Friday, July 21, 2017

Alpha and Omega Mutant Narrative: Astonishing X-men #1

The following is my review of Astonishing X-men #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Even in a mythos as vast and diverse as the X-men, there's still a place for a definitive A-team of sorts. The makeup and purpose of that team may change over time, but its presence still carries a special impact. Whatever happens to them or whatever path they chart tends to affect the X-men mythos as a whole. Like a major summer blockbuster or the premier of a new Vince Gilligan show, it's an event that sets the bar for others to achieve.

Astonishing X-men has an established history of being that A-team. Under Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, it acts as the gold standard by which all other X-men comics were measured. In other eras, Chris Clarmeont's work on Uncanny X-men or or Scott Lobdell's work on X-men carry the same weight. Creating a series with such an impact is difficult to achieve, but the ingredients are fairly simple. It needs only a cast of top-tier, well-known characters. If they've been played by major actors in an X-men movie or get fans talking about more than who can lift Thor's hammer, they're a candidate.

After the latest round of relaunches that spun out of Marvel's ResurrXion effort, the X-men comics still lack that definitive A-list book. X-men Blue and X-men Gold contain major characters and prominent stories for the greater X-men narrative. However, they still lack a lead blocker of sorts to pave the way for the future of X-men.

Now, Charles Soule and Jim Chung, two of Marvel's most prominent talents, attempt to create that book with Astonishing X-men #1. They have all the ingredients, namely a strong cast full of familiar and prominent faces. They even have major stakes already in play with Marvel Legacy just on the horizon. It's not unreasonable to say that Astonishing X-men is the most critical X-men comic to come along since Secret Wars. The stakes are high and the margin for error is low, but Astonishing X-men #1 really rises to the occasion.


The story hits the ground running like a summer blockbuster movie, complete with a monster attack, random explosions, and snarky remarks from beautiful women. Short of including transforming robots, it's hard to imagine a series beginning with more style. That's not to say it's lacking of substance though. Soule and Chung don't rely too much on spectacle. The structure of the story is built on establishing the stakes and that's where Astonishing X-men #1 shines brightest.

The story doesn't try too hard to build off the events of another book. It does mention some recent events in the X-men comics, but it doesn't try too hard to act as a connecting point. If anything, it avoids the kinds of complicated tie-ins that tend to make some books too confusing. It's presented as a story that anyone can pick up, not be too lost, and be entertained. It's a simple formula, but one that proves potent.

Even those who haven't kept up with X-men comics in recent years won't be too confused. So long as they know that attacks by Shadowking are bad and giant psychic monsters in the middle of London are dangerous, they'll be able to follow the story. So long as they also like fast-paced action, high stakes, and Chung's colorful art, they'll enjoy that story as well.

On the surface, the plot isn't very groundbreaking. Shadowking, a well-known X-men enemy who has been while the mutant race overcame their latest extinction plot, is back in action and attacking psychics. With Charles Xavier dead, he doesn't go for the biggest, most powerful mind first. Instead, he attacks psychics who are isolated and ill-prepared, using them as preseason games, of sorts, to get himself ready for prime time. Then, he gets a little bolder and attacks Psylocke. The spectacle only escalates from there.

It's the kind of plot that can easily fall flat. With Chung's artwork, the visual appeal alone is usually enough to give it value. Soule, however, never lets the story become too devoid of substance. From the first few pages, he uses every opportunity to provide context and depth. He does this primarily through a mystery narrator who provides insight early on, helping to establish the setting and identify the characters involved. The identity of that narrator isn't revealed until the end, but he still serves an important purpose that helps make Astonishing X-men #1 feel like more than just a generic summer blockbuster.

Despite all the action, explosions, and snooty remarks made by Fantomex and Gambit, there's a sense that there's a larger vision for the story and the series. It's not just throwing together all these A-list X-men characters and expecting it to sell itself. That's a tempting trap that many X-men comics have fallen into over the years. Soule makes a clear effort to avoid that by setting up a larger conflict for the characters to take on.

That's not to say those efforts are entirely seamless. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason as to how and why these particular X-men characters are where they are when explosions start going off. There are some small connections between characters here and there. However, the story never tries to overthink certain details. It provides just enough to make the more explosive, action-oriented elements more meaningful than a typical Sentinel attack on a Tuesday afternoon.


Soule and Chung have an rich batch of ingredients to work with in Astonishing X-men #1. They have plenty of chances to overuse one at the cost of the other, but they don't. They still manage to take each element, mold it into a story, and let it cook until it has the look, taste, and feel of an A-list blockbuster. The final result couldn't be more potent without casting Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart.

Even in an age where superhero blockbusters capture a huge chunk of the pop culture market, there's still a place for Astonishing X-men. The story is still unfolding, but if the final page is any indication, there's plenty of potential for astonishment.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue 154: Reaching Out is LIVE!


Since I began X-men Supreme, I’ve often made an effort to make sure that this fanfiction series stands out in a meaningful way, compared to the ongoing X-men comics. While the X-men were facing yet another extinction plot or another sterilization story, I had them traveling to visit the Shi’ar in the Starcrossed arc. When Jean Grey was dead and the Phoenix Force was just a ploy to get the X-men and Avengers to fight, I was overhauled the concept in the X-men Supreme version of the Phoenix Saga.

Every now and then, however, X-men Supreme lines up with the X-men comics in a peculiar way. When the second Wolverine movie came out a few years ago, it coincided with my Lotus and the Warrior arc during X-men Supreme Volume 4: Politics of Fear. That kind of synergy isn’t always possible. I couldn’t really do anything for the release of X-men Apocalypse or the Logan movie. However, I try to make use of those opportunities when I get a chance.

That leads me to the awkward situation that X-men Supreme faces now, at least compared to the X-men comics. At the moment, this fanfiction series has the X-men working directly with President Kelly and General Grimshaw in an unprecedented partnership between humans and mutants. After the events of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation, Charles Xavier made the difficult decision to overhaul the X-men, as well as his dream, and team up with the government in what he called the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

This decision left the X-men deeply divided. After the decision was made in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide, Cyclops and Wolverine quit the team and formed X-Force. This division is the primary driving force of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. Conversely, the X-men are in a very different place in the comics. Many of them are currently freedom fighters, of sorts, standing against an oppressive world led by Hydra within the pages of Secret Empire. It’s not just different from what’s going on in this fanfiction series. It’s the complete opposite.

Now, I didn’t plan it this way. I laid out the plot for X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided long before I even knew about Secret Empire. However, things just played out that way. The X-men are working for the government in one series and against it in another. It’s a strange confluence of circumstanced between X-men Supreme and the comics, but it’s one I still want to maximize.

At the moment, the X-men and X-Force are dealing with the aftermath of Volatility Sensibility. They struggled to help a single innocent mutant in Nitro. Now, thanks to the efforts of their friends in X-Factor, they know there’s a larger threat on the horizon from a familiar enemy in Sebastian Shaw. If they struggled with Nitro, what hope do they have against Sebastian Shaw? It’s a tense situation, one that will set the stage for the next major clash. It begins here, but make no mistake. It’s a prelude to a much larger storm.

X-men Supreme Issue 154: Reaching Out

I know not every X-men fan likes what’s going on in the X-men comics right now. One of the reasons I began this fanfiction series was to give something for those dissatisfied fans to enjoy until the storm passes. That makes the current situation somewhat awkward. Some of the dynamics in X-men Supreme might not appeal to certain X-men fans, many of whom were already burned out on schisms and team divisions. I totally understand that. Like the comics, though, there is a larger plan in place. I hope to develop that plan in as awesome a manner as possible. As such, it’s critical that I continue to get feedback, despite spammers making a mess of my comments section. Either post your feedback in the comments section or, better yet, contact me directly. I’m always happy to hear from readers and from X-men fans. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Friday, July 14, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 154: Reaching Out PREVIEW!


I take it everyone has had a chance to exercise their inner Spider-Man fan with the recent release of Spider-Man: Homecoming. I hope you’re now ready to be X-men fans again with the X-men Supreme fan fiction series. Spider-Man can enjoy his time in the limelight. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will continue and, much like Peter Parker, the X-men can’t expect to catch a break. After the plot revealed in X-men Supreme Issue 153: Revolting Youth, the X-men are in for a much greater challenge.

The breadth of this challenge was hinted at just a few issues ago in the Volatility Sensibility arc. That conflict revealed, among other things, that the X-men and X-Force are still struggling to adapt to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative that Charles Xavier implemented at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Beyond just being divided, there were already signs that Xavier and his X-men weren’t on the same page as General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman.

If the X-men and X-Force struggled to stop a single mutant with volatile powers, something the X-men have done with far fewer complications going all the way back to X-men Supreme Issue 6: Rogue Recruit, then they’re in trouble. How are both teams going to function when they face a much bigger threat? In a sense, the X-men have been pretty lucky since the end X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. There’s no Mutant Liberation Front, Magneto, or Sinister to threaten them. The Brotherhood of Mutants is still at large, but they’ve effectively disappeared since the disillusion of Genosha. It made for a rare moment for the X-men, one in which they lacked a clear and direct enemy.

That’s about to change because some of their enemies have been active, albeit in a very secretive manner. One enemy that has remained unseen for quite some time is Sebastian Shaw. After being severely wounded in the events of the Phoenix Saga, he made a clear recovery at the end of the Dark Legacy arc in X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. Given his ties to characters like Sage and organizations like the Inner Circle, it was only a matter of time before he entered the picture again.

Well, given the events so far in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, his timing couldn’t be better. Shaw already showed that he’s been hard at work on a new project, a part of which X-Factor uncovered in X-men Supreme Issue 153: Revolting Youth. Shaw and his cohorts have been working on something modern X-men fans should be quite familiar with in Mutant Growth Hormone, also known as Kick. This potent cocktail of mutant chaos has caused a lot of damage in the X-men comics. Now, it’s about to cause even more in this fanfiction series.

This is a bad time for things to get tougher in the world of X-men Supreme. The divisions between the X-men and X-Force leave both sides vulnerable and Sebastian Shaw knows how to exploit vulnerabilities better than anyone. However, he won’t be doing it alone. There will be other threats to aid him, the kind the X-men have faced before. I would love to tease more, but I’ll leave that to the extended preview.

“My son! Is he…” said the woman breathlessly as she ran alongside Jean.

“He’s fine!” assured Jean, “Can’t believe that son-of-a-bitch would…”

“Jean!” said Shiro, who was still standing on the curb, “Vargas is escaping! I’m going after him!”

“I’ll catch up! Feel free to burn his ass off!”

“Duly noted!” said Shiro as he took off running.

Everything happenedvery quickly. As soon as Jean dropped her telekinetic hold on Vargas, he ran full speed down the opposing street. He shoved through some bewildered civilians in the process, intent on getting away no matter who he put in danger. Shiro ran after him to catch up. He was surprised that a junkie could run so fast. Then again, he might not be an ordinary junkie. Someone who dealt MGH was bound to have a few surprises.

The chase ensued for another four city blocks. The narrow roads around Fenway Park soon gave way to congested avenues near the Massachusetts Turnpike. Since it was the middle of the day, there were a fair amount of people on the sidewalks. Both Vargas and Shiro had to shove them aside. Having already shown a willingness to attack a mother and her child, it was a dangerous situation that needed to be stopped.

“I’ve run in the Boston marathon. You will not escape!” yelled Shiro.

Vargas panted heavily as he heard Shiro catching up. He tried knocking over a few trash cans and pushing over some tables around an outside restaurant to slow him down. It wasn’t enough. Shiro just used his fire powers to burn right through it.

He could literally feel the heat gaining on him. His frail body was failing him. His poor physical condition was catching up to him. He was nearing another busy crosswalk where there was no shortage of people he could throw in front of cars. However, Shiro wouldn’t allow it. He literally dived out and tackled him to the hard pavement.

“Argh!” exclaimed Vargas as he fell flat on his face, losing a tooth in the process.

“That’s enough of that, Mr. Vargas,” said Shiro, now holding him by the legs, “You’ve added reckless endangerment to your list of crimes. Do not add any more.”

Vargas groaned as he struggled within Shiro’s grip. He looked back and saw the Japanese mutant flash a few menacing flames around his head. He could easily burn him until he cooperated. Vargas was in no condition to endure it so he made another desperate move.

“I didn’t want to do this, but once again I’m too weak,” he said shamefully.

With Shiro still holding onto his legs, Vargas reached into the pocket in his sweat-jacket and pulled out a small syringe. It was already filled with a reddish fluid. As soon as Shiro saw it, his eyes widened.

“You’re…a mutant?” exclaimed Shiro.

“I wish,” muttered Vargas.

Closing his eyes, the young man jammed the syringe into his abdomen. Shiro tried to knock it away from him, but it was too late. The drug was in his system. The effect was almost immediate.

His once frail arms bulged with new muscle, indicating a new strength. Vargas seethed as the substance coursed through his system. At the same time, he noticed a fire hydrant to his left. Without hesitation, he slammed his arm right into the side. The metal was quickly warped under the sudden, causing a hole that shot out a high-pressure stream of water that engulfed Shiro and several surrounding civilians.

“Ugh!” grunted Shiro, his flames extinguished by the water.

Being blasted with water caused Shiro to release his grip on Vargas. As soon as he was free, Vargas stumbled back to his feet and ran out into the street. He happened to step right in front of a taxi cab, who promptly slammed on the breaks. Vargas showed his new strength by slamming his fist onto the hood of the car, causing the whole car to shake.

“Holy shit! What’s with your arm?’ the man exclaimed.

“Get out!” he told the driver.

The driver didn’t need to be threatened any further. He quickly stumbled out from the driver’s seat and ran as fast as he could across the street. With his muscles still bulging, Vargas got into the driver’s seat. Before he took off, he slammed his fist into the dashboard to knock out the cab equipment and GPS. He didn’t need anyone tracking him to his next destination.

“I’m coming, my queens. I will atone for this,” Vargas proclaimed.

Shiro was just emerging from the still gushing torrent of water when Vargas drove off. The tires screeched as he drove over a curb and out into the main avenue, causing a couple of minor fender benders in the process. Within seconds he was out of sight and there was no chance of catching him. Now soaked and unable to use his fire powers, Shiro could only watch as Vargas escaped.

The civilians around him swarmed around the accidents and the broken fire hydrant. Nearby police officers turned their attention to the cars in the street that had collided in confusion. It was a lot of damage for one junkie to cause. In Shiro’s mind, this man wasn’t a junkie. He was something much worse.

‘Whoever these mistresses are, they must have quite a hold on him. I wonder if they also gave him that dose of Kick. If he wasn’t a mutant, it should have killed him…unless there’s something else we’re messing.’

It was a frustrating outcome. This might have been their only lead to Sebastian Shaw and whoever else was involved. They had a name now, but if Vargas was as determined as he seemed then he would not be easy to find. They would need another approach and another stroke of luck.

Shiro groaned and bowed his head in frustration, ignoring the commotion around him from civilians and police. He was about to contact Jean Grey and see how she was doing. Then something on the ground caught his eye. While he was holding onto Vargas, some stuff fell out of his pocket. Among them was a fancy-looking business card with a distinct logo on the cover. When he picked it up and read the name on it, his frustration turned to intrigue.

‘Shiro! Are you there? The lady and her baby are safe, although the driver of the car is pissed. What’s happening on your end? Did you catch Vargas?’

Jean Grey’s urgent thoughts echoed loudly in his mind. However, Shiro barely heard them. He was too fixated on the card he not held in his hand.

‘Shiro? Please don’t be hurt or something!’

‘I’m fine Jean,’ he replied through his mind, ‘Vargas got away. He proved more cunning than expected.’

‘Damn it! He was our only lead. There may still be time to track him! I can call the Professor and he can get the MSA to…’

‘That might not be necessary, Jean. Vargas has already provided us with another tantalizing clue.’

‘What do you mean?’

Shiro was silent for a moment. This mystery surrounding MGH kept taking unexpected turns. With each revelation, the threat it posed grew more terrifying.

‘Tell me, Jean…does the name Wynegarde mean anything to you?’


Things are going to get a lot tougher for the X-men before they start improving. The X-men Supreme fanfiction series is in a state of upheaval right now. There are clear divisions, obstacles, and complications. It’s all building towards something, that much I can promise. Like previous volumes of X-men Supreme, I want that payoff to be great. As such, it’s important that I continue to receive feedback from X-men Supreme readers. Whether you’re a fan of the cartoons or comics, I want to hear from you. Either contact me directly or post your comments in the issue. I always try to respond to every email sent my day so please don’t be shy. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Convergence of Character and Chaos: Dr. Aphra #9

The following is my review of Dr. Aphra #9, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Every now and then, a character comes along that fills a need that nobody even knows is there until it's shoved in their face. It's like there are all these blind spots in the world of popular culture and nobody bothers to look until something jumps out and surprises everyone for the best possible reasons. For a mythos like Star Wars, where endless debates rage over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first, it's hard to imagine there are any blind spots left. Then, Dr. Aphra and her two homicidal droids, Triple-0 and BT, come along and suddenly everyone has a reason to forget about Greedo.

Ever since her debut in Darth Vader #3, Dr. Aphra keeps finding ways to be the most compelling character in Marvel's evolving Star Wars universe. She's part Indiana Jones, part Han Solo, part Lara Croft, and part Catwoman. For such a new character, relative to a mythos that has been around since the disco era, that's an eclectic mixture, to say the least. However, Kieron Gillen finds a way to make Dr. Aphra work brilliantly. She's a character Star Wars didn't know it needed, but it's that much better because of her.

What helps set Dr. Aphra apart from Luke, Han, Leia, and Jar Jar Binks is her ability to play both sides. She's neither on the side of the Empire nor the Rebel Alliance. She's very much on her own side, as seen in arcs like Vader Down and Screaming Citadel. She has no qualms with changing her allegiance on a whim whenever it suits her. She's downright Machiavellian in her tactics, but somehow finds a way to be lovable.

These tactics are on full display within Dr. Aphra #9. While fans of all things noble and true in the galaxy may have a hard time rooting for her, it's hard to deny her ambitious. Dr. Aphra is the personification of Mos Eisley in that she surrounds herself with the worst thieves, thugs, and deviants in the galaxy. Unlike Luke Skywalker, she's exceedingly comfortable in their company. She gives the impression that she prefers it. For her, the scum of the galaxy are preferable to Jedi or Sith, if only because they have deeper pockets.

That's another aspect of her character that sets her apart. Like Han Solo, Dr. Aphra is more concerned with paying off old debts and turning a profit rather than bringing balance to the Force. Unlike Han Solo, though, she's not as inclined to step up and play the hero when the chips are down. If it means losing a payday or a valuable asset, she'll generally brush it off. She'll even screw over anyone who tries to nudge her in a certain direction. More than anything else, Dr. Aphra prefers to serve her own agenda and will employ any number of murder drones and renegade wookies to achieve it.

The agenda in Dr. Aphra #9 isn't that complex, but the setup is pretty elaborate. For the past several issues, she's been trying to make use of an ancient Jedi artifact that dates back to the Old Republic. Beyond satisfying her scientific curiosity as a renegade archeologist, she also understands that all things Jedi have greater value in a galaxy where most were wiped out. She may be a deviant, even by Sith standards, but she understands market forces.

Knowing the Empire is more prone to blow up planets rather than bargain, she invites some of the galaxy's most accomplished thieves and criminals to bid on it. She even turns it into a party of sorts, one in which puts Dr. Aphra's charisma and cunning on full display. She's not some inexperienced farm boy. She's not even some privileged princess. She's very much in a category all her own. In a galaxy full of Death Stars, smugglers, droids, and Lando Calrissians, she finds a way to stand out.

That's not to say Dr. Aphra is that efficient at pursuing her agenda. In fact, a good chunk of her nascent history is full of ambitious plans blowing up in her face, going all the way back to when Darth Vader first enlisted her help. It's one of the reasons she finds herself in so much debt in the first place. She's great at forging these elaborate schemes to acquire resources. She's just not that good at adapting those schemes when something goes horribly wrong, which tends to happen a lot in a galaxy where even Death Stars are prone to blowing up.

In a sense, she's very much the anti-Rey. Nobody can read Dr. Aphra #9 and claim she's a Mary Sue type character. Dr. Aphra is ambitious and skilled, but she doesn't exactly endear herself to everyone around her. It's also painfully obvious by the end that at least part of her plan is doomed to fail again. Unlike Han Solo and Princess Leia, she can't expect to rely on the love of friends and allies to save her.

Dr. Aphra isn't that kind of person. For her, friends and allies are expensive and potentially distracting. Granted, that puts her in many difficult positions, especially when her schemes go awry, but that's what provides so much of the entertainment value in Dr. Aphra #9 and her story as a whole. She is very much a deviant and a renegade, but she's no Jabba the Hut. She's not cruel or vindictive. She's not the kind of person who will Force choke anyone who disagrees with her. However, she is willing to leave dead bodies and broken droids in her wake.

Those who've grown fond of Dr. Aphra since her introduction in Darth Vader #3 will find plenty to enjoy in Dr. Aphra #9. In a sense, Dr. Aphra #9 highlights all of the traits that make her story compelling and her character endearing. Those who haven't been following her exploits since Screaming Citadel may be lost, though. Dr. Aprha's story is difficult to just pick up and follow. There are also times when the flaws in her schemes seem a bit too obvious. Those hoping for a big revelation on par with The Empire Strikes Back will be disappointed. That's not how Dr. Aphra works. It's the little revelations that make her story so engaging.

That doesn't prevent Dr. Aphra's character from being any less endearing. She's still someone that's easy to root for. At the same time, she's also someone that can slip up and not upset too many people. Gillen's development of her character continues to be strong and Andrea Broccardo's art adds visual appeal with that distinct Star Wars style. Dr. Aphra may not care much for the Force since it can't pay her debts, but she doesn't even need it to be a great character. Debts or not, the galaxy is inherently richer because of her presence.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sci-Fi Cast Away: Star Wars #33

The following is my review of Star Wars #33, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In terms of a modern mythos, complete with philosophical, psychological, and cos-playing implications, Star Wars is the standard by which all others are measured. Few other sagas, from Marvel's ever-evolving continuity of reboots and retcons to multiple eras of Star Trek, even come close. It manages to be both incredibly expansive, yet remarkably concise. It's themes, emotions, and drama create a perfect blend that gives it a special place in popular culture.

Given the sheer breadth and scope of Star Wars, it's easy to forget that there are various parts that remain unexplored. Ever since Disney and Marvel began expanding some of those unexplored areas, new elements of that mythos are emerging. Given the iconic status that Star Wars has for generations of fans, it's a careful balancing act. There are only so many ways that Star Wars can be expanded without undermining the larger narrative. Even an iconic mythos cannot withstand the force of too many Jar Jars.

Jason Aaron manages that balancing act better than most, taking full advantage of the gap between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back to flesh out elements of Star Wars that never get a chance on a movie screen. One element that never gets much development is the relationship between Luke and Leia. Even without knowing their secret sibling connection, so much of the drama is centered around Leia's constant clashes with Han. It's easy to forget that her story is closely tied to Luke. Aaron, with the artistic talents of Salvador Larroca, use Star Wars #33 as an opportunity to explore that story.

The setup is simple, if not unremarkable by Star Wars standards. Luke and Leia get stranded on a planet that's mostly water and dotted with a few small islands. The circumstances are fairly generic in that it's not part of some larger story arc. It's just another case of a routine mission going horribly wrong, which seems to happen at least once a week for the Rebellion. There's nothing about it that rattles the continuity of the original trilogy. It's basically the sci-fi equivalent of Cast Away, but with more sea monsters and fewer volley balls.

This bland, but simple setup does serve an important purpose though. It puts Luke and Leia in a position where they have to work together and rely on each other to survive. They know they can survive an onslaught of storm troopers and escaping the Death Star. They've even shown they can survive working with Han Solo for more than two weeks and survive. However, their strength is often defined by their ability to be part of a team. They're rarely in a situation where they can only rely on each other.

It makes for some compelling moments, exploring some of the inner struggles within both characters. It's easy to forget between blowing up the Death Star and falling in love with a smuggler that Luke and Leia are still processing some major upheavals. A part of Luke still sees himself as a farm boy and a part of Leia still sees herself as a princess, complete with all the ceremonial formalities. What stands out in Star Wars #33 is just how uneasy they both feel with their previous roles.

There's a distinct sense that being a farm boy never sat well with Luke. Leia shows a similar sentiment. She reveals that at one point, she ran away to escape some of the formalities that come with being a princess. While this puts her at odds with most traditional Disney princesses, it reveals an important element to both characters.

On some levels, they sense that their situations in life aren't right. They sense that they're meant for something else. Aaron gives the impression that the Force is somehow letting them know that their story is tied with that of Darth Vader and the legacy of Anikan Skywalker. They don't know this, given the story's place in the existing Star Wars timeline. However, they do feel it. If it is a manifestation of the Force, then Yoda himself would be proud.

Beyond the personal exploration, there's also some reflection on recent events, relative to the outcome of A New Hope. Leia is still mourning the destruction of Alderan. The emotions don't get too heavy, though. Leia comes off as more hardened than most princesses. She's no Cinderella, but she's no Elsa either. If she ever broke into song, it wouldn't be very uplifting.

These moments of personal insight and inner character struggles are the highlight of Star Wars #33. While they succeed at providing greater insight into Luke and Leia, as characters, the rest of the narrative falls somewhat flat. Their struggles for survival on the island never create much strain. At most, they only ever seem inconvenienced by their situation. There's never any despair, anguish, or strain. Despite one of them being a princess and the other being a farm boy, their outlook on the situation is remarkably dispassionate.

There are some elements that keep the story from becoming too much like Cast Away. They eventually find out that the planet isn't as desolate as they think. That helps put them in a position to escape and even make a few new allies. However, that story is lacking in terms of detail and insight. It comes off as just a simple, convenient way to get Luke and Leia off the planet before readers can start making incest jokes.

There's nothing about the story in Star Wars #33 that feels out of place, out of character, or inconsistent with the larger mythos. Even if parts of the story lack details, it never comes off as flawed or incomplete. The primary strength of the narrative is the deeper exploration of Luke and Leia, as characters.

When all is said and done, they both come off as more complex characters, which can only give greater weight to the iconic narrative that is Star Wars. While that won't stop some fans from cracking incest jokes about Luke and Leia, Star Wars #33 will give them a greater appreciation for who they are as characters. Anyone hoping for more than that, though, is asking too much of the Force.

Final Score: 6 out of 10