empire series! Obviously, that had to be remedied. And so, here we are!

Jahan Cross is a very dangerous man, willing to do whatever he has to in order to make the galaxy a better place. Unfortunately, he believes wholeheartedly that the Empire is the only thing separating the galaxy from utter chaos and ruin. In the interests of the Empire, Cross will do anything that is asked of him. But when he discovers that his most recent kill was less about removing a threat to the Empire and more about lining the pockets of an Imperial official, Cross’s loyalties are placed to the ultimate test….

The good news? This second arc is every bit as good as the first, maybe better. The bad news? This is all there is. The series was canceled after this for some reason, probably related to the loss of licensing rights. Whereas the first arc dealt with Cross very much secure in his belief that he was working in the galaxy’s best interests (rightly, in that case), this time out we see a slightly different side of our shadowy hero. This time he knows for certain that his orders have nothing to do with improving the galaxy and everything to do with the personal ambitions of petty politicians. The question is, can Cross manage to make things right without breaking ranks? You’ll just have to wait and see!

As with the previous arc, this story stands pretty well even if you’re not a Star Wars buff. Obviously you’ll be better off if you read Agent Of The Empire: Iron Eclipse, but aside from that its pretty much new material. You get appearances by Armand & Ysanne Isard, but you learn everything you really need to know about them from context. Leia and Winter make a cameo, but again prior knowledge is far from essential. The barest familiarity with the Clone Wars gives you the identity of Count Dooku, whose family features heavily, but as he’s a movie character I think its safe to assume anyone interested knows who he is.

CONTENT: Mild to no profanity. Some violence, occasionally gruesome. Quite a bit of flirting, but no overt sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Skywalker Strikes” by Jason Aaron & John Cassaday

Title: Skywalker Strikes
Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: John Cassaday
Series: Star Wars #1-6 (Official Canon)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Okay, cards on the table: I loved the Dark Horse Star Wars comics. Almost all of them, especially anything featuring the team-up of Ostrander and Duursema. So I was very much saddened to see that company lose the Star Wars license. Not surprised, following the purchase by Disney, as that mega-company also owns Marvel. I figured it was only a matter of time, and that turned out to be the case. So I was saddened, just as I was saddened by the relegation of a bunch of my favorite stories to the status of Legends. But the one thing I never expected was that Marvel would drop the ball. I mean, it’s bleedin’ Marvel! If there’s anything they understand, it’s comic books. Now, having read the first arc of their eponymous Star Wars series, I can confidently state that my faith was well-founded.

We join our cadre of heroes as they attempt a daring assault on the Empire’s largest weapons factory, the entire planet of Cymoon I. Posing as a trade delegation from Jabba the Hutt arriving to negotiate renewed supply lines in the wake of the destruction of the Death Star, our heroes slip through security and set about rigging the automated factory’s reactor to blow sky-high. Everything is going to plan, until Darth Vader shows up to negotiate for the Empire….

I mentioned that this was amazing, right? The writing and art sync perfectly to sell you on the fact that you’re watching the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han. Luke is still a brash hotshot, still feeling his way with regards to the Force, and can be kind of whiny when he’s confronted with just how far he has to go. Han is just as sardonic and impulsive as ever, though the backstory they’re teasing for him may help ground him a bit. We’ll see how that one turns out. Leia is clearly in charge, driven to achieve justice for Alderaan and her family, and even Chewbacca knows to follow her orders. It’ll be interesting to see where they take her character in future arcs.

One potential point of annoyance for some readers is going to be how closely this series and the Star Wars: Darth Vader series that runs concurrently are tied. Events from one series are offhandedly referenced in the other with no explanation, and have major repercussions at times. For example, Vader fails to apprehend our Rebel heroes in this book, is chastised by the Emperor and hires Boba Fett in the Darth Vader book, and then Fett shows up in this book to try and capture Luke. Complicating matters further is the fact that there’s a particular order you need to read these in to get the whole story, and even then you’ll get ahead of yourself unless you stop in the middle of an issue at times. I wasn’t that annoyed by it, but I’d checked out the timeline first and knew what I was doing. (In case you were wondering, the proper order is Star Wars #1-3, Darth Vader #1, Star Wars #4, Darth Vader #2-4, and then #5-6 of both series happen simultaneously, both culminating in the same scene from slightly different perspectives.) This is set in the first year following the destruction of the Death Star, maybe a couple months at most.

CONTENT: Some violence. Minor profanity. Mild flirtation, and a few scantily-clad females in Jabba’s Palace.

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