Star Wars: Dark Force Rising (#1 – 6) – Mike Baron

3 out of 5

For those of us who haven’t read the Timothy Zahn books on which Mike Baron’s Thrawn Trilogy comics are based – so, me, in this case – the first couple issues of Dark Force Rising, the middle six comic grouping of the three, are an absolute mess.

Following up pretty immediately on the events of the last book, Baron (again divvying up the source text presumably equally book to book) wastes no time in drawing the lines between Grand Admiral Thrawn, Luke, Leia, Han, and wildcards Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and Joruus C’baoth that much tighter, as our heroes try to suss out the Admiral’s plans for reasserting Imperial power.  With all the setup dispensed with, the books’ title comes to the fore: we feel and see Thrawn’s machinations come closer to fruition, the villain’s roll-with-the-punches planning style as frightening as ever, while the New Alliance threatens to be torn apart by all too human in-bickering.

But all of this arrives in an unpleasant stew of unsatisfying artwork, over-stuffed exposition that letterer Ellie de Ville does not lay out for us in a readable manner, and confusingly unspoken motivations, on both a large and small scale.  I can only guess at why this shift in quality has taken place: while new artist Terry Dodson had about the same amount and type of experience prior to this as last book’s Vatine / Blanchard team, it’s possible that the latter’s likely exposure to European comics (by dint of their not being American…) had them more used to the non-stop, dialogue-heavy pacing Baron’s script demanded, whereas Dodson, bred on US flash, focused more on movie-likenesses and cinematic layouts, which left us with layouts not befitting the script and little room for De Ville to fit in all of Mike’s words.  Secondly, editor Ryder T. Windham is out, with Bob Cooper now the main name.  Editing is an invisible art, of course, but it is one of the things that ran through my head as I was reading: that this book needed better oversight.

…However, and whatever the actual cause – and most of this I am hanging on the art – things massively turn around about halfway through.  Amusingly, this comes at a point where Han and Luke and Leia start to get the hang of things, but it’s also immediately visible in the way Dodson is suddenly able to tie the momentum of the script in to his pages: the panel that first caught my eye was a tricky reflection, which perfectly allowed for the back-and-forth banter to flow uninterrupted during an action sequence.  Similar ace handling of scenes continues thereafter.  So if Dodson was, indeed, at a loss to start, he picked things up quickly.

Thrawn somewhat fades into the background toward the end, but the pacing doesn’t suffer: Dark Force Rising juggles its good guys, bad guys, and neutral players well, leaving us (in a world where we don’t know that the good guys always win…) wondering who will come out on top.  It’s unfortunate that the second book comes with such a steep barrier to entry, but it proves well worth it in its latter half.