Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Star Wars Omnibus: Clone Wars Volume 1: The Republic Goes to War Review (Unread 033)

I’ve written before about Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic omnibus collections. They’re pretty great. They’re designed to collect novel length stories and smaller stories that otherwise wouldn’t be collected anywhere else. I really like them because they’re huge and quite affordable. This volume is over 400 pages long. For the most part, these omnibus volumes include numerous issues all tied to a theme or a series or a time period. This one, obviously, is set during the Clone Wars. Particularly the beginning of the Clone Wars shortly after the events of Attack of the Clones.

A very large number of issues are included in this volume. Unfortunately, I will not list all of the creators involved because I’m lazy. However I’m pleased to announced that Dark Horse meticulously listed all creators at the beginning of each story. For this collection that meant almost every new issue. Most of the comics in this volume are short stories of approximately two issues in length (all the Jedi one-shots are double sized issues). Here are the contents of Clone Wars: The Republic Goes to War:

Star Wars: Republic 49: “Sacrifice”
Star Wars: Republic 50: “The Defense of Kamino”
Jedi: Mace Windu
Star Wars: Republic 51: “The New Face of War, Part 1”
Star Wars: Republic 52: “The New Face of War, Part 2”
Star Wars: Republic 53: “Blast Radius”
Jedi: Shaak Ti
Star Wars: Republic 67: “Forever Young”
Star Wars: Republic 54: “Double Blind”
Jedi: Aayla Secura
Jedi: Count Dooku
Star Wars: Republic 61: “Dead Ends”
Star Wars: Republic 63: “Striking from the Shadows”

Star Wars: Republic Issues 49 and 50:
Issue 49 gives the reader a glimpse at the Republic’s intelligence gathering at the time shortly after the start of the war. You see the effort that people go through in order to acquire information that can be helpful during the campaign. It’s a simple story and there aren’t any real surprises, though that’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that double crosses tend to be expected in stories that deal with espionage. If nothing else, we get to see a couple of fan favourite Jedi kicking some ass while the story told presents a different perspective on the war, a perspective we don’t get to see in the movies.

Issue 50 is an oversized anniversary issue that is made up of three stories by three separate creative teams. The story follows nicely from the previous issue as the Jedi use the information acquired in issue 49 to meet the Separatist army at their target on Kamino. They’re attacking the cloning facilities which is a good target as it would cripple the Republic army. Overall the stories aren’t very memorable but they go down smooth when reading. The best thing about this issue is the format as it presents the same battle from three different perspectives. It’s a nice touch for an anniversary issue.

Jedi: Mace Windu:
This issue focuses on the Jedi Master Windu, naturally. He meets up with another Jedi master who had a lot of influence on the Order as he’s trained most apprentices in lightsaber duelling. Windu is concerned with Master Sora Bulq’s position in the war and where he gives his support. The story deals with the idea that the Jedi were not united in their support of the Republic and its war. This issue allows for writer John Ostrander to provide us with various points of view as the characters, all of them Jedi, discuss the consequences of the Jedi’s actions. It’s interesting to read about the thought process of important characters like Windu. He admits that the Republic is corrupt but he believes in it more than he does in the Separatists. He’s on a mission of goodwill amongst other Jedi but Ostrander and Jan Duursema make sure to include a few lightsaber sparing sessions to spice things up visually. It helps but its not enough. The story gets a little bogged down by near-endless discussions of loyalty, morally, and duty which ring a little hollow amidst all of the Jedi on Jedi action.

Star Wars: Republic Issues 51-53:
These three issues are easily the worst of the bunch. They involved a killer plague gas, a bunch of Gungans, a lame as hell bounty hunter that looks and sounds like he was ripped out of the worst Marvel comics of the 90s. Poor writing, only passable art, terrible plot, and characters that would be improved by being written as resemble cardboard cut-outs. Just skip these issues. I don’t even want to keep writing about it.  

Jedi: Shaak Ti:
A fan favourite character, this issue is all about Master (now general) Ti. She leads a battle and is faced with many difficult decisions. At the end of the issue she is troubled with the realization of the impact the war has had on her and on everyone else around her. She questions how a person is supposed to stay true to themselves when travelling the many difficult paths presented to them during this time of conflict. The galaxy is in chaos and even the wisdom of the Jedi is being tested. This issue almost makes up for the trash that preceded it in this volume.

Star Wars: Republic Issue 67:
Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Master Tohno are on a mission to destroy a droid manufacturing base. Anakin and Obi-Wan's mission is to create a distraction with their clone troops to allow for Master Tohno's infiltration of the base. She must operate alone because there is a droid army amassed in a defensive position guarding the base. Anakin has a hard time letting Master Tohno take on what is essentially a suicide mission. He has to learn the difficult lesson that in war every decision you make has two sides, that of the big picture of the military conflict and the individual cost of battle.

Star Wars: Republic Issue 54 and Jedi: Aayla Secura:
These issues tell a single story. During the Clone Wars, most Jedi masters became generals of the Republic’s army. One of them, Quinlan Vos, has been spending most of his time in the shadows of the galaxy. He rubs elbows with criminals and dark users of the Force. He’s assigned a job by the Jedi Council to spy on the Separatists. As a double agent, the Council is beginning to think that he might have turned traitor. Aayla Secura also gets sent on a mission in Separatist territory and she gets ambushed by bounty hunter Aurra Sing. Though there is plenty of action and many appearances by Quinlan Vos, the one-shot issue also teaches a lesson between masters and padawans. The learning never ends and you must be open to take in the lessons that the world will have to teach you.

Jedi: Count Dooku:
Like the Jedi one-shot that precedes it, this one also splits the story between its title character and Quinlan Vos. Vos is now part of Dooku’s inner circle and while he’s trying to accomplish his missions for Dooku without arising any suspicions with the Sith commander, Dooku is spending most of his time testing Vos and trying to figure out his real allegiance. I find this story hard to swallow as surely someone of Dooku’s skill wouldn’t be tricked by someone like Vos. Still, I like Dooku so much I can’t really hate a comic in which he plays such a large role.

Star Wars: Republic Issue 61:
This is an issue of political intrigue. Senator Bail Organa comes to the realization that the soldiers and Jedi aren’t the only ones fighting a war. There is a worrisome change taking place in the Senate. He’s a soldier of another kind. He fights for the Republic as valiantly as the Jedi Council. He only uses different weapons. The Senate is one of the most important battlegrounds of the Clone Wars and Organa, Padmé Amidala, and Mon Mothma are some of its key political warriors.

Star Wars: Republic Issue 63:
More than a little suspicious that Vos isn’t really seduced by the Dark Side of the Force, Dooku tells him that there is another Sith and that this other Sith has infiltrated the Senate. Dooku sends Vos on a fake mission to assassinate the other Sith, but it’s just another trick to see where Vos’s loyalties truly lie.

Thanks to the big chunk of issues collected in this volume, Dark Horse presents a pretty clear picture of the kind of stories that were being told in one of their ongoing series and the one-shot issues being published around the same time. While most of these stories are relatively short you can clearly see some of the threads that skip from one issue to the next. The story of Quinlan Vos is the best example. The sad thing is that I don’t give a damn about him. He’s a Jedi who dabbles in the dark side of the Force and as a spy is given the mission to infiltrate the Separatists. Because of this he spends a lot of time with shady characters and those are often poorly interpreted as "kewl" characters in these comics. It's pretty tiresome. This kind of story also had the effect producing comics that are filled with other characters questioning if he has or hasn’t gone to the dark side. It’s annoying as hell and I just couldn’t care less. It’s the kind of story that’s been told with dozens of characters in the Star Wars EU before and I fail to comprehend what makes this character special.

Tired plots make for some difficult reading here and there, this is still a solid dose of Star Wars comics. Three creators in particular make it quite memorable. John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, and Brad Anderson. Unlike many other Star Wars writers, Ostrander doesn’t content himself with shoestring plots with the goal of including yet another lightsaber duel or blaster shots smeared all over the page. Instead, he makes the effort to imbue the issues he works on with an actual story, often with morals and earned character development. In this volume he’s either developing the implications of the Clone Wars and the impact it has on the people who are part of it or he's telling issues based on characters and he studies what makes them tick.

Duursema holds up her end of the work by providing some of the best Star Wars art in comics. She’s the premiere artist to come out of the Dark Horse era of Star Wars comics. Her art style is pretty realistic and she's good with facial features as well. Her action choreography is pretty skilled if occasionally repetitive. I think that last criticism is as much the result of the sheer number of Star Wars issues she's drawn since the year 2000 than any lack of imagination on her part. I really liked her covers for the Jedi series one-shots. They pretty great.

Anderson also deserves mention as he’s the unsung hero of this collection. His colouring links all of the issues together regardless of the artist on each issue and regardless of the series the collected issues where originally published in. He uses a similar palette of colours for every issue he works on. It’s like a house style of colouring. It doesn’t feel repetitive or restrained. It conforms the varying art styles together just enough to make them work well together despite their differences.  Even when he's not the colourist on a given story his influence and palette are pretty clearly the source of the other colourists work.

This is a good collection of comics. It's not great, if only because the quality of each issue varies pretty wildly. I’m thinking specifically of issues 51-53. Those are stinkers. Yet some of the other stories are quite good, not only advancing the overall plot of the Clone Wars but by providing smaller, character driven stories.

If you’re a fan of this era of Star Wars I can’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy this omnibus. You might even see a few curious resemblance between these comics and the Clone Wars TV series. I enjoy the serialized nature of the comic book medium and as it provides a nice variety of characters and stories. My last criticism is that there are dozens and dozens of Jedi characters. There are just too many of them. Jedi aren’t the kind of character you expect to be disposable yet there are plenty of stories in this collection alone where Jedi are killed off to make villains appear more threatening or powerful or to give the story higher stakes. It really numbs you to some of the stories after a while. Again, if you’re a fan of the Clone Wars period of Star Wars history, you’re probably already familiar with this feeling and it shouldn’t spoil things for you. If you’re debating whether or not to pick up this volume if you spot it in stores, just do that the Jedi do and trust your feelings when reading the title.

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