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Star Wars #2 (Dark Horse): One of the interesting things that writer Brian Wood has been able to quickly accomplish is that even in a universe that’s very well-established and very well-explored, there’s still a distinct sense that he’s world-building. This task has been achieved through the deliberate, yet organic, inclusion of multiple races, planets, and genders. It’s every mention of the Hutts, a rebel pilot from bounty hunter Bossk’s home world of Durkteel (I think that might even be his ship, the Hound’s Tooth, on the cover!), the gender equality of having just as many skilled female pilots as male, and the fact that the mere mention of what were once b-character names like “Mon Mothma” or “Wedge Antilles” probably happens more times in this single issue than they do in all three of the original movie trilogy combined. It’s not all a factoid-laden Easter Egg hunt to establish SW geek cred with some lame gatekeepers though. Wood grounds the story in the familiar faces (rendered exquisitely by Carlos D’Anda and colorist Gabe Eltaeb) of roguish Han, the sight of the menacing Slave I, or the nostalgic overconfidence of Imperial Officers who seem to function with some sort of divine right or manifest destiny driving their actions. Speaking of D’Anda, he’s still getting it all right, capable of handling the big bold shots or the quiet character moments with equal skill, he is. The characters are recognizable as the actors my generation grew up with, yet stylized enough for him to put his artistic mark on. The Stealth X-Wings, the white puffy panels in the alcoves of the Millennium Falcon that flip down suddenly make you realize “oh yeah, I’ve seen those a million times, is that what they’re for?!” or the way the space battles are choreographed in an understandable way, not all Michael Bay’d out where the camera is too close and you can’t tell what’s happening. I’m not sure how much of this is the extent of the script or D’Anda’s interpretation of it, but the synthesis between writing and art is seamless, as it should be when it’s working this well. I also love the logical extensions taking place. For example, Leia is privately lamenting the loss of Alderaan. Or the real kicker, the fact that Luke isn’t even really an officer yet. He’s basically still a rookie bush pilot from the Outer Rim. Skilled, sure, but a kid who is new to the Alliance mix, with precious few combat missions under his cocky belt. I like how Wood has dismissed the compulsion, at least so far, for C-3PO to function as comic relief and is doing the serious and laborious work that a utilitarian tool like a protocol droid probably would. I like the intros. I like Ensign Llona. I like how some of the newly formed squad is observant or paranoid about the relationships of their counterparts, maybe deliberately making us think “what if the spy is someone on the strike team?!” I’ve heard a few people already complain about the whereabouts of R2-D2, but I think he’s apparently coming soon with the mention of the astromechs being quarantined to the covert hangar, so don’t fret. The creative team is deftly handling three threads, with an Imperial upstart, Leia’s team, and Han and Chewie’s mission. I’m very curious to see how long the team can sustain the magic as they gear up for more high stakes adventures, because they are now two for two with another flawless issue. Grade A+.
Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth #2 (Image): It’s funny, there’s a pull quote on the cover that asks if “we’re laughing at or with the character.” I actually think the characters are laughing at us. I think the whole book basically mocks the type of middle class existence that resides in a bubble, largely oblivious to the way the rest of the world operates. Sometimes when you see celebrities involved with a comic, the results can be eye-rolling or in name alone, but I enjoyed the letter from Danny Trejo, which functions as a nice primer that essentially asks on behalf of the book “are we wolves or Chihuahuas?” and “is the world ugly or are we actually the ugly ones?” So, Todd lands in prison, mistakenly identified as the Maniac Killer, due to Chief Hargraves bumbling overzealous ways. He meets a creepy cell neighbor and eventually Caesar, who seems like some type of mentor figure. Ken Kristensen and M.K. Perker litter the place with pop culture refs, the nod to Shawshank Redemption with the Rita Hayworth poster might be my favorite, though the Fredric Wertham appearance on Oprah probably bites the most. The creative team continues their mission to catalogue the failings of modern society with surgical precision, largely through the subversion of archetypes via parody. They take on cultish fans, criminals blaming everyone else for their plight, and the media’s invasion of privacy. Don’t miss this scathing indictment of the way so many people blindly lead their lives. Grade A.
Clone #4 (Image): Well, there’s at least one typo in the book and for some reason my affection for this title is cooling off a tiny bit. I really enjoy the back room political dealings happening and some of the medical lingo being slung, but the action bits with Luke and the clones (which is the heart of the book) seems to be dragging on now and feels a little generic in terms of storytelling. In terms of the art, Juan Jose Ryp is an absolute find purely visually. I remember when I first saw him working with Warren Ellis on titles like Black Summer and No Hero at Avatar Press, and his Geoff Darrow-esque hyper-detail is still amazing and adds a visceral element to the violence that makes it ugly and off-putting (rightfully so) and doesn’t glamorize it in the least. For some reason, I thought this was a mini-series and now I think it might be ongoing(?) and that makes me a little worried as to whether or not the basic premise has the legs to fuel that much recurring content. Time will tell. Grade A-.