Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Star Wars: A Long Time Ago...

Archie Goodwin, Carmine Infantino & many, many others
Star Wars: A Long Time Ago...
Doomworld (1978)
Dark Encounters (1980)
Resurrection of Evil (1981)

This time it was J.G. Ballard boring me shitless, in combination with which a load of personal aggravations - significantly one of the cats breaking her leg - conspired to reduce my attention span as applied to literature which is probably important and good for you but isn't much fun to actually read; and these three collections were just sat there promising comforting retreat into a less troublesome past, so...

I was twelve when Star Wars came out, and naturally I was excited about the whole thing before I'd even seen it. I'd read the two giant-sized Marvel specials - weird collectors editions the size of tabloid newspapers - and I'd read that first issue of Starburst, and a couple of those other tie-in making of magazines they just couldn't get into the newsagents fast enough. I was excited because this was a film which looked like real life rather than special effects, even Gerry Anderson special effects. The robots seemed like real robots, as did the spacecraft; and I know we had 2001: A Space Odyssey, but no-one ever really understood what the hell happened in that film, and the adventures of Luke Skywalker promised to be significantly more exciting. Star Wars didn't disappoint when it arrived, although on close inspection I realised it somehow lacked the bite of the strips I'd begun to follow in 2000AD comic; and neither did the action figures disappoint, nor Star Wars Weekly which reprinted the two collectors editions and then went off somewhere else altogether, following its own trajectory.

These three volumes collect the first fifty or so issues of the American comic, as reprinted in shorter weekly helpings in the English version. Star Wars Weekly was never anything like so essential as 2000AD for me as a kid, although some of the back up strips came fairly close - Warlock, Guardians of the GalaxyMicronauts and so on. The main feature seemed variable, and suffered from each episode having been broken down into awkward lengths for the sake of a weekly schedule, but it still had its moments, or so I recall, although nostalgia has bitten me in the ass before...

A New Hope as it has since become known, adapted by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin - apparently drawn using a nail on a sheet of hardboard - is pleasant enough, and interesting for its featuring the first version of Jabba the Hut as played by Graeme Garden of The Goodies. With the adaptation out of the way, the story takes a brief detour through a slightly shite but hugely enjoyable Han Solo version of The Magnificent Seven, before really getting into gear with Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino at the controls. But for a few digressions and fill-in issues, the first two volumes of these collections more or less represent a continuing story, one which deftly avoided doing too much which could be contradicted when The Empire Strikes Back came out. The story is nicely paced, laying down intriguing plot points far in advance of their being required to explain anything, and delivering regular big ideas sufficient to keep it interesting. Of course, one problem with the comic is that it tends to expose Star Wars lack of any actual characters, or at least no-one deeper than they killed his mum and dad and now he wants revenge, or the rough and ready outlaw with a heart of gold and the like. This isn't really a problem in the film, at least not in the first one, given that scale and spectacle were the main point; and it did both pretty well, so all you really needed from anyone was at the level of the lowly farm boy who had a date with destiny. Whilst the comic strip could never really hope to achieve the scale of the celluloid, it had the next best thing in the form of Carmine Infantino's weird angular style, a sort of Vorticist translation of traditional Japanese art. Doomworld - set around a city-sized sailing ship rigged together from the trunks of underwater trees on a planet without dry land - impressed the shit out of me when I was a kid, and amazingly it has stood the test of time, albeit as something patently angled towards younger teenagers; and subsequent episodes of Luke and pals battling representatives of the House of Tagge actually work better than I remember them doing, possibly benefiting from being read over a few more concentrated sittings. Inevitably there's a degree of clunk and cliché because it's Star Wars, but I swear Carmine Infantino's art could be some of the most beautiful stuff Marvel have ever published, regardless of yer Kirbys and yer Ditkos, so it seems churlish to roll one's eyes at yet another creaking instance of C3PO testily pointing out that R2D2 has just made him look a right cunt.

Sadly it wasn't to last. Al Williamson's art on the adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back is beautiful but, as with the film, the fucking thing doesn't actually have a story.

Luke is over here, then he's over there.

Let's hope he doesn't run into Darth Vader.

Oh shit - look what they did to Han Solo.

The End.

Even as an easily satisfied teenager I thought it was bollocks and stopped buying the comic, which seems to have been the right choice going by the remainder of the third volume. Having adapted Empire, it's as though the story fell and hit its head and was never quite the same again. Carmine Infantino's beautiful art gets buried beneath the linework of a roster of lesser talents, Archie Goodwin drops in and out of the mix, and we get a succession of shorter, less ambitious adventures, essentially filler material. Luke and Leia guest in a dinosaur-infested Doug McClure vehicle, or a story from the 1974 Star Trek annual, or Larry Hama's impressively dire The Third Law in which her nibs goes to the banking planet to take out a loan so the rebels can buy more X-Wing fighters; and oh what a coincidence, Darth Vader just happens to be there as well, making a loud farting noise as Leia meets with the chancellor, waving a hand in front of his face and commenting, 'I would say there was a Brussels sprout on the end of that one, your royal highness.'

That doesn't happen, but it comes close in places. The Third Law isn't actually a Davy Jones strip from Viz, but it could have been.

Never mind. Nothing lasts forever, and the point to remember is just how good the first two volumes are. Apparently they're not considered Star Wars canon, but really - who gives a shit? I'd still take Doomworld over almost anything which has appeared on the big screen since the first one.

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