Sunday Star Wars: Darth Maul by Cullen Bunn – Graphic Novel Review

I enjoy works set out as prequels to the prequel trilogy – Master and Apprentice is one of my most favourite reads. I didn’t always like Darth Maul, but catching up on the Clone Wars series has warmed me up to ol’ Red’n’Spiky! And if I needed another reason, just look at that cover. It would make for a great effin’ movie poster in its own right. To make things better, the internal art is no less impressive from the get-go:

What’s this graphic novel about?

Darth Maul grows restless as his master bides his time and weaves his web, awaiting for the opportunity to strike. So restless, in fact, that when Darth Sidious sends him on a task to aid the Sith’s allies in the Trade Federation, the dark apprentice jumps at the mention of a Jedi Padawan caught and held for sale to the highest bidder by a criminal, Xev Xrexus, on the planet of Nar Shaddaa. Maul’s help to the Trade Federation, for the record, is offered by way of executing dozens of aliens unhappy with the illegal operations the Federation deals in. Just in case you thought he was a good Samaritan or some such nonsense.

As you plainly see, Maul is all too happy to help his friends and allies at the Federation.

His first appearance on the very particular hive of scum and villainy that is Nar Shaddaa is stylish:

The Sith definitely have a stylistic edge over the Jedi. Might that have something to do with how Palpatine got one over that little green muppet?

Of course, criminals don’t like the kind of questions Maul asks, and before long, he’s fighting a good half dozen of them. Enter a few familiar faces from Season 2 of the Clone Wars!

I never was a fan of Cad Bane but plenty of folks out there are. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal – he’s very much the kind of character that draws inspiration from the Western aspects of the Star Wars Saga – the kind of mercantile villain riding from one town to the next, caring precious little about the moral hue of his actions, long as his pockets line up. Something always bugged me where he was concerned. Aurra Sing is more my speed – she’s observant and has fine intuition.

There’s a tragedy to Maul, too. Stolen from his birth mother by Palpatine, fed the worst of his poison, taught only to hate and to destroy — there’s plenty appealing to the Zabrak warrior. As the result of the training he has received, his philosophy is very different to that of Sidious:

These panels, digging into Maul’s way of thinking and revealing aspects to him hitherto unseen are likely my most favourite element of this entire graphic novel. The parallels he draws to his Master, the differences he sees, make him an awful lot more interesting a character:

Eldra Kaitis, the Jedi Padawan captured, makes for an excellent foil to Maul. He wants her to fear him, yet she does not; he seeks vengeance for past wrongs but she has little interest in them; The conversations they have in issue four are only equaled by their excellent duel in the final issue in this volume. From her first appearance to her last moments, she encapsulates some of my favourite elements about the Jedi Order.

Also, she’s a very hot twi’lek, and y’all know I can’t say no to that.

Every page of the duel between Maul and Eldra showcases the finest in the art of Luke Ross. Listen to Duel of the Fates while you read Issue #5, I promise, you will not regret it.

I cannot heap enough praise on that last issue, in fact. It does so many things right – as does the entire volume. The consistent art, the excellent characterization, even the bounty hunters’ side adventure; these make for an excellent, self-contained story that I won’t soon forget.

And here’s one of my favourite quotes, on a panel that isn’t much to look at (one of those panels that set up location, I don’t mean that it’s drawn badly or anything of that sort):

My Master…
If he knew about my plans…
Would likely find this amusing.

Like the very best Star Wars comics in the neo-Marvel era, this easily fits to the Clone Wars animated format – it reads much like It’s solid work, and one of my favourite graphic novels in the Star Wars universe. I’m happy to give it a score of five out of five stars on Goodreads!

Join me again next week for another dose of Sunday Star Wars!

Saturday Star Wars: Kanan The Last Padawan – Graphic Novel Review

I read this on the recommendation of a dear friend.

The first volume of Kanan, The Last Padawan is another excellent, heartbreaking story of the Jedi Purge and its consequences on those few padawans that made it through the cracks after Palpatine’s Order 66.

The first issue presents a very classic Clone Wars era story, with Kanan – his real name Caleb – fighting alongside Jedi master, Depa Billaba. I found the character of Billaba captured some of the finest in Jedi philosophy – her questioning the way the Jedi were forced into the command structure of the Republic’s army spoke to me of the underlying tension many of the wisest Jedi felt about their role in the Clone Wars. It reminds me of an older conflict in the universe, the Mandalorian Wars as spoken about in the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

The character of Caleb Dune earned my sympathies time and again, in his fight to survive and leave his old self behind, forced to change for survival’s sake. It’s difficult to lose everything the way he does, to suddenly have every belief and creed you’ve held your entire life a threat to your life.

But onto lighter aspects of this first volume – the smuggler Janus Kasmir, the separatist general, I loved everything about both these supporting characters. Especially Kasmir, he had that “rogue with a heart of gold” nailed! *Spoilers* It was painful, though, seeing Caleb break with both of them, feeling he had to keep them safe by breaking the bond between him and them. */Spoilers* Such a funny thing, bonds – we define ourselves by them, but we often seek to break with them when we feel the need for change. Kanan wanted a break away from who he was – he saw that as his only way to survival; and so he did. It’s a small tragedy, but a tragedy nonetheless.

There’s an element that doesn’t quite make sense, now that I’ve thought on it – the two clones, former friends of Caleb and Billaba, doggedly chase the Jedi Padawan without any apparent oversight from Imperial authorities. I’ll chalk this up to the transition period between Republic and Empire but it’s still a crack in what is otherwise excellent storytelling.

I enjoyed Kanan – I loved the art by Pepe Larraz, and writer Greg Weisman does a very good job telling a fine Star Wars story, which offers plenty of context to one of Rebels‘ most likable cast members. My recommendation? If you’re looking for an action-packed story with plenty of fun elements, you can’t go wrong with this. My score for it is 4.25 stars. I will be reading Volume 02 soon!

Giant Days Vol. 02 by John Allison – Graphic Novel Review

If you missed out on my joyful review of the first volume of Giant Days, you can click here.

I barely began my reading of the second volume of the brilliant slice-of-life when already I found myself transformed by it! How, you ask – and I won’t just tell you, I’ll show you!

You see here how one Esther de Groot (my two-dimensional female self) denounces the monstrous injustices of modern, post-industrialist society, a system that seeps away anything and everything unique about human beings! RISE UP MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, TO BLOODY REVOLUTION. It’s a funny pictury, is wot it is.

What happens in this second volume, then? The girls go to a Christmas prom before leaving for Christmas Break – for those of you unaware, before the corona, we had a little something called trah-veh-ling, I think, it’s been a long time – and off they go, enjoying their break; only, Susan gets in trouble with someone who has a grudge against her. Issue 06 is about the girls finding out just wot has happened to fierce, angry Susan, and, would you know it? Before too long, Esther has to use her drama field, the one we spoke about in the previous review.

Oh, and mustachio man threatens some guys with the most worker class threat I’ve ever read, and I love it.

Did I mention that he and Susan smoosh booties?

Meanwhile, the third one – wot’s her name again? She has a crisis of personality. Or is it a crisis of consistency?

Oh, I got it! It’s Petal.

…No, that doesn’t sound right. Anyway, I have to give it to Tulip here, she steals the show throughout the volume, especially when she transforms into a weird Texan who wants to smoke meats – don’t try that at home, kids, you can’t handle it – after watching plenty of Friday Night Lights. But Daisy’s greatest trait has to be her absolute commitment to whatever metaphor she makes use of:

All is well with Susan and Daisy, even as the two of them face myriad difficulties. At the core, they remain true to themselves.

Esther, however – she gets into a bit of a toxic relationship with a guy in his late 20’s, a TA in her English Lit class. I’ll not get into it, but by the end of it, our goth princess of doom’s got herself sorted, I’d say:

This manic grin’s wot I live for. It was entertaining to see lovey-dovey Esther, quite unhinged, though:

Well, then. This second volume’s got everything the first one had – the cheeky humour, the brilliant characters, the art that never fails to express said characters in ways thrilling and hilarious; in a word, the heart. This is another 5/5 read for me. Get it, read it, laugh your heart out. It’s therapy, and it works wonders.

And now, having pronounced this graphic novel fit to read, I go to my rest.

That’s right, it is!

Giant Days Vol. 01 by John Allison – Graphic Novel Review

This is my new comic book addiction, I just know it.

In this slice-of-life, first-year university friends and roommates Susan Ptolemy, Esther de Groot and Daisy Wooton have plenty to teach us about friendship, relationships and comedic timing. Also, holding grudges against moustachioed men.

In this story of doom and wonderful drama, Esther de Groot teaches us how to be goth as fuck.

In this adorable comic book by acclaimed comics creator, reality is rendered in a chortle-inducing way, thanks to likable leads whose vastly different personalities give birth to no end of misadventures. I am 99% sure that Esther is my long-lost, two-dimensional twin sister, with all the doom and gloom I’ve ever had at my disposal, and then some.

Esther is so much fun.

Italian doctors sure haven’t.

SO.

MUCH.

FUN! …And did I mention that she can also infiltrate the middle classes when she’s not busy melodramatically dying of some virus?

Esther is brilliant. Every single panel with her is gold. Ohyesitis! But! And this is real important — Susan and the other one are just as cool!

Okay, almost. I like wotshername, flower girl–Daisy, that’s it!– I like her drug-seeking behaviour. Strong role-models are important in these difficult, divisive times!

I love Polish medicine, too, Daisy. But be careful, once you run out of them–oh, no. Oh, it’s too late, innit?

At least the penguin ain’t talking back, is it?

And Susan?

Susan’s got that sly wit I’m crazy about. She’s the one with her feet firmly parted on the ground, the realist who looks out for her baby girls like a mama pigeon – hah, topical! – and she does a wonderful job of it.

…Most of the time.

It’s remarkably difficult not to fall in love with these three friends – and I, for one, have fallen head over heels for them and their whacky adventures. I’ll be digging into the next several volumes of Gone Days, and with everything else John Allison has done.

Also, the art is ace. Every panel is gorgeous.

I might be using Giant Days to work through some coronavirus-related ennui. Thanks for bearing with me.

Monstress, Volume 01: Some Good #%@!ing Art

There, I said it. That’s all there is to it.

What’s this? I should probably give you a little more than that? Persuade you, you say. Alright, don’t get your feathers ruffled like so, I’ll do it. I’ve taken the initiative now.

Volume 01: Awakening has a unique art style, slick and gorgeous, showcasing the full skill of Sana Takeda. Obviously inspired by Manga, it’s also informed by Takeda’s work on Marvel series such as X-23 and Ms. Marvel, resulting in an amalgamation that’s unlike most art I’ve personally come across:

Gold and brown and grey are often the colours that dominate the many panels of the first issues of Monstress in particular, creating a human world that looks luxurious but feels cold and metallic. Dominated by science and religious fanaticism alike, the human side of the world of Monstress is nothing short of disturbing. The upper echelons of human society are unnerving, to say the least — humans auction off arcanics (we’ll get to those in a minute) for pleasure, experimentation or …a meal. Disturbing how easily it would be to see this happening; all we need is a comfy distinction of human versus ‘other’ and what ammounts to cannibalism is suddenly acceptable.

Arcanics are half-human and half-ancient. That is to say, they’ll often look like humans, only they’ll usually have a fluffy fox tail, or cat ears or angelic wings; something giving away the fact they’ve got a bit of magical, immortal biped animal-like grandpa/grandma genetic material in them from several generations ago. Arcanics will always be mortal…I think. There’s a lot of them though. Part of the beef arcanics have with humans is that the power behind the human government. the religious Cumaea sect, has been chopping arcanics for their bones, producing a magical resource called lilium for a little while. Lilium has all kinds of wonderful properties — enhancing life duration, healing those at the very edge of death, and only Marjorie M. Liu knows what else.

Knowing this, it’s understandable how humans and arcanics traded some serious blows a while back, a war that ended in tragedy and death, and a tentative peace hobbled by mistrust and downright hatred. I mean, humans hunt cats and put them in cages because they are in fact an arcanist-allied race of hyperintellectual, many-tailed…well, cats. Nothing unusual about that, actually.

The tone of this graphic novel is dark, as you might’ve guessed by now. But it needs to be said and underlined: this is a dark story, a story of death and brutal violence, much of it perpetuated by our own heroine, Maika.

Maika

Maika is dangerous. Possessing power that no arcanic should, Maika’s ignorance of that same power makes her both horrifying and sympathetic. A tragic backstory plays up the sympathy but the power slumbering inside of her is hungry; and whenever that hunger manifests, we get treated to some pretty dark shit. As for who she is as a character? Determined, angry, looking for answers. There is an underlying softness to her, a caring that she seems intent of not showing but which nevertheless comes to display every once in a while, in particular towards the later issues of this volume, whenever we see supporting character and adorable girl-fox-who-is-scared-shitless Kippa.

Kippa is kutta! And by that I mean, cute. I don’t know what phonetic
nonsense I was going for there. She’s loyal despite being afraid most of time
— but she’s got a really good reason so don’t think any less of her.

See? She IS adorable!

What else, what else? There’s a cat! His name is Ren, he’s a nekomancer,
which I’m pretty sure sounds intentionally like a necromancer and that fucks with my head in several ways, mostly because I want to see a cat raise the dead, oh how I want that. New short story idea? You bet! But also, this cat is way too much like me, it’s uncanny.

If you know me, you’ll see the resemblance.

I am in love with this, and it’s no surprise how successful, popular and
critically acclaimed it has become. The writing is on point, offering dramatic tension, character development and plenty of conflict. The art, as you have seen, is a wonder. This truly is a praiseworthy graphic novel, an example of the heights that this mode of storytelling can reach, up there with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Kieron Gillen/Jamie Mckelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine. I’ve already ordered the next two volumes and can’t wait for the fourth, releasing in October of this year. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to get my hands on it, Monstress truly is that kind of story. No wonder it’s won a bunch of Hugo and Eisner(Nominee) Awards!

Oh, and the antagonists? Some of them are pretty fucking scary, and you just can’t put them in the ground, no matter how hard you try. Besides, no matter how hard you try, you won’t do as well as Maika Halfwolf will so you might as well take a seat, open up this volume, and enjoy the ride!