Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... Volume 3 - Resurrection of Evil

Here on Random Thoughts Escaping is a written version of my contribution to today's Marvel Noise podcast: a new installment of "Marvel Unbound". And with it comes another opportunity to chat about it in the Marvel Noise forum's "Marvel Unbound" thread. Enjoy!

While they have since lost (or given up) the rights to many of their licensed properties, back in the '80s it seemed Marvel owned the rights to officially adapt nearly every movie and toy franchise of significance. Blade Runner. Bond movies like For Your Eyes Only. Conan the Barbarian. Star Trek. G.I. Joe. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Transformers. And, yes, even Star Wars.

Dark Horse currently holds the rights to Marvel's Star Wars catalog, and made the run available in seven volumes under the Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... banner. Similar to the scarcity of the G.I. Joe trade paperbacks, volume one of the Dark Horse Star Wars trade paperback -- containing the adaptation of the original movie -- is difficult to find and ridiculously priced on the secondary market. While I would love to get my hands on that, it's volume three, Resurrection of Evil, that interests me most, because it covers one half of the point in time that I was reading the comic. The collection starts off with the six-issue official adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and cruises through to issue #53.

One of the coolest things about these adaptations is the literary license Marvel was able to take. The original issues were released concurrently with the movie, so the writers often worked from earlier drafts of the scripts resulting in varying or additional information not found in the films. Sometimes characters weren't quite "right" visually or omitted altogether because the artists either didn't see the movie in advance or were not given permission to illustrate particular details. In the Empire adaptation, we get a subplot of Wampa ice creatures inside the Rebel's Hoth base, a freaky looking Yoda, and no visuals whatsoever of the asteroid space slug. Overall, though, what we get here is solid and enjoyable!

This is sort of a double-edged sword, though. What's cool about this is that, unlike the Return of the Jedi adaptation, Empire was folded right into the Marvel continuity as issues #39 through #44. The downside is that because it was folded right into the Marvel continuity you eliminate Han Solo from the storytelling palate unless he's used in flashbacks, so we're left with Luke, Leia, and Lando heavy tales.

Outside of The Empire Strikes Back adaptation, the only place we see an appearance by Han in this volume is in the "Giant 50th Collectors' Issue!" It's actually a pretty solid story by Archie Goodwin that includes an entire chapter out of Han and Chewie's past, with art by Al Williamson, Thomas Palmer, and Walt Simonson.

Thinking back to the time when these books were produced, no one knew where Lando's allegiance would eventually lie. Many of the stories filling the gap between Empire and Jedi focused on Lando and Chewie being called away from the search for the bounty hunter Boba Fett and Han, and revolving around Leia and Chewie's distrust of Lando. David Michelinie, however, allows Lando a rare moment of heroics in what is the best original story in this volume -- the two-parter "Resurrection of Evil"/"To Take the Tarkin" -- spun across issues #51 and #52.

While Goodwin is probably the writer most closely associated with the title for his work both here and in the newspaper strips, and handles the bulk of the scripting in this volume, there are some other well-known Marvel scribes contributing one-off issues throughout. G.I. Joe mastermind Larry Hama under whelms with his tale of Leia vs. Vader in issue #48's "The Third Law". Chris Claremont's duel-titled tale in issue #53 -- "The Last Gift From Alderaan!/A Stranger Among Us!" -- takes this volume out in outstanding cliffhanger fashion! (And Simonson's cover is just gorgeous!)

Williamson is as inextricably linked to the title for his art as Goodwin is for his storytelling, but they're not the only game in town. Carlos Garzon, Carmine Infantino and Simonson also split art duties with Williamson here.

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... Volume 3 - Resurrection of Evil is one of the volumes from this series that is readily available at cover price or below, and includes an interesting interview with Jennifer Barker of Digital Chameleon Ltd., the company responsible for recoloring the entire Marvel Star Wars series for Dark Horse. I didn't collect a lot of Star Wars comics back in the day. I only have issues #50 through #57. All post-Empire Strikes Back. All sans Han Solo with the exception of a flashback story. Four of those eight issues are captured in this volume, and rereading them here was a real treat.

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