Best Shots Advance Reviews


Star Wars: Crimson Empire III – Empire Lost #5

Written by Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley

Art by Paul Gulacy and Michael Bartolo

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating 7 out of 10 (Out March 7)

The timeline within Star Wars: Crimson Empire III is a tricky era to write about. Perhaps even more so than the Clone Wars or pre-A New Hope period. There is a lot of information writers and artists try to cram into the period between The Return of the Jedi and the Legacy era. This is made even trickier when you include the holy trinity of untouchable characters that are Luke, Leia and Han. Eventually you have to ask yourself, just how much adventure, war and stress can you cram into these poor lives and still make it believable, or do you just suspend it all and have fun? I tend to fall in the latter camp. Just tell me a fun Star Wars adventure and I'll be a happy little fan. And, while it's taken a bit longer than I wished, this installment in the Crimson Empire series has been fun, if a little flawed. Kir Kanos, the last of the Emperor's Royal Guard stands with his one-time nemesis Mirith Sinn as they endeavor to prevent yet another war between the New Republic and the relatively peaceful New Empire. Of course, this is Star Wars, so treachery abounds as even more shadowy factions of the Empire and Republic work towards war as the final solution.

The big boss of Dark Horse Comics, Mike Richardson, continues the tale of this unknown era of Star Wars. It is interesting to see how Richardson's writing style with these characters has changed as the Star Wars universe itself evolves. Looking over the first Crimson Empire book, you would barely recognize these stories as connected, were it not for the people in them. This third installment is extremely political, with most of the action taking place between talking heads as the try to prevent or further their cause. While Richardson writes with a nice voice, there is something lacking in a Star Wars story that doesn't have a lightsaber, speeder, fighter, or blaster battle every couple of pages. As a narrative, Crimson Empire III works best when it focuses on Kir Kanos and Mirith Sinn. As a fan of this series, it's been enjoyable to watch both these characters grow over the years. Both people, once filled with righteous zealotry, now only wish for peace to ease their tired body and mind. Indeed, Kanos' journey is less The Hero With a Thousand Faces and more The Man With No Name. He just wants to be done, but when galactic events finally force that last fight out of him, I feel pity for those in his way.

Paul Gulacy is turning in some of his finest work to date in Crimson Empire III, when the scenes allow him to cut loose. Gulacy has a very cinematic style to his linework that adds a dynamic element to all his panels. Unfortunately, this style of art is severely limited when the bulk of the issue are characters standing or sitting around and discussing what their next move will be. There are a few scenes when the blaster bolts start flying and his art really shines. With arms and legs flaying in all directions, Gulacy paints a properly chaotic scene that draws you into the action. The same can be said for the limited space battles within the issue. His pencils have a good sense of scale and you can almost hear John Williams's score as various fights skim the hull of an Imperial Star Destroyer. Credit is also due to colorist Michael Bartolo. Even in calmer talking head moments, Bartolo makes this universe pop with life. As Gulacy tends to draw with very heavy line art, Bartolo's colors needed to be equally bold and striking to not fade into the background.

As a single issue, Part 5 of Crimson Empire III is an enjoyable if flawed read. There is still a lot of story elements that need to come together to wrap the arc up by Issue #6 and this book bore the brunt of that heavy lifting. Still, Gulacy and Bartolo help make up for a slower paced story. While Star Wars: Crimson Empire III may not be the best book for the casual Star Wars fan, to readers that have enjoyed the slow evolution of Kir Kanos and this shadowy corner of the universe; it's been a nice run so far.


Voltron #3

Written by Brandon Thomas

Art by Ariel Padilla and Marcelo Pinto

Lettering by Marshall Dillon

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Pierce Lydon

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

“Five space explorers, five robot lions, one defender of the universe vs. one King of Doom, one Prince of Doom, Legions of Doom.” Those are the first words you’ll find underneath the title on the recap page for Voltron #3. But unfortunately, the issue never fully delivers on any of that. It’s overwhelmed by exposition and a letdown for any reader who hasn’t been hooked since Issue #1.

Voltron holds a certain level of nostalgia for anyone who grew up with Cartoon Network in the early '90s or who actually watched the show on Saturday mornings in the mid '80s. There s nothing cooler to most kids than seeing giant robots transform or combine to create other giant robots. So Voltron is unfortunately up against a kind of childhood expectation that in some respects it may never live up to. Writer Brandon Thomas is clearly trying to stray from the Saturday Morning Cartoon formula here, in which the Hero’s Journey is condensed to one 22-minute programming block, where viewers are satisfied knowing that the good guys won, the bad guys lost and they can come back next week for more of the same. Voltron #3 finds the team stranded on Earth while King Zarkon has possession of their squad of robot lions.

This plot is meant to expand the mythology of the Voltron universe, as Zarkon reminisces about Alecsander Sigis, the second pilot of the Voltron prototype. But the storytelling is clunky. Zarkon monologuing at the chained-up Voltron robots is tiring, and the flashback sequences drag on. When we finally check in with the current Voltron pilots now stranded on Earth, the issue is almost over and the pilots have little in the way of planning their rescue mission. Their scenes only serve to catch the characters up on what the reader has just learned. So while it is admirable that Thomas wants to build this story into something you can really sink your teeth into, shelving the action is a mistake and makes this issue a generally boring read.

The art isn’t any better than the writing. While the writer is clearly trying to build a foundation for bigger threats and richer stories down the line, Ariel Padila’s artwork comes across as unfocused or rushed. For the most part, his character work is solid. His handle on anatomy, posturing and perspective is solid, but somewhere down the line any commitment to detail is thrown out the window. This mostly happens in the scenes featuring the current set of pilots. Generally, the one or two characters furthest in the foreground will be completely rendered, but any ancillary characters in the background (and not the far background, I mean right behind the character in the foreground) are devoid of key features like faces. At one point, one pilot is simply a silhouette completely filled in with the color of her jumpsuit. But Padilla does draw a mean looking bunch of robot lions. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of them in this issue.

There’s something here. Not everything is working in sync yet, but there’s something here. This was a script that definitely didn’t play to the artist’s strength (which is clearly drawing giant robots) and it didn’t play well to the series’ strength (which usually involves a lot more giant robots) but it is attempting to build something. For the most hardcore of Voltron fans looking for new stories that expand on their favorite fandom, this series might be one to pick up. For casual fans of Voltron and giant robots fighting aliens, it’s a letdown. I have no doubt in my mind that Voltron will commence with the punching sooner rather than later but these kinds of issues that are bogged down by back story and plagued by over exposition suck a lot of the joy out of reading comics. And if you can’t have fun reading Voltron, then something is wrong.

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