My comic-book reading remains as unorganized as ever. However, for this week’s column, I determinedly read multiple issues of three titles from three major publishers.

Dark Horse Comics has published hundreds and maybe even thousands of Star Wars comic books. While I like Star Wars, I’ve never been fanatic enough about the franchise to read all those comic books. Still, with Disney/Marvel ending this distinguished run, Dark Horse published an irresistible eight-issue series.

The Star Wars #1-8 [$3.99 each] adapts into comics George Lucas’ original rough-draft screenplay, which the Star Wars creator wrote in 1974. It’s a thriller both familiar and strange. The familiarity comes from character and character names that we know from classic Star Wars. The strange hails from how very different some of those characters and their adventures were in Lucas’ original screenplay. You’ll see foreshadowing of events from all three of the original movies. Readers will be shocked by the appearances of Chewbacca and Han Solo. They will likewise surprised by how annoyingly loquacious R2-D2 is. Yes, R2-D2.

Writer J.W. Rinzler does an outstanding job on his end. The series opens with a shockingly unexpected death and continues at a swift planet-hopping pace from there. There is an awkward romantic scene when two characters declare their love for each other, albeit not at the same time, and the climax strikes me as rushed, but this is an exciting story, completely worthy of the legend that Star Wars in its traditional form would become.

Artist Mike Mayhew delivers great art throughout the eight issues. His panel-by-panel storytelling is first-rate. His characters look terrific and move naturally. Certain designs and scenes will remind readers of the work of Star Wars conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie. The visuals are as epic as the adventure itself.

The Star Wars is collected in both hardcover [$39.99] and softcover [$19.99]. Either is worth getting one. Which one you get depends on how crazy for Star Wars you are. Choose wisely and may the force of others be with you.

Hardcover ISBN: 978-1616553807

Softcover ISBN: 978-1616554255


Batman Arkham 200001

From last year, Batman: Arkham Unhinged #16-20 [$3.99] featured the DC Comics debut of science fiction novelist Karen Traviss. She is known for her City of Pearl series about a clash of alien cultures and novels derived from the worlds of Star Wars, Gears of War and Halo.

Arkham Unhinged is set in the universe of the Batman: Arkham City video game. In “Welcome to the Slough of Despond,” Mayor Sharp is trying to move undesirables – petty criminals, the poor and anyone who disagrees with him politically – out of Gotham City. Those who are unlucky get sent to Arkham City for the most minor of “crimes” while others are offered five grand to get on a bus and leave the city forever. The latter policy is the brainchild of Councilman Groves, who is even more of a social engineer than the Mayor. With crooked cops and judges falling in line with Sharp, Batman, Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon are among the few fighting to bring true justice back to Gotham.

Traviss introduces a new villain to the mix. The Bookbinder shares the social engineering agenda of Sharp and Groves, but takes it up several notches. He’s diabolically clever, which gives us a chance to see more of Batman as a skilled detective than we do in most of the current Batman comics.

Traviss is remarkable. Her writing is well above the usual “new 52″ fare. She nails Batman in both his identities. She does well with Gordon, Alfred, Catwoman and various incidental players. She gives readers something to think about. My only quibble with the serial is one so common to modern super-hero comics that it doesn’t rate a spoiler warning. At the end of the concluding issue, Bookbinder escapes justice to bedevil the Batman on another day. Super-heroes have a lousy capture rate these days.

Despite having five different artists, “Slough of Despond” manages to maintain a high level of consistency and quality. My favorite of the five was Christian Duce, but the other four were pretty good as well. The color art was too dark, another common failing of many DC comics, especially those starring Batman.

I’m a tough sell when it comes to modern Batman comics, but I found “Welcome to the Slough of Despond” quite good. The serial will be collected in the hardcover Batman: Arkham Unhinged Vol. 4 ($24.95) later this month. It’s worth checking out.

ISBN 978-1401246815


Moon Knight 10001

Fell by Warren Ellis with art by Ben Templesmith was a favorite of mine during its nine-issue run (2005-2008) at Image Comics. The series followed a homicide detective from his former big-city beat to a strange dismal suburb of that city. Each story was 16 pages of nine-panel grids. Each story was complete in itself, though each story would give the reader a few extra pieces of the puzzle.

The Ellis-written Moon Knight #1-5 [Marvel; $3.99] reminds me more than a little of Fell in that each issue has a done-in-one story and each story gives us a few new character and plot developments to think about until the next issue.

Ellis has stripped Moon Knight down to the basics and, in doing so, given us new slants on the character’s multiple personalities and motivations. In some stories, the hero is known as “Mr. Knight” to the local police because they need his help but must be distanced from the wanted criminal called Moon Knight. In this identity, the hero wears a mask that covers his face and a white business suit. It’s a great look, ably drawn by Declan Shalvey.

In any of his new looks, Moon Knight likes his enemies to see him coming. He battles a mysterious serial killer who ambushes victims, a sniper, ghostly gangbangers, a dream monster and kidnappers. At the risk of being mistaken for a Marvel ad, I think this is a truly different super-hero comic book and I’m loving it.

Alas, Ellis is only writing the first six issues of the title. I hope whoever follows him on the title is up to the high standards of the Ellis issues.

These Ellis issues will be collected in Moon Knight Volume 1: From the Dead [$17.99], scheduled for a mid-October release. These tales are definitely worth further study, so I’ll be adding this book to my comics library.

ISBN 978-0785154082

I’ll be back next week with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella