Comic Picks By The Glick

What I’ve Been Reading: Star Wars — Vector

August 12, 2009

I wasn’t planning on picking up either of these volumes of “Star Wars: Vector.” As Dark Horse editor and co-founder Randy Stradley states in his introduction, this crossover was done so that the company could bring a little of the sales sizzle that Marvel and DC get for their events to the “Star Wars” comic line. Fine, whatever. Have your editorially mandated crossover and then let me get back to the business of reading “Legacy.” That would’ve been the end of the story if DH hadn’t also had the canny idea to make the crossover chapters for each title the next “volume” for each of these series. So while “Vector” is only two volumes, it’s also the fifth volume of “Knights of the Old Republic,” the second of “Dark Times,” the fourth for “Rebellion,” and the sixth for “Legacy.” It may sound confusing, but the end result is actually much more readable and enjoyable than I was expecting.

Now for someone like me who only reads one out of the four titles involved in the crossover, my biggest concern was accessibility. While my knowledge of the “Star Wars” universe is considerable, I’m still coming into several series that have their own ongoing stories that I know little to nothing about. A lot of this is nicely sidestepped due to the focus on the heroine of the series: a Jedi hunter named Celeste Morne. As the series starts out in “KOTOR,” written by John Jackson Miller, she’s been sent to the undercity of Taris to track down a powerful Sith artifact known as the Muur Talisman. This leads to her crossing paths with the main characters from the series, fugitive padawan Zayne Carrick and his money-grubbing buddy Gryph. Making matters more interesting is that Morne has been sent to track down the talisman under orders from the Covenant, a secret order of Jedis who framed Carrick for murder after it was predicted that he would bring disaster upon the Jedi.

That’s the main story thread, and over the four issues collected here, it’s pretty easy to follow. There are references to what I’m assuming are other plotlines and past events in the series (most of them dealing with the Mandalorian invasion), but prior knowledge of them isn’t required to enjoy the goings-on here. Granted, none of the storytelling in either of these volumes will win any awards, but there are pleasures to be had in seeing the storyline progress and in observing Morne’s interactions with other characters. Her relationship with Carrick in the “KOTOR” chapters is particularly interesting because while it’s easy to see why she’d be annoyed by him at first, it turns out to be just as easy to believe that she could grow to respect him after journeying and fighting alongside him in battle. Of course for her efforts she winds up in possession (or is it “being possessed by…”) the Muur Talisman and sealed into a Sith sarcophagus for four thousand years, which takes us to the time of Darth Vader in the “Dark Times” and “Rebellion” issues, written by Mick Harrison and Rob Williams, respectively.

To be honest, these issues probably benefit the most from being collected since anyone reading them in monthly form probably would’ve viewed them as decent, but inconsequential detours to their respective titles. Taken as part of the overall “Vector” storyline, they advance the story well and give Vader some nice moments as he locks horns with Morne and plots to use her to his advantage. This happens directly in the “Dark Times” issues where he gets his hands on the sarcophagus and finds out that he may have bitten off more than he can chew in trying to utilize Morne’s power to overthrow the emperor. Then in the time of “Rebellion,” he remembers his encounter with the Jedi and plots to use her to take out that pesky band of rebels that blew up the Death Star.

To say that Luke, Leia and Han survive their encounter with Morne should surprise no one, and that’s the biggest problem with this batch of tie-in issues. Though it is somewhat entertaining to see her interact with the most well known “Star Wars” characters, the storytelling is hamstrung by the fact that we know that this encounter can’t really affect the characters in any significant way. Sure, Morne hints cryptically about Luke’s future, but it’s obvious this isn’t going to be a life-changing encounter for him. Fortunately seeing Morne’s reaction to waking to a universe that bears no resemblance to the one she left, and her subsequent struggle to adapt to being locked into a power struggle between the spirit of Karnass Muur (the Sith Lord who made the talisman) and finding herself in control of the rakghouls and the plague that causes them is handled pretty well. That said, it’s clear to see that the main point of these issues was to bring her back into play, and set her up for her encounter with Cade Skywalker and the rest of the cast of “Legacy” written as always by John Ostrander.

It’s probably because I’ve been reading “Legacy,” but I found these to be the most satisfying issues of the crossover. Dutiful readers will remember that I said volume five of “Legacy” that Cade was planning on assassinating Darth Krayt, but had his plan shot down by what was left of the Jedi Council. Taking matters into his own hands, Cade sets off to do it his way with his friends, and some Imperial Knights along for the ride. Now taking down the most powerful Sith in the galaxy would probably have been difficult enough for Cade’s grandfather, but when he encounters Morne in self-imposed exile along with her rakghouls on an abandoned Star Destroyer, he thinks he has found just the weapon he needs.

Back in the dark days of the 90’s and early 00’s, the biggest criticism of pretty much any crossover was that it failed to enact any real change in the universe it took place in. While you can still say that about most DC crossovers, pretty much every crossover since “House of M” at Marvel has existed to ONLY change the status quo (though I’m sure they’ve got a big one planned for much later on that restores the status quo of the universe to the one we’re most familiar with). That’s a criticism that can’t be labeled against “Vector,” if only because the conclusion turns out to be a real game-changer for “Legacy.” It’ll definitely be interesting to see how the fallout from the events of “Vector” plays out in the subsequent volumes of the series. While change is good, as is the case for pretty much everything in the crossover, the heart of these issues lies in seeing how Morne interacts with the rest of the cast. Not only has Morne’s disposition become darker and more Sith-like during her exile, but her quite literal struggle between the dark and light sides of the Force makes for an interesting contrast with Cade, someone who has utilized both sides without being beholden to either.

One thing I’ve neglected to mention in this review is the art for each arc of the crossover, which maintains a relatively consistent style and tone for three-quarters of it. The odd man out in this case is Scott Hepburn’s art in “KOTOR,” which falls into the category of “too cartoonish.” While his storytelling is sound, and I can see the appeal in his basic style, Hepburn seems to have problems with faces and facial expressions. A lot of the time, the “look” of the characters’ faces just seems “off” or they have some exaggerated cartoonish look to them that would be more at home in a Saturday morning cartoon.

Faring much better are Doug Wheatley and Dave Ross on “Dark Times,” and Dustin Weaver on “Rebellion.” All of these artists have more “realistic” styles that are more appropriate to the “Star Wars” world, especially when it comes to depicting its iconic characters. Wheatley and Ross’ art also has a darker, more sinister look to it, which complements the time period; conversely, Weaver’s work on “Rebellion” has a much brighter look to it, and he has a good handle on getting the likenesses right for Luke, Leia and Han. As for Jan Duursema on “Legacy,” she does good work as always. My only complaint is something that’s become commonplace in observing her art, and that’s when the characters look overly photo-referenced. The problem with that is you’ll wind up with characters in poses and making expressions that don’t match up with the tone of dialogue or the scene. Thankfully she seems to use it more sparingly than Greg Land, which is why I continue to appreciate her work on this series.

In the end, “Vector” succeeded as a crossover because it had a compelling lead character in Celeste Morne. By focusing the crossover issues on her exploits and how they affected the characters of those series (however marginally in some cases), it managed to make the overall story accessible to those of us who don’t read most of DH’s ongoing “Star Wars” titles. Granted, I don’t think this storyline would have a lot of appeal to anyone who isn’t a “Star Wars” fan; but if you are, and you do read one or more of these titles, then don’t worry about picking up these two volumes. They’ll be worth your time.

(BTW, in case anyone is wondering if the scene depicted on the back cover of “Vector” vol. 2 actually happens in the comic, the answer is, “Yes.”)

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