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Dark Horse Comics

Written and Drawn by Various

For those who aren’t Kevin Smith-level STAR WARS geeks, a quick refresher: Luke Skywalker and his fellow pilot Wedge Antilles were both pilots in Rogue Squadron. Rogue Squadron attacked and destroyed two different Death Stars, not to mention flying those nifty snow speeders in EMPIRE. Now, as the Lucasverse has continued through the magic of comics and novels, the Squadron (and Wedge in particular) has become a spotlight element in the STAR WARS saga.

This omnibus collects three limited series featuring the Squadron. Wisely, the first series featured Luke as a part of the plot, to initiate the readers, but past that, it becomes Wedge’s (and the cast of new characters) show. These series see the former rebels still struggling with their Imperial foes; after all, just because the Emperor is dead, that doesn’t mean that every soldier in the empire threw their hands in the air and surrendered. There was plenty of opposition left, and someone had to deal with it, so the new Republic uses its “best of the best.”

Story-wise, nothing about the three collected here is going to set your world on fire. There’s a bit more room with the Squadron to put characters in jeopardy and kill them, but even then you don’t feel there’s much of a risk in what’s going on. I don’t blame the various creators for that; that’s condition of the playground they’re playing in. Lucasfilm books still have to be accessible for children and young teens. Unfortunately, it blunts the edge of what the writers and artists want to do.

What’s here is acceptably entertaining (and certainly better than PHANTOM MENACE or ATTACK OF THE CLONES), but that feels like damnation via faint praise. Let’s just say that, if you like the classic trilogy, you’ll likely be the right audience for this book. If not, you’re best off giving it a pass.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Mike Mignola

This latest HELLBOY effort brings together two miniseries: THE THIRD WISH and THE ISLAND, and rather than feeling like just a compilation, the two stories complement each other well and create a perfect book for the shelves.

That really shouldn’t surprise anyone though. For over a decade now, HELLBOY, in its sporadic appearances, has represented some of the best the medium has to offer. From Mignola’s astounding art to the wild characters and situations, each HELLBOY volume has been something you could put on your bookshelf with pride, and loan to a non-comics reader who might be sniffing around for something good to read.

STRANGE PLACES picks up and follows Hellboy himself after he parted ways with the B.P.R.D. at the end of volume five, THE CONQUEROR WORM. His path takes him to the bottom of the ocean and to drinking with skeletons, but the real journey is within his heart, as he gets closer to learning his true destiny and more forces align against him. Some of what Mignola portrays here got a little play in the screen version of the character in 2004, but the book serves to fully embrace and enhance the movie, and should be treated as the foundation from where everything else rises.

I don’t think it’s overstating it to call Mignola one of the greats we have to offer. As his career progresses, I believe that his achievements will demonstrate more than enough evidence as to why he should one day take his place in the Hall Of Fame. And while many choices for that august group are debatable, anyone who argues against this creator should be subject to lifelong random drug testing. For fans of the medium, the HELLBOY collections are a must-own.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

I’ve had the privilege to see the evolution of these two incredibly talented artists up close, thanks in part to my friendship with Brian Johnson of Khepri Comics. From their earliest small press efforts on, where they showed so much amazing potential, it was clear that these Brazilian twins had the talent to be huge stars. And now, they have begun to get out and show that talent, with such efforts as URSULA, SMOKE AND GUNS, and CASANOVA. However, they fully come into their own with the publication of DeTALES.

The subtitle of the book is “Stories From Urban Brazil,” and while that sounds like it could be pretty wild, the artists focus their tales on the quieter, subtler moments of life. Many of the pieces tackle the subject of love, whether love in bloom or love that failed to take spark. “Late For Coffee,” the best story in the book is not only incredibly sweet as it shows the building of chemistry between a man and woman, but it packs a powerful gut punch for an ending that makes you want to choke out a tear. It’s Eisner-caliber work and could easily find itself nominated next year.

The duo swaps duties back and forth throughout the book, one writing while the other draws, and combines on many others, but the amazing thing is that there’s never an appreciable dip in quality regardless of how the individual story is put together. And because that work is so consistent and so very good, I can recommend this wonderful book without reservation, particularly if you’re seeking something to give the non-traditional comics reader.

Marc Mason

Written by Joe Lansdale and Drawn by Timothy Truman

I’ve never been much for Conan, either as a series or a character. The “barbarian with a sword” genre is one that’s never appealed to me on the whole, so that’s played a strong part of it for me. Therefore, I approached this book with more than a small bit of apprehension. However, on the flip side, there were two factors that made this a want-to-read: Lansdale and Truman. Two great talents who work well together in brilliant fashion, reaching back to their wonderful JONAH HEX material. So into SONGS OF THE DEAD I dove.

We meet up with Conan as he’s traveling through the desert, but soon enough his wanderings are interrupted. As he enters an abandoned town, he finds an old colleague buried up to his neck in the ground as a form of execution for stealing something called “The Demon’s Root”… a bejeweled penis removed from a statue that has angered the Priests of Set. Hilarity, and healthy dose of violence, ensues.

And I’m not really kidding about the hilarity part. Part of why I’ve never liked Conan is the essential humorlessness of the way the character has been written over the decades. Personality isn’t his strong suit. But Lansdale injects some real life into the barbarian, giving him something of a dry wit that makes him enjoyable. Plus, Lansdale turns the essential “horny idiot” portion of his character into a useful plot point that’s not only funny, but takes the story forward in an interesting way. I liked this character, and that was new for me.

Throw in Truman’s art, which is terrific, as usual, and this becomes a book I’d actively seek out to read, rather than one I’d hold my nose for. Hard to say it better than that.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

PENNY ARCADE is one of the longest running webcomics being produced. For years, the duo of Holkins and Krahulik have produced the strip (in the guise of their two characters, Tycho and Gabe), and gained an enormous following along the way. Aimed at gamers and gamer culture, PENNY ARCADE is full of inside jokes and inside bitching, keeping the industry and their fellow players on alert for where they’ll turn their poisoned pens next.

This second collection, EPIC LEGENDS OF THE MAGIC SWORD KINGS, collects every strip produced in the calendar year of 2001. However, that alone would make for a pretty short book. So to round out the volume, the creative team also provides some of the original text posts from the Penny Arcade website, and DVD-style commentary for every strip in the book. Adding to that, they also provide a large gallery of the illustrations they produced for the Penny Arcade card game, and a number of “test” pages for other comics they have considered producing. It’s an amazing package, and one I wish we’d see more of, especially out of strip-comic creators. I like having that insight to what produces a particular gag or storyline.

I suppose that, to judge the book, you have to look at how accessible it really is. Now, I am one of the six people remaining on Earth who doesn’t play home video games, or online MMPGs of any kind; I don’t have the time or resources to spend. But that didn’t exclude me from enjoying PENNY ARCADE. Much of the material was either universal enough for me to understand, or the commentary made it clear to me what they were aiming for. I may have to put the site on my list of daily visits now.

Marc Mason

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