Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Science Fiction edition with Leatherjack and Star Wars

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

Leatherjack is the story of an assassin, working thousands of years in the future for a disgusting crime lord and employed to retrieve a book which unlocks human consciousness, and which is in danger of being destroyed, along with all the other books on a library planet, in a galactic war.

It sounds agreeably engaging, but it all somehow fails to gel. We never get to know any of the characters, but those we do meet just seem like templates from John Smith's playbook - depraved dictators, foppish killers, observers watching from the sidelines seeing events spiral out of control and saying "no no no no." Add in a climax in which an ancient power rises to wipe out the technology of the warfleets that threaten it, and the whole thing feels like a longer, shallower incarnation of Smith and Marshall's earlier, excellent Firekind. And what are we to make of the comedic Spinster Empire, and its space-faring censorships, who are amusing, but seem to have wandered in from an entirely different strip altogether? Not really recommended.

I guess everybody over the age of 32 remembers that period before The Empire Strikes Back, when George Lucas was licensing out the job of telling Star Wars stories to just about everybody. Even if you don't recall the details, you remember how you could follow the adventures of Luke Skywalker and company in Marvel Comics, in novels like Splinters of the Mind's Eye, on TV in The Star Wars Holiday Special, and in a syndicated newspaper strip.

Frankly, I'd forgotten about the strip until I found a used copy of this at the Book Nook and realised that the unusual panel layout inside had to have come from reformatted newspaper comics. A little research at a Star Wars Wiki (called [groan] Wookiepedia) informs me that the strips in this book were written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson, and originally ran from Feb. 1982 to Jan. 1983, and which were later colorized, reformatted and run by Dark Horse. This comic series was called Classic Star Wars. This, "The Rebel Storm," is one of at least five books which compile those many Dark Horse reprints.

The strips themselves are great fun, classic space adventure very much in the Flash Gordon mode, without all of the ponderous Jedi mythology that would later weigh the films down, and without all the overanalyzed counting-Stormtrooper-helmets debates on milporn and "canon" that makes the fandom so off-putting. These are just darn fun stories, told by a veteran like Goodwin who really made the characters shine and came up with some very clever situations. Also amusing, in retrospect: the presence, however tame, of a Luke-Han-Leia love triangle also totally shows up Lucas's claim that he'd always known Luke and Leia were siblings.

I'd totally buy a proper collection of the strips as they originally appeared. You'd think that in a world where you can buy geegaws ranging from every possible remastering of the movies down to short stories about those bounty hunters in Empire that didn't actually do anything beyond standing around posing for the action figure people, you could get some nice hardback collections of the strips like Titan does with British newspaper comics, but these bastardized, reformatted versions are all that's available. Recommended for people who enjoyed the colorized version of Casablanca.

(Originally posted April 09, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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