By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 07/12/2013 10:00 am EST
Publish date: July 10, 2013 Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
When I was a lad—back before indoor plumbing became all the rage—my favorite comic book was Walt Disney Comics Digest. And being pre-adolescent, I was absolutely certain that Walt Disney wrote and drew every comic. How did I know? Well, he signed each story in ink for gosh sake!!! In reality, he was already lying frozen (in carbonite perhaps?) somewhere below the Matterhorn Ride (It’s Disney on Ice!).
Once I matured and moved onto MAD and joined the Merry Marvel Marching Society, I became somewhat jaded and realized that there were “others” who work for Walt—the same way the department store Santas work for Herr Klaus. But I always had that nagging desire that the authors I admired were auteurs (this was long before I knew the word). I wanted to believe that Al Capp penciled, inked, wrote and lettered all of Li’l Abner.
One of the things that made Star Wars so great for so long was George Lucas and company’s devotion to quality. Back in the day, the Star Wars comic produced by Marvel was consistently as good if not better than most of the other books published by The Big Two. In fact, any Star Wars product—comic, game, or toy—was certain to be of the highest quality, because Lucas ran a tight conglomerate and it felt like he kept an eye on everything that was produced. Alright, who just mentioned the Star Wars Christmas Special??? Granted, that was quite a disturbance in the Force. But times have changed, Empires have struck back, Clones have attacked, and more archetypes have been added to the Disney Gelding Stable. I had no idea what this cosmic shift would do to the quality of Star Wars comics.
I sat down to read the Star Wars: Purge collection with an open mind since I haven’t read any Star Wars comics for a quite a while. The very last one I read was the (highly recommended if you can find it) Complete Star Wars Newspaper Strips by the team of Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson. And to my delight, I found Purge an entertaining reading experience. The story arc was serviceable; the art was competent, the storytelling was straight-forward. I was pleasantly surprised.
From what I could glean from Wookipedia—no it is not bookmarked—writers Haden Blackman and Alexander Freed are major LucasComic players with dozens of Star Wars comics on their resume. The artists did a solid job of manipulating Vader’s mask (à la Gene Colan on Iron Man). Judging by the stories included in this collection, it looks like everything in the ILM Omniverse is in good hands.
I try to read comics slowly, to really enjoy the blend of word and image that is unique to comics. But when I read manga, I quickly flip through the endless sword fights. No matter how well the duel is executed, they are all pretty much the same. Ditto for light saber duels. I am not just taking the high ground, Anakin—surely, you must see this.
But in these stories, the creative teams do their best to balance out the sword fights, and the bit with the severed hand (someone wake up Dr. Wertham—he’s sleeping right next to Walt!) was quite clever and entertaining.
The bottom line is that I really enjoyed the idea behind these stories. I was expecting page after page of wholesale Jedi slaughter (which is abundant) but I was surprised by how the writers portray the Sith. At this point—just months after the end of Star Wars: Episode III—ol’ Darth is still new to the Dark Side of things and does not follow orders very well. This is not your father’s Darth Vader. At the same time, Vader’s new boss is constantly on the lookout for a newer and even better number two; but would you expect anything less from this most consummate of bad guys?
None of the established good characters from the films appear. They shouldn’t. They are in hiding and must remain there. The only time they do appear is in an odd and very poorly constructed flash-forward that is the basis for the second story in the collection—a life and death struggle with Vader from inside the head of one of the surviving Jedi. This story is the only clunker. It is badly executed by the usually reliable veteran John Ostrander. He and his penciller Jim Hall try something and it fails. But again, you have this collection of stories that could have settled for a mindless blood bath, but instead focus on Empire building. And the new bosses at Disney wouldn’t have it any other way! Darth Eisner is dead; love live Darth Iger (Eisner/Iger??—that should make Iger’s successor either Darth “Busy” Arnold or Darth Kitchen, I guess)!
After I finished reading Purge and before I sat down to write this piece, I lingered over an ad page in the back of the volume that provides the conscientious reader with the “Star Wars Graphic Novel time-line”. But I didn’t just linger, I found myself looking up particular books listed on the subsequent ad pages. Oh no! It’s a Dark Horse Jedi mind-trick (you know, it only works on the weak minded)! I won’t fall for it…but that Dawn of the Jedi era looks really interesting. Darn it—these aren’t the comic books I’m looking for…move along!
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.