Best Shots Reviews: STAR WARS #1, BABY-SITTERS LITTLE SISTER - KAREN'S WITCH

Baby-Sitters Little Sister: Karen’s Witch
Credit: Katy Farina (Graphix)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Star Wars #1
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Jesus Saiz and Arif Prianto
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It is a dark time for the Rebellion in Star Wars #1. Hot on the heels of Rise of Skywalker as well as celebrating the 40-year anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back and the five-year milestone of Marvel’s regaining of the Star Wars license, this opening issue has its work cut out for it. Picking up mere moments after the iconic first confrontation between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, writer Charles Soule immediately puts our heroes on the ropes. By switching out Han Solo for the recently duplicitous Lando Calrissian, he injects a fun tension into the opening story before backing the entire Rebellion into a corner thanks to a deadly Imperial blockade using a burning star as ramparts.

Doctor Strange’s Jesus Saiz and colorist Arif Prianto keep pace for the most part with Soule’s driven scripting. Using the single image of Luke’s hand being severed as a frightening recurring visual motif, the pair deliver some fairly impressive screen-accurate blocking and emoting from the main cast. Once we are introduced to the new Imperial antagonists of this arc, their character models become a bit muddy, but not enough to completely ruin the experience. Graced with a scrappy energy and interesting, in-character takes on the heroes of the Rebellion, Star Wars #1 is a fun return to Marvel’s galaxy far, far away…

After a succinct recap of Empire via the comic’s opening crawl, Charles Soule hits the ground running, much like Jason Aaron before him in Marvel’s first Star Wars #1, set days after the destruction of the Death Star. Luke has just had his world shattered with the revelation that Darth Vader is his father.

To complicate matters, Leia Organa and Chewbacca are now forced to crew the Millennium Falcon with the man who just got Han captured, Lando Calrissian. Already we open with everyone in conflict, both internal and external. Soule, who until recently had been doing a stellar job focusing on the Dark Side in Darth Vader, smartly sidesteps most of the “legend” we know, focusing instead on the direct fallout of Cloud City and how our heroes started to pick themselves up on the road to Return of the Jedi. Think of this #1 more as an dramatic “Expanded Universe” tale and less like Aaron’s set piece-driven opener.

Though he does indulge in the sort of grand space opera action one expects from Star Wars, this time a surprisingly layered space battle, Soule seems much more concerned with the emotional states and growth of our Rebellion heroes. Instead of the cocksure fighter pilot we got in the last opener, Soule’s Luke is almost broken, unsure if he should even continue his Jedi training in the wake of Vader’s revelation. Lando is a man struggling with the consequences of his momentary support of the Empire, trying to justify himself to Leia and Chewie that he was thinking of the “bigger picture,” unwilling to look at the even bigger picture of the universe at war. Soule even comfortably positions Leia as the de facto lead of the opening issue, standing strong even amid the defeat to lead them toward aiding the cause by commandeering the Falcon to serve in the Rebel Fleet. Though we still don’t get much of a sense of the ongoing plot of this opening arc, aside from Luke’s doubts about knighthood and some lampshading around the Empire’s possible hacking of the Fleet’s transit codes, it is nice to report that Soule still has a firmly novel handle on the characters of Star Wars.

All that said, however, I wish Star Wars #1 looked a bit tighter. Saiz and Prianto really shine in the opening pages, operatically staging Luke’s memories of the fight between him and Vader leading carefully into the “present” in the interior of the Falcon where all our heroes are arguing over what and where to go neck. Their character models here are absolutely spot on with each looking like their respective actor in question, but displaying a wide range of emotion for a comic page. In particular, the creative team gives Chewbacca a silent comedic beat that is easily one of the major highlights of the issue.

The pair even prove themselves well with layered action, in the form of a massive space battle between elements of the Rebel Fleet and an Imperial blockade set against a massive star to trap the Rebels. All of the exterior action is gorgeous and cinematically staged in order to get the full scope of the battle. But with the interiors, things start to get a bit messy - due to the uniformity of the Imperial forces or because of the blandness of these new antagonist characters, the pencils and colors start to read and look a bit more rushed than the highly detailed battle and scenes with the main cast. Like I said above, it isn’t enough to completely derail this debut, but it is enough to notice a considerable drop in quality.

Though it seems like much less of an 'event' than the first volume opener, Star Wars #1 is still a fun, fast-paced debut for the second round of the company’s efforts with this license.

Credit: Katy Farina (Graphix)

Baby-Sitters Little Sister: Karen’s Witch
Written by Ann M. Martin
Adapted and Illustrated by Katy Farina
Published by Graphix
Review by C.K. Stewart
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

I was obsessed with the book fair as a kid. One of my favorite and longest-appreciated purchases was a subscription to a Baby-Sitters Little Sister box, which featured three of books in each shipment along with a few BSC-themed trinkets. Baby-Sitters Little Sister: Karen’s Witch, adapted from Ann M. Martin’s prose for Graphix by Katy Farina, captures that delight for a new generation, serving just as perfectly as a sibling series to the Baby-Sitters Club adaptations as the original novels did when I was a kid.

Baby-Sitters Little Sister follows the trials and tribulations of seven-year-old Karen Brewer, younger sister to Kristy Thomas, ringleader of the more “grown-up” BSC. The Little Sister books follow a similar format to the original series - related to a degree, centered on one character, but focused on a single conflict that makes the books easy to pick up and read in any order with any level of knowledge about the rest of the series. Karen’s Witch in particular focuses on Karen’s investigation of her next door neighbor Mrs. Porter … and her determination to prove Mrs. Porter moonlights as a witch named Morbidda Destiny.

Katy Farina is the perfect choice to adapt this series. She has a playful, wide-eyed cartooning style that allows for a great deal of emotional range, and she perfectly captures the spirit of Ann M. Martin’s original books. Baby-Sitters Little Sister are intended to be for a somewhat younger audience newer to reading, and Farina offers up page layouts and designs that are easy for readers new to comics to follow without losing any dynamism. Plus Farina draws the absolute cutest animals — if Scholastic ever dives back into the world of BSC book merchandise, I sincerely hope they lead off with a stuffed toy based on Farina’s take on the cantankerous Boo-Boo the cat.

The lettering is where the book falters somewhat, which is a frequent hurdle for younger-aged graphic novels and even print books. There’s plenty of space to make the font a bit bigger throughout without compromising the spaces where effects or lettering are already larger for effect. The lettering itself is great and clear to read, but larger fonts are often extremely helpful to kids who are new to or struggle with reading (or who, like me, were adjusting to glasses at eight). Sixteen-point font might be asking a bit much for a graphic novel, but I distinctly remember the larger Times New Roman of both the original series and how much gentler it was on my straining eyes.

I’ve been patiently waiting for this series to kick off since Farina was announced as one of the illustrators earlier last year. I owned literally dozens of these books before I donated them to the library as a teen, and this was a light-hearted and pleasantly nostalgic way to kick off my 2020 reading. If you’re an adult picking them up for the first time, don’t expect anything too deep — these have always been very intentionally geared towards elementary-aged readers. But Farina’s adaptation would make a fantastic gift for any young reader, and if you’re a life-long BSC fan, the lively illustrations make it worth sneaking a read before you wrap it up.

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