Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Best Godzilla Movies Never Made...?

As I mentioned earlier this month, I spent some time this spring reading through some of writer John LeMay's books, including Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island and The Big Book of Japanese Monster Movies: The Lost Films (Mutated Edition), both of which are bursting with recaps and explanations of intriguing ideas, pitches, concepts and scripts for extremely promising-sounding films that have the benefit of never having actually been fully produced and released, meaning they can never actually disappoint us in the ways that, say, Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla or Dino De Laurentiis' 1976 King Kong could. Both books are basically pure food for the imagination of monster movie fans.

The Big Book of Japanese Monster Movies is incredibly complete, its 450+ pages seemingly covering every "lost" kaiju film whose potential existence left some trace of evidence in the world, and it is, in fact, more complete than even my interest in the subject (For whatever reason, Ultraman, for example, does nothing for me). The category of "lost" films I was most interested in were those starring Godzilla, and there were could-have-been films featuring exciting opponents (Gamera, the American Godzilla, the devil, The Mysterians, TV's Batman, various versions of King Kong) and exciting directors, like Clive Baker and Tim Burton (Seriously! Imagine either of them having made a mid-90s Godzilla instead of Emmerich!).

There are dozens of "lost" Godzilla movies covered in the pages of LeMay's book, but these are the four I found most exciting...

1.) Bride of Godzilla? If it had actually been made, this 1955 script by Hideo Unagami would have been the third Godzila film, following the 1954 original and 1955's sequel Gojira no gyakushū/Godzilla Raids Again...and it would have been the weirdest, wildest one yet. Heck, maybe ever. It breaks sharply from the more or less realistic nature first two films (which were basically the real world + giant monsters, in term of tone and premise), in large part to explain where Godzilla and Anguirus came from and, in even larger part, to stave off their threat.

In it, we learn that the two monsters from the first two films come from a hollow earth lost world, discovered by miners, and that this strange underworld includes mountains, deserts, lakes and giant monsters Godzilla, Anguirus (they would have each been one example of their species, as there would have been multiples of each), plus a giant archaeopteryx, a giant chameleon, a giant bat, giant fleas and, oddly enough, mer-people. The mer-people, one of the script's doctors believes and mentions in a lecture, were a stage in human evolution. This underworld would also have its own orange-colored sky...which would change colors every 23 seconds, its light being given off by a massive wall of uranium.

As for the title character, it is the invention of a Dr. Zenji Shida, a roboticist who has created a sentient robot duplicate of a woman he once loved, as well as a giant robot version of her, the latter as part of the Godzilla Countermeasures Center's plans for dealing with future Godzilla attacks.

Naturally, the monsters escape their cavern, at least the four biggest ones do: the chameleon, the archaeopteryx and one each of the two name monsters we met in the previous films. The military and Bride battle them all, until only Godzilla and the Bride are left standing. The pair then journey together to the entrance of the cavern, where they embrace and the bride detonates, seemingly killing this Godzilla and sealing up the monster-sized entrance.

The budget necessary to turn such a script into a film likely doomed it more than its crazier ideas, but it's worth noting how much it would have changed what became the Showa Godzilla series had it been established so earlier on that Godzilla was a species, rather than an individual (or two...or so), and that Japan had giant-robot, monster-fighting technology so early in the game. As LeMay noted, many ideas from this script would end up in other, future films, most immediately 1956's Rodan.

Whenever a new comics publisher gets the license for producing Godzilla comics again, I would love to see a creative team take a crack at making this into a graphic novel...actually, that goes for all the films on this list (Plus Batman Meets Godzilla, obviously).

2.) Ryu Mitsuse's Godzilla Chapter 30 of LeMay's book is entitled "Stranger than Shin Godzilla: The Godzilla Revival Meeting of 1978." Out of this early discussion of how to restart a Godzilla series after the final movie of the Showa Era—remember, Terror of Mechagodzilla was just released in 1975—Toho approached three Japanese science-fiction authors to make pitches, and while all three of those discussed here sound cool as hell (Yoshio Aramaki's bore the title Godzilla: God's Angry Messenger), and all, coincidentally or not, involved alien origins for Godzilla, Ryu Mitsuse's is the one I most would have liked to see, as among its surreal imagery would have been dinosaurs, the Loch Ness Monster and other such "real" monsters from around the world.

As LeMay explains it, the initial scene is set during the age of dinosaurs. A massive ship lands on Earth, causing untold destruction and interrupting scenes of dinosaur-on-dinosaur violence, when the various carnivores stop hunting and attacking the various herbivores, and they all move in unison toward the ship:
It's not clear in this translation whether the aliens create Godzilla from the dinosaurs, or whether they have brought Godzilla to earth as some sort of doomsday beast. Godzilla roars, and soon the dinosaurs begin committing mass suicide, jumping off cliffs and drowning in the ocean, which fast runs red with blood.
LeMay compares the next portion of the script to IDW's Godzilla: Rage Across Time miniseries, as in a series of episodic scenes Godzilla causes the inhabitants of an ancient village to all commit suicide, knocks down the Tower of Babel and sinks Atlantis.

The final time jump takes us to the present, where some human characters are investigating the mystery of Lake Kussharo's cryptid monster, Kussie. It is actually Godzilla who rises from the lake,  his eyes emitting a strange light, and he roars, causing all who hear his cry—human and animal alike—to walk in a trance into the lake and commit suicide. All around the world, other lake monsters with the same weird powers arise, and "soon, oceans across the world are filled with corpses."

The ending, involving scientists turning Godzilla's suicide urge powers against him, seems rather anti-climatic, but LeMay offers this intriguing description of the project's potential, saying of its episodic nature that it was "as if Stanley Kubrick had written a Godzilla film." That...sure sounds like a movie I would like to see.

3.) A Space Godzilla LeMay says its unclear how seriously Toho ever took this notorious proposal by House director Nobuhiko Obayashi's story, but they approved of it enough to apparently let Starlog publish an illustrated version of it in 1979, along with  proposed credits, including music by Japanese rock band Godeigo and a "Model Animation" credit suggested it would have had stop-motion monsters. Starlog's story, by the way, was illustrated...by none other than Katsuhiro Otomo! (You can see a couple of images  and read much more about it here, which is where I stole the image at the top of this post from.)

This one may actually be more insane than the Bride proposal above, although since Obayashi seems to have been going for insane, that sort of tempers the craziness, I think.

In brief, Godzilla's body washes up on the shore, and the defense forces begin an autopsy, which includes loading Godzilla's brain onto a truck to haul away. When the little girl protagonist who first discovered the body is hounded by reporters, she hides inside the dead Godzilla and discovers a gestating baby Godzilla in the womb! A psychic is employed to communicate with the still-living brain of the dead (dead-ish...?) Godzilla, which explains her real name isn't Godzilla, but Rozan, and she's from a planet called "Godzilla". The humans then rebuild her body into a sort of sentient rocket, load the baby Godzilla back into it and shoot her off towards her home planet, where she hopes to give birth to her child.

The space journey sounds as mythological as it is trippy, as Rozan casts off various body parts to escape various dangers, eventually landing her child Ririn on Planet Godzilla, which has been overrun by monstrous aliens called The Sumerians, lead by General Gamoni. "From here," LeMay writes, "the story stops being any sort of kaiu eiga and turns into a 1960s Italian sword-and-sandal movie, except with Godzillas instead of people."

Among the surreal imagery are Sumerian allies that look like sphinxes and travel in a pyramid-shaped ship, and a final battle between Gamoni, Ririn and his father, carried out atop floating debris in the planet's atmosphere.

4.) Godzilla Vs. Ghost Godzilla Chapter 55 is devoted to one proposal for the seventh (and final) Heisei era Godzilla film, the one that ultimately became 1995's Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah. Because the idea was to kill off Godzilla and lie low for a few years to make room for Tri-Star's American Godzilla (the film that eventually became Emmerich's), the plan was to kill their Godzilla off...while laying the groundwork for his return. Series producer Shogo Tomiyama wanted to use the original, 1954 Godzilla as the villain, which makes some amount of sense; what foe is better-suited to killing Godzilla than Godzilla himself?  There were a couple of different proposals to do so, but the coolest one was that suggested in this title: To pit the Heisei Godzilla against the ghost of the original.

I honestly kind of love this idea.

The Oxygen Destroyer that disintegrated the OG Godzilla's body didn't destroy his life energy, which, over the course of 40 years slowly re-coalesced. That Godzilla then begins haunting Japan in a variety of foreboding ways, including citizens of Tokyo hearing and feeling massive foot falls, but never being able to see what is making them, buildings collapsing in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, and so on.

Ghost Godzilla would have a variety of supernatural powers, including intangibility, teleportation, levitation, creating duplicates, control of light, temperature and weather and, in order to give the live Godzilla something to fight, the ability to possess living kaiju—here, Godzilla Junior/Little Godzilla, who was introduced in 1993's Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II, and whose form the ghost would grow and warp upon entering it. Ghost Godzilla would also have intriguing weaknesses, like being afraid of daylight, and the fact that it could only move within spaces where he had walked in 1954.

Apparently Tomiyama's pitch was passed on to others to work on, and I don't actually care for all of the details revealed in the more detailed versions that followed, including a father/son human sub-plot and the ghost Godzilla being confined to an island and then Little Godzilla being sent there to fight him as some kind of dumb publicity stunt, but the idea of the the original Godzilla returning as an evil, vengeful spirit whose wrath must be exhausted before it can finally go to its eternal rest...? That all sounds pretty amazing.

Apparently, the reason this was decided against was that the Heisei Godzilla had just fought Mechagodzilla and Space Godzilla in his previous two films, and it seemed like the wrong time to have Godzilla fight another evil version of himself. That's too bad, but hopefully it's an idea that Toho can revive in the future, perhaps for Godzilla's 70th or 75th anniversary...?

Anyway, check out LeMay's The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: The Lost Films; I won't tell you again. (Two times seems more than sufficient, right...?)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Marvel's August previews reviewed

As with DC's latest round of solicitations, these are likely going to be pretty wonky, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the comics industry like a wrecking ball this spring, shuttering stores, scrambling distribution and shuffling schedules. Many of the books now being solicited for August release were likely already solicited but, to be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure how many of these I already saw when they were solicited in March for a June release (or in February for May release), and how many I'm seeing for the first time. All those Empyre tie-ins and X-books, both of which are very much not my area of interest, tend to blend together after awhile.

So this will likely be a rather abbreviated installment of the feature, but here's what jumped out at me reading and/or re-reading these solicits...

Written by ED BRISSON
Penciled by JONAS SCHARF
A new story from the world of OLD MAN LOGAN! In a future where America’s super heroes fell at the Red Skull’s hands over 50 years ago, a new force rises in the Wastelands! Dani Cage wields mighty Mjolnir for the cause of peace, but the Avengers may assemble once more when Doctor Doom’s brutal regime forces Dwight — the owner of the surviving Ant-Man technology — together with Dani and Hulk Jr. in a last-ditch effort to survive! Can they succeed where Logan left off? And what does Captain America’s return herald for the team? The Wastelands are filled with terrors: Baron Blood and his legion of vampires! The Green Goblin! The Enchantress and the Absorbing Man! But none are worse than Doom, and these neophyte Avengers are about to learn that the hard way! Collecting AVENGERS OF THE WASTELANDS #1-5.
112 PGS./Rated T+ …$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92004-3

In retrospect, should this series, which was set in the world of Old Man Logan and Old Man Hawkeye, have been entitled Old People Avengers...?

Interesting that in this particular alternate future, Dani Cage is Thor, whereas in a previous alternate future she grew up to be Captain America. I guess whatever the case is, the child of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones is going to grow up to be one legacy hero or another, and it's probably not going to be Power Woman or Jewell...

I don't know if I have mentioned this seven, ten or thirteen times before or not, but I really like the cut of this Kyle Hotz character's jib. This is his cover for Empyre: X-Men #4, which I have less interest in than either Empyre or X-Men, although I love the rendering on that cover!

Cover by RAHZZAH
Mighty Marvel heroes reach the bitter end! Steve Rogers fights for survival in a postapocalyptic wasteland populated by hordes of Red Skulls! Captain Marvel returns after 50 years in space — but what has become of the world she once called home? Deadpool seems unkillable — but death will find a way! Doctor Strange makes his final journey — through a cyberpunk sprawl where magic is forgotten! Miles Morales leads civilization’s last stand in the one place strong enough to survive: Brooklyn! And Venom travels the length of space and time as the last defender of life in the universe! Experience the end as your favorite heroes take their final bow! Collecting CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE END, CAPTAIN MARVEL: THE END, DEADPOOL: THE END, DOCTOR STRANGE: THE END, MILES MORALES: THE END and VENOM: THE END.
200 PGS./Rated T+ …$24.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92499-7

My favorite heroes? These aren't my favorite heroes, Mr. or Ms. Solicitation Copy Writer! Who told you this half-dozen of characters were my favorite? I mean, some of 'em are okay, I guess, depending on who is writing or drawing them, but they are hardly my favorite. Now, a book collecting final stories starring Namor, The Son of Satan, Man-Thing, Squirrel Girl, Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat and the original, android Human Torch...? That would be a book in which I could see m y favorite heroes take their final bow!


Anyway, look at that line-up of creators! That's quite a group of talented folks; I'm particularly interested in seeing a full-length story drawn by Damion Scott, and seeing anything written by Adam Warren outside of his (excellent) Empowered, which has dominated his output for so long now.

Have any of you read any or many of these...? Is this a collection that can be borrowed from the library, read once and forgotten, or is it so great that I'm going to want my own copy on my home bookshelves, so I can revisit it over and over...?

Mark Waid (W) • Neal Adams (A/C)
The first full-length Fantastic Four story ever illustrated by classic creator Neal Adams!
An unstoppable meteor of unknown origin has just erupted from hyperspace--and unless the Fantastic Four can find a way to stop it from hitting Manhattan, millions will die!
40 PGS./Rated T …$4.99

Is Ben okay? Is he...melting...? He doesn't look quite right.

I find the particular phrasing of "the first full-length Fantastic Four story" by Adams interesting; I guess he's drawn a shorter story before? I wonder, did he draw Ben with the face of a gorilla then, too?

Also interesting? Adams is just drawing this book, rather than drawing it and writing it, as he has with so many of his more recent DC miniseries over the last few years, suggesting that fans of Adams' particular brand of batshit storytelling will be in for something quite different. After all, here he's paired with Mark Waid, one of the most consummate FF writers one can imagine in this century.

IRON MAN 2020 #6 (OF 6)
5th Color Fluorescent Ink Cover by PETE WOODS
Variant Cover by TakAshi Okazaki APR200968
Connecting Variant Cover by SIMONE BIANCHI APR200969
Variant Cover by RON LIM APR200970
Heads Variant Cover by SUPERLOG APR200971
Throw out the rest of your stupid, worthless flesh-bag calendars. 2020 is over, man! The moment Arno Stark has been preparing for is here: the end of all human and artificial life as we know it! All this time you thought he was just some egomaniacal jerk; well, who’s laughing now? Well...no one really. We’re all about to die.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

For some reason I find the fact that I can't even guess what a "5th Color Fluorescent Ink" variant over or a "Heads" variant cover by Japanese artist Superlog might look like enormously appealing. Perhaps because, in the case of the former, it reminds me of DC's 1995 Underworld Unleashed event series, with it's garishly prominent use of neon green throughout...? And that reminds me of my youth? I don't know. Anyway, 5th color! What could it be? Neon green?

Cover by KRIS ANKA
Runaways no more! As the mysterious Doc Justice offers to shape our heroes into a super-group to protect Los Angeles, say hello to the J-Team! But who is the inspirational Doc Justice, anyway? How did he convince the least capes-and-tights-oriented kids in the Marvel Universe to suit up? And will everybody be on board with this major shift in the status quo? Don’t bet on it! As Doc Justice and his new recruits start cleaning up L.A. better than anyone expected, they’ll soon start to set their sights even higher! But where does that leave Gert? Back at the Doc’s mansion, of course. She’s not just going to sit there — with access to the J-Team’s files and resources, Gert is going to do her part! But where will this new role take her? Collecting RUNAWAYS (2017) #25-31.
152 PGS./Rated T+ … $19.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-92028-9

This is a very good sub-title for a trade paperback collection of a Big Two, shared universe title.

Written by ALAN DAVIS
Penciled by PAUL RENAUD
An all-new epic teaming Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with Marvel’s premier non-team! A strange and impossible lost memory from World War II draws Namor the Sub-Mariner to his onetime compatriot Captain America — but the two heroes and their respective allies soon find themselves pulled into a labyrinth of madness, pain and destruction courtesy of the Infernal Ichor of Ish’lzog! Avenger must battle Defender as the alchemist Diablo casts cards from the deck of fate, pitting hero against hero for his own nefarious purposes! As chaos spreads, the two groups find themselves confronted by the most unlikely characters in Marvel history! Would you believe...the Unbelievables?! And as the cosmic chaos reaches its peak, the Avengers and Defenders are literally merged — becoming composite costumed champions! But can any of them put an end to the reality-altering madness? Collecting TAROT #1-4.
112 PGS./Rated T+ …$15.99
ISBN: 978-1-302-91525-4

As I've no doubt mentioned before, I have a fascination with Marvel's Defenders, one that I can't entirely explain or even articulate. It may simply be that Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen's millennial Defenders revival was so good (and one of my first Marvel series), it may be that my favorite part of the Marvel Universe is Namor bickering with other superheroes and that's built into the premise of the series, it may be some sort of love of underdogs, and that Marvel had such a sort of quixotic B-team whose rasion d'etre seemed to be "Like the Avengers, but much less popular and consisting almost entirely of characters that either don't want to be there are also among the sadder also-rans we could round-up."

At any rate, I've been looking forward to this one since it was announced, as it seems very, very weird...hell, even the title is weird, putting what one might think would be the sub-title before the participating teams in the story.

That said, I haven't read any of it, or even flipped-through an issue in the wild. Have any of you? Is it good? Is it great? Should I get my hopes up?

X–MEN #11
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Oh, the trees are killing the children? I'll let James Tynion IV know.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

DC's August previews reviewed

With all of the chaos the pandemic has caused the comic book industry, DC's August solicitations contain a whole bunch of resolicits, as books originally scheduled for release in June were pushed back to August. That means that a big chunk of the latest round of solicitations were previously released, and therefore written about by me in the previous installment of the feature (which you can consult, or re-consult here). There are a bunch of new books included, though, so let's take a look and see what we have to look forward to/be demoralized by in August of this year, shall we...? The Nick Derington image above, by the way, is a variant for Justice League #51, which looks like it's going to be an otherwise pretty lame comic.

written by DENNIS O’NEIL and MIKE W. BARR
What connects Batman and the villainous Ra’s al Ghul? Find out in this collection of three 1980s graphic novels! How did Ra’s al Ghul become the villain that he is? How would a union between his daughter Talia and the Dark Knight benefit him? Why would he want to father an heir? Follow along as Batman lives through and tries to unravel the mystery behind the mind of Ra’s al Ghul!
Collects Batman: Birth of the Demon #1, Batman: Bride of the Demon #1, and Batman: Son of the Demon #1 at their original published dimensions of 8.5” x 10.875”.
ON SALE 09.22.20
$75.00 US | 320 PAGES | 8.5” x 10.875”
FC | ISBN: 978-1-77950-450-0

Breyfogle's fully-painted Birth of the Demon is pretty excellent (I wrote about it at some length here), but I still haven't read the other two books. It seems like it would be nice to have all three of these in the same package, but I would probably need to hold it in my hands before I could decide if I wanted to add it to my book shelves. Hardcover comics over a certain length seem to be pretty fragile to me, although that might be in large part because so many of the ones I see are here at the library, where they're read by dozens of people, and are thus under a lot greater stress than a book an individual might read once.

written by SCOTT SNYDER
All aboard! When the Justice League launches its assault on New Apokolips, the team’s goal is to free Superman from his solar prison. But it’s all going off the rails when they learn that the Man of Steel is gone for good thanks to the Anti-Life Equation. Plus, the deep secret of the Darkest Knight is revealed—but how much darker could the Batman Who Laughs possibly get? And don’t miss the surprise return of everyone’s favorite wanna be Robin!
ON SALE 08.11.20
$4.99 US | 32 PAGES | 3 OF 7

I have to assume everyone's favorite "wanna be Robin" is Jarro, right...?

Earth is turned upside down, shrouded in a realm of darkness after the Justice League’s defeat by the cosmic goddess Perpetua. Now the Batman Who Laughs and his army of Dark Knights rule the planet, wreaking havoc on humanity and raining destruction on the world. As Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and other heroes fight to survive in this strange new landscape, one cloaked figure has been observing from the sidelines, creating a guidebook to this new world and its evil leaders in the hope of forming a plan of justice…and penance.
This issue showcases the new factions of Earth and explores the mystery of what happened to our heroes after their battle with Perpetua. How does Wonder Woman, the new queen of Hell, reign over her prisoners? What is Batman doing with the Black Lantern Ring? And what happens when Harley Quinn takes charge of the Wasteland, and finds love in the process? All this and more in this jam-issue exploring the new world order.
ONE-SHOT | ON SALE 08.18.20
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES

Chip Zdarsky...? That's...not a name I expected to see attached to a DC event comic. That looks like a pretty interesting creative line-up; I like the work of all of the artists and most of the writers. I assume this will be a series of short stories, as opposed to the sorts of pin-ups and profiles that used to fill many of the pages of the Secret Files & Origins specials DC used to publish.

Re-reading the solicitation copy just now reminded me that this event supposedly occurs right after the completion of Snyder's Justice League run, even though DC kept publishing Justice League with various fill-in teams. I can't help but wonder if Dark Nights: Metal would be more exciting, or at least urgent-feeling, if it began, like, the month after Snyder's last Justice League issue, and if DC had cancelled, or at least temporarily suspended, publishing the series. As is, Justice League will have published what, like at least a half-dozen story arcs by the time Death Metal concludes...? And that would have been the case even without the pandemic's screwing with the creation, publication and distribution of comics...

cover by TONY S. DANIEL
The DC Universe has become engulfed by the Dark Multiverse, where demons dwell and reality is overrun by monstrous versions of the Dark Knight, all ruled by the Batman Who Laughs. In this collection of short tales, learn the terrifying secrets of these new Bats out of hell and other creatures of the night like Robin King, whose origin is just the worst! Plus, read about the secret buried beneath Castle Bat, the sentient Batmobile, and…how did Batman turn into a dinosaur?
ONE-SHOT | ON SALE 08.04.20
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES

Ellis and Ennis...? This special also has a pretty great line-up, including some of my favorite writers and favorite artists.

I am getting a real Spider-Verse vibe with some of these Batmen this time around...is that just me...?

written by PETER J. TOMASI
art and cover by KENNETH ROCAFORT
“The Joker War” explodes with an assault on Wayne Enterprises! The Joker has taken control of Waynetech R&D—and with it, all the weapons hidden in its sublevels—plus Lucius Fox as a hostage! The Joker and his clown-masked henchmen are now using Wayne Enterprises as an armory, using sophisticated 3-D printers to produce weapons to rule Gotham City...but Batman and Batwoman might have something to say about that. It’s all-out action in this nonstop issue!
ON SALE 08.11.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

Pretty solid cover by Kenneth Rocafort on this one. I particularly like the shape of Batman's cape. Does anyone ever draw his cape with that shape when it hangs behind him when he's at rest, or does it only ever take on the appearance of bat wings when he's leaping through the air...?

written by SAM HUMPHRIES
At last, it’s the star-studded roast of Harley Quinn! Nothing is off-limits, no topic is out of bounds, and no one—and we mean no one!—will escape unscathed. Harley may be the funniest person in the DC Universe, but how well can she take a joke?
Plus, in a backup story illustrated by superstar artist Riley Rossmo tying into “The Joker War,” Harley Quinn faces off against Punchline!
ON SALE 08.04.20
$5.99 US | 48 PAGES

Final issue? For serious? Huh. What are the odds that there's a new #1 solicited next month for September release? They've got to be pretty good, right...?

written by JEFF LOVENESS
cover by PHILIP TAN
At the mercy of the Black Mercy! As they return from their adventure on the planet Trotha, the Justice League crashes on the homeworld of the Black Mercy! There, they fall prey to the most powerful psychological threat they’ve ever faced! Written by Jeff Loveness (Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty), this two-part descent into the dark corners of the superhero psyche will unearth fresh horror.
ON SALE 08.18.20
$3.99 US | 32 PAGES

I can't imagine what on Earth would possess a writer to begin his run on DC Comics' flagship team book with a story as creatively bankrupt and somewhat scummy as returning to a particular well that writer Alan Moore, who has made no secret about his distaste for DC and other writers continually recycling his work, dug in 1985's Superman Annual #11, but Jeff Loveness has apparently, and disappointingly, decided to do so.

It's particularly distressing because it's not like Loveness is the first, third or fifth writer to fetch a storytelling shortcut from that particular well. So too has Geoff Johns (2006's Green Lantern #7-8), Gail Simone (2008's The All-New Atomo #20), Peter J. Tomasi (2008's Green Lantern Corps #23-26), Jeff Lemire (2011's Superboy #7*), Bryan Q. Miller (2011's Batgirl #24), and Phillip Kennedy Johnson (2018's Aquaman Annual #1), not to mention episodes the of Justice League Unlimited and Supergirl TV shows.

It's more disappointing still in that I just read a really excellent Superman and Lois Lane short story by Loveness in DC's Mysteries of Love In Space, so I would have been particularly excited to see what he could do with the whole Justice League, but I've got my answer early: He's going to exploit the work of a still-living writer everyone at DC seems to exploit as much as possible, maybe the only writer who regularly makes a point of publicly saying he hates that they do that and wishes they would knock it off.

The greatest heroes across the DC Universe unite in this collection featuring the best spacefaring stories of Justice League Unlimited, the comic book series inspired by the beloved animated series of the same name! These stories feature sci-fi adventures starring Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Adam Strange, Sinestro, Space Cabbie, and more! Collects Justice League Unlimited #4, #6, #18, #24, #34, and #46.
ON SALE 08.25.20
$9.99 US | 5.5” x 8” | 152 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-77950-673-3

This was a sometimes surprisingly good series, and I enjoyed many of the issues of it I read. Thematic collections of it seem like a pretty good idea. Double-checking, the only one of these particular issues I read was #46, which was the final issue of the series, guest-starring the Green Lantern Corps.

written by JERRY ORDWAY
In 1994 Billy Batson’s origin story was revitalized for a new era in The Power of Shazam!, the acclaimed graphic novel written and illustrated by Jerry Ordway. The story reintroduced Shazam, the Wizard, Dr. Sivana, and Black Adam, and was followed by an ongoing series, set four years later. This volume collects both the OGN and the first year of the series, bringing retro elements from Fawcett Comics history into modern-day continuity. Collects The Power of Shazam! graphic novel, The Power of Shazam! #1-12, plus a story from Superman & Batman Magazine #4.
ON SALE 08.18.20
$49.99 US | 408 PAGES
FC | ISBN: 978-1-4012-9941-

I'm going to have to ponder this one a bit. I've been meaning to read this series forever (I only read a couple of issues when it was originally released, like the one guest-starring Plastic Man), but $50 is a hefty price-tag, and, as I mentioned earlier, hardcovers of a certain high page-count/width give me pause. I wonder if it would be possible to track all these down for far cheaper than $50. I mean, I'm fairly certain it would, but would it be worth the time and effort one could save with a single, $50 investment...?

After Batman discovers the Teen Titans’ most shocking secrets, he arrives at Mercy Hall…and he wants a word with Robin. Don’t miss the confrontation between father and son that will alter the very course of the DC Universe. Will the Teen Titans ever be the same?
$4.99 US | 48 PAGES

Cool, does this mean Tim Drake can be Robin again...? Because that whole "Drake" thing isn't really working for me...

written by KAMI GARCIA
art and cover by GABRIEL PICOLO
Author Kami Garcia and artist Gabriel Picolo, the creative duo behind the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller Teen Titans: Raven, take you on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, while reminding us the value of true friendship—especially when life gets wild.
Garfield Logan has spent his entire life being overlooked. Even in a small town like Eden, Georgia, the 17-year-old with green streaks in his hair can’t find a way to stand out—and the clock is ticking. Senior year is almost over. If Gar doesn’t find a way to impress the social elite at Bull Creek High School, he will never know what it’s like to matter. Gar’s best friends, Stella and Tank, can’t understand why he cares what other people think, and they miss their funny, pizza-loving, video game-obsessed best friend.
Then Gar accepts a wild dare out of the blue. It impresses the popular kids, and his social status soars. But other things are changing, too. Gar grows six inches overnight. His voice drops, and suddenly, he’s stronger and faster. He’s finally getting everything he wanted, but his newfound popularity comes at a price. Gar has to work harder to impress his new friends. The dares keep getting bigger, and the stakes keep getting higher.
When Gar realizes the extent of his physical changes, he has to dig deep and face the truth about himself—and the people who truly matter—before his life spirals out of control.
ON SALE 09.01.20
$16.99 US | FC | 6” x 9”
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8719-1

I liked Garcia and Picolo's first Teen Titans OGN, Raven, a lot, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they will do with the next Teen Titan they tackle.

*Okay, Lemire's story had a Red Mercy flower instead of a Black Mercy flower. It was still a riff on a plot element "For The Man Who Has Everything".

Friday, May 15, 2020

Re-reading Star Wars: Dark Empire in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker, because clones

Star Wars: Dark Empire had been in the back of my mind off-and-on ever since the announcement of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as the comic book series was my very first exposure to any post-Return of The Jedi "expanded universe"/not-from-the-movies stories (Stories that have since been designated as non-canonical "Legends" after Disney bought Star Wars and the plan to produce new material set during that time period more-or-less necessitated wiping the setting clean of the scores of comics, novels and sundry other content already filling up that story-space).

Dark Empire became increasingly present in my mind in 2015 when I got my first look at Supreme Leader Snoke, who looked far rougher than even the age-ravaged (and Force-lightning-reflected-off-a-light-saber-ravaged) Emperor Palpatine, who, in my own wondering of who from the third trilogy was connected to whom from the first trilogy, I suspected of being a failed clone of Palpatine.

And then, when Palpatine made audio appearances in the trailers for Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine's resurrection via cloning technology and Dark Side space-wizardry seemed all the more likely; that is, after all, how he made his return from his death at the end of Jedi in the pages of Dark Empire. Hell, as the final film, Rise of Skywalker started flickering before me in the theater, I even suspected that Rey herself was a clone, perhaps of Palpatine, but more likely of Anakin Skywalker, which I thought would explain a lot.

Well, as it turned out, Snoke was some sort of clone (although not necessarily of Palpatine; all we know for sure from the film is that Palpatine and his followers grew Snokes in vats); Palpatine himself was not some sort of clone, he just somehow survived his death in Jedi and then spent a few decades hanging out, constructing a plot so byzantine it doesn't make a lick of sense to me; and that Rey is not a clone either, but the biological daughter of Palpatine's biological child, that he made biologically, by having sex with a lady at some point. (Gross, I know.)

I didn't care for that out-of-left-field revelation at all, and actually preferred my pet cloning theory, as cloning at least is something that happened a lot in the Star Wars-iverse, in the Expanded Universe, sure, but, with the prequel trilogy, in the films themselves, as well. At any rate, it made me want to revisit Dark Empire, which I had previously experienced both as a comic book series and an "audio drama" on CD.

That comic book series, written by Tom Veitch and drawn by Cam Kennedy, was a six-issue miniseries released by Dark Horse in 1991, just eight years after the release of Return of The Jedi (although in my young life, that felt like a generation, as I was six-years-old when I saw Jedi in theaters, but a full-fledged teenager when Dark Empire began its release). While not the first of the post-Jedi expanded universe storiesre-reading it today, it's clear a bunch of stuff happened between the party on Endor and the first pages of Dark Empireit's pretty close, following close on the heels of the events of the Thrawn trilogy (The first Thrawn book, Heir to The Empire, was released the same year as Dark Empire, and the Dark Empire comics and Thrawn books came out roughly concurrently, although I see that the three Thrawn books are now slotted into the timeline as having occurred a year before the Dark Empire stories).

It's a really beautiful-looking comic.

The most immediately striking aspect is the coloring, which Kennedy appears to have handled himself. It doesn't look a whole hell of a lot like any Star Wars film made before it or since, in large part because of how moody its lighting is, and how limited the palette. The comic looks hand-painted with watercolor, giving the shots of space and planets from orbit a more evocative, fantasy-illustration feel than anything attempting realism (It's a space fantasy, after all; why be real?). Each setting and scene seems to have a dominant color. An early battle shows blue machines and soldiers scrambling over brown terrain. Luke confronts the resurrected Palpatine in an all-green scenes with touches of yellow here and there. Once Luke has turned to the Dark Side and Leia confronts him, all is either black or a shade of red...all save the droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, who are blue.

Despite the excellent likeness of a mid-1980s Mark Hamill on Dave Dorman's cover for the collection (above), or of the Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and the various costumes and ships on the individual covers of the six issues, Kennedy himself draws the characters, rather than the actors playing the characters, so in the pages within, Luke, Leia, Han and Lando don't stand out as celebrity likenesses. There's a lot of Kennedy in all of the characters and the art, and not a lot of photoreference.

That's extremely refreshing reading this after reading a Marvel Star Wars trade paperback every month or two, and I can't help but wonder if the fact that this was being conceived, designed and drawn back in the late 1980s and early 1990s had something to do with it. Surely Kennedy had access to an incredible amount of visual reference material of the actors in these roles available to him, but it wouldn't have been quite as easy to access back then as it would today.

The other striking thing about the book, beyond how beautiful the damn thing is, is just how much has changed since then. While the three films of the original trilogy still serve as the foundation for everything, so much more has been filled in since then in the other two trilogies, two spin-off films, several TV shows and God knows how many comics and novels and video games that it's weird to go back in time to see such an early Star Wars story that has since been proven "wrong" by later ones, in the same way that, say, re-reading Marvel's original Star Wars comics from the late 1970s and early 1980s, one comes across an adventure of Ben Kenobi as a Jedi Knight that looks nothing like what we would see in Episodes I-III and The Clone Wars, or seeing Jabba The Hutt appear as a weird-looking humanoid alien before the people drawing the comics knew he would end up being a giant slug monster two films later.

But let's get started, shall we? A long time ago, 29 years ago being pretty long I think, in a comic book...

(Play John Williams' fanfare in your imagination here)


The trade paperback collection I'm reading, opens with a lengthy recap of...stuff that happened between the end of Jedi and the point at which this story begins, I guess. It is arranged on the paper in a way that's suggestive of the films' crawl, with the words receding into the distance, but, because these words aren't actually moving, it's more suggestive of it than a completely faithful recreation. There are also a lot of words on these pages. More, I would guess, than in any of the crawls from any of the nine, numbered "episodes" of the Star Wars films.

The gist is that The New Republic has managed to wrest control of only three-fourths of the galaxy from the Empire, while the imperial remnants still control the remaining fourth. There was no real leader among these remnants though, despite Thrawn's "deft assault, nearly bringing the fledgling Republic to its knees." After Thrawn's defeat, the various Imperial factions were civil-warring, and the Rebels—I guess they're still called "rebels", despite now controlling more of the galaxy than not?—use captured Star Destroyers to "conduct hit-and-run sorties" into the war zones, and you know what, I'll just let The Crawl tell you the rest:
One such raid, over the raging Imperial City battleground, ended in disaster: the Alliance Star Destroyer Liberator, commanded by Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian, crash landed on the planet's surface. As our story opens, Princess Leia Organa and her husband Han Solo, together with the Wookiee Chewbacca and the protocol droid C-3PO, are on a daring mission to rescue their fallen comrades.
So yeah, a lot of stuff must have happened elsewhere. Like, I missed Han and Leia's wedding, for example! How did that go? Was Chewbacca the best man? Did Luke give Leia away, or did the Force ghost of her dad do it...?

PAGES 1-3: The story opens on the Millennium Falcon, with lots of tight shots of the aforementioned characters' heads as they bark stuff at one another, preparing to come out of light-speed as they near Coruscant, where Luke and Lando are. Oddly, the first line in the story is Leia warning Han about the dangers of doing so too closely, which he shrugs off, followed by C-3PO warning him of the same, and Han threatens him. The Falcon comes out alright, as does one of the two "Alliance escort frigates" traveling with them, but not the other one. That ship immediately collides into some of that same battle debris and explodes, taking, as the dialogue notes, "a good frigate crew" with it.

It sure sounds like everyone was basically warning Han that their current course of action could get someone killed, and then it did.

Kind of an odd way to start the story.

PAGE 4: Han radios the remaining ship to stay in orbit while they take the Falcon down to look for Luke and Lando, and the pilot of that Frigate responds, "Nyeb Mlu, Solo--"

Hey look, it's...that guy! Wait, I have to look his name up. Oh. Yeah. It's Nein Nub! I hate that guy!

His face always bothered me as a child. (I was an easily bothered child, remember. Most of the first act of Return of The Jedi terrified me.) I didn't like the slick look of the space between his upper jowls and his lower jowls, which looked wet and sticky. And I didn't like the top of his head either. Or his all-pupil, black eyes.

Is it...species-ist to look at another alien race and be like, "I don't like that guy because of the way he looks...?" Like, if I were a Star Wars character and was like, "Ugh, Nein Nub is so gross; I hate him because of the way he was born looking" that would obviously be totally wrong. But is it okay to dislike an alien race because of its looks when that alien race was something some make-up effects people put together...? I don't know. It feels wrong. I guess it's something I should work on before we make contact with any alien races, in case they are gross ones like whatever Nein Nub is, and not sexy ones, like Twi'leks, or cute ones, like Ewoks or Baby Yodas.

PAGE 5-8: After two pages that are basically splash pages of the Falcon zooming into the Coruscant battle zone from orbit, with a few inset panels and dialogue balloons explaining what's going on, we get a glorious two-page spread I regret being unable to scan. Veitch's excited narration box tells us that "mutinous Imperials are deadlocked with forces loyal to the Emperor's inner circle" for control of the planet, and Kennedy has filled the pages with Storm Troopers and Imperial war machines, all rendered in a cool blue, engaged in a zig-zagging ground fight that the direction of which is impenetrable from the outside.

Kennedy mixes things familiar from the movies with things summoned from his imagination and strange crosses between the two. So in this image, we see two giant, dog-like AT-ATs walking across the uneven brown and gray ground, while in the background the Millennium Falcon whizzes by, and TIE fighters and an AT-ST are also visible.

In the foreground are a couple of strange tanks, one of them appears to be something like a metal fortress on treads, with a gigantic gun turret on top, and small guns placed along its sides. There's something that looks a bit like a TIE tank, although since its smoking on the ground, it's possible it's really just a TIE fighter so destroyed that its wings now resemble tank treads.

Crouched behind big, ruined metal pieces that appear to be parts of destroyed vehicles are armored soldiers firing laser beams at one another. Some look like standard issue Storm Troopers, some look like Scout Troopers, some look like new creations of Kennedy's own, with squarish helmets. Some of these have red circles atop their helmets, presumable marking them as members of one team or the other.

I think these are the sorts of images that are all too rare in Star Wars comics today, as here there is just so much brought by the artist into the extant setting. I'm sure there are perfectly good, perfectly logical reasons why we see less and less of creators just making their own shit up all the time in Star Wars comics these days, but it is one of the fun aspects of the older comics; there's a real wildness to them. (The further back you go, the truer this is, too.)

PAGE 9-12: Dialogue tells us that Imperial walkers have Luke and Lando pinned down, and so the Falcon begins the business of shooting down walkers. The most interesting bit on this first page isn't necessarily the group of indistinguishable humans firing blue lasers from their blasters in all directions, but the pair of figures crouched off to the left. Apparently some Ewoks signed up with the Rebellion/Republic after Endor.

They can be seen again on the foreground on page 11, and then shaking hands withe Chewbacca once the Falcon lands and the crew meets up with Lando. Luke, we're told, ran off to investigate some Dark Side shit, and now that the Walkers are down, a small army of scavengers roll up in what looks like a window-less SUV (one with wheels,no less! Its makers obviously aren't taking advantage of the seemingly ubiquitous anti-gravity technology.)

PAGES 13-14: The scavengers rush to strip the Falcon, releasing a pack of "cyborrean battle dogs" to stop our heroes. Leia poses like she's flicking water off her hands, saying she's going to try to use the Force to stop them, when suddenly they go flying...! But it wasn't her, it was "a shadowy figure, menacingly familiar" that steps out of a hole in a wall. The caped figure, just a smokey blue silhouette on the other side of a curtain of dust, has a hand raised, in the next panel, we see the black gloved hand of the figure emerge from the curtain of shadow and smoke, and all of the attacking droids explode:

Here's a good example of Kennedy just doing his own thing. Obviously, all of the various varieties of imperial battle droids we'll meet in the prequel trilogy and the security droids from Rogue One haven't been introduced, so Kennedy just makes up his own droids that look vaguely like ones that might exist int he same place that the likes of C-3PO and that doctor droid thing exist. They are with the scavengers though, so they might be assembled from broken droids and other junk. Note the foot of the one on the far right; it's the same basic shape as a walker's foot, although I would guess somewhat smaller.

PAGES 15-17: Ha ha, did you think that Darth Vader shape was Darth Vader? Don't be silly. He's dead. It was Luke Skywalker all along. Apparently from just the right angle, his hood looks like Vader's helmet in silhouette.

Hey, remember that part in The Last Jedi where it looked like Luke might use his Force powers to take on a bunch of First Order walkers all by himself...? Well, here we takes on one walker all by himself.

He uses the Force to generate a force field (or should that be Force field?) to block a few laser blasts, and then he reflects a blast back into it (I don't know; is this the first time a lightsaber is used to bat blaster fire back at a shooter? I know it happened on the regular during the prequel trilogy and Clone Wars period, and Luke seemed to block some blaster shots during the Sarlacc Pit fight in Jedi, but not necessarily lob them back in the way that common in the prequels).

It may also be worth noting that Luke's lightsaber is here blue, as opposed to green or yellow. This was before lightsaber color was such a thing, of course, and, I suppose, the blue was likely an artistic choice made by Kennedy, as opposed to anything meant as a symbolic reflection of the moral alignment of a Force user. All of the laser blasts have been blue so far, too, rather than red. We'll return to the matter of lightsaber color later.

PAGES 18-23: This whole sequence is a great example of Kennedy's use of color. On the first page, a spooky-looking Luke tells Leia, Han and the others to get lost because it's his destiny to stay here and face a vast evil and so on, and the scene is all green, save for the black of the lines Kennedy has placed on the pages and the dark coloration of Luke's cloak.

The palette adds a few more colors as the scene shifts to orbit, where what looks like a huge portal in space embedded in a dark cloud travels like a comet, and then lands on the surface, eating its way towards them. Inset panels continue to show Luke, bathed in green.

The characters then shift to a pink, as Luke eventually prevails on his pals to all get the hell out of DodgeLeia, for her part, reluctantlywhile only Luke and R2-D2 remain. On the last page, everything is now red as the mouth of the storm comet portal reaches Luke.

PAGES 24-28: As Luke, R2 and a bunch of wreckage get raptured up into the sky, our heroes return to Pinnacle Base, and then there's some catch-up business, with various Rebellion leaders making talking-head appearances: Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, The Guy With The Beard.

We get a look at the current Rebel base, built on a world with enormous red spires, and then everyone gets together for a meeting about the state of the bad guys. While various factions were civil-warring, "someone...or something...has been biding its time" and they have reason to believe "a dark side genius is at work...creating new technologies that go beyond all previous conception...."

On this particular moon, the ships are guided through the big red rock formations by "curious creatures" called Ixlls, and I assume is that bat-like thing there is an example of one. I've puzzled over them for a while, and I can't tell if it his holding a large round object in its hands (there appear to be small clawed thumbs clutching something), or if that's part of the creature. I also can't guess at its size, if it's mean to be as big as the ships are or much, much smaller, and only look big due to how close it is the reader's persepective.

PAGES 29-32: Over a series of four splash pages, dialogue in narration boxes name and reveal the new imperial super-weapons, called "World Devastators." They appear to be gigantic ships, far, far larger than Star Destroyers, that function sort of like titanic vacuum cleaners. They "consume everything in their path.. ...In their holds great furnaces and factories process the cataclysmic feast into raw elements... and new weapons of destruction!"

We won't see it for a while, but what that colorful language means is that not only do these machines carve swathes of destruction, but the stuff they suck up gets turned into fully robotic TIE fighters that they can then spit out to defend them; they are, in essence, mobile, self-sustaining spaceship factories.

I would like to here take a moment to point out how nice it is to encounter a Star Wars story in which the Empire comes up with a super-weapon that isn't just some form of planet-destroying laser beam. Episode IV had its Death Star battle station. Episode VI had a second Death Star that was in-progress, but fully operational. When Episode VII came along 32 years later, the new Empire, the First Order, had "Starkiller Base," which was just a bigger version of a Death Star. And when the saga finally ended (or "ended") last year, it was revealed that the new new Empire, The Final Order, had a fleet of Star Destroyers, each equipped with a special laser cannon that could blow up a whole planet in one shot.

I mean, get a new trick guys.

PAGE 35: This page features one of those examples of something in the book that reads as wrong today, on the other side of the prequel trilogy. Luke refers to am imperial dungeon ship as, "The kind they used to transport Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars..."

I can't say I recognize it from the Clone Wars, but then I did skip the TV show...

PAGES 36-40: The dungeons ship lands on a pale red planet  identified as Byss, surrounded by long, blue imperial ships. Luke and R2-D2 are taken directly from the ship into a floating energy cage, and transported through a strange blue city full of bizarre architecture and sentient beings in elaborate robes. None of them look particularly Star Wars-y...for example, despite some these appearing to be Emperor Palpatine's personal guard, they don't resemble the bright, red Imperial Royal Guard from Jedi. Aside from the fact that they wear robes, of course.

Among the most interesting looking are those that seem to perform some sort of sentry-like duty. They are giants:
I particularly like them because not only are they a sort of character unique to this comic and not from any of the movies, but they sure look like the kind of thing that could have appeared in a 1980s-made Episode VII, with some poles and animatronics under a robe, you know...?

Anyway, Luke Force-shoves some dudes out of his way and tells them he's here under his own free will, and then he marches to meet someone in a swivel chair, the chair's back to him, as the scene shifts from blue to green and, who could it be?

PAGES 41-45: That's right, it's Palpatine.
It's a somewhat odd reveal, really, as there's no dramatic moment with the chair spinning to reveal Palpatine or anything. We just get a close-up of Luke's face, followed by a close-up of Palpatine, looking off to the side.

Palpatine explains that he has lived for a very long time, and "died" repeatedly, each time his body decays under the power of the dark side, he moves into a new clone of his original self. "I live primarily as energy...formlessness... and power!" he explains. This...makes much more sense than whatever the fuck happened in Rise of Skywalker, where the film just sort of glosses over the fact that Palpatine has been alive since the end of Jedi, living as some sort of burnt-up, mummy of a marionette attached to some sort of life support thingamajig or something.

J.J. Abrams should have read more comics!

Anyway, Palpatine would like to seduce Luke to the dark side, and while he turns his chair to a porthole and starts explaining how cool the World Devastators are, R2-D2 hands Luke his lightsaber and asks him "Boop?" (Which is, I guess, droid for "You want to stab this guy or what?") But! Palpatine has laid a trap for Luke, as while Luke tries to decide whether he should saber the old guy or not, Palpatine tells him "Surely you know that if you strike me down, in anger, I will live again!...Perhaps I will even live as you!"

So Luke has no choice but apprentice himself to Palpatine, learn the secrets of the dark side, and then try to defeat him. The sequence ends with Luke taking a knee before Palpatine, and R2 asking "WEEE BDEEP?", which is probably droid for "WTF?"

PAGES 46-48:

Han says "I've got a bad feeling about this." Leia's been having magic Jedi feelings about how much trouble Luke is in, and so the gang is going to go and try to rescue him.

PAGES 49-56:

Lando and Wedge lead the rebel fleet to Calamari (not Mon Calamari, just Calamari), where they engage the devastators, and learn that they are actually giant mobile robot TIE fighter factories. These pages contain some pretty cool battle imagery from Kennedy, once again mixing old Star Wars stuff with new, original stuff that nevertheless looks like it fits. Things aren't going great for the rebels, as Lando loses his second Star Destroyer, when it gets eaten by one of the devastators. He also says that he has a bad feeling about something, which is overkill; once a movie (or, here, "movie") is enough, thanks.

Of note here is that when the rebel fleet shows up, one of the imperial officers orders an underling to "Inform Supreme Commander Skywalker of their presence." So I guess it didn't take too long for Palpatine to install Luke as the Boss of The Empire, and for the the whole Empire to get on board with it.

I'm not master strategist like Palpatine, but I have a feeling there's a fairy high likelihood that making his greatest enemy his right-hand man might backfire.

PAGES 57-62:

Leia is visited by a vision of Darth Vader, which slowly morphs into a spooky-looking Luke, who warns her not to look for him. Luke is just a face floating in a cloak, which is all splotchy blue and green water color, surrounded in an aura of white lighting. Their communication is interrupted by the Emperor, and when Luke's specter disappears, he seems to turn into pure, white lightning and shoot out in every direction of the room. It's another great image in a comic full of them.

After some conversation, preparation and a costume change for Leia, she, Han, Chewie and C-3PO board the Millennium Falcon, heading for a port moon that is a haven for smugglers, and where Han hopes to find help arranging transport to "the deep galactic core," where Leia's Force powers tell her Luke is.

PAGED 63-69:

They make it to the port, although they are immediately met with angry bounty hunters. Apparently, having killed Jabba The Hutt in Jedi made Han, Chewie and now Leia far more wanted then they were before. They reconnect with some friends of Han's from back in the day, Shug Ninx and Salla, and they plan to borrow their ship The Starlight Intruder for their rescue mission, as soon as it's ready.

PAGES 70-72:
While the ship is being worked on, Han and Leia go for a stroll (that's her in the hat, jacket and enormous pair of MC Hammer pants). This scene is a nice example of how fluid the Star Wars comics universe still is. Other than the Hutt in that second panel, Kennedy is apparently free to draw whatever he wants, rather than sticking to extant alien species.

During their stroll, Leia meets an extremely old woman who introduces herself as Vima, a former Jedi of two hundred years who, "In the time of the dying...Vima hurled herself down among the lost...to escape the great scourge." So jeez, here's another Jedi who survived Order 66 and Vader and company's hunt for surviving Jedi. How many is it total? A dozen? Thirty-five?

Anyway, Vima senses the Force in Leia, tells her that she contains "the spark that will rekindle the fire," and gives her a small, decrepit, rectangular box. When Han and Leia look away, Vima disappears.

Han then takes Leia to his ruined apartment, where his old busted-up droid butler is waiting for him, repeating "FZT...A Mr. Fett to see you, sir..." over and over.

PAGE 73-79:

Hey, it's Mr. Fett!

This is the fan-favorite character's very first appearance after meeting his apparent demise in Jedi. By way of explanation, all he offers Han is that "The Sarlaac found me somewhat indigestible."

Kennedy draws a pretty great Boba Fett, and would go on to draw several Boba Fett comics for Dark Horse after this. Boba is here allied with Dengar and a couple of other, non-name bounty hunters. Han and Leia escape pretty easily from them, by simply turning around and running out the door. A running gun battle through the streets follows, terminating when they see the Starlight Intruder rising up from its...garage, I guess...?

Safely aboard the ship, Leia opens the package she got from "Vima-Da-Boda," the narrator giving us her full, sillier name, and finds that it is a light saber. Holding it, Leia suddenly get s a vision of Luke commanding the Empire's forces, and it's a super-cool image. I like that better than any of the available covers for this series or its collections, really.
Again, it seems to me that that Palpatine and The Emperor accepted Luke as Executive Vice President of Rebellion Crushing awfully quickly here, but I suppose that could be just one more way that this series reflects the films—time seems to move at different paces in different story lines.

PAGES 80-83:

More battle over Calimari. Lando, Wedge and the good guys are getting their asses kicked when one of the world devastators receives a signal from "The master control computer on Byss" and then self-destructs.

"Whoever's in charge of those monsters is an idiot!" Lando tells Wedge. "You'd almost think he wants to lose!"

Perhaps he is an idiot...an idiot like a fox!

PAGES 84-85:

Fett's triumphant return is a brief one. As Han and company arrive at Byss, the Falcon parked atop the Starlight Intruder, security lowers the planet's force fields just long enough for the ship to get through. Fett and Dengar follow in Slave II, which is not as cool a ship as Slave I, attempting to sneak in right behind the intruder. Instead, the shield slams shut and their ship breaks into pieces, spiraling away as they trade insults. This is the spaceship-flying equivalent of Boba Fett running into a closed door.

PAGES 86-96:

Using The Force, Leia pilots the Falcon right to The Emperor's base, evades a patrol with a Jedi mind trick, and then she, Han, Chewie and C-3PO surrender, while Salla and Ninx, still aboard the ship, use its guns to blast Stormtroopers and escape.

Luke appears to them in another cool, spectral, water-color hologram (initially appearing with a halo of Kirby dots), and he then sends the giant sentinels to accompany them to a clone lab, where they meet Luke and The Emperor.

Leia ignites her new light saber, and does what Jedis generally do with them. She cuts off someone's hand:
The struggle doesn't last long. The Emperor disintegrates her saber with a gesture, creepily strokes first Luke's face and then hers, and then he gives another little speech about how his awesome energies ravage his body, and thus he has a clone program to give him spares.

Leia again uses The Force to try and kill him, knocking a piece of some equipment free to crush him, but it bounces off a force field he erects around himself, and then Force-lightnings her for discipline. Luke and Han have words.

PAGES 97-100:

Salla and Ninx have stashed the Falcon aboard another space trucker's ship to hide it, and they are hanging out in a rather unsanitary-looking space diner when an Imperial Hunter-Killer droid finds them. This looks pretty much like the probe droid from the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, but gigantic. Like, big enough that it's torso opens up and sucks the Falcon into it when our heroes' new friends try to make a break for it.

PAGES 101-105:

The Emperor is in full frail old man mode as he has his guards leave Leia and him alone in his room, as he's clutching his heart and walking with a cane and everything. He shows her a Jedi holochron, which Kennedy draws as a perfect, featureless cube, the blue and green-yellow light shifting in it as its handled by each of them.

He asks her, "Please...help a dying old man into his bed," and as he explains that upon his death that he, "like all great Jedis...like your own father...will drop this fragile flesh." The difference here is that rather than just become a Force ghost, he can inhabit a new body. Like one of his clones, or, and this seems relevant for Rise of Skywalker, "Indeed, I can enter anyone... I can overshadow the soul that dwells therein."

So that plot point from the climax of Skywalker, the one that retroactively made it seem as if that's what the whole final trilogy was about? The groundwork for that was laid out in the expanded universe decades ago, Abrams and company just needed to, like, toss in a few lines of dialogue in one of the, like, nine hours of those films.

When Palps mentions to Leia that he can even enter her unborn child, we get the best part of the whole series:
She straight up flips the Emperor's bed, spilling his frail old man body onto the floor. Oh, and she steals his holochron and books it.

What I wouldn't have given to have seen Carrie Fisher throwing around an old man on the big screen...

PAGES 106-109:

Meanwhile, in an all-red room, and Imperial officer reports to Lord Skywalker that now three devastators have been destroyed due to the tampered-with control signal, and Luke tells him to keep it under his goofy-looking, over-sized hat.
When Leia runs in, he tells her everything's cool, he's put all of the Empire's important secrets in R2-D2 and now they can all flee together. He still has really scary-looking eyes, though.

PAGE 110:

A low point in Chewbacca's career:

PAGES 111-116:

Han and Chewie are in the process of escaping, just as Nynx and Salla arrive to rescue them, a couple of seconds before Han and Leia arrive to free them. All our heroes board the Millennium Falcon and jump to the safety of light-speed, at which point Luke dissolves before their very eyes; he was never really with them, but was still on Byss.

"He used a dark side power to trick us," Leia says.

Interestingly, Luke does something pretty similar in Last Jedi, during his climactic duel with Kylo Ren.

PAGE 117-118:

Palpatine has recovered from being flipped out of his bed by Leia, and is now seated in a chair in his green-lit clone lab. Luke comes to prevent the transference of the Emperor's mind and power into a new clone body, so before Luke can do anything, he...self destructs...?
It's then a race, as Luke starts slicing open vats and killing clones as fast as possible, as "the Emperor's genetic offspring meet mindless babbling death," before Palps' invisible life essence can inhabit one.

It does so, and slowly a young, muscular young clone with slicked-back hair and green mottled skin rises up from a puddle of goo to stand nude before Skywalker.

Luke, unfazed by either Palpatine's threats or the sight of the penis that was used to bone Rey's grandmother, Force-shoves Palaptine into a wall. He ignites a light saber from a nearby rack, and it's on!

PAGES 119-120:

The fight doesn't last long, just three panels and Palpatine is the victor, but there's a couple of interesting things to consider.
The first thing I noticed was that both Luke and Palpatine wield blue light sabers. This may be simply because of Kennedy's very deliberate choices about lighting throughout this bookyou'll note this page is all pale blue, sickly yellow-green and black and whitebut I suspect this was also before there was much meaning assigned to light saber color, with the Sith always using red, the Jedi blue or yellow, and Sam Jackson purple.

I once had it explained to me by a fan who had three light sabers tattooed on her arm that red is the color of the dark side, yellow or blue is the color of the light, and so-called "gray Jedi" like Qui-Gon Jin used green light sabers. So did Luke in Return of The Jedi. But, this being the '90s, I think this was well before people thought so damn much about every detail of every aspect of Star Wars.

The other interesting bit is that in his dialogue, the Young Emperor says that the Jedi will soon be extinct, and thus "how fitting that one of their precious lightsabers brings an end to the Jedi delusion!"

This seems to not only imply some sort of separation between himself and the Jedi, but to associate lightsabers with the Jedi specifically, rather than also being a Sith weapon. The expanded universe of the novels at this point in Star Wars history is completely unknown to me. Did the word "Sith" even exist yet...? Did they use lightsabers too? Certainly in the original films, Vader does, but not The Emperor, and the films make a point of identifying Vader as a Jedi who turned to the dark side. In the films at that point then, lightsabers are definitely a Jedi thing, exclusively.

At the end of the fight, Luke is sitting on his ass in a puddle of clone afterbirth goo with a lightsaber pointed at him, and a pissed-off Palps tells him that they're going to go get his holochron back from Leia, as well as her unborn child.

PAGES 121-130:

The Millennium Falcon speeds toward the still ongoing battle on Calamari, R2-D2 first freezing the world devastators and then making them crash into one another. Kennedy draws lots of cool shit in these pages, including rebel ships with wings that terminate in pontoons, skimming across the water, and boat loads of rebel soldiers using jet packs and powerful grappling hook-guns to engage with Stormtroopers on the decks of the devastators.

Among the dialogue throughout these scenes, Han yells at 3PO, R2 yells at 3PO and 3PO snaps back at his little friend, Salla mentions making the Kesel run in the Falcon with Lando (Man, don't these people ever shut up about the Kesel run?), Han asks Chewie to call the troops on the the devastators  and tell them to evacuate (which seems an odd task to assign the one character that doesn't speak English/Basic) and, in the best part, Han apologizes to Leia for doubting Luke:
"I guess I'll just never figure ol' Luke out."
"Luke is sacrificing his life for us, Han...for our children. Sometimes the actions of a Jedi make no sense to ordinary men."
Ouch. Leia totally just called her husband ordinary, huh?

His reply?:
"Yeah, who would have thought? Me...father of Jedi. I guess an ordinary guy can do somethin' right sometimes."
I think what he's saying is that he may not be a special magic Jedi like Luke, but at least he fucks.

(For what it's worth, Luke will kiss a lady in the sequel to this, Dark Empire II, but the relationship is short-lived, and about as romantic as Luke's dad's courting of his mom in Attack of The Clones.)

PAGES 131-133:

The battle over, Mon Mothma, The Guy With The Beard and the rebel leaders have a meeting, while Leia retires alone to a bedroom, talking to the Jedi spirit in the holochron. The spirit, Bodo-Baas, gives her a dumb prophetic rhyming poem that starts out somewhat subtly, mentioning "A brother and sister/born to walk the sky", but, a few lines later just straight up refers to them as "the Skywalkers."

Veitch's narration tells us that "Leia ponders the mysterious prophecy," although there's nothing all that mysterious about it: It says she has to help Luke defeat The Emperor.

PAGE 134:

The Emperor has an all-black Star Destroyer that is ten miles long. It's just...ridiculously big. Here it is next to some regular-sized Star Destroyers:
It's so big. On the previous page, Veitch's narration referred to it as being "of prodigious proportions." I am going to have to assume that the Emperor's new clone body has no penis as all. That's the only explanation for the size of this ship.

He holograms into the Rebel meeting and says if Leia brings him back his holochron he will discuss a truce with them. Leia's like, hell yeah, I'll go. She must have figured out the final lines of Bado-Baas' "mysterious" prophecy:
A Jedi-killer wants to tame her.
Now the Darkside lord
comes to claim her.
She must battle join
against this thief,
or the dynasty of all the
Jedi will come to grief!
PAGES 135-136:

Leia arrives aboard the 10-mile long black ship wearing what appears to be a Supreme Court Justice's robe. The Emperor is now wearing clothes, a long black robe with a pointy-upturned collar, making him look as much like Space Dracula as possible. He's busy fondling a floating space sculpture while Luke, wearing a matching black robe, lurks nearby, a red light saber lit in his hand.

So now there are red lightsabers, I guess.

Palpatine starts talking to Leia about how he's going to raise her unborn child and maybe take its body for his own one day and...
...she shoots Force lightning from her belly at him?!

PAGES 137-138:

Luke and Leia almost have a lightsaber duel, but the closest they get is briefly crossing swords, until she talks him down a bit.

Palpatine is now full-on Dracula, I think I can even detect a glimpse of fangs:

PAGES 139-140:

Palpatine calls Vader impotent, in a very Star Wars-specific way:
Oh snap, "the impotent side of the Force!"

This begins the best and longest lightsaber battle in the whole series, although there's only about three blows in it. There's a great panel where Palpatine raises his lightsaber to strike, and it's infused with Force lightning, but it ends, as it must, with someone getting their hand chopped off. Here, Palpatine.

Is it just me, or does someone lose a hand every time a lightsaber ignites...?

PAGES 141-143:

The fight over, Palpatine summons his evil Force storm from the beginning of the story, the one that sucked Luke and R2-D2 up off the surface of Coruscant, to eat his very big ship. Luke and Leia close their eyes, unite their Force power and...somehow send light energy at Palpatine, who is now drooling. He screams as the Force storm starts disintegrating his ship, and our heroes escape in a shuttle, the end. It's quite abrupt.

I think if this were a film, the drama with the Skywalkers aboard Palpatine's giant ship probably would have been intercut with the battle scenes on Calimari, and there would have been some sort of denouement, but then, this is not a film.

This leads directly into a sequel by the same creative team, 1994's aforementioned Dark Empire II, and an abbreviated third installment written by Veitch and drawn by Jim Baikie, 1995's Empire's End, but let's call it quits here.

In conclusion: J.J. Abrams should have made the Palpatine of the Rise of Skywalker a clone and he should have made Rey a clone of Anakin Skywalker.

Or, at the very least, he should have sought more inspiration from this comic which, whatever its faults, featured a better, easier-to-follow return of The Emperor.