Yesterday was Wednesday, and after reading a decent-sized stack of new singles from the comic shop, I would normally sit down and start reviewing them immediately for my off-the-cuff, typo-ridden regular feature "Comic Shop Comics." But a copy of Star Wars: Dark Times Omnibus Vol. 2 had just come into the library for me that day, and I thought I'd read a little bit of that before doing any comics blogging. Once I started, I couldn't stop reading though, and the damn thing was 450-pages.
I really liked those two volumes of that particular series of Star Wars comics, all written by Randy Stradley and mostly drawn in a beautiful, painterly style by Douglas Wheatley. They are set after the end of the prequel trilogy (Revenge of the Sith) and before the start of the original trilogy (A New Hope, or, as we called it when I was a kid, "Star Wars"), when there are a handful of Jedi knights still left in the galaxy, having survived the great Jedi purge at the climax of Reveng, and Darth Vader is still a hot, young, new super-bad-ass space wizard (as in the comics with Darth Vader in the title, he is crazy powerful in these, like Superman with a costume designed by Batman and Doctor Doom). The Republic is still transitioning into The Empire, so while they are the bad-guys, a lot of them aren't as bad as the generic villains they will eventually become.
Stradley follows a couple of these surviving Jedi, the crew of space-pirate types (all of them interesting-looking aliens save one female human, and they seem to be "new" aliens rather than one of the 10 or 12 different races that keep popping up in Star Wars stuff), and Darth Vader. Their paths all criss-cross in various ways, often directly, sometimes less so, throughout the 1,000 pages or so that make Dark Times. Stradley devotes the most attention to a character with the name Dass Jennir, a white-haired human Jedi who seems to change his look for each adventure.
I think that one thing that appealed to me personally was the simple fact that this time period wasn't completely alien to me, as some of the "Expanded Universe" stuff is (like, the stuff set centuries before the movies, or in the decades after Return of the Jedi), but it was also fresh and new, in that it didn't have much of anything to do with the lame plot-lines of the prequel trilogy, nor did it spend time constantly foreshadowing the original trilogy. In other words, it was new without being alien; it was a Star Wars that felt like a Star Wars, without being derivative of what I normally think of as Star Wars.
Stradley also really plays with the genre inspiration of the original conception of Star Wars. Large passages of the second volume read like they could very easily have been samurai movies, or westerns or sword-or-sorcery fantasies, only with, you know, aliens and robots and spaceships. Blue Harvest, the story arc that kicks off the second omnibus, would really only need to recast the aliens as Japanese guys to be a samurai story; they even all use swords—not light sabers, but swords—and, for the most part, dress like people from feudal Japan.
I also liked the droid character H2, a floating droid that, for much of his story arc acts like an asshole petulant teenager (a more amusing personality to R2-D2's pluck and spunk, or C3-P0's cluleless know-it-all-ism and prissy, easily shocked, scared or insulted sense of decorum).
And then there's that gorgeous Wheatley art. He's pretty damn incredible at every aspect of comics storytelling. I like his aliens, the humanoids and the wild animals and beasts of burden, many of which seem "new" to me. I like his fashion and ship design. And he draws really quite excellent action scenes.
As far as I can tell, these two collections represent all of the Dark Times material, and while it does seem to get a decent enough conclusion to several of the storylines, there are still threads left hanging and, one curious aspect of the Star Wars universe being that everything gets completely told eventually, I was sort of expecting there was much more to come. Perhaps the license for Star Wars comics moving from Dark Horse to Marvel has precluded that possibility.
I don't know. After reading these—And you guys know how hard I am to please, right? How demanding I am of even genre comics?—I actually felt a little, well, sad that Marvel is taking over Star Wars. With the projects they've announced so far, it seems like they will be pulling creators from the regular stable that handles all their superhero comics, albeit some of the bigger and most popular names. I do hope someone at Marvel has the good sense to hire some of these Dark Horse creators and/or editors to work on their Star Wars line with them though. Dark Horse has produced some pretty good Star Wars comics over the years. And they've produced some damn fine ones, too.