Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Among the bigger announcements to come out of Comic-Con International was that Marvel will resume publishing Star Wars comics after a nearly 30 years, 23 years of which the license called Dark Horse home. We’ve known it was happening for a while, of course, but this was the official unveiling of titles and creative teams.
Completely unaffected by all of this is one particular pocket of Star Wars comics, those made by cartoonist Jeffrey Brown, who’s found a great deal of success in marrying his particular wit and style with the pop-culture icons of the franchise. That’s good news for comics and/or Star Wars fans who prefer their take on that universe to be ironic and funny, and, of course, for little kids.
This month, the latest installments of Brown’s two ongoing Star Wars-related projects dropped, one from Chronicle Books, the other from Scholastic.
Brown’s professional, published relationship with Star Wars began with 2012’s Darth Vader and Son, a series of full-color cartoons based on the premise that Luke knew who his real father was at a very young age, and Vader was attempting to raise his innately heroic child as a single parent while balancing his home life with a rather demanding day job: that of a Sith Lord helping the Emperor rule the galaxy with an iron fist. That was quickly followed by Vader’s Little Princess, a collection of cartoons with the same premise, only substituting Leia for Luke.
The third book in this this trilogy is Good Night, Darth Vader, which bears the same characters and book design, but is actually quite different. It begins with Vader, Luke and Leia as Brown has drawn them in the past: Vader is stripped-down and more cartoonish, the kids are drawn like the simplified little kids Brown generally draws. It’s bedtime (Or “Episode: Bedtime,” as the crawl on the first page puts it), but the kids don’t want to go to bed.
Their dad tries convincing them by gesturing dramatically and intoning, “Luke! Leia! Join me, and I will complete your bedtime!” and “If only you knew the power of sleep.” Eventually they agree, in exchange for a bedtime story.
That story comprises the rest of the book, save for a page of Vader snoring over the book (“KISHHHHHH, KOSHHHHH”). The story is of how various characters from the Star Wars universe — both trilogies, and even the Clone Wars animated series — end their days and get ready for bed, presented in two-page sequences with rhyming narration.
There are 26 of these in all, with typical ones being “Padme s tired after too many galas/So sleep is quite welcome for Queen Amidala” or “All through the night, Jabba’s place is aroar/ The party’s too loud for the sleepy Rancor.” Some of these couplets push the concept of near-rhyme about as far as they’ll go, with Brown attempting to rhyme “stars” and “Ackbar,” or “Chewie” and “villainy,” but then, the poetry’s not really the point, is it?
Brown’s artwork in these 52 pages will likely come as a revelation to those who are only familiar with it from the preceding books. Rather than drawing in his usual style, these are all incredibly realistic and thoroughly referenced, looking like the sorts of images you might find in another, more adult-oriented Star Wars book, Brown’s watercolor washes being the only thing to separate them from other Star Wars illustrations, which usually have a glossier look. This, of course, heightens the humor when you see a Admiral Ackbar eating a bowl of cereal in the second page of his two-page sequence, or Jango Fett trying to put young Boba to bed.
Because of the strictures of the format, this is probably the weakest of the trilogy, but, at the same time, it’s probably the one most focused toward children, as it does serve as a bedtime story, and the jokes aren’t as complicated or trivia-based as those in Darth Vader and Son or Vader’s Little Princess.
Last year was a busy one for the prolific cartoonist, as in addition to releasing Vader’s Little Princess, he also released Star Wars: Jedi Academy, a middle school-focused comics/prose hybrid of the Diary of Wimpy Kid corner of the current publishing industry … this one being Star Wars-themed, of course.
Our young hero was Roan Novachez from the planet Tatooine, who spent his whole, relatively short life dreaming of growing up to be a pilot like his father and older brother. Instead, he found himself enrolled in Jedi Academy on Coruscant. Yoda is the only pre-existing Star Wars character there, but the book is filled with the places, races and technology of the Star Wars universe, integrated in weird ways for a middle-school setting (the gym teacher Kitmum, for example, is a Wookiee, so imagine Chewbacca in gym shorts with a head band and whistle). In the first volume, Roan struggled to fit in, make friends, deal with bullies and learn to use the Force.
The book has plenty of company in the comics/prose hybrid diary format, but it’s differentiated by the theme and by having such an accomplished cartoonist handling it. Brown uses comics to tell large sections of the story, Roan’s diary for relatively smaller portions, and “artifacts” like “Holobook” message boards, report cards and the front page of school newspaper The Padawan Observer to move the story along. In addition, Roan is an artist and aspiring cartoonist (in addition to being an aspiring Jedi and pilot, of course), and he doodles and draws a lot, including creating his own comic strip, Ewok Pilot. (I wonder how familiar Brown was with George Lucas’ first draft of Star Wars, which Dark Horse recently turned into a comic book, when making this, as the climax involved the Wookiees/Ewoks learning to fly fighters and participating in a big space battle against the Empire.)
The just-released Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Return of the Padawan follows Roan’s second year at school, which turns out to be a particularly rough one. He gradually becomes alienated from his best friends, mainly due to misunderstandings, and finds himself becoming part of the group of the bullies and bad kids, the ones that wear dark robes and hoods and who all seem more likely to embrace the Dark Side of the Force and become Sith when they grow up.
Brown gives Roan many of the expected conflicts — peer pressure, being forced into doing all the work on a group project, the emotional agony of school dances — and we see many of the expected plot points for this sort of narrative, but they’re all infused with a Star Wars flavor, so that, for example, a cafeteria food fight might involve the use of the Force, and a field trip is taken to the ice planet Hoth (complete with Wampa battle).
Even more so than the full-color Vader books, these are aimed at younger kids, but adults who grew up with Star Wars will similarly find a lot to like in them. And, if nothing else, there’s all that great, cute Brown art.
And, regardless or a reader’s age, Master Yoda does offer words of wisdom for anyone who uses the
Internet Holonet. “Master Yoda warned that although writing mean comments may flow easily for some, they can lead to the Dark Side,” according to an article in the Padawan Observer about the closing of Holobook. And, later, Yoda himself says, “Avoid reading Holobook comments, you should, or consume your day it will.”
Wise advice, Master Yoda, wise advice.