Tag Archives: Greg Rucka

Review: “Star Wars: Shattered Empire” by Greg Rucka, Marco Checchetto, Emilio Laiso, & Angel Unzueta

Title: Shattered Empire
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Marco Checchetto, Emilio Laiso (Issue #2), & Angel Unzueta (Issues #2-3)
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Did you ever wonder just what happened to our heroes after the credits rolled and The Return Of The Jedi was over? Yes, yes, I know, they foiled an invasion by the Ssi-Ruuk. But that was the alternate universe of the Legends canon. I’m talking the new, rebooted canon leading up to Disney’s triumphant (we hope) entrance into the franchise. Well, wonder no more! Marvel has brought us Shattered Empire to answer some of those questions and help set the board for Star Wars–Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Now, I know this is a four-issue miniseries, but I want you to try something. Instead of thinking of it as a unified story, think of it as a themed anthology, a collection of shorter tales all featuring the same main character with numerous side characters along for the ride and all loosely tied together by a common end goal. If you can do that, this earns the four stars I took the liberty of giving it–possibly even a fifth. If you can’t, if you go into this expecting a single unified story, that rating probably seems incredibly generous as the episodic plot rambles all over the place and sprawls out over a three-month period with sometimes little connective tissue between adventures. So please, go into this book with the proper expectations, because it really is worth the read.

Our story opens during the climactic moments of The Return Of The Jedi. While Luke engages his father in an epic lightsaber battle and Han’s commandos prepare to destroy the shield generator protecting the second Death Star, the Rebel fleet battles for survival between the Imperial Navy’s hammer and the Death Star’s anvil (or is that the other way around? Doesn’t matter, moving on.) Our protagonist, Shara Bey, is an A-Wing pilot caught in that battle, while her husband Kes Dameron is with Solo’s strike team on the surface. Following the battle, they get a brief respite during the victory celebration, but then it’s once more into the breach as comm traffic reveals a holdout Imperial base on the far side of the planet. Striking that base reveals a sobering fact: the war is far from over. The Emperor had a slew of contingency plans, and the Imperials control the airwaves. Palpatine may be dead, but most of the galaxy doesn’t know that. We then jump to several weeks later, as the Rebels work hard to liberate world after world. Off the front lines on light duty after her fighter is disabled, Shara accompanies Princess Leia to Naboo on a diplomatic mission to gain allies for the fledgling New Republic. Unfortunately, as the Emperor’s homeworld, Naboo is one of the prime targets of Operation Cinder, the Emperor’s program of vengeance from beyond the grave….Meanwhile, Solo’s strike team takes on an Imperial Security Bureau black site. Finally, we jump again to about three months post-Endor, as the grave reality is finally settling in for everyone involved–despite their recent victories, there is no end in sight for the ongoing war. Struggling with the question of whether or not to muster out and settle down with her husband and son, Shara joins Luke Skywalker on an undercover mission to recover an artifact of the old Jedi Order.

Like I said, if you come into this with the proper expectations, it’s solid gold. The writing is top-notch, and the art is incredible. In the middle the series gains a couple backup artists, I assume to help with backgrounds and such given the compressed publication schedule (the whole thing was published over the course of a month and a half), but it was surprisingly not an issue. The whole book is full of delightful blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gems, such as a sly, almost imperceptible reference to the fan theory that the Ewoks were serving roast Stormtrooper at their celebration party, a brief exhibition of Leia’s fledgling Force sensitivity as she feels “cold” when crossing paths with Maul’s imprint, and another semi-appearance of Commander Beck from Han Solo’s Smuggler’s Run (also by Greg Rucka, now that I think of it.) The ties to The Force Awakens range from the obvious (Poe Dameron is the son of Shara and Kes) to the more foundational, such as the war not ending where we all assumed it did. Bottom line: Find this, read it, and enjoy it. Just know what you’re in for.

CONTENT: Moderate violence. Minor to no profanity. Mild sexual content (Shara and Kes wake up together in one scene after one of their rare chances to be together.)

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Review: “Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run” by Greg Rucka

Title: Smuggler’s Run
Author: Greg Rucka
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Disney Press, 2015

Amid the frenzied run-up to a new Star Wars film being released, fans who know what they’re doing will keep a careful eye on the various books being released for a glimpse at the fantastic world they’ll soon be inhabiting. Some are more relevant than others (Labyrinth Of Evil ended literally as the opening crawl for Revenge Of The Sith started rolling), but there’s usually a number of so-called Easter Eggs thrown in for sharp-eyed fans. The run-up to The Force Awakens is no different. While the body of the book is set immediately following A New Hope, the tale is bracketed by a prologue/epilogue set just before the new film. For that matter, it wouldn’t at all surprise me to have elements from the main tale become relevant later as well, thanks to the newly-inaugurated interconnectivity of the Star Wars canon.

The Death Star is destroyed! Against his better judgement, Han Solo pulled a last-minute about face and joined the battle, distracting Darth Vader long enough to allow Luke to make the fateful shot that saved the Rebellion from certain and immediate destruction. Now he just wants to get off-world and back to Tatooine and use his reward money to convince Jabba to cancel the bounty on his head. But when Leia comes to him with a desperate mission only the Millennium Falcon is fast enough to pull off, Han is surprised to find himself taking the job. In the wake of the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire is hitting every Rebel cell they can find. One such cell is run by Lieutenant Ematt, who also is the man in charge of exploring and setting up fallback points, rendezvous, and supply caches for the Rebellion. Though his team is dead, Ematt himself is still at large….for now. But the Imperial Security Bureau is hot on his trail, and the Falcon is the only ship that has any hope of reaching him in time….

On the one hand, this isn’t a very complicated tale. It’s Han being mercenary, trying desperately to avoid polishing the tarnish off his proverbial heart of gold. We’ve seen that before, quite a bit as it happens. We’ll probably see a lot more in the three years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, as there’s now a brand new clean slate to draw on. On the other hand, Greg Rucka has an incredibly solid grasp of these characters and what makes them tick. You see the first twinges of conscience from Han as he realizes that every time the question of trust comes up, its not his integrity but Chewie’s that convinces even his oldest friends to trust him. You see Chewie’s willingness to throw in whole-heartedly with the Rebellion, restrained only by his friendship for Han. You see the bond between those two characters. Is the story anything incredible? No, but it’s well-executed and contains enough action and excitement to keep you turning pages long past when you’d planned to set it down. On the whole, I would recommend it.

CONTENT: No profanity. Some violence, not too gruesome for the most part. Mild flirting.

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Review: “American Vampire, Volume VI” by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque

Title: American Vampire, Volume VI
Writers: Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Jason Aaron, Jeff Lemire, Gail Simone, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, & Greg Rucka
Artists: Rafael Albuquerque, Becky Cloonan, Francesco Francavilla, Ivo Milazzo, Ray Fawkes, Tula Lotay, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, & JP Leon
Series: American Vampire (Volume VI, American Vampire: The Long Road To Hell oneshot + American Vampire Anthology oneshot)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Vertigo, 2014

So, it has come to this. The sixth and latest collection of American Vampire comics. Now it’s not just my library’s slow acquisition policies holding me back, but the fact that there haven’t been any more published yet! Apparently the creators put the book on hiatus for a while, but they’ve at least started publishing again. I just have to wait for it to hit the collections….This particular collection is a couple of one-shots they put out in the meantime to keep our appetites whetted–one from the main American Vampire team, one with them letting a whole bunch of other comics creators play in their sandbox. Obviously, this review could spoil events from the previous collections. (See them here: Volume I/Volume II/Volume III/Volume IV/Volume V)

First off, we have The Long Road To Hell. Snyder and Albuquerque set out the story for this one together, with Albuquerque taking over to script and draw the story. Billy Bob and Jo are the Bonnie and Clyde of petty thieves, picking pockets by night to add to their stash. They’re hoping to have enough soon to cover the cost of renting a chapel, but one fateful encounter with a vampire coven recruitment team and everything changes…not for the better, I’m afraid. Jasper Miller is a young orphan, favorite target of a group of bullies. It seems that young Jasper is a very insightful young man, and some of what he knows makes these bullies very nervous, and he decides that the open road would be safer for him than the old orphanage. Vampire hunter Travis Kidd we’ve already met back in Vol. IV, and it’s good to see that he survived the ambush he willingly dove into at the end of that book. Seems to have picked up a katana somewhere in the interim too, which is always cool. Fate has these four on a collision course, and blood will be spilled by the time they reach the end of the road….

Moving on to the American Vampire Anthology, we open with the frame story by Snyder and Albuquerque. The Man Comes Around is set in 1967 as Skinner Sweet hides out in the middle of nowhere, hoping to avoid the major events he can sense just over the horizon. Seems there’s always someone trying to kill him, though…. Jason Aaron and Declan Shalvey then enlighten us as to what really happened on Roanoke Island in The Lost Colony. Here’s a hint, vampires were involved. We then move on to Bleeding Kansas, where Albuquerque puts down his pencil and takes a shot at writing the story, leaving the art to Ivo Milazzo. Set against that tumultuous time and place, Albuquerque and Milazzo set down for us a tale of what I can only assume are Henry Jones’ grandparents. Next up, Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes serve up a tale of terror in the frozen north with Canadian Vampire as ex-Mountie-turned-bounty-hunter Jack Warhammer is hired to find out what happened to a German fur trading expedition missing in the wild. Becky Cloonan handles both the writing and art for Greed, starring Skinner Sweet and featuring his first encounter with those crazy folks who hail from a place called “Hollywood….” Francesco Francavilla then pulls the same trick for The Producers, detailing the birth of a star as he makes a shady deal in exchange for fame and fortune. Gail Simone and Tula Lotay treat us to Hattie Hargrove’s origin story in Essence Of Life, showing us just what happened to her that made her willing to screw over her best friend in the world. Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon share both the writing and artist credits for Last Night, as a lounge singer describes to a reporter the events leading up to the previous evening’s massacre at the club. Finally, Greg Rucka and JP Leon tell the tale of a dying drunk and the lowlifes who try and shanghai him in Portland, 1940.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this as per the usual for this series. The writing was stellar, and the anthology format really served well for the world being depicted. As with any comics anthology, there’s a wide variety of artistic styles represented, and some of those styles I’m not really a fan of, but that’s largely a matter of taste. I could sit here and tell you that I really wasn’t a fan of Ivo Milazzo’s art on Bleeding Kansas (which is true), but the next guy might have loved it. I could laud Tula Lotay’s work on Essence Of Life (also true), but the next guy may not have been a fan. That’s kind of how it works–peoples’ tastes are pretty subjective. I did enjoy getting into Hattie’s head a bit more than we were able to back when she was introduced, and Skinner Sweet’s adventures are always fun–I’ve mentioned before my weakness for antiheroes. As a historian, Roanoke’s lost colony is always a fascinating topic, and a number of the plot twists contained here were very satisfying if not always surprising. I really can’t wait for the next volume to come out so I can see the payoff to some of the plot threads being set up both here and in the teaser from the end of volume V….

CONTENT: R-rated language. Brutal, bloody vampire violence–these aren’t sparkly, angst-ridden pretty boys, these are monsters through and through. Some explicit and implicit sexual content, including what more or less constitutes a rape. No real occult content, as there isn’t a spiritual element to this version of vampirism.

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