Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review: 'Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Comics Volume One'

With their simple emotions and motivations, instantly recognizable appearances, and thrilling derring-do, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and the rest of the Star Wars gang were just at home in the comics as they were on the screen. Founded by an unabashed comics junkie, Lucasfilm recognized this immediately and dispatched Charles Lippincott to sell the idea of Star Wars comics to Marvel, striking a deal that would see the books hitting shelves just as Lucas’s film was hitting screens. 

The Marvel books were a smash and allowed all the opportunities for new adventures and characters that the film series’ necessarily slow schedule couldn’t allow. Two years after the debut of the Star Wars comic books, more opportunities for intergalactic action arose when the franchise expanded to the L.A. Times Syndicate’s daily papers. The Star Wars black & white daily strips and color Sunday ones were more simplistic and less eccentric than their comic book cousins (nothing comparable to Marvel’s outlandish man-rabbit Jaxxon here). However, Russ Manning’s stark artwork offered the surprise revelation that George Lucas’s colorful universe could translate mighty well to moody black & white and his passion for the film resulted in a voice truer to the source material than Marvel’s freewheeling wackiness (the fact that one storyline references the wookiee Life Day celebration introduced in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special is probably wacky enough for a lot of fans.). The newspaper stories were generic enough that several of them have Marvel equivalents (Princess Leia liberates slaves while posing as one; the Star Warriors encounter a race of telepaths; etc.) but there are unique elements that make the strip its own thing, such as the device of having C-3PO relay the adventures to a super computer named Mistress Mnemos and the appearance of other original creations, such as the ethereal villain Black Hole and his dark-clad cadre of stormtroopers and Grand Moff Tarkin’s blood-hungry widow who resembles one of those terrifying Disney villains.

These strips have been posthumously compiled before, but IDW’s new anthology Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Comics Volume One does so with the publisher’s special touch, making these strips extra pleasurable to revisit. A hardcover volume that refuses to digitize the original inking, the book includes such bonus material as an introduction on the series, a biography of Manning, unpublished story ideas and panels, and a ribbon bookmark. This first volume covering March 1979 through October 1980 is a lovely presentation typical of IDW, and the promise that the next installment will feature an adaptation of Brian Daly’s novel Han Solo at Star’s End is quite an enticement to watch the skies for Volume Two. I’m glad the daily strips didn’t sideline the best Star Wars character in carbonite for three years like the Marvel books did.
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