Star Wars: A Long Time Ago Vol. 1 – Doomworld

DoomworldOrder this bookStory: The first 20 issues of Marvel’s Star Wars series are reprinted in this full color collection. From the adaptation of the film itself, which saw print before the movie’s release, to Luke’s terrifying brush against the mind of Darth Vader, the original Expanded Universe begins here. Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie and the droids encounter space pirates, frontier outlaws, floating cities of saboteurs, and a droid-hating cyborg bounty hunter named Valance while trying to help the Rebels find a new base and stay one step ahead of a Sith Lord searching for the identity of the pilot who blew up the Death Star.

Review: Dave: With the exception of the movie adaptation, I had never read any of the issues in this volume – the handful of Marvel Star Wars comics I was able to get my hands on were all from later in the run. Reading it now, there’s certainly a degree of 70s cheese, especially in the early issues written by Roy Thomas. But what a collection of talent worked on this series! Thomas, who pushed for Marvel to take up the license, is a former editor-in-chief at Marvel well known for his encyclopedic knowledge of comics’ Golden Age. When he got past the adaptation, he didn’t quite feel comfortable with the universe, and it kind of shows – his next story was more of a Magnificent Seven-esque western than a big space opera. So Archie Goodwin, then editor-in-chief and a legend in his own right, took the reins, and things started to take off. Goodwin created new villains, set subplots in motion, and brought a sense of scale and danger to the stories. And when Goodwin needed an assist, there was Chris Claremont, longtime X-Men writer.

On the artistic side, Howard Chaykin was the first penciller, and while he was still a bit rough around the edges, but you can already get a sense of the dynamism that would serve him well later in his career. (Although he was certainly greatly assisted by his inkers in those days – more on that later.) And when Chaykin left, his replacement, Carmine Infantino, was no slouch. Infantino, a former art director and publisher at DC, was well known for his Silver Age work on Batman, Flash, and a host of other heroes. While his facial renderings are sometimes a bit crude, he could definitely pack a lot of energy into his panels, and he and his inkers did fine work on all the technology of the galaxy far, far away. There’s a lot of fun stuff packed into these comics. I can only imagine what it was like to pick up each new installment in ’77 and ’78.

Earl: I can remember what it was like to pick these up in ’77 and ’78, for I was there. First comics I ever picked up, in fact, all the way back to the first issue of the movie adaptation. “Doomworld” was, for me, not a new discovery, but an almighty blast from the past.

And so help me, I like the cheese! (Caveat: this coming from someone who admits to being entertained by the Holiday Special.) The first few post-movie issues, basically a Star Wars retelling of The Magnificent Seven (or perhaps The Dirty Dozen is more appropriate somehow), I’ve always found enormously appealing. That story arc did more to paint Han Solo as the rogue with a heart of gold than any Greedo-shooting-first nonsense ever did. I actually liked Jaxxon and Don-Wan Kihotay – and now, in my much more jaded adulthood, I find the latter character especially fascinating. Assuming that we’re going to see wholesale Jedi slaughter in Revenge of the Sith, all of those lightsabers had to go somewhere. The thought that a stray lightsaber would fall into the hands of a slightly unhinged old man who feels the need to take it upon himself to revive the legend of the Jedi struck me as very interesting this time around. (And at the time I first read it? I was honestly thinking that there would almost certainly be action figures of the big green bunny and the Obi-Wannabe.) And Valance – though it seems like the letterer seemed to slip up and refer to him as “Vance” a few times in his debut issue – is an interesting character who would pay off, and see his arc play out in full, in later issues (reprinted in “A Long Time Ago… Volume 2 – Dark Encounters”). Storywise, the only thing that loses me a bit is the storyline that brings in the Wheel and Senator Greyshade, another arc that overlaps into Volume 2.

Moving on to the subject of artwork, I have to come right out and say I prefer Chaykin’s artwork by a vast margin. In the Aduba-3 storyline, he captures Han Solo – and Harrison Ford – perfectly. Carmine Infantino’s artwork isn’t jarring at first; in fact, I love his montages (there’s one where Leia’s having a panoramic flashback about her adventures with Luke which I wish I had hanging on the wall). But after his first few issues, Infanto seems to lapse into an ultra-angular style that just isn’t to my taste. I’m not saying it’s bad artwork…just not to my taste. He starts drawing Luke as He-Man, for all intents and purposes. But such was the style of the day.

Dave: I have read interviews where Thomas said Han is the one character he could really connect with after he was done the adaptation. I wasn’t quite as keen on that story, but that’s because Thomas’s Golden-Age-motivated sensibility doesn’t quite click with me as well as Goodwin’s stuff. I did like Goodwin bringing Aduba back to help set up Valance. That kind of unfolding month-to-month narrative doesn’t happen as much in comics these days, because publishers are considered with breaking stories up into distinct arcs that can be republished in book form. (Not to say there aren’t subplots – Dark Horse’s Republic series has plenty of ’em – but the flow was different.)

I definitely see where you’re coming from on Infantino. The characters look less like their movie versions and more like, well, Infantino characters. That’s one of the pitfalls of bringing in an established artist with his own defined style. The fact that Infantino did such a long run helped me out there – I stopped comparing the characters to the actors after a while. Chaykin I ran hot and cold with, because he was still very rough in those days. Just look at the difference between issue one, which he inked himself, and issue two, inked by Steve Leialoha. (And isn’t that a great name to be working on a Star Wars book?) Chaykin’s inks are much rougher, more angular, and have a lot of excess lines added for emphasis. Leialoha’s are much smoother and contoured, with a slightly less energetic but far more attractive result to my eyes.

Earl: Going back to issue 1 in this reprint and looking at the artwork, there is a marked difference (no pun intended) – the artwork is almost sketchy in places, and there are places where the likenesses aren’t that much like their inspiration. And getting back to Infantino, I’m fine with his artwork on guest characters like Crimson Jack, Jolli, Valance, and others. I’ll admit I have a harder time letting go on the whole likeness issue. Also, in the middle of the Infantino material in the last half of the book, I really like the pre-movie flashback to Luke’s past exploits on Tatooine with Biggs, written by Chris Claremont – I had almost forgotten that story.

Now, here’s where I show my comics ignorance a little bit – in several issues I see an “embellisher” credited. What’s that? For some reason I’m thinking of someone applying the halftone and screen graphic effects that are virtually ubiquitous in this compilation – a staple of almost every 70s comic I’ve ever seen that has stuck with me as a hallmark of the medium, despite the fact that Photoshop effects seem to have replaced those elements in recent years.

Dave: That Biggs and Luke story you mention is another example of how comics have changed over the years. Editors used to commission fill-in issues which they’d keep in their desks in case someone slipped behind schedule. This bears all the signs of such an issue – guest artists (in this case Herb Trimpe and Al Milgrom, who I don’t think are up to Infantino’s standards) and a plot that’s not tied into any ongoing subplots so that it could be dropped into the schedule at any time. These days an editor’s more likely to let the book run late in order to keep the regular team and story going. I see the value in that – but on the other hand, it’s nice to get these little flashbacks and one-off stories from time to time. Claremont is only credited with the plot here, which suggests that Goodwin wrote the captions and dialogue – but in a lot of ways it seems more like Claremont’s style than Goodwin’s.

Speaking of credits – an embellisher is another word for inker. In the 70s standard Marvel procedure was for the writer to give the penciller a plot outline of what happens in the issue, which might vary in detail based on the writer. The penciller would then decide how to lay out the story and actually draw it. But pencil is too light for printers to pick up, so an inker has to essentially redraw everything in dark black ink and then erase the pencil line. The inker will often also add zipatone and other screen effects to try to create texture as well. The inked pages then go to a colorist, who creates a color guide for the printer. (Like you say, these days a lot of colorists using digital programs get into the texture and effects game themselves.) Once the writer has written the dialogue and captions for the pencilled pages, the letterer actually writes that all out on the page, and often adds the onomatopoeia sound effects as well. As this collection shows, different inkers can make the same penciller look radically different – I wonder if that explains why you like the earlier Infantino inked by Terry Austin more. And conversely, the same inker can lend a consistent look to two different pencillers’ work. Look at what Bob Wiacek does on the first appearance of Valance, penciled by Walter Simonson – yet another comics legend who worked on this book.

I mentioned colorists a minute ago, and that’s a good place to bring up another point about this book – thanks to paper quality and technological advances, these issues probably look better than they ever have, while still remaining faithful to the originals. I did a fairly extensive feature on coloring over at Not News a while back which goes into a little more detail, but suffice to say that the cheap newsprint on which these comics were printed in the 70s meant that the pages couldn’t hold a lot of ink, so you couldn’t get very vibrant color. Dark Horse used the original color guides with this compilation, but the better ink and paper stock is noticeable. Take a look at these panels:

Star Wars - Different Colorists

On the left is the original newsprint issue. In the middle is the same panel in “Doomworld.” At the end is the same panel from a 1994 reprint of the movie adaptation from Dark Horse, which was completely recolored by Patricia Rambo. Look at Luke’s shirt, and how much whiter it is in the center panel. Look at how the arm flesh tone in the first panel has to be almost pink because of the effect of the red ink, which is much subtler in the center panel. The shadow from the lightsaber and the hair color are also more distinct in the center panel, and overall the colors are less mottled. On the right, you can see how the whole thing was redone to correct the color of the saber (as well as its spelling in the dialogue balloon) and remove the shadow.

Earl: Since I was fixated on the oddly out-of-sequence Claremont issue, let’s talk about that dirty C word…continuity. The foreword to Doomworld all but threatens to bludgeon anyone who tries to work out these comics’ place in the Star Wars mythology, but in some places I’ll admit to some fascination with how well it hangs together and doesn’t violate what’s already established. Now obviously, for everything that does track, there are just as many glaring conflicts too, namely Jabba as a tall yellow humanoid with mutton chops worthy of a biker. But some of it works nicely given that we know Thomas, and later Goodwin, had only the first movie to work from. Then again, I went on a spiel a few years ago about how well the Holiday Special holds up continuity-wise (maybe because nobody wants to go there again, ever), so I could be the wrong guy to ask. And again, going back to returning to Aduba-3 as the setup for Valance’s intro, it’s also got a very nice internal continuity as well.

Dave: There is a lot that works here in terms of continuity – so much so that there are Expanded Universe fans who still try and work these into the overall timeline – but just as much that just flat out doesn’t. Of course, the same is true of the modern comics – just try to fit the Clone Wars cartoons in with the comics, I dare you – so I try to worry about enjoying these things on their own terms. But these stories do make clear just how much was left open-ended at the end of the first movie. It’s neat to read about Vader trying to figure out who blew up the Death Star or Luke trying to figure out how to use the Force before he hooked up with Yoda. And by the way, kudos to Goodwin for creating new villains for the heroes to fight while keeping the specter of Vader hovering over everything. That wasn’t an easy balancing act.

Year: 2002
Writers: Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Don Glut, Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont
Pencillers: Howard Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson, Herb Trimpe
Inkers: Steve Leialoha, Rick Hoberg, Bill Wray, Frank Springer, Terry Austin, Tom Palmer, Bob Wiacek, Al Milgrom, Gene Day
Colorists: Marie Severin, Steve Leialoha, Glynis Wein, Paty, Carl Gafford, Tom Palmer, F. Mouly, Janice Cohen, Bob Sharen, Gaff, George Roussos
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Pages: 369