Star Wars: Tag & Bink Were Here

By Kevin Rubio, Lucas Marangon & Howard M. Shum (Marvel/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-370-X (DH PB)             eBook ASIN: B00PR4B4I6

Just last week I re-reviewed my favourite Star Wars graphic novel as a lazy way to commemorate (cash in on) the 40th anniversary of the stellar franchise. Star Wars: Tag & Bink Were Here was the missed-it-by-a-whisker other candidate in the final countdown and, as I had so much fun re-reading it and it’s now available in a digital edition as part of Marvel’s Star Wars Legends line, I feel perfectly justified in running it here while I bear down on a looming deadline affecting my day job…

One of the greatest strengths of an all-encompassing franchise such as Star Wars is the ability to accept and of course profit from some occasional fun at its expense. This winning little tome plays with the movies’ magic and still makes me laugh after multiple re-readings, but do be warned; you will definitely need more than passing familiarity with Star Wars IV-VI: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – not to mention certain lesser, newer films – to fully appreciate all the in-jokes and general jocularity.

In the original Dark Horse 2-issue miniseries Tag and Bink Are Dead, the eponymous zeroes are introduced as two shiftless slacker crewmen (think Dude, Where’s My Car? or Clerks in space) on Princess Leia’s cruiser at the beginning of A New Hope. When Darth Vader attacks the obnoxious oafs take the places of two Storm Troopers and get sucked helter-skelter into the events of the grand storyline in a classic comedy of errors…

Skilful researcher (for which read “watched the movies over and over”) Rubio manages to insert the hapless duo into key scenes from the films to such effect that it’s safe to assume that whenever you see two faceless guards, troopers or characters keeping still or marching in the background it’s Tag and Bink, and their hapless participation is what actually saved the galaxy, too!

The initial miniseries was followed by The Return of Tag and Bink Special Edition, which embroiled them much more fully in the events of Return of the Jedi, as their hidden interference is instrumental in defeating Jabba the Hutt and costing Luke Skywalker his hand when they undertake a mission for the Rebel Alliance. They’re also there when the Emperor get his final comeuppance…

Star Wars: Tag and Bink Episode One then plunges back into the mists of history to reveal the unlikely origin of the characters in an outrageously hilarious romp set during the last days of Old Republic, where the intergalactic imbeciles were reckoned the absolute worst Younglings at the Jedi School. One notable highpoint is when young Tag gives sullen Anakin Skywalker tips on how to score with hot chick Padmé Amidala

Irreverent, rocket-paced and genuinely funny – far beyond the films’ broad-based and often perfunctory slapstick – Tag and Bink Were Here is a book to read over and again, especially with the captivating artwork of Lucas Marangon and Howard M. Shum, reminiscent of the great Ernie Colon, which tackles explosive action and subtle expression with equal aplomb.

Only the saddest fanatic could fail to be amused by this terrific tome. Sing along now “♫We’re Off on the Road to Dantooine… ♫”
Star Wars and related text and illustrations are trademarks and/or copyrights in the United States and other countries of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ Lucasfilm Ltd.

Star Wars: Dark Empire Trilogy

By Tom Veitch, Cam Kennedy & Jim Baikie (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3024-6653-4

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars which – in the UK and thanks to the science fictional nature of time zones – celebrated its 40th anniversary yesterday. What you might not know is that the first sight future fanatics got of its breathtakingly expansive continuity and the mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in.

It hit shelves two weeks before the film launched in cinemas, setting the scene for a legion of kids and beginning a mini-phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already vast imaginative horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise – nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections – before the option was left to die.

Comicbook exploits were reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous superb titles and tales until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012.

Around the same time, the home of Donald & Mickey also bought Marvel Comics and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Moreover, rather than ignore what had passed between their two bites of the cherry, Disney/Marvel began reissuing the Dark Horse material too.

Amongst the very best of it was a tryptic of miniseries digitally released as one grand adventure under the Star Wars Legend imprint.

Scripted by Tom Veitch, Star Wars: Dark Empire Trilogy is set after the movie Return of the Jedi and comprises two 6-issue miniseries – Dark Empire and Dark Empire II – plus 2-part concluding mini-epic Empire’s End. Also included in this galactic grimoire is full information on all the characters involved courtesy of Star Wars Handbook 3: Dark Empire.

The drama unfolds about ten years after the Battle of Endor and the death and redemption of Darth Vader. Although the Emperor is gone, the war continues.

The militaristic remnants of the Empire are still battling for every inch of the galaxy. The New Republic is desperately hard-pressed. Han Solo and his wife Leia, although new parents, are as deeply involved as ever, and Luke Skywalker is pushed to ever-more desperate measures as he attempts to destroy the pervasive unleashed evil corrupting the Universe. His solution to rebalance the Force is to revive and rebuild the fabled Jedi Knights…

A mysterious new leader and ingenious new super-weapons are winning the war for the Empire, and the heroes must separate to succeed. As Han and Leia pursue the strategic aspects of the conflict, Luke heads directly to the source and succumbs to the Dark Side when a dead foe returns.

…And Leia’s newly conceived child is destined to become the greatest threat the galaxy has ever faced… Can the heroes reunite before all is lost?

Dark Horse kicked off its entire Star Wars franchise with this supremely moody, action-packed thriller. Cam Kennedy (reuniting with Veitch after previously collaborating on the excellent and peculiar Light and Darkness War), illustrating in his own unique and magnificent manner, provides quirky but reassuringly authentic settings and scenarios for a space opera romp that satisfyingly captures the feel and pace of the cinema versions, whilst building on the canon for Force-starved fanatics everywhere.

Veitch & Kennedy returned in a blaze of glory after the runaway success of Dark Empire with a superb continuation of the further battles of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and all those other movie favourites…

The ghost of Emperor Palpatine, deprived of the clone bodies he was incubating to ensure his return to chilling physicality, is intent on possessing the unborn child in Leia’s belly even as his Dark Side lieutenants struggle to become his successor.

The Empire’s last infrastructure remnants are producing more diabolical planet killing weapons to terrorise and subdue the battered, war-weary galaxy.

…And Skywalker has flown off on a wild goose chase in pursuit of lost Jedi survivors. How can the good guys possibly win this time…?

With extreme verve, style and panache, apparently, as this big budget blockbuster fairly rockets along full of tension and invention, with action aplenty and spectacular set pieces for the fans – although it might be a tad bewildering if your Star Wars IQ is limited.

Capping off the gusher of cosmic thrills and chills is the final story-arc of the sequence, Empire’s End, with Jim Baikie replacing Kennedy as artist for a much shorter adventure that wraps up all the plot-threads in a fittingly spectacular if somewhat rushed fashion.

After that true Jedi adepts can enhance their SWIQ by memorising a veritable avalanche of new friends and foes in the data-drenched Star Wars Handbook 3: Dark Empire

and also reacquaint themselves with old favourites – everybody and everything from Boba Fett to the Jedi Holocron

Even more sheer joy can be experienced by viewing the huge gallery of covers from the individual issues as originally painted by Dave Dorman.

Unchallenging fun, beautiful pictures, and an utter delight for devotees of a galaxy not so very far, far away.
Star Wars and related text and illustrations are trademarks and/or copyrights in the United States and other countries of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

Star Wars: The Marvel Covers

By Jess Harrold & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9838-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Last-Minute Stocking-Stuffer… 9/10

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know is that the first sight future fanatics got of its breathtakingly expansive continuity and the mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in. It hit shelves two weeks before the film launched in cinemas, setting the scene for a legion of kids and beginning a mini-phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already vast imaginative horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise – nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections – before the option was left to die.

Comicbook exploits were reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – and a three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012. Around the same time, the home of Donald & Mickey also bought Marvel Comics and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Star Wars #1 debuted on January 14th 2015, with Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Poe Damaron coming soon after.

That auspicious, eagerly-anticipated event was supplemented by a crucial component of modern comics publishing: variant covers. These are alternative frontages for the same comicbook, usually by big-name artists of as part of sub-tropes of the medium such as images “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an ongoing event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters as comedic babies…

Star Wars #1 had a staggering 70 individual variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same. What is most interesting here is how many of the name artists – and writers – were inspired by the comics they had read as kids as well as the films. Thus this gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection, gathering those myriad covers for the new launch and interviewing the creators responsible…

Following an Introduction from Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonzo, writer Jess Harold and those writers and artists discuss their childhood memories of the phenomenon and current revival in ‘The Force is Strong with This #1’. There are reviews of the media’s reaction to the relaunch in ‘Search Your Feelings’ whilst ‘Never Tell Me the Odds’ analyses the breakdown in percentages of which character made the most appearances on the variant covers.

Then John Cassaday provides monochrome art and intimate secrets in ‘You Cannot Escape Your Destiny’ before the first tranche of covers is revealed in ‘The Force is Strong with This One’. The variants deluge includes black-&-white versions or pencils-only iterations of fully-coloured covers and both are seen side by side here.

That stunning parade includes work from Cassaday, Laura Martin, Joe Quesada, Daniel Acuña, Simone Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell, Nei Ruffino, Pascal Campion, Frank Cho, Jason Keith and John Tyler Christopher plus photo-still movie variants.

‘I Have a Bad Feeling About This…’ concentrates on John Tyler Christopher’s faux action-figure packages and is followed by a feature on comics-only creation Jaxxon (a giant green rabbit) with photo covers and more variations on the theme from Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Muntsa Vicente, Gabriele Dell’Otto,  Mike Del Mundo, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin, Dave Dorman, Pasqual Ferry, Frank D’Armata, Jenny Frison, Stephanie Hans, Adi Granov, Greg Horn, Dale Keown, Jason Keith, Justin Ponsor, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado, Alex Maleev, Mike Mayhew, Rainier Beredo, Mike McKone, Bob McLeod, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, David Petersen, Sara Pichelli, Joe Quinones, Humberto Ramos, Paul Renaud, Alex Ross, Stan Sakai, Mico Suayan and Chris Sotomayor.

The aforementioned jovial junior japes of Skottie Young are then explored and exhibited in ‘Aren’t You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?’ before ‘Chapter Two: Star Wars #2-6’ dissects successive releases in ‘The Circle is Now Complete’ with Jordan D. White talking to writers Jason Aaron (Star Wars), Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader) and Mark Waid (Princess Leia) about their formative years and the franchise. This is augmented by covers-&-variants by Cassaday & Martin, Sergio Aragonés, Howard Chaykin & Jesus Aburtov, Tyler Christopher, Ramos & Delgado, Leinil Francis Yu, Keith, Marte Gracia, Nick Bradshaw, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Israel Gonzalez and Phil Noto.

Chapter Three: Darth Vader #1-6’ concentrates on the Sith Lord’s series with ‘Give Yourself to the Dark Side…’ supplemented by covers from Granov, Bianchi, Mark Brooks, J. Scott Campbell & Ruffino and movie stills whilst ‘Never tell Me the Odds’ features images from Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Del Mundo, Horn, Land, Larroca & Delgado and Whilce Portacio & Sotomayor.

‘There is No Try…’ concentrates on the contributions of mega-star illustrator Alex Ross with numerous covers and an in-depth examination of his working process from posed models to pencils to finished work, before a gallery of more Vader pieces by Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Granov, Dave Dorman, Larroca & Delgado and Noto.

‘Chapter Four: Princess Leia #1-6’ concentrates on the avenger from Alderaan as ‘There is Another…’ offers background and a wealth of original art by series illustrators Terry & Rachel Dodson. Then comes their covers plus more from Brooks, Campbell & Ruffino, Cassaday & Martin, Tyler Christopher, Amanda Conner, Dell’Otto, Granov, Jackson Guice, Horn, Land & Ponsor, Ross, Suayan, Sotomayor, Young, Maleev, Francesco Francavilla, Noto and more movie photo-covers.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane in ‘Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years’ harking back to ‘A Long Time Ago’ with a short selection of classic covers by Rick Hoberg & Dave Cockrum, Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson, Ron Frenz, Cynthia Martin, Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson, plus a range of modern tributes by Granov, Chaykin, Greg Hildebrandt, Gene Day & Delgado and Tom Palmer.

It would appear that there is an inexhaustible appetite for views of “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” and the Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics. This fascinating art compendium celebrates the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the printed material in a way no fan could possibly resist – especially as the latest cinematic chapter is about to unfold…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd.  All rights reserved.

The Star Wars

By George Lucas, J.W. Rinzler, Mike Mayhew & Rain Beredo (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-498-5

I’m sure we all know the modern mythology of Star Wars and its mindbendingly expansive continuity to a greater or lesser extent. The problem with any such monolithic achievement is an eventual loss of spontaneity and freshness, but now true disciples and occasional dabblers alike have another, new-old strand to follow…

In September 2013 Dark Horse Comics began a 9-issue adaptation (#0-8) of George Lucas’ 1974 original draft for a science fiction movie romp of epic scope, expanded and interpreted by scripter Jonathan W. Rinzler, illustrator Mike Mayhew and colour-artist Rain Beredo, which offered fans of both the franchise and action comics another bite from a very different cherry.

Sadly, what most die-hards will want is to seek out the similarities and differences but, as tempting as that is, I’d like to concentrate on what makes this a good graphic novel and leave the cinematic nitpicking to those more adept and so inclined…

If you had somehow come from another planet and picked up The Star Wars, what you would have is a grandiose space-opera thriller with quite a few similarities to Frank Hebert’s epochal Dune saga and redolent of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, jam-packed with valiant champions fighting a last-ditch rearguard action against an oppressive, tyrannical Empire which wants to run everything…

The warriors called Jedi-Bendu whose martial skills carved out a benevolent galactic coalition are in decline, hunted near to extinction by a rival cult known as the Knights of Sith. As the martial sects waged their war, the nature of politics changed and a new, rapacious government sought to consolidate a league of voluntarily participant systems into an overweening monument to iron-handed control.

On the fourth moon of Utapau aged, ravaged Kane Starkiller is training his sons in the all-but lost martial arts of Jedi-Bendu when the hunters who have eradicated almost all of his kind appear. When the family heroes finally escape the trap they are reduced to only Kane and his elder son Annikin

Heartbroken, they head for Aquilae, unaware that their homeworld has been targeted by the New Empire. The autonomous system is the last free star kingdom, all others having capitulated to pressure and been absorbed into the burgeoning governmental/commercial juggernaut.

The Emperor, Governor Hoedaack and taciturn General Vader don’t expect too much trouble with this last campaign, but tribunal member Vantoss Coll believes otherwise. He knows Aquilae’s planetary defences are commanded by the mythic Jedi-Bendu Luke Skywalker

It won’t be enough. Skywalker has the ears of King Kayos and Queen Breha but their parliament is riddled with cowards, appeasers and outright traitors like Count Sandage

When the attack comes it is in the form of a colossal, moon-sized space-station and Skywalker’s forces are overwhelmed, even with the help of the recently returned Kane and Annikin and a desperate warning from Aquilae’s top agent Clieg Whitsun who arrives moments before the first shattering assault.

With hell about to rain down Skywalker orders Annikin to collect and protect wayward heir Princess Leia whilst he leads the planet’s space forces against the encroaching death star. During the battle two argumentative imperial droids, Artwo and Threepio, eject from the station and meet up with Annikin and Leia in the deep deserts below.

With Kayos murdered, Sandage happily capitulates and orders Skywalker to surrender, but the old soldier refuses…

With Captain Whitsun in tow he absonds, choosing to save the young Princes Biggs and Windy by getting them off-planet. Intending to link up with Annikin at distant Gordon Spaceport where his old alien smuggler pal Han Solo lurks, their flight is harried by faceless waves of white armoured troopers but the real trouble starts when despicable Vader reluctantly accepts the advice and aid of formidable Sith legend Prince Valorum

After a stunning and non-stop procession of increasingly brutal fights – and with their numbers tragically reduced by the death of two valiant stars – the surviving fugitives get off-planet and make it to primitive frontier world Yavin where Skywalker and Annikin find not only danger and betrayal but an unlikely turncoat ally and a potential game-changing army of bellicose giant beasts called Wookies

Of course it’s all far more complex and intriguing than that, with young love, dastardly betrayals, tragic sacrifice, plentiful comedy moments and above all astounding, rocket-paced action to carry readers along, and lovers of blaster-blazing action will be well served by the raw energy and lovely artwork.

It would appear that there is an inexhaustible demand for stories from “A Galaxy Far, Far Away…” but this time as another tale of noble rebels and dastardly Empires unfolds the big difference is that you don’t really know what’s coming next. If you’re a movie maven you could call it an alternate universe yarn if you wanted to, but this is a book no lover of great comics will want to miss.
The Star Wars and Star Wars © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All rights reserved. Used under authorisation. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are ©, 2013, 2014 Lucasfilm

Star Wars: Darth Vader and Son

By Jeffrey Brown (Lucas Books/Chronicle Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4521-0655-7

It’s never too late to find a treasure or have a good time. Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown certainly knows that, as a glance at any of his painfully incisive autobiographical mini-comics, quirky literary graphic novels and hilarious all-ages comedy cartoons will show.

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1975, Brown studied Fine Art at the Chicago Art Institute but abandoned painting to concentrate on comics.

His painfully intense, bizarrely funny observational strips soon garnered him fans amongst in-the-know consumers and fellow creators alike: all finding something to love in such varied fare as Every Girl Is The End of the World For Me, Cat Getting Out of a Bag and Other Observations, Little Things or current on-going series Sulk.

Happily, unlike so many creators with such an eclectic oeuvre, Brown has also achieved a measure of mainstream success thanks to his keen artistic sense and a lifelong love affair with the most significant popular arts phenomenon of the last 35 years.

In 2012 Brown created a breakout and mainstream best-seller with his hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Dark Lord of the Sith: exploring what might have been, had the most dangerous man (more or less) in the Empire had the opportunity to spend a little quality time with his missing son and heir…

The hilarious pre (Jedi) school experiences of Star Wars – Episode Three and a Half: Darth Vader and Son features deliriously daft and telling snatches of Skywalker domesticity highlighting such memorable moments as baseball practise with light sabre, a day at the beach (on Tatooine), budding sibling rivalry with a stupid-head sister, having “the talk” about babies, Trick or Treating with dad in tow, playing in Trash (compactors), finding a babysitter for a precocious kid, shovelling snow on Hoth, playing with that Solo kid and the joy of that first (Speeder) bike as well as a host of other awkward, touching warm moments in the otherwise drab life of a galactic nemesis.

No fan of the all-conquering franchise could possibly do without this deliciously sweet and still readily available hardcover hit – or its recent sequel Vader’s Little Princess – and these superbly subversive cartoon treats could easily make converts of the hardest hearted, fun-starved rationalist or clone.

Gloriously daft and entrancingly fun, this is a superb treat for fans and unbelievers alike and there’s even the promise of a third volume in the pipeline…

© 2012 by Lucasfilm Ltd & ® or ™ where indicated. All rights reserved.

Stars Wars: Vader’s Little Princess

By Jeffrey Brown (Lucas Books/Chronicle Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4521-1869-7

Since its launch in 1977 the Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comic books, toys, games, countless examples of merchandise and even some more movies. The disciples, followers, fans, adherents and devotees are as helplessly dedicated as Trekkies and Whovians (without, as far as I’m aware, being subject to a demeaning descriptive appellation) and are well on the way to becoming the first religion to actively admit it’s completely fictional.

In 2012 Jeffrey Brown, star of such quirkily irresistible indy comics as Unlikely, Clumsy, Bighead, Funny, Misshapen Body and Incredible Change-Bots, scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son and now – just in time for National Star Wars Day – has expanded the concept with “Episode Three and Three-Quarters” to cover Luke Skywalker’s long-lost, turbulent, truculent twin sister Leia (we don’t call her Ambassador Organa anymore… yet… whatever…) in Vader’s Little Princess.

If we peek behind the midnight cape and ebony re-breather helmet of the long-suffering Lord of the Sith, we can glimpse the dark side for the hard-working single parent trying his best to bring up a rebellious girl child and her rather disappointing brother…

Dear daddy Darth only wants a little peace and quiet to destroy the Rebel Alliance and maybe rule the Galactic Empire, but it’s not easy as we can see in this sublime, full colour hardcover charting the rocky road of his capricious, changeable and charming little madam, from nosy, bossy, know-it-all brat to feisty, capable independent know-it-all college applicant in a series of gloriously arch and whimsical cartoons that will delight young and old alike.

It’s the same oft-told tale of parenthood: one minute she’s knitting you ugly presents, hiding your X-Wing’s keys or making faces behind your back whilst you admonish Grand Moff Tarkin, and the next she’s embarrassed to be seen with you; not taking messages from The Emperor and trying to stop you from even “talking” to that good-for-nothing, obnoxious, sneaky Corellian Solo kid who’s always hanging around…

Of course it’s not all one way traffic: Dads – no matter how important – don’t care about important things like fashion, never like your boyfriends and can be so-ooo embarrassing when you’re trying to impress the cool kids…

Gloriously daft and entrancingly fun, this is a superb treat for fans and unbelievers alike and there’s even the promise of a third volume in the pipeline…

© 2013 by Lucasfilm Ltd. LCC & ® or ™ where indicated. All rights reserved.

Barefoot Gen Volume 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima

By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-602-3

I first found the Educomics magazine I Saw It! in 1982; initially seduced by the garish cover and the Chester Gould-like illustrations. There was very little translated manga around then, and it was lumped in with the wild, wacky and often salaciously outrageous “Underground Comix” on the racks of my regular comics shop.

I was gobsmacked.

In England we’ve had educational comics for decades, but this was something completely new to me. There was no tasteful distancing here; just an outraged scream of defiance and a direct plea to make things right. This was history and politics – and it was deadly serious, not played for laughs or to make points as British cartooning traditionally did.

I Saw It! became Barefoot Gen, constantly revised and refined, and now the entire semi-autobiographical saga is being remastered in an unabridged ten volume English translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen originally began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) after an occasional series of single stories in 1972 including Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen, (One Day, Suddenly) in various magazines. These led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45 page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano realised that the author – an actual survivor of the first Atomic Bombing – had much more to say and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country that too often prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions, and after 18 months Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump transferring first to Shimin (Citizen), Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism). Like his indomitable hero Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to the first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the first Project Gen into English, and many other languages including Norwegian, French German, Italian, Portuguese Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto. He completed the tale in 1985 and his dark chronicle has been adapted into three live action films (from 1976 to 1980), 2 anime films, (1983 and 1987) and in 2007, a 2-part live action television drama.

The unabridged first book A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima introduces six year old Gen Nakaoka in a small allotment, cultivating wheat with his father, an artist whose anti-war sentiment has made life even more difficult for his family. Hiroshima is starving, with American air-raids a constant hazard and rabid patriotic militarists urging the weary populace to greater and greater sacrifice. Every one is constantly reminded that their greatest honour would be to die for the Emperor. I almost expected Darkseid to pop up at any moment…

Gen is the third of five children; Koji and Akira, are his older brothers, his sister Eiko and brother Shinji are younger. His beloved, devoted mother is heavily pregnant. It is a desperate time. Neighbours spy on neighbours, secret police skulk everywhere, criminals and police confiscate all the food and everywhere the militarists scream that total victory for Japan is only a few days away…

Spring 1945: Hunger is everywhere. The bitter realist Papa Nakaoka is increasingly unable to suppress his anger at the greedy warmongers who have brought Japan to the edge of ruin. His open dissent turns his neighbours and friends against the family. They are all labelled traitors for his beliefs, shunned and cheated. Akira is evacuated to the countryside, Koji forced to join the ranks of the Kamikaze, but for pregnant Kimie and her youngest children the stress is unrelenting and inescapable…

Gen’s father is a complex figure – often regarded by critics as a pacifist, though he is far from that. He is however a totally honest man with a warrior’s heart and a true descendent of an honourable warrior culture. Arrested, beaten, maligned, he is unwavering in his fierce belief that the war is wrong, instigated by greedy men to line their own pockets. He always fights for what he knows is right and even as he is beaten by the police he tells his sons “When you know something’s right, don’t give it up…”

His other lesson becomes a major metaphor and visual theme of the series “Be like wheat that sprouts in the dead of winter and gets trampled over and over, but grows straight and tall and bears good fruit”.

The level of domestic violence – and indeed casual social and cultural violence – is apt to cause some modern readers a little concern. Papa Nakaoka is a “hands-on” father, always quick to physically chastise his children, and Gen himself develops into a boy all too ready to solve problems with his fists, but that the family loves deeply and is loved in return is never in doubt – you will just have to steel yourself for a tale about and prominently displaying lots of “tough love”.

There’s a great resemblance to the best of Charles Dickens in Barefoot Gen, especially Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, but as the human travails of Gen and his family mount there’s no human face of evil; only a ghastly clock counting down. We all know what’s coming even if they don’t and a repeating motif of a circle sun – more often dark than light – keeps that dread tension and foreknowledge of an utterly abhuman crisis solidly in focus.

Monday August 6th 1945 dawns bright and clear. Gen is celebrating a rare personal victory as little Shinji plays with a hard-won toy. There’s a flash of light in the sky…

Much has been written about the effects of the bomb and the incredible, matter-of-fact, nightmarish way Nakazawa has captured them. They’re all true. The depiction of the atomic aftermath and its immediate effects upon the survivors – although I hesitate to use such a hopeful term – are truly ghastly, and a testament to the power of the artist’s understated drawing talent. But this is a book about overcoming the impossible and to understand Gen’s achievement and victory, one has to see the face of his foe.

As the firestorm engulfs the city the miraculously unscathed boy rushes home. The structure has collapsed upon itself, trapping Papa, Eiko and Shinji. Despite his and mother’s efforts they can’t be extricated and no one will help. Mother and child watch helplessly as the family burns to death and the trauma induces labour. Amidst the flames Gen delivers his sister into a world of pain and horror…

Polemical, strident and unrelenting, A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima is also a great piece of craft: graphic narrative at its most effective and powerful. Gen is a flawed but likable hero, big-hearted and trustworthy, a source of cathartic laughter of the best slapstick kind, and a beacon of tragedy, hope and (im)patient understanding.

Although undoubtedly overshadowed by the strength and effect of its message, it’s also a compelling read as a drama, supremely informative and entertaining, memorably beguiling. Please read it. Read all of the series.

It might make you sick: it should. It’s meant to. Read it anyway. And when you think they’re ready, show it to your children. “Those who do not learn from history…”

© 2008 Keiji Nakazawa. All Rights Reserved.

Robin: A Hero Reborn

By Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon, Norm Breyfogle, Tom Lyle & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-029-1

No matter how hard creators try to avoid it or escape it, Batman and Robin are an inevitable pairing. The first one graduated, the second died (sort of, more or less, leave it, don’t go there) and the third, Tim Drake, volunteered and applied pester-power until he got the job…

Reprinting Batman #455-457 and the first Robin miniseries (#1-5), this volume shows how the plucky young computer whiz convinced the Gotham Guardian to let him assume the junior role in a cracking adventure yarn that has as much impact today as when it first appeared nearly twenty years ago.

‘Identity Crisis’ by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle and Steve Mitchell finds the newly orphaned (or as good as: his mother is dead and his dad’s in a coma) Tim Drake as Bruce Wayne’s new ward but forbidden from participating in the life of the Batman. The kid is willing and competent, after all, he deduced Batman’s secret identity before he even met him, but the guilt-racked Dark Knight won’t allow any more children to risk their lives…

However when an old foe lures the lone avenger into an inescapable trap Tim must disobey Batman’s express orders to save him, even if it means his own life… or even the new home he’s just beginning to love.

Following on the heels of that landmark saga Robin got a new costume and a try-out series. Writer Chuck Dixon, and artists Tom Lyle and Bob Smith relate the tale of the apprentice hero’s journey to Paris, ostensibly to train in secret, but which devolves into a helter-skelter race-against-time, as the murderous martial artist Lady Shiva leads the lad into a deadly battle against the Ghost Dragon Triad and Hong-Kong crime-lord King Snake for possession of a Nazi terror weapon.

There’s a breakneck pace and tremendous vivacity to this uncomplicated thriller that would rouse a corpse whilst the exotic scenarios make ‘Big Bad World’ a coming of age tale that any reader of super-hero fiction would adore.

This book is a lovely slice of sheer escapist entertainment and a genuine Bat-classic. If you don’t own this you really should.

© 1990, 1991, 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi vol 2

Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi 2
Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi 2

By various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-472-2

Dark Horse Comics have held the comics producing section of the Star Wars franchise since 1993, generating thousands of pages of material, much of it excellent, and some not quite. But as I’ve said before, die-hard fans simply aren’t that quality conscious when it comes to their personal obsession, whether it’s comics, the latest batch of action figures, or another film fiasco.

The company’s Omnibus line is a wonderful, economical way to keep the older material in print for such fans by bundling old publications into classy digests (they’re slightly smaller than US comic-books but larger than the standard manga volume, running about 400 full colour pages per book). Tales of the Jedi chronologically collects the various extrapolations set prior to the first film Star Wars IV: A New Hope.

‘The Freedon Nadd Uprising’ is by Tom Veitch, with art by Tony Akins and Dennis Rodier, coloured by Suzanne Bourdages and lettered by Willie Schubert, It’s set about 4000 years prior to the rise of Darth Vader and first appeared as a two-part comic miniseries of the same name in 1994. Set once again set on the Beast World of Onderon (as there’s such close continuity I strongly recommend first reading volume 1 – ISBN: 978-1-84576-471-5 – of this Omnibus series). There’s a resurgence of Sith sorcery on the newly liberated world, and the dispatch of Nomi Sunrider and a small Jedi team to ferret out the contagion leads to the resurrection of a hideous undying evil…

This is followed by ‘Dark Lords of the Sith’ by Veitch, Kevin J. Anderson, Chris Gossett, Mike Barreiro and Jordi Ensign, Pamela Rambo and Schubert. Set one year later this (originally) six issue tale follows the fortunes of the Sith-tainted royal siblings Aleema and Satal Keto as they first steal the throne of the Empress Teta system and then attempt to extend their rule to the rest of the Republic. Initially opposing them, only to fall prey to the Dark Side is the haughty young Jedi Exar Kun. As the war escalates the fallen Ulic Qel-Droma and Kun fall deeper under the sway of the ghost of Sith Lord Freedon Nadd…

As the Republic totters of the brink of darkness and disaster ‘The Sith War’ (by Anderson, Dario Carrasco Jr., Jordi Ensign, Mark Heike, Bill Black and David Jacob Beckett, Rachelle Menase, Rambo and Schubert) opens with all-out galactic war raging. Another six-part epic, this intense thriller concludes the dramas of all the major players in stirring fashion, paving the way for an excellent and much-needed change of pace.

‘Redemption’ (originally a five part miniseries by Anderson, Gossett, Andrew Pepoy, Dave Nestelle and Schubert) is set ten years later, as Vima, daughter of the great Nomi Sunrider hits her rebellious teen years. Ignored by Jedi masters overburdened by the task of rebuilding civilisation, she runs away in search of somebody, anybody, willing to teach her the secrets of The Force.

Hidden on the dangerous Moon of Yavin she finds the fallen Jedi Ulic Qel-Droma…

Rich in their own complex mythology these swashbuckling fantasy tales can be a little hard to follow, but the sheer bravura exuberance is quite intoxicating and makes this book a thoroughly engrossing reading experience. These are comics stories that act as a solid gold entrance into the world of graphic narrative and one we should all exploit to get more people into comics.

Star Wars © 2008 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved. Used under authorisation. Contents © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2008 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Star Wars Omnibus: Tales of the Jedi Volume 1

Star Wars Omnibus 1

By various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-471-5

Dark Horse Comics have held the comics producing section of the Star Wars franchise since 1993, and in that time have produced thousands of pages of material, much of it excellent, some not so much: and most of that the earliest material.

Now, it might be heresy to speak this aloud but dedicated fans aren’t all that quality conscious when it comes to their particular fascination, whether its comics about the Old Republic or the latest batch of action figures, or whatever. And no, I’m not just talking about Star Wars fans now.

The Omnibus line is a brilliant and economical way to keep the poorer material in print for such fans by bundling old publications into classy digests (they’re slightly smaller than US comic-books but larger than the standard manga volume, running about 400 full colour pages per book). Tales of the Jedi chronologically collects the various extrapolations set prior to the first film Star Wars IV: a New Hope.

‘The Golden Age of the Sith’ is by Kevin J. Anderson, Chris Gossett and Stan Woch, with colours by Pamela Rambo and lettered by Sean Konot. It’s set 5000 years prior to the rise of Darth Vader and first appeared as a comic miniseries of the same name issued as #0-5. Odan-Urr is a scholarly Jedi obsessed with historical research unwillingly dispatched to a Star system where the charismatic Empress Teta is trying to unite seven warring planets into a pacified, civilised nation. Running supplies to the combatants are the Daragon family, but the last mission goes wrong leaving their children Jori and Gav in the care of the Hutt who financed the missions.

Years later the siblings are hyperspace explorers still trying to work off the debt when they discover a route to a dark and distant system with a hideous secret. Millennia previously when the Jedi first began many succumbed to the Dark Side of the Force. After a brutal war they were driven from the civilised galaxy and lost to history. Fleeing to the outer reaches of space these dark knights found the decadent world of the Sith, which they promptly conquered. Interbreeding with the natives the Jedi became Sith Lords and after brutal ages of conquest retrenched into complacency.

As Jori and Gav arrive in this lost system two warlords are fighting for the vacant position of supreme leader. But now the warlike Sith have a route back to the civilisation that banished them. Jori is coerced into bringing the wizards back to Republic Space with her brother Gav a hostage slowly succumbing to the seductive Dark Side…

This leads directly into the second tale ‘The Fall of the Sith Empire’ as Odan-Urr and Empress Teta lead the resistance to the Sith assault whist the Republic dithers. Originally released as a five issue miniseries (by Anderson, Dario Carrasco Jr., Mark Heike, Bill Black and David Jacob Beckett, coloured by Ray Murtaugh and lettered by Willie Schubert) this epic war-story concludes the tale originally ended on a classic cliffhanger. Full of intrigue and bombast, both parts of this convoluted tale suffer from rather pedestrian art and predictable plot (although the quality of visuals does improve by the end), but nevertheless tells the long-anticipated tale of the first encounter between the Jedi and the Sith Lords. There’s loads of action, drama and heroic sacrifice and it does provide a solid base for succeeding tales to build on.

It is followed by the saga of Ulic Qel-Droma and the Beast Wars on Onderon from the comic book Tales of the Jedi, which began much closer continuity, eventually collected with the Saga of Nomi Sunrider as Knights of the Old Republic in 1997. Written by Tom Veitch, art by Chris Gossett and Mike Barreiro, coloured by Pamela Rambo and lettered by Willie Schubert, it’s set a thousand years after the events of the Sith War. As three young Jedi are sent to the planet Onderon, a world of hideous monsters permanently besieging a vast city citadel of sentient beings, these young heroes are bursting with overconfidence. Unfortunately all is not as it seems…

One year later: Nomi Sunrider is a wife and mother, who dutifully follows her Jedi husband when he is ordered to report to the Jedi Master Thon in the Stenness system. En route he is murdered by bandits for the Adegan crystals he carries (can’t make lightsabers without crystals, right?). As he dies his spirit tells Nomi she must be a Jedi in his place. This intriguing tale of responsibility is the best work in the whole omnibus as Nomi conquers her fears and reservations in time to aid Ulic Qel-Droma and his fellow Jedi on Onderon, who have fallen foul of a secret infestation of Sith sorcerers.

Powerful and moving, the first chapter of Veitch’s script is ably illustrated by Janine Johnston, who then relinquishes the art chores to the quite superb David Roach, whose lovingly rendered realism adds tremendous factual weight to the proceedings. This is the moment the future quality of the franchise was assured.

Increasingly well produced and featuring scenarios familiar to most readers, these are comics stories that act as a solid gold entrance into the world of graphic narrative and one we should all exploit to get more people into comics

Star Wars © 2007 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved. Used under authorization. Contents © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2007 Lucasfilm Ltd.