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Star Wars Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews - Page 4

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones  2002 (SC TPB) 112 pages

Written by Henry Gilroy. Pencils by Jan Duursema. Inks by Ray Kryssing.
Colours: various. Letters: Steve Dutro.

Reprinting: The four issue comic book mini-series

Adapted from the movie written by George Lucas.

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Attack of the Clones adapts the big budget movie that was, um, the second instalment of the prequel trilogy, second movie chronologically, fifth in order of production, and, um... Well, anyway. You know what I mean.

While young Jedi, Anakin, reunites with Padmé and an illicit romance starts to bloom, the Republic is threatened by a civil war as more and more worlds break away...

And I'm not quite sure how to review it.

It's a fairly straight forward, faithful translation of the movie to comics, with not too much left out for space reasons...but, there's nothing much added, either. Obviously, when you read an adaptation of a movie, you want it to stay true to the movie, but sometimes it can be nice to get an "expanded" version, either by including extra scenes, or using richer, more textured text captions to add nuances, or introspection.

Funnily, when I first reviewed this, I commented that action scenes were truncated -- which I suppose is true compared to how action-heavy the movie was. But re-reading this recently (and immediately on the heels of re-reading the Phantom Menace adaptation, in which the talky scenes were most definitely emphasized over the action) I'd almost make the opposite complaint: the action scenes and fights go on too long, consuming series of pages. And though they might be exciting in a live action movie, in a comic (where the action is often a bit hard to follow) they can just feel over-long and unexciting.

The notion of text captions have largely fallen out of favour with modern comics practitioners, preferring a straight cinematic style of comic storytelling to one with a toe still in a literary stream. But here, writer Gilroy does in fact employ captions... quite a bit. But it's generally there just to clarify a scene or an action ("Landing on the Reek's back, Anakin takes control of the beast.") Although that's welcome when the scene is otherwised muddled, it also means the captions tend to be rather flatly written, as if Gilroy includes them as a necessary evil, rather than because he was putting any effort into crafting them. Indeed, it can often feel like heavy handed captions to a children's picture book, as opposed to passages told with literary flourish, meant to give us insight into a scene and the emotions.

Ironically, even with these purely serviceable captions, some of the action scenes still remain confusingly staged if you haven't seen the movie for a while (as I hadn't when I read this). How much that lies with the script, the artist's composition, or just the trickiness of trying to recreate cinematic action in still panels, I'm not sure. I suspect each contributes its own flaws.

The art by Jan Duursema (no stranger to Star Wars as I think she even drew some comics back when Marvel published the comics) is solid enough, and with Ray Kryssing's inks, and the brooding colours, tends to try for a bit more sombre mood than did the movie. Of course, doing a visual adaptation of a movie/TV show can be tricky, as there tends to be a lot of talking heads and people just standing around stiffly. But though the art is decent, it can also be a bit undynamic. She does a decent enough job evoking the actors...with the exception maybe being Natalie Portman (perhaps a reflection of the fact that Portman's features tend to be, I dunno, unblemished for lack of a better word -- an artist can't exactly emphasize distinctive lines or creases because she doesn't really have any).

Interestingly, although the art is in many respects more detailed than the art employed in The Phantom Menace, I think I found the simpler style in that earlier adaptation more appealing.

But, ultimately, I'm not quite sure how to review this -- it was faithful to the material and competently drawn. But, I'll admit, it didn't fully hold my interest. That may be a problem with the adaptation but, I suspect, it's also a problem with the source material. I tend to be a Star Wars fan...who tends to like the idea of the Star Wars movies more than I do some of the movies themselves. In fact, the story in the comic picks up during the sequence when Obi Wan is investigating and goes to the clone planet...precisely where I recall finding the movie becoming more intriguing, as a "plot" began to emerge. But in both versions, it's a fairly brief interlude.

Despite this "mystery", and the potential for emotional drama in the blossoming romance, I recollect this as the weakest of the three prequel movies...perhaps explaing why this is the least compelling of the three comic book adaptations.

Bottom line: a competent, but perhaps uninspired translation of the movie.

Cover price: $__ CDN./$17.95 USA


Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace  1999 (SC TPB) 100 pages

Written by Henry Gilroy. Pencils by Rodolfo Damaggio. Inks by Al Williamson.
Colours: Dave Nestelle, Harold McKinnon. Letters: Steve Dutro. Editor: David Land.

Reprinting: The four issue comic book mini-series

Adapted from the movie written by George Lucas.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Dark Horse Comics

This is the comicbook adaptation of the hit movie that serves as the beginning of the prequel to the Star Wars trilogy. Set decades before Star Wars, it chronicles a galactic dispute resulting in a sinister force occupying the planet Naboo, and a couple of Jedi Knights encountering a young boy with a powerful connection to the Force...Anakin Skywalker.

Sometimes I used to be frustrated reading novels or comics adapting movies, because of the way they would sometimes diverge from the source material -- leaving out some favourite line or scene. This was either because the writer was embellishing with his/her own creativity or, as was often the case, working from an earlier draft script (in order for the release of a comic or novel to coincide with the movie, the writers would have to start work before the movie itself was completed). Yet here what's almost disappointing is how faithful the adaptation is! At 100 pages, they can basically fit in the whole movie (maybe trimming a scene here or there, particularly the action scenes) but there are no extra scenes, no novel interpretations that might make things fresh or exciting. At the same time, because of its length, it doesn't fall into the trap of some other, shorter adaptations I've read where the story can be rendered incoherent at times because crucial scenes and lines are left out will-nilly -- where it exists just to remind you of the movie rather than to stand on its own. At least, for the most part. There are still moments in The Phantom Menace that, I'll wager, will be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the movie, particularly in the climax. And occasional subtlties might be lost, like during the pod race. In the movie, the point was that no human had ever won a pod race before, adding significance to the line reproduced in the comic "You have brought hope to those who have none."

But for those familiar with it, it does a nice, evocative job, even imbuing the scenes with a little more atmosphere than the movie had thanks to the colours and inking. At the same time, there is a kind of "Classics Illustrated" approach (to use the cliched, and perhaps unfair, put-down of adaptations). Artist Damaggio does capable, realist work, and evokes the actors well enough (maybe not so that you'd recognize them if you didn't know who starred in the movie, but well enough if you do). Al Williamson, who illustrated comic book adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi so lushly, is on hand as an inker, but can't bring much to the proceedings in that capacity. Likewise, scripter Gilroy sticks to reproducing the dialogue from the film -- no extra thought balloons, and the few text captions are treated as just bridging text, with no attempt to use them to create mood or to embellish a scene.

I first read this a few years ago, then recently re-read it...when it's been years since I've seen the actual movie. And considered that way -- it actually holds up quite well. In the sense that, though I remember aspects of the movie, I was basically reading the comic as a story for itself. I wasn't comparing it to the scenes in the movie, nor entirely relying on my knowledge of the movie to patch over confused storytelling. The comic is a bit talky and more a procedual than emotional, reminding me in some ways of some of Jim Shooter's writing, and like Shooter's stuff, it can carry you along anyway. The action scenes are significantly shortened in the comic from the movie, which is probably a good idea as cinematic action scenes don't always translate well to sequential panels, putting the focus on the plot and story more than the stunts.

I had mixed feelings about the movie itself, and those remain here (thin characterization, and a plot that contains at least a few holes) but strangely I think I actually learned to like the story here more reading the comic than I did watching the movie version!

This is a review of the story as it was serialized in the mini-series.

Cover price: __


Star Wars: Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith  1999 (SC TPB) 144 pages

Written by Miles Lane. Art by Doug Wheatley.
Colours: Christopher Chuckry. Letters: Michael David Thomas. Editor: Randy Stradley.

Reprinting: The four issue comic book mini-series

Adapted from the movie written by George Lucas.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Published by Dark Horse Comics

This adapts the third and final of the prequel films, as the machinations of the would-be emperor come to a head, Anakin Skywalker fully succumbs to the Dark Side, and the stage is set for the original Star Wars trilogy.

When reviewing these comic book adaptations, I'm trying to review the adaptation but, inevitably, how well it works will also depend a lot on the source material. That is, I think this is one of the better comic adaptations...but a lot of people would argue the Revenge of the Sith was one of the better movies (at least of the prequel trilogy), so the comics folks are working with more compelling material. The prequel trilogy had the fatal flaw that it didn't really have a compelling "hero" -- the story more focused on anti-hero Anakin's transformation into villain Darth Vader (which, itself, wasn't especially intriguingly teased out). But neither Anakin...nor Obi-Wan, nor most of the characters, were really that compelling. But the third movie, by focusing on the machinations, and the culmination of plans, at least works more effectively as a plot-driven story. And, with that being said, does generate some emotional moments of suspense, and tragedy.

I also tend to try to review these comics from the point of view of how well they tell the story regardless of whether you've seen the movie -- something that, admittedly, is hard to do (since I have seen the movies). But in this case, though I had seen Revenge of the Sith, I hadn't seen it for a while before reading this, and I found the comic reasonably coherent and comprehensible. (And for a second reading it had literally been years since I saw the movie). There were a few scenes here and there that might be a bit confusingly staged, but in general, I think writer and artist capture the flow of the narrative well.

The art style keeps evolving from adaptation to adaptation of these prequel films, from the effective but Spartan-lined style of the Phantom Menace, to the more detailed and shadowed look of the Attack of the Clones, to this, which goes for a more stylish, painted look, as though colourist Chuckry is colouring over Wheatley's original pencils. It gives the book the most lush and ambitious visual look of any of the comic adaptations. Granted, the art can seem a bit stiff at times, but in general it works more than it doesn't. The likeness of the actors are captured well (including Natalie Portman, who in an earlier book I commented seemed to be tricky to evoke), and though there is some bland composition, at other times, Wheatley does capture some effective mood through his visual choices, his close up and angles. As with all the comics, there's actually probably a bit more visual mood in the comics than the movies generated.

Like with Dark Horse's other Star Wars movie adaptations, this sticks pretty faithfully to the source, making this, perhaps, more a translation to comics than an adaptation. Scenes and dialogue adhere pretty close to the source, with one or two minor changes -- such as having Count Dooku lose only one hand in the opening battle (which, I think works better, as does his more emotive expression).

Ultimately, as I say, reviewing these is a bit tricky as there are different factors to be considered: is it enjoyable on its own? Does it capture the source material? If so, are you really reviewing the comic...or the movie? Etc.

But bottom line: I found this a pretty compelling, visually lush SF thriller.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $12.95 USA.


Star Wars: Visionaries 2005 (SC TPB) 136 pages

Writers/artists: various

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Published by Dark Horse Comics

An aspect of filmmaking that probably isn't that well known to the general public is the "concept artist" -- probably most wildly employed in science fiction, fantasy and horror films (anything that requires depicting things that don't otherwise exist) but also used for historical and even mainstream films. A scriptwriter can casually write "the heroes land on a strange planet" or the director can say "let's have a few extra space ships in this battle scene"...but it's the concept artists who visualize the planet and the space ships for the set builders and model makers. And on movies like the Star Wars films, apparently hundreds of drawings, paintings and concepts are done by artists that are never used, with the artists often coming up with their own plot ideas and character backgrounds to inspire their illustrations.

So Dark Horse Comics, current holder of the Star Wars comics license, thought why not give these guys a forum where they could let these unused ideas play out in comic book form? Hence this anthology of comic book short stories by the concept artist bullpen that worked on Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (and some of the other movies). Perhaps because they're used to thinking in terms of movie storybords, most take to the sequential panel narrative reasonably well, and all but one act as their own scripter (one artist co-scripted with another writer).

And the result, though visually interesting, is also uneven. For one thing, this isn't just aimed at Star Wars fans...but Star Wars fans, with stories meant to play off scenes and characters in the films in a way that requires more than casual familiarity, as planets are referred to and character names uttered that, I suspect, the reader is supposed to recognize and derive resonance from. But as such, some of the stories just kind of leave you scratching your head, unsure of the references.

And some stories will leave you scratching your head...period. As the concept artist will present a tale full of weird and wild imagery...that doesn't quite seem to gel into a coherent narrative. (A couple of them make no preretense at narrative and just supply, as their contribution, various still paintings).

The collection starts out with one of the best: "Old Wounds", by Aaron McBride, which is told in a clear, comic book style and though it plays on events from the movies, they were significant enough events that I was able to follow it. Though the problem with doing such stories in comic book form is that sometimes the artist expects instant recognition of a character...who only vaguely ressembles the actor who portrayed him! But it's an effective tale, mixing mood, action, and characterization.

Alex Jaeger's "Entrenched" (co-scripted by M. Zachary Sherman) is a straight-forward, but reasonably effective, "letter to the homefront" tale of a rebel soldier on Hoth (the only story here that is set during the original trilogy). It builds to a touching epilogue that, admittedly, will only have resonance if you recognize the scene and characters, but at least it isn't an obscure scene. Sang Jun Lee's story set on the Wookiee planet, "Deep Forest", is also decent, as is Warren Fu's more continuity heavy "The Eyes of Revolution", which provides background to a character in the movies that was otherwise rather ill-defined.

The art styles vary throughout, from straight comic book line work, to fully painted panels, from realist to strange and cartoony. Visually, the book is certainly interesting to leaf through. And storywise, it has its ups and downs. Unfortunately, the downs -- or at least the "huh?" -- seem to dominate. And very few of the stories actually involve significant characters from the movies.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $17.95 USA.

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