So this is it. After months of relentless hype and build-up, the opening salvo of Dis/Mar’s full-spectrum Star Wars dominance has arrived in the form of the new Star Wars #1 from Marvel Comics. Get ready for more, of course — the year-long lead-up to the new SW flick, The Force Awakens, is going to get positively deafening. We’ve only just begun.
And the four-color page seems a natural enough place to start things off, given that the second Disney purchased Lucasfilm lock, stock, and barrel it was obvious where the Star Wars license was going to go once Dark Horse’s deal for the property expired at the end of 2014. Marvel is using “back home” as their motto not only for this series, but the solo series featuring Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, et. al. to come, and while it’s true that they were the first to publish Star Wars spin-off comics, I’m not sure if what’s going on here isn’t more of a consolidation than a true “homecoming.”
Still, make no mistake — a lot is riding on this book, and especially on this first issue. Marvel has put this out stapled between no fewer than 100 (yes, you read that right) variant covers (of which I’m only including a few examples —- hmm, can you guess which one is by Skottie Young?), and a distribution deal with Toys ‘R’ Us has them confidently predicting that this will be the first comic to sell a million copies in well over a decade.
Honestly, it’s enough to make the early ’90s — when people argued over whether or not Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 was a “legit” million-seller because it featured two different covers — seem quaint, isn’t it? Of course, the profits involved here are staggeringly higher, even though the numbers being bandied about are similar, simply because Spider-Man hit the stands with a cover price of $1.50, while Star Wars costs a mind-boggling $4.99, and it doesn’t exactly take a math whiz to figure out that a million books at five bucks a pop adds up to five million dollars. Sure, the price per issue Marvel is getting from Diamond — and Diamond from the stores — is a lot lower than the $4.99 us dumb suckers have to pay, but considering that the variant covers are being parceled out based on number of orders per shop, and that most of them cost anywhere from $10 to $50 depending on their “rarity,” five mil seems like a pretty solid bet for this book’s total take for its publisher at the end of the day.
Tell ya what, Marvel will probably reach that lofty goal, too — at my local comic shop this morning (Comic Book College on Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis) there were all kinds of people pouring in who quite obviously hadn’t set foot in the place in years, if ever, and most of ’em were buying both the regular five dollar version to read and at least one of the variants, most of which were in the $12-$20 range, to bag, board, and presumably save forever — or to hustle off on eBay within the next week when demand will be at its highest, take your pick. One guy I saw was buying six different copies of what is, let’s face it, exactly the same comic.
Well, to quote In Living Color, homie don’t play dat, so I just walked out the door with the bog-standard version only, and I damn near didn’t even get that because this way a pricey enough Wednesday as it is, what with a number of actually good books coming out.
The common theme you’ll be hearing, of course, is that this temporary surge of interest is “good for comics,” because at least a few of the hard-core Star Wars fans out there who come into the shop will find a few other things to try, and if they like ’em, they’ll be back. Maybe that’s true — but I remain skeptical that this hoopla will be “good” for anyone other than Marvel, and that even for them it will represent only a temporary bump at best. Consider — the nearest thing conceptually to Star Wars to come out this week was the newest issue of Image Comics’ frankly far superior sci-fi series, Copperhead, and my LCS only ordered its usual five or six copies of that, despite the fact that anyone who takes a chance on that title probably will be back for more, while your average Star Wars customer, assuming they’re not completely drunk on Lucas Kool-Aid, is simply going to go home, read the thing, and feel instantly ripped off.
All of which is my none-too-subtle way of saying that, you guessed it, I didn’t like the book. Oh, sure, I probably should have given the fact that it boasts a trio of “A-list” creators in writer Jason Aaron, artist John Cassaday, and colorist Laura Martin, but once the story proper starts in (after a mind-numbing four introductory “design pages” at the front), it becomes pretty clear that everyone involved is mailing this one in. Cassaday’s art looks okay but is nowhere near his usual standard with uncharacteristically sloppy character forms and facial expressions, Martin’s colors are solid enough but don’t really add any depth of feeling or atmosphere to the panels, and Aaron’s script is a threadbare run-around in space peppered with just enough quick and easy “spot-on” bits of dialogue to fool lazy readers into thinking he “gets” these characters. Shit, after spending most of the preceding 29 pages setting up some lame non-negotiation for the supply of unspecified “raw materials” to the Empire from our barely-disguised Rebel forces, the story ends on the most predictable cliff-hanger of all — a splash page teasing a looming light saber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Hmmm — where have we seen that done both before and better?
From the moment I read the initial announcement regarding the creative teams behind these titles, the choice of Aaron to script the main series puzzled me. Yes, he’s one of the best writers in mainstream comics today — Scalped and Southern Bastards prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt — but gritty rural-ish “noir” seems to be his forte, and his one foray into the cosmic that I’ve read, Thanos Rising, was almost remorselessly uninspiring stuff, despite featuring some truly incredible art from Simone Bianchi. There’s probably nobody in the industry I’d rather have telling me stories set in Deep South backwaters or on “The Rez,” but as far as space operas go, Aaron just isn’t the man for the job. Sorry.
Cassaday, on the other hand, definitely seemed like a “home run” choice for artist, but he’s really off his game here. Presented with a number of chances to do some truly dynamic, memorable splash pages — I believe there were three in this issue alone — his work instead appears stiff, uninspired, and even out of proportion. Is this really the same guy who did all those beautiful issues of Captain America a decade ago? He seems a shadow of his former self here.
Still, while the choice of Aaron and the work turned in by Cassaday were both surprising — and not in a good way — what doesn’t surprise me in the least is Marvel’s decision to set these stories in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. If you’ll recall, the first issues of Marvel’s spin-off Star Wars comic came out right after the first film and before the second was able to further “nail down” Lucas’ mythology, and consequently, a number of things that the creators of those books, most notably Archie Goodwin and Howard Chaykin, came up with were subsequently either ignored completely, or changed beyond recognition in Empire and Return Of The Jedi — things like a skinny, yellow-skinned Jabba the Hut with long walrus whiskers, or that pesky flashback scene that shows Luke’s father being killed in a light saber fight (of course) by Darth Vader. Clearly, there are numerous continuity issues here that Marvel probably won’t bother trying to actually resolve, but will do their damndest to bury under a raft of new, more technically “accurate” stories set in the same period.
This is one reader who definitely won’t be sticking around to see how it all plays out, though. Star Wars #1 was so thoroughly mediocre, with all of the principal creators giving such a sub-par effort, that no matter how much better things get (assuming that they do), it won’t be enough to even drag this series kicking and screaming up to “average” status. Once upon a time, we got really well-done imaginative Star Wars comics, but that feels like it happened a long time ago in a galaxy — well, you know the rest.