STAR WARS: CRIMSON REIGN – REVIEW ROUNDUP

The next Star Wars event begins here, with the opening issues of Crimson Reign. Roundup collects Star Wars #19, #20 – Darth Vader #18 – Crimson Reign #1.

STAR WARS: CRIMSON REIGN REVIEW ROUNDUP

The next Star Wars event begins here, with the opening issues of Crimson Reign, the second arc in what has been dubbed ‘The Qi’ra Trilogy’. But will it be another epic barnstormer to follow up War of the Bounty Hunters, or will it be the start of a descent into event fatigue? We round up some of the latest Star Wars releases from Marvel Comics to find out…


DARTH VADER #18

Written by: Greg Pak
Art: Leonard Kirk
Colours: Alex Sinclair
Released: 01/12/2021

Following the reveal of Ochi of Bestoon’s dramatic double-cross, and the Empire’s utter decimation of the Hutt syndicate, Darth Vader looks set to be the title most closely intertwined with the events of Crimson Reign. From the outset, this issue examines some of the effects of the emergence of Crimson Dawn and Vader’s response to them. It makes for a non-stop, galaxy hopping narrative but, as usual, under Greg Pak’s stewardship, the big man himself makes the biggest impact possible in the few panels in which he appears. He may not be at the front and centre of every skirmish, but his influence is what always drives the narrative – he’s a smart, shadowy, sinister controller of events that Crimson Dawn’s Qi’ra could only ever dream of being…so far.

The highlight here is the introduction of a ragtag group of assassins on personal missions to take revenge on Crimson Dawn, something which Vader seems set to use to his advantage. It’s clear that Pak is going to give us more reasons to love and empathise with each of them before dispatching them in the cruellest fashion possible – it’s good to know that some things never change!

Artist Leonard Kirk does a solid job throughout and his presentation of action and chaos is clear and assured, making the splash pages that highlight the bigger moments all the more impactful. Alex Sinclair takes full advantage of the shift away from the Imperial colour scheme of greys and blacks, as the reds and oranges of battle practically pop off the page.

Special mention must also be given to Aaron Kuder and Richard Isanove’s stunning cover – this is simply begging for a frameable print!


STAR WARS #19

Written by: Charles Soule
Art: Marco Castiello
Colours: Rachelle Rosenberg
Released: 08/12/2021

The effects of Crimson Reign look set to be a little separated from the core Star Wars comic, at least for the next couple of issues, as Luke goes off in search of more lessons of the Jedi to aid him in his quest to finally be ready to face Vader.

#19 also sees the introduction of a new artist, Marco Castiello, who steps in to cover a few issues for the incredibly talented Ramon Rosanas, who lends this series a real classic comics feel. Castiello’s approach is a beautifully sketchy one, which gives an appropriately otherworldly feel to each of the alien vistas that Luke visits as he tries to find a Jedi outpost that hasn’t been ransacked or completely destroyed by the Empire. Castiello’s dense inking makes for some suitably shadowy close-ups of a Luke Skywalker in turmoil, contrasted eye-catchingly with Rachelle Rosenberg’s dynamic colours.

Some of Charles Soule’s best moments in his consistently excellent run on Star Wars so far have been in his character work around Luke, filling in the gap between the boy at the end of Episode V and the man at the beginning of VI. This issue is no exception, as we see Luke fluctuating from doubt to confidence and back again in a realistically human way. He also receives guidance from a character that some fans may recognise from Soule’s short run on Darth Vader back in 2017 – it’s little nuggets like this that make the interwoven world of Star Wars comics so rewarding and beguiling. (More on that when we look at #20!)

The only slight problem that rears its head at the beginning of this issue is the sudden realisation that so many threads were left hanging during the six months or so that War of the Bounty Hunters was going on. While the reminder is handled in a way that fits the narrative and avoids clunky exposition, there is a slight risk of the reader being taken out of the moment as they scrabble around to remember what happened not only a good six or so months ago in this particular book, but also before the events of a line-encompassing, 34 part event series. That said, the threads that look due to be picked up soon should be exciting ones and give more signals that this book won’t be quite as interdependent on happenings elsewhere as during the previous event.


CRIMSON REIGN #1

Written by: Charles Soule
Art: Steven Cummings
Colours: GURU-eFX
Released: 08/12/2021

And so we come to the headliner – the first of five issues of Crimson Reign, the backbone of the event of the same name. Soule is at the helm once again and wastes no time in setting up a number of intriguing prospects whilst driving the narrative forward simultaneously. While the core of the story is formed around a war between the various crime syndicates across the galaxy, there is a lot more at play here, and Soule drops in mystery after mystery and tease after tease, making for a tantalizing read and an agonising wait until the next issue!

The older, wiser Qi’ra continues to be an interesting character in Soule’s hands – the potential for true cunning and guile we saw in her at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story is truly realised here as she plays seemingly half the galaxy off against each other to her own ends. Those ends don’t yet seem to be entirely bad ones from what little Soule reveals here, but it’s certain that her methods are questionable – the final panel hints that dire consequences approach…

Steven Cummings has an unenviable task with this issue – so many characters are featured, so much ground is covered, so many locations are used, that it must be one hell of a task to realise everything that pops out of Soule’s head for this one. It’s a challenge that Cummings grasps with both hands – he takes a cinematic approach, his images acting as a perfect partner to the narration of the Archivist. There’s also an early 90s feel here too – shades of Ron Lim abound, panels featuring alien creatures or space battles could well have been lifted from that legendary artist’s almost as legendary run on Silver Surfer.

A promising start to an event that looks set to be altogether different to the one that came before it.  


STAR WARS #20

Written by: Charles Soule
Art: Marco Castiello
Colours: Rachelle Rosenberg
Released: 12/01/2022

Luke’s search for Jedi knowledge continues in another issue that takes a step back from the goings-on in Crimson Reign. Soule once again shows just how much he gets Luke and the struggle he is facing to become the Jedi he wants to be whilst grappling with the expectations placed upon him.

All of this is dealt with in an incredibly exciting manner for any fans of other parts of the Star Wars comics and books range. There have been hints and references to the incredibly successful The High Republic publishing initiative throughout Soule’s run (he also forms part of the writing team for that project), but here we finally get a moment to make High Republic fans cheer. No spoilers here, but Soule has picked just the right character to compare and contrast with Luke, as they speak to each other through the power of…magic mushrooms…?

With that comes some trippy visuals, which Castiello makes even more alien than the landscapes in the previous issue. Again, his dense inking really serves the issue well and Rosenberg’s colours are intense and solid, lending some of the more nightmarish panels a satisfyingly bloody hue. This isn’t an action-packed issue, and both artists make use of the space to great effect, providing striking images throughout and evidently revelling in their little trip into the days of the High Republic.

VERDICT

So far, it seems that the approach to event storytelling is a different one with Crimson Reign – less all-consuming than War of the Bounty Hunters, right down to the lack of an event banner on the covers for Star Wars and Darth Vader. It’s encouraging that the main Star Wars book especially has been given a little space to breathe and to deal with the fallout of the last event before diving headlong into the next. Pak and Soule continue to be two writers at the absolute top of their game, showing that Star Wars comics can work whether the storytelling is on a grand, bombastic scale or whether it’s dealing with the inner turmoil and doubts and fears that will eventually be the making of the galaxy’s greatest hero.

Review by Nathan Harrison


STAR WARS: WAR OF THE BOUNTY HUNTERS – CONCLUSION REVIEW ROUNDUP

As the massive War of the Bounty Hunters event comes to an end, we take a look over some of the final parts that close out this sprawling, 34-part behemoth from Marvel Comics.

The second half of this year has seen Star Wars fans treated to some of the most exciting, surprising, and epic storytelling that the comics have had to offer. As the massive War of the Bounty Hunters event comes to an end, we take a look over some of the final parts that close out this sprawling, 34-part behemoth from Marvel Comics.


STAR WARS: WAR OF THE BOUNTY HUNTERS #5

Written by: Charles Soule

Art: Luke Ross and David Messina

Colours: Neeraj Menon and Rachelle Rosenberg

Released: 13/10/21

First up is the fifth and final issue of the core mini-series, which truly delivers on the ‘War’ of its title. Panels are chock full of space battles, laser fire and things generally going ‘BOOM!’ Luke Ross’ art and the truly unique colours of Neeraj Menon have been the standout aspect of this series and they give their absolute all once again in depicting the massive scale of this final hurrah, ably assisted by David Messina and Rachelle Rosenberg respectively. Each page leaps out at the reader, the layout of most of them making for fast-paced reading before indulging in the occasional impactful larger panel or an astonishing splash page to really grab the attention. Here’s hoping they both return to the Star Wars universe before too long.

This is one jam-packed comic but that doesn’t stop almost every key player in the event having their moment in the spotlight to wrap up their involvement. The highlight is, as ever, Boba Fett, and his team up with cyborg bounty hunter Valance is beautifully pitched by Charles Soule, who continues to prove to be one of the best writers to ever grace the pages of a Star Wars comic. This issue, he delivers stunning character moments in rapid fire fashion interspersed with frenetic action, but the speed at which they come never reduces the impact or importance of each one, some of which will lead on nicely to be paid off in each character’s respective book.

There is, of course, also a huge teaser for the upcoming Crimson Reign mini-series, the second part of Soule’s Qi’ra trilogy. Soule has given new life to a character who could easily have been forgotten and ignored, given the underwhelming reception of Solo: A Star Wars Story – he has seized a golden opportunity to do exactly what Star Wars books and comics are supposed to do: make something much bigger of the comparatively tiny part of the story that the films make up, and he does it convincingly. Qi’ra’s return has been fully justified in this event, and her final words here promise intriguing things to come for the new leader of Crimson Dawn in the upcoming mini-series, Crimson Reign.


DARTH VADER #17

Written by: Greg Pak

Art: Raffaele Ienco

Colours: Alex Sinclair

Released: 27/10/21

Considering the events of his own book and the core mini-series, Greg Pak is left with a lot to wrap up here, but he handles it with an eye on pace and detail, which have both punctuated his run from the start. A lot of ground is covered – the conclusion of Vader and Luke’s chase, the ongoing scuffle between Ochi and Sly Moore, Vader’s confrontation with Bokku the Hutt and, of course, setting the scene for what comes next, but every aspect of this issue stands well on its own and as part of a cohesive whole which makes for a very satisfying issue with a shocker of an ending that makes Crimson Reign an even more enticing prospect.

Raffaele Ienco’s art is as great here as it always is – cinematic in its scope, but intimate and detailed when it needs to be, even when dealing with the featureless blackness of Vader’s shiny bonce. Ienco never puts a foot wrong, giving us what quite simply looks like a Star Wars movie in pencil and ink. Alex Sinclair takes over colouring duties – he handles the blacks, dark greys and washed-out blues the make up the colour palette of the Empire with skill and then cleverly slips in one panel of bright, alarming neon in one of the final pages, just as the rug is pulled from under the reader’s feet. 


IG-88 #1

Written by: Rooney Barnes

Art: Guiu Vilanova

Colours: Antonio Fabela

Released: 27/10/21

Next, Rooney Barnes and Guiu Vilanova bring us the last of the one-shots that have been peppered throughout War of the Bounty Hunters.

Given his merciless dismantling at the hands of Darth Vader, you’d be forgiven for thinking that IG-88 would be out of the game for good. However, Barnes resurrects him here in quite a sinister fashion, almost reminiscent of Frankenstein, with the ambitious engineer RB-919 getting more than he bargained for at the hands of his creation. The dark tone fits well with the unrelenting killing machine that IG-88 is supposed to be, with the art working effectively in tandem, focusing on the droid’s unnervingly blank face, his skeletal form often in shadow.

The tone changes ever so slightly for a showdown with Boba Fett in the closing pages, as everyone’s favourite bounty hunter just couldn’t be written without the overwhelming sense of badassery that pervades every page he features on. However, this is in no way jarring and works well with the dry humour that IG-88’s matter-of-fact dialogue brings to the table.

This issue slots neatly between the end of the main part of War of the Bounty Hunters #5 and its epilogue, acting as a nice little coda to the fight over who gets to keep the helpless Han Solo, and as a potential set-up for future reappearances from IG-88. ‘Born to Kill’ is the story’s title – let’s hope that, as far as IG-88 goes, it’s also a promise.


STAR WARS #18

Written by: Charles Soule

Art: Ramon Rosanas

Colours: Rachelle Rosenberg

Released: 03/11/21

And finally, after 34 issues across 4 ongoing titles, a mini-series and several one-shots, we have the conclusion, presented in Star Wars #18 by the dream team of Charles Soule and Ramon Rosanas, whose work together on this run has been consistently brilliant.

That winning streak remains unbroken here, in a much more stripped back, action-free issue than this event has generally brought us. The linchpin of the book is a confrontation between QI’ra and Leia as the true nature of the former’s failed plan is revealed and they both reckon with Han’s fate and the hardships they have both been through in recent issues. Given the fact that one man’s whereabouts have formed the crux of the whole narrative, this was never going to be a chat that would pass the Bechdel test, but it’s fascinating and scintillatingly written nonetheless. Though Qi’ra does much of the talking, Leia only needs a few words to show that Soule understands her top to bottom. The same goes for Rosanas, who captures Carrie Fisher’s expressive cynicism beautifully.

The conversation also yields a flashback sequence to Han and Qi’ra’s childhood, before the events of Solo, living under the command of Lady Proxima. It’s only a handful of pages, but it has real impact on the issue, leading to a somewhat ambiguous conclusion to the conversation which leaves us wondering what Qi’ra might be capable of when it comes to twisting the truth and manipulating events to her own ends, something which Soule will almost surely expand upon in Crimson Reign.

VERDICT

By its very nature, Star Wars is massive in scale, and is only getting bigger and bigger as more movies, Disney+ shows, books and, of course, comics fill the pipeline and promise to further develop and intertwine the beloved characters that are spread throughout the galaxy. With that in mind, an event like War of the Bounty Hunters is a natural fit, and these final parts live up to that promise, whilst offering a real variety of styles, tones, and approaches – from chaotic dog fights in the depths of space to hushed, private character-defining conversations, from dark droid workshops to inhospitable ice planets, the sheer scope of just these 4 issues out of the complete 34 is seriously impressive and pure Star Wars.

Taken as a whole, War of the Bounty Hunters has been just that from the very start – the depth and scale of the storytelling, balancing both action and character, humour and high stakes, dark and light, across multiple writers and artists whilst remaining cohesive (aside from the occasional issue where the release schedule doesn’t seem to match the reading order) is an incredible feat. The inevitable arm-straining omnibus will make for a thrilling read to be devoured in one greedy sitting.


Review by Nathan Harrison


Darth Vader #16 Review

Raffaele Ienco’s art remains simply stunning throughout, from the opening broad panels continuing the trippy fever dreams of an obsessed Vader…

Darth Vader #16

Reviewed by Nathan Harrison

Written by: Greg Pak

Art: Raffaele Ienco

Released: 15/09/2021

Publisher: Marvel Comics

One of the biggest advantages of a major crossover event such as War of the Bounty Hunters is that stories can be told from all sides. Comic books only have so many pages that they can fill, so telling a story with an epic scope and dozens of key characters can sometimes be hampered by simply not having enough space to cover every potential aspect. This issue is a prime example of the comic book event doing what it always should, as events depicted in Darth Vader #16 run in tandem with the recently released fourth issue of the core mini-series and it makes for a thrilling aside which could not have been given adequate room to breathe had it been placed into the already very hectic main issue.

What we’re presented with is a heart in mouth, cat and mouse chase of an issue, which sees Luke feeling the hot breath of Vader’s TIE fighter down his exhaust ports once more, while a number of ongoing plot strands come together at breakneck pace. The shift between each aspect of the issue is deftly handled by Greg Pak, and Raffaele Ienco’s art remains simply stunning throughout, from the opening broad panels continuing the trippy fever dreams of an obsessed Vader (rendered in a wonderful murky crimson by Jason Keith and Rachelle Rosenberg) to the frenzied space chase that forms the crux of ‘Target Skywalker’.

One of the most iconic aspects of Star Wars (among an absolute plethora of them) is the masterful sound design of Ben Burtt. Without the imposing scream of the TIE fighter, the phasery slap of the lasers and the instantly recognisable beeps and woops of a concerned R2-D2, original trilogy dog fights would be a shadow of what they are. Props, then, to VC’s Joe Caramagna for his lettering across this issue, which shoots each sound straight between your eyes. His letters sometimes almost take over entire panels, just as the sounds themselves take over the senses when watching one of the movies – it’s pitched just right and shows that even a comic book, usually made up of no more sound than the occasional turn of the page, can become an absolute cacophony in the right hands.

Amongst all the action and the noise, however, Pak continues to deliver some of the best dialogue across all the Star Wars comics, especially when dealing with Ochi of Bestoon and Administrator Moore, whose face-off towards the end of the issue almost makes for a bit of light relief before the devastating conclusion which, much like its equivalent in the core series, sets up one hell of a final battle to come.


VERDICT

Pak and Ienco continue to produce an excellent book, which turns into a white-knuckle roller coaster for its 16th issue. The pace is such that it almost feels as if it’s over in the blink of an eye, but what that eye sees for the duration of the issue is some beautifully conceived space battle art and some of the best storytelling in the Marvel Star Wars roster.


Review by Nathan Harrison