Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

25 March 2016

Secret Six, v. 1: Friends in Low Places

Collects: Secret Six v. 3 #1-6 and DC Sneak Peek: Secret Six #1 (2014-5)

Released: February 2016 (DC)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401254858

What is this?: A new Secret Six! Five criminals and a PI are hunted by the mysterious Mockingbird, who wants some information from him. Who is he, and what does he want?

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone and artists Ken Lashley, Dale Eaglesham, and Tom Derenick

It has to be natural to make comparisons when you’re reading a title that has been recently rebooted, like Secret Six, v. 1: Friends in Low Places.

I’ve read most of writer Gail Simone’s run on Secret Six — the final volume, Caution to the Wind, will come out next month — and it’s hard not to compare Friends to that run. Frankly, it was hard for me not to mix-up the two different versions of the team. I’m not sure whether the source of that disorientation is the reboot or the book itself — but I’m leaning toward Friends.

Secret Six, v. 1: Friends in Low Places coverIn Friends, four villains (Catman; the newest Ventriloquist; Strix, a Talon from the Court of Owls; and new character Porcelain), a superpowered teenager (Black Alice), and a private investigator (Big Shot) are tormented and hunted by Mockingbird. Why? Mockingbird is coy about the reason, imprisoning them and asking, “What is the Secret?” They escape (without answering) and form a team of sorts.

Mockingbird claims to be an arch-criminal, but his plans are haphazard at best. He’s looking for a stolen diamond, but he doesn’t ask about the gem. He’s trying to protect his identity, sure, but he’s dealing with criminals, a teenager, and a private investigator; he’s asking for “the Secret,” yet it’s hard to imagine a more secretive yet stubborn group. Everything is a secret with them. Mockingbird sends a team, led by Scandal Savage, to track and fight the new Six, although it’s unclear what he hopes to achieve. He and Scandal hope the Six will be re-imprisoned, but Mockingbird has a mole in the group, which he uses almost immediately after the fight to draw the team into a … trap, of sorts. (The trap is he threatens to blow everybody up, including his putative fiancée and himself, if he doesn’t get what he wants. I’m not sure why it’s effective.)

It doesn’t help that Scandal’s team doesn’t seem interested in fighting the Six, despite Mockingbird threatening to use hostages against the Scandal. Nor does it help that the team — Scandal, Silver Banshee, and Ragdoll — were all members of the pre-reboot incarnation of the Secret Six. During the entire fight, part of me was bothered that those three were fighting against Catman.

The fight scenes don’t raise the stakes; instead, they seem to lower them. The scrap between the Six and Scandal’s team is frequently amusing, but no one’s heart seems to be in it, and Scandal unilaterally ends the fight by walking away. (She also doesn’t seem interested in the obvious next move of joining forces against Mockingbird.) The final fight between the Six and Mockingbird’s forces is desultory at best; Strix takes out Mockingbird’s men in a few panels, and the rest of the fight is the team reluctantly turning on Mockingbird’s mole despite having more effective options other than fighting among themselves. Perhaps this is intentional; the Six have no tactician, and they’re mostly people whose first and last recourse is fighting. It doesn’t make the book entertaining to read, though.

The art doesn’t help the fight scenes. Ken Lashley’s work on the Six’s escape from Mockingbird in the second issue is a few chaotic panels followed by a declaration of victory, while Tom Derenick’s art for the final fight lacks dynamism. Derenick tries to give a demonstration of Strix’s fighting style on a single page, but the horizontal layout makes the fight into a sidescroller, with that old video-game logic: antagonists come out of nowhere, they could possibly spawn forever, a character might not be something you can fight, and the fight ends arbitrarily. The battle in #3, which takes place in Big Shot’s suburban home, is much better, but it’s played for laughs, and there’s always a sense everything is being held back.

In the first two issues we should ideally be meeting the team and seeing how the members relate to one another. However, those issues feel disorganized; the first issue is mostly about Catman, how he was captured by Mockingbird and how poorly he fares in captivity. (His actions when he meets the rest of the Six in #1 have little to do with how he relates to them later on.) Issue #2 has many flashbacks to Catman’s captivity — no, not this captivity, but the captivity before that, the one we didn’t know had occurred. The double captivity is confusing, and the lack of issue labels doesn’t help; since the book includes a “Sneak Peek” issue, and I assumed one of the first two issues was that issue — something loosely connected to the regular series but that might not match up well to its continuity. Getting captured twice by Mockingbird makes Catman look like a chump, but the focus on Catman in these issues gives the impression Secret Six will be Catman and the Kitties Five, something the rest of Friends doesn’t dispel.

The book does have a lot of things going for it. Simone’s sense of humor is still appealing, and with a few less faults, that humor might have won me over. The other characters are types, but entertaining ones. Big Shot is the straitlaced suburbanite, unwilling to curse (or to have others curse) around ladies. The Ventriloquist is a Norma Desmond-type, believing the spotlight will find her and her dummy, the seemingly sentient Ferdie. Strix is silent, phonetically writing all her communications on a pad of paper and completely unable to guess what is socially acceptable. The “writing on paper” gag becomes impractical many times — who would let her write during combat? — but I’m willing to accept it for now. More concerning is that Strix is identified as a Talon for the Court of Owls, but neither “Talon” nor “Court of Owls” is explained. I know what they are, but a footnote would have been nice. I don’t think DC does footnotes any more, though.

Big Shot’s relationship toward Black Alice quickly becomes paternal. It’s reminiscent of the relationship between Scandal Savage and Bane in the previous volume of Secret Six, but that’s all it is: an echo, a parallel, an allusion. The relationship differs in many important ways: Big Shot and Alice are relatively nice people, which Scandal and Bane were not; Alice is young enough and Big Shot not so controlling that the relationship doesn’t have any creepy overtones; and most importantly, Alice enjoys Big Shot’s protectiveness. Their scenes together are sweet.

Porcelain is an afterthought. We learn the character’s basic powers — making hard matter brittle — and we’re told the character is trans to some degree, shifting from presenting a female to male persona to the world. We never discover if that’s a normal, real-world transition or if it is something in Porcelain’s powers. It hardly matters, since we see Porcelain as male only for a brief moment in issue #3. Unlike the others, we learn little of Porcelain’s personality. In the big fight scene, Porcelain is knocked out between issues #5 and 6, as if either Simone or Derenick had forgotten Porcelain was unaccounted for at the end of #5 but didn’t want to spend the necessary time showing what happened.

As revealed by my comments above, I’m not enamored of the art. Lashley draws the first two issues plus a few pages of the third. His work is atmospheric, but it lacks the detail needed to plant long-term hints; it’s hard to tell, for instance, that the singer on the first page of #1 is the same character who hits Catman with a taser a few pages later. Derenick (parts of #3 and #5, and #6) and Dale Eaglesham (Sneak Peek, #4, and part of #5) have much clearer styles. Their work is complementary, similar enough that I sometimes miss the handoff between them. I enjoy the clear lines and clear action both of them supply, but as I noted before, their fight scenes lack a certain vitality. I can’t decide whether that’s because the fights are written as pro forma, or if the art is the reason the fights seem so lackluster.

Friends is a disappointing book, but it’s not without promise. I’ll probably pick up the next volume, but I may not pre-order it. (I’m assuming the DC Universe didn’t re-reboot before the next six issues were released.)

Rating: Secret Six skull symbol Secret Six skull symbol (2 of 5)

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18 March 2016

Rocket Raccoon, v. 1: A Chasing Tale

Collects: Rocket Raccoon #1-6 (2014-5)

Released: October 2015 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785190455

What is this?: Rocket Raccoon of the Guardians of the Galaxy endures space jail and an army of ex-girlfriends while trying to discover what happened to “his people.”

The culprits: Skottie Young, with artist Jake Parker (#5-6)

Since Rocket Raccoon, v. 2: Storytailer will be released next week, I thought I’d look back at Rocket Raccoon, v. 1: A Chasing Tale. Relevance!

For most readers, the book’s appeal lies in Skottie Young’s artwork. Young, who drew #1-4 and wrote the entire book, certainly gives readers hyper-cartoony action and violence, the kind of stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. Not that Young’s style looks anything like old Warner Brothers animation, but it does have the expressiveness, flexibility, and humor of those cartoons.

Rocket Raccoon, v. 1: A Chasing Tale coverYoung’s art often lives up to its reputation for imaginativeness. The prison escape montage is excellent. The sea-creature visuals surrounding Rocket’s accomplice Macho are creative and cohesive; I especially like the fish-like creature who swallows Macho’s ship, then spits it out at the other end of a hyperspace warp. Young sneaks in a few funny Easter eggs as well, like a box marked “John Woo props” in the middle of a gunfight.

Sometimes the art fails to live up to that standard, though. The aliens all look like humanoids, blobs, or animals; I’m not sure what else they can look like (clouds? Mechanical items?), but I feel confident Young could come up with something more unusual if he tried. (The strangest alien in Chasing Tale is Xemnu the Titan, a long-time Hulk villain Young uses in #2.) The ship designs are a bit boring as well. The sound effects Young adds are not as funny as the ones in Hercules — or as funny as Young thinks.

But I am not interested in Rocket Raccoon because of Young’s art. It’s nice to look at, but I’m a fan of the character Rocket — both Bill Mantlo’s original creation, with his anthropomorphic animal friends and stupid Beatles puns, and Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s sardonic, violent space warrior. The latter is in Chasing Tale, but the more I learn about him, the less I like him.

Young’s Rocket has a habit of swindling and leaving women he has bedded. He uses the idiotic catchphrase “Murdered you” that Bendis came up with in the new Guardians of the Galaxy series. (It’s possible Young might be using the phrase ironically; that doesn’t make it better.) Rocket learns no lessons from his bad behavior. What’s worse, he spends time angsting about his origins …

Once upon a time, Rocket’s origins were simple. He was an uplifted raccoon, meant to amuse the inmates on Halfworld, a mental asylum planet. When the psychiatric professionals left, Rocket and his animal pals were elevated to caretakers of the Loonies. Halfworld had a lot of uplifted animals, but none of them seemed to be of the same species; given that Rocket (then known as “Rocky”) was in charge of Halfworld, he would have known whether any other raccoons existed. But in Chasing Tale, he’s looking for others like himself (one of whom seems to exist) and Gideon’s Bible, the legendary artifact of Halfworld. What happened to Rocket’s memories of Halfworld? Why doesn’t Rocket know where any his old friends or the Loonies are? Why doesn’t Rocket know why Blackjack O’Hare hates him? (And why does Blackjack say it was over an employment dispute, since the two frequently fought on Halfworld?) Would it have killed editor Sana Amanat — or assistant editor Devin Lewis, who signed the lone footnote in the book — to give us a damn footnote explaining some of this?

The villains in Chasing Tale are all weak or problematic. The women Rocket wronged are both. They are all portrayed as unhinged, as jokes. Their leader tells Rocket that women’s pain isn’t treated as seriously as men’s; she’s right, but saying that doesn’t mitigate Young making light of their pain in Chasing Tale. (I mean, look at that pun in the title!) Rocket ruined their lives, and his only punishment is a few punches that he takes without complaint (and community service). That’s not enough; Rocket not only seduced and left the women, but he took their money, which caused them to lose their social status. Rocket manages to pummel an army of exes, despite their armaments and large ships, and still have something left over for Blackjack.

Every other villain is merely a speedbump for Rocket on the way to the end of the story. Without a clear view of continuity, Blackjack is only an opportunity for Young to draw a murderous bunny, not an opportunity to explore an existing relationship. The rest of Rocket’s antagonists are done away quickly and as a joke — huge person (with or without a gun) threatens Rocket, Rocket thrashes huge person. Ha! Ha?

Groot’s haphazard evolution as a character continues here, with the Guardians of the Galaxy movie providing the impetus for his new directions. In Chasing Tale, Groot can regrow from a splinter. Repeatedly. In a few hours. This ability reduces the stakes to nothing when Groot is in danger. And since when can Rocket (and the other Guardians) understand Groot? I think it’s a poor choice; Rocket’s responses to “I am Groot” aren’t funny enough to justify the change. Groot’s impenetrability was an aspect of his character I appreciated. Issue #5, in which Groot tells a bunch of kids a story, illustrates the superior comedic potential of not being able to understand Groot. The kids’ mystification is great, and the story’s entire dialogue consisting of repeated “I am Groot” communicates that confusion to the reader while the art tells the story.

Young is trying for a lighthearted tone in Chasing Tale, and despite the missteps I mentioned above, often he succeeds. Rocket quoting Earth movies to the space police during an interrogation at the beginning of #2 is amusing, although Young undercuts the joke by explaining it on the next page. The entirety of #5 is hilarious, and I especially enjoyed the Deadpool cameo. The payoff in #6 is a nice touch as well. But sometimes the violence and humor sit uneasily next to each other, especially when Young doesn’t quite nail the joke.

Jake Parker drew #5 and 6, and I prefer his work to Young’s, actually. His work on Groot’s tale in #5 does a better job telling the story than all but a few of the wordless ‘Nuff Said issues Marvel did in 2002. Parker’s art seems more in line with the funny animal aesthetic that covers Rocket’s backstory and the ideas Young’s story undercuts. Parker’s work isn’t as dynamic as Young’s, and it’s not as exaggerated; in fact, Parker looks like he’s strongly influenced by Bill Watterston, who wrote and drew Calvin and Hobbes. This gives Parker’s issues a touch of innocence that works well with Groot’s story in #5 and with Cosmo’s scenes in #6.

Chasing Tale has a lot of energy and a decent amount of humor going for it; if it was a story about a new character, I’d probably enjoy it more. Readers familiar with Rocket from the last few years or only the movie might love it, although that won’t get them past how Young treats Rocket’s exes. Storytailer might make this book better in retrospect by explaining Rocket’s history, but no matter what happens, I can be sure of this: I don’t care if Rocket is the last of his kind.

Rating: Rocket Raccoon symbol Rocket Raccoon symbol (2 of 5)

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11 March 2016

Spider-Man Epic Collection, v. 21: The Return of the Sinister Six

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #334-50 and Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth GN (1990-1)

Released: February 2016 (Marvel)

Format: 504 pages / color / $39.99 / ISBN: 9780785196914

What is this?: Spider-Man fights the Sinister Six, Chameleon, Dr. Doom, Venom, the Black Tarantula, Boomerang, Rhino, and Scorpion.

The culprits: Writer David Michelinie and artist Erik Larson

Although I would not say Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection, v. 21: Return of the Sinister Six collects a classic run, I enjoyed reading it a great deal. I liked the book for simple reasons: the stories were relatively well told, from an era before the ‘90s comic-book madness shattered the way comics stories were told, and they were (mostly) new to me.

These stories seem custom-made to kindle the flame of nostalgia within the reader’s breast. Writer David Michelinie cozies up to the past over these issues; almost all the villains he uses are ones who have faced Spider-Man before, in one form or another. He reunites the Sinister Six for the first time since 1964, and he uses a parade of familiar Spidey foes: Chameleon, Scorpion, Rhino, Boomerang, the Black Tarantula … Even Mary Jane’s stalker has stalked her before.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection, v. 21: Return of the Sinister Six coverErik Larsen’s art will make or break the book for most readers. Larsen’s style is reminiscent of Todd McFarlane’s, whom Larsen succeeded on Amazing Spider-Man. Larsen draws similar spaghetti-strand webbing and contorted-yet-graceful poses for Spider-Man. (Well, they contrive to be graceful, but in many of them, Spider-Man is folded up in ways that can’t be comfortable.) He doesn’t quite have McFarlane’s immense capes, although that’s mainly because Spider-Man doesn’t have a cape, and neither do most of his villains. (Dr. Doom has a voluminous cape, but it doesn’t figure into many panels, and besides, it’s Dr. Doom, who can get away with huge capes.)

Larsen’s style is often cartoonish. As I said, his Spider-Man is often contorted in his postures, but other characters get distorted for effect as well. Dr. Octopus’s arms seem to stretch for miles, the equal of Spider-Man’s web lines, although the arms get more tangled. The cartoonishness is a virtue when it comes to Venom, a character who was created by McFarlane to be frightening, not realistic; the strange proportions and distended jaws increase Venom’s alien, fearsome qualities. Usually, Larsen’s exaggerations are a visual quirk, something readers get used to in time. However, it’s always distracting with women, especially Mary Jane. She is a caricature of femininity: perpetually pouty lips, large breasts in tight dresses and tops, long legs in short skirts that accentuate her callipygian form. Making Mary Jane into a super pin-up accentuates the problem that so many editors and readers made about Spider-Man having a supermodel for a wife: If Peter has married a woman so attractive, then he’s less the everyman.

Larsen’s style is not an unusual look for women in comics, but his art emphasizes the negative aspects of the practice. Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat, is Mary Jane’s silver-haired twin, although her lips aren’t so pouty. Since the Black Cat has powers and is a superhero (of sorts), it’s arguable that she should be drawn on a larger-than-life scale — I don’t like the argument, in this case, since most of those exaggerated characteristics are large breasts, big hair, and a shapely lower half, but it is a line of thought. But women other than Mary Jane and Felicia — the Chameleon’s arm candy, Mary Jane’s co-stars on the soap opera she acts in — are drawn similarly, which makes them more dull than titillating.

The plots themselves are simple superhero stories told satisfyingly, for the most part. I don’t fault Michelinie for unoriginality; when he gets his most original, with Dr. Octopus’s ultimate goal for getting the Sinister Six back together, the logic can become tenuous. (Lacing the atmosphere with a cure for cocaine addiction, then expecting addicts to pay to get addicted again? I dunno, man — why not just deal cocaine?) Michelinie seems to pull out the stops for Venom’s two-issue battle with Spider-Man (#346-7), with a fight that has actual tension that’s lacking in the rest of the book. Michelinie always shines with Venom, creating an adversary for Spider-Man who displays an extra level of viciousness and is more than a credible threat for the hero.

The lack of originality in the rest of the book is acceptable, given how badly originality can go awry. (See “Saga, Clone.”) Spider-Man — all superhero comics, really — have succeeded by using and reusing tried and true antagonists, and the villains in this collection are all used in serviceable ways — goons, mostly, giving Spider-Man credible sparring partners while he works out the larger moral implications or plots. There’s nothing earthshattering about these fights; they’re comfort food for a Spider-Man nostalgist.

The Sinister Six’s reunion unfortunately is underwhelming. I can hardly believe no writer had reunited the group since Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, way back in 1964. (Given how often groups “sinister” groups have formed since 1990, the Sinister Six should have gotten together at least once in the quarter century between Annual #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #337.) The story should have been more momentous; instead, Dr. Octopus spends half the six-issue storyline gathering the team, then another issue prepping for his grand plan. The Six is in action together for only one issue before Dr. Octopus betrays them, and they all go in their separate directions.

Larsen and Michelinie aren’t entirely using old ideas. Cletus Kassidy, the serial killer who becomes Carnage, makes his first appearance here, and the symbiote’s later appearance is teased. Cardiac, a vigilante doctor with a grudge against a chemical company, also debuts in this book. After Michelinie left the book, he gets forgotten, and it’s not hard to see why. His costume and energy blast effect, with their cool blue color schemes and jagged lines reminiscent of a heart monitor, are nice bits of design, and his alter ego as a doctor has some potential. But it doesn’t come together into anything intriguing, here or anywhere else.

I mentioned that even Mary Jane’s stalker was reused, but giving Mary Jane an antagonist she faces by herself is remarkable. Spider-Man’s core supporting cast — Mary Jane; Aunt May and her fiancée, Nathan; Flash and his girlfriend, the Black Cat — each have things to do separate from Spider-Man himself. Michelinie can be faulted for paring down the supporting cast to those characters and those he works with in his grad student lab (those characters aren’t given much room to grow), but at least he doesn’t neglect the important characters.

Michelinie’s Mary Jane is a delight, especially when compared to the problems later writers had with her characterization. She gets her own battles to fight, she has her own career, and she is a supporting spouse to Peter. She argues with him when she thinks he’s wrong, but she’s not petulant about it. Perhaps she too easily gives in to Peter’s rationalizations, but it’s better than creating pointless drama by having her object to everything Peter does.

Charles Vess contributes an original graphic novel to this collection: Spirits of the Earth, which I didn't even know existed before this collection came out. After reading it, I can understand why; the story is slight, and Vess’s art, as pretty as it is at times, can’t compensate. It reads like story written to justify a vacation: an exotic location (the Scottish Highlands) that Spider-Man fits into badly and should blow his secret identity. (In actuality, Vess had visited Scotland frequently.) Tying the story into the wider Marvel Universe by placing the Hellfire Club behind the evil plot mitigates the incongruity of Spider-Man in the Highlands somewhat, but the small concession to the shared MU can’t compensate for the incongruous yet forgettable story.

Return of the Sinister Six is a book for fans of Spider-Man and Erik Larsen. But even general fans of other superhero comics will find parts of the book to enjoy. I doubt anyone would fall in love with Spider-Man or any other member of his cast from this book, but it’s good enough to spend a diverting few hours with.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Half Spider-Man symbol (3.5 of 5)

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04 March 2016

Star Wars: Lando

Collects: Lando #1-5 (2015)

Released: January 2016 (Marvel)

Format: 112 pages / color / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785193197

What is this?: Before The Empire Strikes Back, Lando Calrissian and a small crew steal a ship — and get much more than they bargain for.

The culprits: Writer Charles Soule and artist Alex Maleev

I’m not a fan of continuing a movie or TV series in a print medium, but I made an exception to buy / read Star Wars: Lando.

I have two reasons for picking up Lando: one, I’m a big fan of Lando Calrissian, Star Wars’s other loveable rogue, and b), I’ve enjoyed writer Charles Soule’s work before. But I discovered neither of those reasons were the book’s biggest attraction. Instead, my lasting impression of this book was an admiration for the art of Alex Maleev.

Star Wars: Lando coverMaleev’s work inhabits the Star Wars Universe without becoming subsumed in it. The characters are all recognizably his, drawn in a realistic yet somewhat scratchy technique that synthesizes two styles: Maleev’s and Star Wars. Despite the characters’ and trappings’ recognizability, Maleev’s work never looks like it’s copied or traced. Thankfully, Maleev contributes more than just a “look”; his storytelling and action scenes are graceful and clear.

Maleev’s art is not helped by the coloring, though. Colorist Paul Mounts’s attempts to show scenes lit by red light washes out many panels. The features of Pavol and Aleksin, two cat-like aliens with black fur / clothes, are always difficult to discern because their black coloring of their faces washes out the details, except for their eyes. Actually, no character fares well with the parade of dark backgrounds, and with red or purple backgrounds — neither of which are uncommon — Aleksin and Pavol (and Imperial Guards) almost disappear.

I was satisfied but not overwhelmed by Soule’s story. Lando is set some (undetermined) time before The Empire Strikes Back. Like Han Solo, Lando is a down-on-his-luck scoundrel, owing a lot of money to a scary person (Papa Toren). When a big theft doesn’t pay off his debt, Lando is forced to do one final job for Toren: steal a ship. Lando can have anything on board; Toren wants only the ship.

So it’s to be a heist, it seems: Lando, his buddy Lobot, hired muscle Aleksin and Pavol, and antiquities expert Korin Pers go to a shipyard to swipe the ship. Which goes off without a hitch, really: just a couple of pages, and they’re gone. The problem comes when the reader learns the ship was owned by Emperor Palpatine.

The title character is the Lando you remember from Empire: he’s got an angle, he’s smooth, he’s got a way with the ladies, he’s clever … but nothing seems to work quite right for him. Setting Lando as a prequel takes away some of the drama; Lando isn’t going to die regardless of whether the story is set before or after the original trilogy, but given that we know where he (and Lobot) are going to end up, bodily whole and otherwise intact, it takes away much of the tension. Besides, do we really want prequels?

The conflict Soule exploits for most of the series is between the conspirators, the conflicts they brought with them and what is unlocked by what they find on the ship. Unfortunately, large chunks of issue #2 are concerned with Lando and his new ship outmaneuvering Imperial star destroyers and giving a push to elite bounty hunter Chanath Cha. Neither of these things are important; if all of #2 except for the final page was excised from the collection, not much would be missing.

And that’s a problem for Lando, because it has only five issues (instead of the standard six for a miniseries). Soule has dropped a lot into the series: the five conspirators and their interactions, Chanath Cha pursuing them, the ship’s dangerous cargo. Cha has a history with Lando and Lobot, which promises some interesting interactions, but the fights on board ship and Cha’s pursuit take up most of the book; Cha speaks with them only in the final issue.

Maybe it just seems like the final three issues are too full. Looking back through the book, not much that happens. I mean, things do happen — the book has a plot — but if I explained the events, it wouldn’t take very long. The plot of the last three issues is something Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would have knocked out in a single story, with room left over for a couple of comic digressions; Roger Stern and his contemporaries may have taken two. I understand the Lee / Ditko issues often valued brevity over storytelling and that the rules of comic plots have changed over the years. But I can’t help but feel this story should have more to it.

On the other hand, that might be because of the story’s successes: I want more because I like what I’ve seen so much. If you’ve ever wondered who Lobot, that cyborg / droid looking dude behind Lando in Empire, was, Lando tells you. And it’s interesting: he’s Lando’s friend who has been mentally augmented by hardware, and he has to fight to prevent the implants from taking control of him. If he loses to the implants, he will most likely never regain control, so that fight is at the forefront of Lobot’s scenes. We get tantalizing glimpses at other characters, like Chanath Cha; I want to know about her past with Lando and Lobot. Aleksin, Pavol, and Korin Pers have just the right mix of backstory and intrigue. I’m even interested in Imperial Governor Ssaria, whom Lando is romancing in the cold open.

So is Lando’s only crime (other than the coloring) that it’s too interesting? No. I still believe Soule could have used his page count more efficiently, and Lando has a bit too much fat where it could have used a great deal of lean. But it’s still a worthwhile book for the Star Wars / Lando Calrissian fan.

Rating: 3 of 5

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