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

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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