Friday, August 22, 2014

Star Wars at Dark Horse: A Retrospective

This month marks the final Star Wars comics published by Dark Horse. I have a couple thoughts on things to write this month into next month about the passing of an era and some favorites, but for this week, I have a guest column from Bradon Borzelli, friend of The Matt Signal and Star Wars fan, giving a really good rundown of some of his favorites.

Dark Horse Comics has published Star Wars comics for over two decades and to celebrate their final month (August of 2014) of publishing floppies it seemed like a good idea to call attention to some of the best issues to seek out, read and enjoy over and over again. This is not a ‘best of’ list nor is it only single issues, but rather these are some comic books that can be found fairly easily (either as back issues or in various collections) that could be classified as timeless.

Secondarily, with so many Star Wars comics out there, the whole “where do I begin?!?” statement can be brought down to a manageable list.

I’ve broken this out by what I believe to be a classic read list and then a list of stuff I happen to really enjoy that may not hit with every fan or prospective fan.

As a bonus I’ve added the three series I believe to be entire runs that are worth seeking out and read in whatever form they are available.

The classics:

1)      Darth Vader: Purge - While this is not a ‘best of’ list, this is my absolutely favorite Star Wars comic book. This issue came out just as the Star Wars: Republic series ended. Its Vader seeking out a nest of Jedi and slaughtering them, all while looking for Obi-Wan. The back issue price is high but it has been collected several times in hard cover and trade. Just look for the severed hand on the cover with Vader walking away and you know you’ve found it.
2)      Star Legacy #16 – Unintentionally going in order, this is my second favorite Star Wars comic book. Did you ever wonder what Obi-Wan did to protect young Luke all those years on Tatooine? This issue gives the reader a glimpse of what Obi-Wan was capable of and it’s fantastic. An added treat is that this issue also contains a Jedi from the Star Wars Republic series that helps round out the character. This is a pricey back issue but is collected in the “Claws of the Dragon” trade.
3)      Star Wars Republic #50 – This is the perfect one shot that deals with the clone wars. It’s an oversized issue that contains three battles within the Defense of Kamino battle. It’s set pretty much immediately after Episode II but the plot fits in well and makes a lot of sense. This is a dense and classic read and easily found. Incidentally this is the third issue in a row on this list that has John Ostrander’s hand in it.
4)      Star Wars: Darth Vader - Ghost Prison #3 – The entire mini-series is fantastic, but in this issue Darth Vader visits the Jedi temple to learn more about the prison where the Jedi kept their war criminals. Vader visits the temple with an imperial officer and doesn’t let on that the holos of Anakin are really him. This is a classic issue that ties the clone wars and dark times together from an Anakin to Vader transition point. This issue is easily found but I urge reading the entire story.
5)      Star Wars Republic #63 – This is part of a long running arc but the climax is a battle between two Jedi – Vos and K’Kruhk. It’s a fantastic fight that brings the dark side to a boil in a Jedi that dances the fine line too much throughout the series. This issue is easily found and is collected several times.
6)      Star Wars Republic #54 – This is one of my favorite Star Wars comics. It’s got Anakin and Obi-Wan and a Master-less padawan. The comic captures a lot of the war-time events that Anakin witnesses that could help him along towards the dark side down the road. This issue also deals with the concept that Anakin believes if he were more powerful he could save everyone. This is a classic one-shot.
7)      Star Wars Dark Times #10 – This issue wraps up the Parallels arc with K’Kruhk defending the group of padawans from some pirates. He absolutely cuts loose which brings his character close to the dark side, but it also shows that the old ways are over and if the Jedi are to survive they must forget the old and reinvent for the future. This entire run is worth getting but this issue stands out.
8)      Star Wars – Dark Empire – The classic six issue mini-series that brings the Emperor back as a clone. Luke falls to the dark side, but believes he has things under control. This comic still holds up after twenty years and has plot threads that still make sense despite all of the material that has come after this. Plus the stunning artwork is somewhat of a perfect fit for this dark comic series. The series feels too compressed in today’s world and probably could have been expanded to twelve issues very easily. There is just so much to explore when it comes to Palpatine.
9)      Star Wars Crimson Empire – This is the first comic book (or series) to really explore an obscure character. One of the Emperor’s royal guards is the focus and the series is an absolute classic even all these years later. The two follow-up series have diminished returns but the original one makes you think anything really can become a story in the Star Wars universe. The first issue is all you need to get hooked.
10)  Star Wars Legacy #27 – Sith versus Sith. This issue brings to light an awful lot of Sith mindset and background. This comic is easy to track down and really punctuates what makes this series so great.

Additional Reading:

1)      Mara Jade: Emperor’s Hand – this mini-series helps to expand the character of Mara Jade and takes place during and immediately after Return of the Jedi. There is no single issue that stands out above all others but the entire series really builds this character out after losing the Emperor. I’m not sure how it would read if you haven’t had exposure to the characters from the novels but it is a great story that holds up some sixteen years later.
2)      Star Wars Vector – While this is a twelve issue crossover, the best of the series are actually within Dark Times #11 and #12. It features an Old Republic Jedi against Darth Vader and it is a great read.
3)      Star Wars Jedi: Aayla Secura – This one-shot is really part of a larger arc, but it is an oversized read that really gives insight into a terrific character as she mulls over her master’s apparent fall to the dark side. She also battles a fantastic villain in this book.
4)      Heir To The Empire – This is a tricky one because the novel is so much better than the comic series. However, the comic series is a great guide into the novel universe so it is worth picking up.
5)      Chewbacca – Four issues featuring small stories within each that focuses on the life of Chewie as told by the people that love him. Chewie dies in the novels and this is the spillover effect into the comics world. They are great reads on their own.
6)      Star Wars Legacy – Broken – It’s impossible to break up this first arc to a single favorite issue. Pick this up and you won’t regret it. There is another Skywalker….even 120 years after Return of the Jedi.
7)      Star Wars Legacy – Claws of the Dragon – In some ways this is really the climax of the entire series but more importantly it reveals the identity and origin of the primary villain and it is fantastic.
8)      X-Wing Rogue Squadron – Battleground Tatooine – While the entire Rogue Squadron comics are unique and entertaining reads I find this one to be particularly special. Perhaps because it has ties to Jabba The Hutt. I’m not advocating that this is the best of the series, but I find it to be a personal favorite.
9)      Star Wars Dark Times – A Spark Remains – The final mini-series is a personal favorite and not just because it contains Vader. This mini-series is full of surprises that I won’t spoil here.
10)  Shadows of the Empire – This doesn’t quite hold up today but it has a special place in my heart as it really opened my eyes to the possibility that mining the years between the films still had plenty of stories to be told. It also has a terrific villain.
11)  Star Wars: Jedi – Not enough books or comics about Qui-Gon Jinn so this mini-series is essential reading if you want to read about him.

The Series:

1)      Star Wars: Legacy – Now that the entire run is collected in three hardcover volumes it makes tracking this series down much easier. This is the pinnacle of Star Wars comics at Dark Horse. If you think 120+ years after Return of the Jedi is too far to see familiar characters and themes then you will be pleasantly surprised.
2)      Star Wars: Dark Times – Generally speaking this series tracks one particular Jedi after the events of Order 66 and it’s no one that is from the films. However, each arc packs an emotional punch and provides a new definition of climax.
3)      Star Wars: Republic – The comics published from issue 49 and later are all classics. Never before has a comic series tied so closely to the events of a future Star Wars film as these 30+ issues were. Plenty of villains, plenty of Jedi and plenty of interesting twists and turns. The run isn’t limited to just the Republic comics as there are Jedi one-shots, a General Grievous mini-series and a Ventress centric mini-series called Obsession. These are all reprinted within three soft cover volumes and are well worth the price tag.

Does this cover it? Not by a long shot but I guarantee something in here is the “comic you are looking for.”

Brandon Borzelli first saw Star Wars in the 1979 re-release at a drive in theater with his family. A year later he saw Empire Strikes Back and after a sleepless night he was hooked and has been ever since. Brandon writes comic reviews over at and holds his Star Wars comics as the pride of his collection. He looks to pass on what he has learned.

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