Saturday, October 15, 2016

These are some of the Marvel collections I've read lately:

All-New X-Men: Inevitable Vol. 1–The Ghosts of Cyclops

Some eight months or so have passed since the end of the previous volume of All-New X-Men, and something very dramatic has happened involving Cyclops, The Inhumans and the Terrigen Mists during that time–something that lead to Cyclops' death and the whole world hating and fearing him all over again.

That gap, and the mysterious events that occurred during it, have allowed writer Dennis Hopeless to begin his new volume of the title somewhat in media res. The first half of this six-issue collection is essentially a putting-the-team-together story, while the second half sets up their new status quo and sets them against some classic X-Men villains.

Hopeless has inherited not only the title, but also most of the cast of Brian Michael Bendis' series: The original five X-Men, who were pulled from the past to the present in order to try and talk sense to grown-up Cyclops, and not only did they fail, but they all got stuck here.

Of those five, Teen Jean is MIA (she's appearing in Jeff Lemire's Extraordinary X-Men, which is by far the less interesting and entertaining of the two books, at least in my opinion). Teen Iceman is hanging out in Austin, Texas. Teen Angel is still dating Laura, former X-23 and current All-New Wolverine, and they are hanging out in Vail, Colorado. Teen Beast is driving around the country in a VW bus-pulled camper called The Nerd Wagon, which has a Bamf-powered engine that allows them to teleport as need be. For reasons never made clear, recent Jean Grey School graduates Evan and Idie are with him (All that Teen Beast and friends would seem to have in common with these two X-teens are their relative ages; they never really hung out with them in the previous volume of All-New X-Men or in Wolverine and The X-Men).

Those two really stick out because, unlike Laura, who was part of Bendis' team, they are new, seemingly random additions, and Hopeless hasn't made much of a case for either of them being needed here. Idie at least brings some diversity to the otherwise all-white, mostly male team, but Evan? Well, I suspect he's here because the next collection will feature an Apocalypse-related cross-over, but I guess that remains to be seen.

Oh, and what of Teen Cyclops? Well, he's half laying low, dodging his friends and any attention, given the fact that his grown-up self went on to do...something pretty bad (And he'd already conquered the world and killed Charles Xavier in Avengers Vs. X-Men, becoming a wanted terrorist). But he's also tracking some new gang of mutants calling themselves "The Ghosts of Cyclops"; they don masks reminiscent of Cyke's last mask, speechify and basically just knock around tables and commit petty crime.

Teen Cyclops obviously takes that pretty personally, and sets about trying to take them down solo. He does pretty well too, given that they are just a group of untrained college kids with no real idea what they are doing, but he gets in over his head enough that the rest of the team unites to help him and, eventually, make him realize that he needs them after all.

From there, they become a more-or-less normal supehero team, teleporting all over the world to save people from natural disasters and the like. In Paris they run into The Blob, here given a fun, funny motivation for a life of crime, and Hopeless toys with the idea that their old enemy has had years to become a better, more experienced fighter, one used to trading blows with the more powerful adult versions of the X-Men, while they are still essentially "Year One" era teenagers who have yet to log many hours in the Danger Room (This is perhaps somewhat undercut by the idea that the X-Teens have been here a good long while now and should have gotten used to the idea of not underestimating the modern versions of losers from their past, and the presence of Laura and Angel's Black Vortex power upgrade).

The volume ends with a cliffhanger, as Toad too is in Paris, and attacks and kidnaps one of these X-Men, which seems to be in sharp contrast to the more benign Toad of Jason Aaron's Wolverine and The X-Men but, again, who knows what happened during the eight-month gap.

Hopeless seems very much dedicated to the idea of an old-school, classic superhero team comic here, as is readily apparent by the fact that he's not writing for the trade, as there's a three-issue arc and another that is at least four issues long, only the first three chapters of which appear here.

Additionally, each of the characters has a sub-plot of some sort that isn't bound to the particular story arc, but continues as a through line in all of these issues, and will likely to continue to do so. The most prominent of these is probably the tension between Angel and Wolverine; All-New Wolverine seems intent on taking point in any and all dangerous situations in a way that is reckless to the point of seeming insane. As when she throws herself off a cliff to beat Angel to the bottom of the hill while skiing. For fun.

Obviously, Angel has a hard time watching his girlfriend constantly taking bullets and setting herself on fire, and more than once vomits at the violence she subjects herself to, on the belief that her healing factor will help her recover from anything. Having also recently read the first collection of All-New Wolverine (and the annual, which was fun and funny), this portrayal seems somewhat at odds with how she appears in her own book, but, as with all of the sub-plots, it's a story-in-progress.

Hopeless is lucky enough to be working with pencil artist Mark Bagley (inked here by Andrew Hennessy), and not only has Bagley's career made him pretty much the ideal candidate for a Marvel comic featuring teen heroes and/or classic, old-school superheroics, but he's one of the few artists who is fast enough that he doesn't need fill-in artists to help him make a monthly, or even a more-than-monthly schedule, so that this collection is all Bagley and Hennessy, from start to finish.

I'm not sure why the book is called All-New X-Men: Inevitable on the spine and in the fine print but not the actual covers of the actual comics, but I suppose at the very least it will help separate it from the other collections of All-New X-Men with the same volume numbers on the spines of the collections.

Of the three books featuring X-Men teams Marvel is currently publishing, this is my favorite, and the one I would recommend, on the strength of its relative quality and its distancing itself from any X-Men mega-plot involving M-Pox and Inhumans and whatnot (The third, Uncanny X-Men, is drawn by Greg Land, so I didn't even bother looking at that one, nor will I).

Daredevil: Back In Black Vol. 2–Supersonic

So different was this second collection of Charles Soule's Daredevil run that I actually had to check the spine a few times to make sure that this was, indeed, the second volume of the series I had previously read, rather than the third. While that first volume read like a graphic novel, this one reads like a few chapters of one, and is different enough from that last volume that it honestly felt like I had missed a half-dozen issues or so.

Right from the first issue–or the cover, actually–we find ourselves in familiar, over-played Daredevil territory, with Elektra. In a two-part story, drawn not by Ron Garney, but Matteo Buffagani, Elektra attempts to kill Daredevil because she thinks he has done something with her daughter, who may or may not be Matt Murdock's. Matt, like the reader, didn't even know she had a daughter, and, it turns out, she didn't–it was some sorta mind control business to get her to kill Daredevil.

Blindspot, Daredevil's new sidekick introduced last volume, appears but briefly. Long enough to slow down a killing blow from Elektra, and get his arm broken for his effort. He later appears in a page set at Night Nurse's clinic. (Yay! Night Nurse!). With the post-Secret Wars Daredevil having his secret identity back, he and Elektra are on some particularly weird footing, as he knows she used to know, and now she doesn't, which he realizes puts her in sort of a horrible spot (She thought she was cheating on him...with himself). Soule commits a fairly cardinal sin of these sorts of soft reboot/continuity-altering shenanigans: If you have to deal with them at all, for God's sake, don't dwell on them. The next two issues, he dwells on them some more, however.

In those, drawn by Goran Sudzuka rather than Ron Garney, Matt goes to Macau to use his powers to win a ton of money at poker in a casino, which is all part of an elaborate–but fun to read!–plan to get to stay at a particular floor of a hotel, close enough to a briefcase full of something mysterious he needs, that has something to do with the Elektra story (He later says what is in the case, but it seems like he may have been lying). Spider-Man shows up for this story, as in the Peter Parker version, and Spidey knows something's not quite right with Daredevil, but he can't put his finger on it. Because Spidey too used to know Daredevil's secret identity, and know doesn't, and so there is still more talk of this (and a fun little game of keep-away as Spidey tries to press the issue).

This is actually the first time I've read a story featuring the new, post-Secret Wars Spidey and I'm not sure how I feel about that glowing costume. It's looked just fine on the Alex Ross-painted covers I've seen, but looks kind of weird and awkward here.

And that is that. Rounding out the collection if Daredevil Annual #1, which features a 20-page lead story written by Soule and a 10-page back-up by an entirely different creative team. They are unrelated to one another, an unrelated to the four issues of the main series that preceded them.

The longer, Soule-written story is a team-up with Echo in which they encounter a new form of Klaw, who spreads himself like an infection, transforming anyone who hears him into sound wave people. Echo, being deaf, is conveniently immune. She goes to Daredevil and the Emergency Broadcast System for help. It's a fine little story, mostly notable for artist Vanessa R. Del Rey's squiggly artwork and dramatic, elaborate lay-outs (My favorite part is a minor, silly detail, in which Echo seems to stop and take the time to tie feathers into the bandages she wraps around her forearms for absolutely no reason other than the fact that it's kinda sorta her costume; it's not like she dons a mask or any sort of identity-concealing, practical gear.

The 10-pager that closes out the volume is by writer Roger McKenzie and artist Ben Torres, and functions as a kinda sorta origin story for some dumb villain named Gladiator with circular saw blades mounted on his forearms. Torres only rarely seems to draw them in motion, which seems like it defeats the purpose of having such blades mounted on your forearms. It's not a bad story, but it's not a good one either; one imagines we'll be seeing the character in the future, as otherwise this is just kind of a head-scratching page-filler that helps justify using the Echo story in an annual instead of holding it as a fill-in issue.

So no Garney, almost no Blindspot, no complete story and predictable Daredevil enemies and allies–aside from the new costume and color scheme, this second collection was almost nothing that the first volume was, and suffered accordingly.

E Is For Extinction: Warzones

There is a sort of almost essential element of pointlessness to all of Marvel's 2015 Secret Wars tie-ins, which were almost all "What If...?"-style miniseries meant to kill time and fill slots in the publishing schedule, but that pointlessness could be insidious, as it could make one wonder what about these random, non-canonical miniseries was really any more pointless than any other super-comic? The whole endeavor, as much fun and as well-made as many of these series were, brought with it a sort of existentialist dread.

This one's a good example.

Its writers Chris Burnham and Dennis Culver and artist Ramon Villalobos doing an extended riff on Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's 2001 relaunch of the X-Men franchise, taking as its title that of New X-Men's first story arc. A decade and a half later, that three-year Morrison run (Quitely didn't stick around for much of it), seems stronger now than it was then, and then it was like a punch in the face (Here I might suggest you go read Paul O'Brien's review of this collection, as he is the best writer about the X-Men I know of, and does a far better job of contextualizing New X-Men in franchise history than I ever could).

But what's the point of it, other than to remind readers how great Morrison and Quitely's run was? To pull out old costumes and concepts, point at them and say, "This was cool, wasn't it?" To maybe try and condense the broad themes and storytelling models of that series into just 80 pages?

I'm not sure there is one. I'll be damned if it wasn't fun to revisit that era and its concepts, anyway.

Zagging where New X-Men zigged, Charles Xavier shoots himself in the head with two guns to get Cassandra Nova out of his head. Why two guns? Because that makes an artful, X-shaped blood splatter on the blank wall in one of those big, clean, Quitely-like settings.

From there, we jump ahead an undisclosed amount of years into the future ("X Years Later," naturally). Now Magneto  has opened "The Atom Institute," and he leads a new team of New X-Men: Beak, Angel, Glob, Quentin Quire, Basilisk, The Stepford Cuckoos, Dust, Ernst and Martha. Meanwhile, the surviving "old" New X-Men–Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma Frost and Beast–struggle with their fading powers and feelings of irrelevance. They are here cast as the Neanderthals, and Magneto's students as the homo sapiens in the evolutionary metaphor that Morrison pursued.

The U-Men, District X, Xorn, evil white Beast, the Phoenix business, Wolverine killing Jean Grey, plus all those other characters previously mentioned, plus the costumes and colors and concepts of New X-Men...this is the comic book equivalent of a cover song, maybe a concept album full of covers from another band. It works. But it makes me feel weird though, as I contemplate meaning vis a vis superhero comics books.

Included in the back, in large part to give this enough pages to be collected into a trade, is the first issue of Morrison and Quitely's New X-Men run. In part, this is a smart move, as it provides a great bridge. Like what you just got done reading? Well, here's the first issue of the run that inspired it. Like that? Then you, my friend, need to invest in some trades.

On the other hand, it underscores how different Villalobos art actually is from Quitely's, something that's not as readily apparent when you're not looking at them side by side. DC should get Villalobos to do his Quitely impression for some Superman and Batman and Robin books.

Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Boys are Back In Town

Well this was a blast.

David Walker and Sanford Greene reunite the original Heroes For Hire for...well, for no reason, really. Mostly because Iron Fist wants to re-team with his best friend Luke Cage to have adventures together all the time again, but Luke's grown-up and has a wife (Jessica Jones) and kid (Danielle) to take care of.

The pair meet to pick up their old Heroes For Hire secretary or administrative assistant (depending on who you ask) when she's released from prison, take her out for dinner and help her recover a necklace of her grandmother's that fell into the hands of a notorious Marvel gangster.

It turns out to be a lot less simple than that, as their friend turns out to be in cahoots with bad guy Black Mariah (this version quite different than the corrupt politician version on Netfliex's Luke Cage) and the necklace turning out to be the fabled street magic artifact The Supersoul Stone. Suddenly, a bunch of minor Marvel villains of the mostly silly variety are gunning for Luke and Danny.

While the plot is played pretty straight, Walker seems to have taken some delight in rounding up off-beat characters to throw at his heroes, some of whom only make cameos. The dialogue is quick and clever in buddy cop movie fashion, with much of the tension coming not from any kind of racial dynamic, but because of the fact that the heroes are in such different places in their lives and, while they enjoy one another's company and have history, they aren't exactly on the same page any more.

Regarding racial dynamics, Walker touches on it with the whole idea of "street magic" and the Supersoul Stone, something that Luke insists everyone in Harlem has grown-up hearing about, but which rich white guys Iron Fist and even the Sorcerer Supreme himself Doctor Strange have never even heard of ("There are as many forms of the mystical arts as there are martial arts, and no practitioner of either can master all," Strange tells them, "Nor are all worthy of mastering.")

Luckily neighborhood magician Senor Magico is there to set them straight.

Greene's art, like Walker's dialogue and character choices, tends towards the light. His Cage is pretty much a walking sight gag, drawn as enormous, almost elaphantine in size, and generally stuck in small spaces, like a booth at the Excelsior diner or a tiny rental car that Jessica forces him to get when she needs the family car one day.

This is the kind of book where Ruby Tuesday and Gorilla-Man (not to be confused with Gorilla Man) are as likely to show up as Tombstone or Jessica Jones, where you can find a character referring to Strange as a "pendejo" or hear the words "Fistball Special" and jokes about how hard it is to brand something with the word "fist." I loved it.

It's the kind of comic that, had it been published 15-years ago, would have been relegated to a "street-level" comic, but here it's really more "neighborhood level," and while there is crime and violence in it, it's all cartoonish enough that it lacks the sort of grit and grime that it would have had back in the days of the Marvel Knights imprint. Rather, this books is spiritually closer to something like Ms. Marvel, All-New Wolverine or Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew actually  gets an amusing cameo, rooting for Luke's shirt to get ripped off during a fight), with one foot in the "funny" side of Marvel's funny book line (Howard The Duck, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Patsy Walker, etc) and one foot in the serious side of the line (Daredevil, the X-Men and Avengers books, etc).

That story about the Supersoul Stone fills up four-fifths of this collection, while Flaviano replaces Greene for the fifth issue, a done-in-one story. Centered around radio personality Jimbo's show, "The Yo, Jimbo Show," it's essentially a sort of Rashomon deal in which various callers and witnesses discuss the apparently reunited Power Man and Iron Fist team's battle against Manslaughter Marsdale. It culminates with Luke and Danny joining Jimbo inside the studio to set the record straight, and Marsdale coming there for revenge.

Flaviano's style is distinct from that of Greene's, but it has a similar flavor, and he sticks with the Cage-as-a-giant visual motif that leads to so many great visual gags, as in a panel here where one witness claims that Cage has the power of flight.

Also, in this issue Danny builds "a modified version of the Fantastic Four's Fantasticar" using instructions he found on the Internet. He intends to call it The Power-Fist Mobile, but Cage refuses to let him call anything "Power-Fist," so Danny settles for The Fist Mobile (The Fistasticar seems more natural to me, given its origins, but whatever).

Finally, I did want to mention Jessica Jones' role in this story, as I've heard some grumbling on the Internet that here she seems to be reduced to the role of nagging wife, like a character on a 1960s sitcom getting mad at her husband for going bowling with the guys instead of staying around the house with her and the family (Here's a pretty thorough piece on that, with lots of looks at Greene's great art). I don't want to say this reading isn't valid, and it was probably more striking if these comics were being read serially, where one might see just one scene with Jessica arguing with Cage about not wearing one of his nice shirts out since it was just going to get destroyed anyway every month or so. Especially since this series started coming out when Netflix's Jessica Jones was presenting a version of the character much closer to that from Brian Michael Bendis and Michal Gaydos' Alias series than to her post-Alias portrayal  (which was also mostly written by Bendis, but in the context of his variou Avengers comics).

Read now, though, and all in one sitting, her apperances didn't strike me as those of a wet blanket or nagging wife so much as the supporting character she serves as in this series. While she is usually angry and trashing Luke and/or Danny, that's Jessica's character in a nutshell, right? Angry and talking shit all the time? She's presented as the person Cage would rather be with than out getting into fights with his immature bachelor friend, and many of the jokes featuring her are among the stronger ones (Like why Luke has started saying "Fiddle faddle" now, and why she can swear as much as she wants, and how Luke can tell she likes Danny).

Her role is certainly smaller than that of Luke or Danny, but then, this is Power Man and Iron Fist, not Power Man and Iron Fist and Jewel, or Jessica Jones' Husband, Power Man and Power Man's Pal, Iron Fist, you know? Her relative lack of panel-time in the first five issues of a series starring her husband and his friend seems as natural as, say, Alfred seeming like all he does is serve Batman food and sass him. Jessica is here, like Alfred in Batman comics, a supporting character.

Perhaps the release of her own series, now entitled Jessica Jones for closer association with the TV show, will salve the irritation some fans of hers have felt at her small role here. I am curious to see how this book and Jessica Jones will read next to one another; I've only flipped through the first issue of Jessica Jones, but stylistically and tonally they are polar opposites and, of course, Gaydos' art is all dark and photo-referenced, so it seems to be set on an entirely different planet than Power Man and Iron Fist is.

Star Wars Vol. 3: Rebel Jail

This is the first of the collections of the Marvel's main Star Wars title that I didn't purchase for myself, more so because I had missed its release than because I was dissatisfied with volume two. I just noticed it on the shelves of the library one day, realized I missed it and supposed that meant I should maybe just start reading the trades from the library instead of buying them for my home bookshelves. Now that I have read it, I'm actually kind of glad I missed it at the comics shop. It's not very good, certainly not when compared to the previous two volumes and Vader Down.

Jason Aaron continues to write the series, and while his scripting is still relatively strong, the collection suffers a bit from two main problems. First is simply one of structure. The title comes from a four-issue arc that is the center of the trade, illustrated by pencil artist Leinil Yu and inker Gerry Alanguilan (whose somewhat bland take on the characters and world of Star Wars might make for a third main problem, actually). It's sandwiched between Star Wars Annual #1, by writer Kieron Gillen and artist Angel Unzueta, and another Younger Kenobi On Tattoine solo story written by Aaron and drawn by Mike Mayhew.

"Rebel Jail" features an antagonist leading a strike force of droids to a secret jail where the Rebellion keeps its worst prisoners, an antagonist who hides his face, says he sympathizes with Leia and wants her to win the war, but that he also wants to teach her that she needs to be completely ruthless, as he's seen the true evil of the Empire. His plan is to execute all of the prisoners in their cells, and to more or less force Leia to join him in doing so, or die.

Who is this mysterious character? Well, it's completely obvious in context. The annual, which immediately precedes "Rebel Jail," introduces us to rebel spy working deep undercover as an administrator on Coruscant. When he has to break cover to try to rescue some high-level prisoners and assassinate Emperor Palpatine, he learns just how evil Palpatine is ("I'm not even the same species of monster") and takes a blast of force lightning to the face. He survives, but just barely, and with a new appreciation of how Palpatine's complete lack of morals actually gives him a strategic advantage.

So when one turns the pages and sees this helmeted, masked character telling Leia he knows her, he felt betrayed by her, she needs to toughen up and so on, it's not difficult to imagine who it is. Aaron nevertheless presents it as some sort of suspenseful mystery to be drawn out.

The other problem? The early issues of the series were in part so successful because they focused on the core group of heroes from the first three films working together, as opposed to focusing on new, minor characters like so much of the expanded universe material has. Here the band is pretty thoroughly broken up.

Leia gets the majority of the focus, and here she is teamed with new character Sana and other new character Dr. Aphra, Darth Vader's new ally from the pages of Darth Vader (which I also gave up on buying, but that because I didn't like the art and found it unpleasant to read). When the prison gets attacked, Leia and Sana forge an uneasy alliance with Aphra (who turns out to have been Sana's former lover? Ha ha, take that Star Wars bros! This arc stars all ladies, two of of them "of color" and also lesbians!).

Luke and Han are off on their own side mission. Charged with buying supplies, Han loses all of the money gambling and so they are forced to try smuggling to earn back the money. Their scenes are all played strictly as comedy, making for a sharp and grating contrast to the more deadly serious business in the prison which, remember, is all about morality, war, crime and punishment and suchlike. Their plot line eventually intersects with that of Leia and the ladies, but not until the final issue, during which they are mostly unconscious.

The droids get even less panel-time; Aaron writes a funny bit in which C3-PO thinks he engages in fisticuffs, but its not particularly well-drawn. And as for Chewbacca, he's completely MIA; I am assuming this story is set during the events of his own (pretty damn good) miniseries, which I covered here.

So that thing that made the first volume so exciting? The heroes of the original Star Wars trilogy vs. the villain of the original Star Wars trilogy, a sort of high-quality, paper expansion from Episode IV in the manner of the original Marvel Star Wars comics, only with the level of care and respect that the material rates in 2016 vs. 1977? That's no longer here. The quality is, mostly (Yu's not as strong as John Cassady or Stuart Immonen, at least not with this material), and so this reads an awful lot like the sort of Star Wars comics that Dark Horse was producing right before they lost the license, specifically the later issues of the Brian Wood-written one.

As for the Kenobi story, it is as lovely looking as previous Mayhew/Star Wars comics...and about as dull, as really, there's only so much Aaron seems able to do with the "Kenobi just kinda hangs around on Tatooine for like 20 years" set-up, particularly in these only occasional, 20-ish page installments. It does look like he's setting something up for the next installment though, that will tie-in to the future/present a bit, but I was a little surprised by how uninteresting these Kenobi stories are, especially considering how awesome John Jackson Miller's prose novel Star Wars: Kenobi, which is set in this same basic time period, is. I wonder if Marvel should maybe just hire Miller for the Kenobi issues...?

Finally, it just now occurred to me as I was putting the cover into this post how bad a cover it is for this particular volume. As I said, Leia stars in the title story arc, which accounts for a good 80 or so of the 130 story pages in this collection, and yet it's those two goofballs from the comedy relief interludes that are on the cover. Probably on account of the fact that they are dudes.

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 3–The Sho-Torun War

The third-ish collection of Kieron Gillen's Darth Vader series (depending on how you want to place Vader Down in the timeline) consists of Star Wars: Darth Vader: Annual #1 and issues #16-#19 of the Darth Vader ongoing. Structurally then, it is akin to the Star Wars collection just discussed, leading off with an annual (drawn by Leinil Yu and inker Gerry Alanguilan) that serves as the first chapter of a story arc in the monthly series, still being drawn by Salvador Larroca (not a fan, although, as stated in previous volumes, he does well enough here, given how many characters have frozen metal faces, and how much of each page is technologically-driven set-dressing).

Vader is on a "diplomatic" mission to the titular planet, an important mining planet with an elaborate court culture that is toying with rebelling against the Empire. That makes it the sort of diplomatic mission that is perfectly-suited to an emotionless invincible robot space wizard like Vader. He basically kills a whole bunch of people (with some help from his droids; Triple-Zero's completely un-subtle attempts to encourage the court to drink the poison he's slipped into their drinks is particularly charming), and installs his own preferred puppet, giving her a damn cold reminder of what happens when planets piss off The Empire. And I mean that literally; he presents her with a gift that she could probably use as a paper weight or a conversation piece, but also performs the function of letting her and anyone who sees it know The Empire is totally cool with killing on a planetary scale.

Yu does a pretty great job on the art in this issue, and is particularly effective of portraying Vader as the kind of cool, never riled customer who just walks calmly through all kinds of terrible dangers, occasionally parrying a blaster bolt with his light saber or casually waving his arm to call upon The Force to fuck some shit up for him.

"The Shu-Torun War" begins in earnest after that, as Vader must return to the planet with a bunch of Stormtroopers and AT-ATs to aid his puppet leader in putting down a rebellion by the many mining barons who aren't down with this new world order. It's a pretty good Darth Vader story, playing him off of various other characters from The Emperor, to some of his surviving rivals that Palpatine set up for him in the first volume (his presentation of one of them to The Emperor is pretty cool), to a sassier-than-usual Triple-Zero, to his ally on Shu-Torun.

Gillen and Larocca also devise a pretty great set-piece in the war, involving giant, tower-sized drill-ships that fly through solid ground like rocket-ships. It's the sort of inventive scene that punctuated the first six films, but was missing from the seventh.

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