Friday, January 7, 2011

9. Dark Encounters

Dark Encounters is the second collection of Marvel comics that were republished by Dark Horse. It includes issues 21-38 and annual #1, which were originally published between March of 1979 and August of 1980. These comics take you right up to the time of "The Empire Strikes Back."

Issues 21-23 finish off the story that started in the "Doomworld" collection. If you remember, Luke has just awoken from his coma, Han Solo and Chewbacca have been pressed into service as gladiators, and Leia is being held captive by the former Senator Greyshade, who is in charge of The Wheel space station where they are all trapped.

It turns out that Luke's coma was caused when he accidentally reached out with the force and touched the mind of Darth Vader. Not only did this cause his coma, but it also alerted Darth Vader to his presence, and so Vader redoubles his efforts to find Luke.

In issue 22 Han and Chewbacca realize they are both signed up as gladiators, which poses a tremendous problem as the fights are to the death and only one can escape. Greyshade tries to persuade Leia to flee with her in exchange for the lives of her friends, while Chewbacca apparently kills Han in the gladiator arena. Issue 23 reveals that this was just a ruse to allow them to escape. Greyshade has a change of heart and allows Leia, Luke, and the droids to leave, even sacrificing himself to aid their escape. Everyone meets at the Falcon and the escape from Darth Vader and the Empire, again.

Issue 24 is a flashback to a story of Obi-Wan, and tells how he helped a cruise ship escape from some pirates long ago.

Issue 25 begins a new story arc involving an attack on Yavin's moon by the Empire aligned House of Tagge. The House of Tagge is using their mining operations as a cover to sneak TIE fighters into a position where they can attack the rebel base. Issue 26 details how Luke is able to find and destroy the hidden Imperial base located on the gas giant Yavin. Baron Orman Tagge follows Luke as he escapes, while all the TIE fighters and Imperials on the secret base are trapped forever in what remains of the Imperial base.

Issue 27 features the return of the bounty hunter Valance, and it's revealed that his hatred of droids is due to the fact that he is forced to live as a cyborg. He is still hunting Luke, who is saved by the heroics of C-3PO.

Jabba the Hut (still misspelled) returns in issue 28, but it's not the Jabba we'll see in "Return of the Jedi", but the humanoid that first appeared in the comics adaptation of "A New Hope". Jabba is pursuing Han personally, and appears to have him trapped on the planet Orleon. Jabba's plans to capture Han are thwarted by a cave full of metal eating insects, and Jabba is forced to ask Han for help before his ship is eaten. Jabba agrees to forgive Han's debt in exchange for rescue.

Inspired by Luke and his faithful droid C-3P0, the bounty hunter Valance has decided to become his protector instead of his hunter. In issue 29, this sets up a conflict between Valance and Vader, who is still hunting Luke. While Luke escapes, Valance is killed in his battle with Vader.

Issue 30 features a story of Leia and her mission to start an uprising on the planet Metalorn. She has another run-in with Baron Orman Tagge, who by this point has become a recurring character.

Annual #1 finds the Luke and Leia captured by Kharys, who is the winged Majestrix of the planet Skye. Han and Chewbacca go to rescue them but are shot down by the local Imperial presence. Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of the Highland Clans that rule part of Skye recognize the lightsaber that Luke carries as the same one that was carried by a student Jedi who rescued their planet years before. According to the Supreme Council, this student Jedi had been traveling with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, and the implication is that this other Jedi was Luke's father. Based on this, Luke and Leia are released and they, along with the S'Kytri, attack the Imperial base on the planet and rescue Han and Chewbacca.

Issue 31 begins a story arc that has Luke returning to Tatooine to recruit pilots for the rebellion. While there he finds out about another plot by the House of Tagge, but is unsure about the nature of the plot. The story continues in issue 32 when Luke, now joined by Han and Chewbacca, determine that the House of Tagge scientist is working on the Omega Frost, a device that freezes a huge area, and is testing it in the most challenging place possible, Tatooine.

In issue 33 Luke, Han, and Chewbacca follow the House of Tagge ship off Tatooine as it rendezvous with an Imperial battlecruiser. Luke is lured into a trap and fights Baron Tagge in a lightsaber duel, with Tagge using a lightsaber he had acquired several years earlier. Han leaves to warn the Rebels of an impending attack from the Empire, but is misinformed and is actually leading them into a larger trap. In issue 34 Luke is able to disable the Omega Frost and the rebel fleet in turn destroy's Tagge's mining ship, supposedly killing Baron Tagge and his scientist brother who developed the Omega Frost.

Issue 35 continues the House of Tagge saga, as Darth Vader sets in motion a trap for Luke Skywalker involving two more members of the Tagge family, Ulric Tagge, an Imperial general, and Domina Tagge, a member of the peaceful Order of the Sacred Circle. Domina goes to the rebels on the ruse that she is trying to prevent the Order from siding with the Empire, and based on her obvious affection for Luke, it is decided that he should be the diplomat on this mission.

In issue 36 the negotiations do not go as planned, as Luke is not even allowed to make his presentation before the Order decides to join the Empire. Vader is the representative on behalf of the Empire and challenges Luke, but Domina forces them to take their conflict outside, to the Crystal Valley. Meanwhile it's revealed that Baron Tagge did not die, but in fact has managed to sneak aboard the Millenium Falcon, which is orbiting the planet observing the negotiations. Issue 37 has Baron Tagge landing in the Crystal Valley to confront Vader, but Vader uses the force to convince Luke that Tagge is Vader, and Luke kills Tagge, closing this story arc for now.

In Issue 38 Luke and Leia take an errant hyperspace jump and end up in the void, the space between galaxies. Their ship is caught by a gigantic organic space creature, that eventually returns them home and destroys the Imperial cruiser that was chasing them. The artwork in this issue is superior to others, as it features the talents of Michael Golden.

As you can probably tell from these recaps, most of the issues are one-shot stories. Except for issues 31-37, there is very little in terms of a continuous story arc. While there may be some recurring characters, the stories are mostly short adventures that lack much depth. I hope that the Tagge story arc is the beginning of a new style, and that subsequent stories have more substance to them. The artwork is again hit and miss, with some of it being barely tolerable to some that is actually good.

There are also some plot holes that become apparent as the Star Wars galaxy grows. Jabba the Hut(t)'s depiction is the most obvious, but the characterization of Vader as well is not in line with how he's depicted in the movies. I find it surprising that people in charge like Jabba and Vader would be so involved in the day to day activities of their operations, instead of leaving some of the more menial tasks to underlings.

Like the first volume, this collection of comics is ok, but nothing great. The comics near the end of the collection are definitely the best, and hopefully this improving trend will continue into the next collection.

This is the collection that I read:

however, Dark Horse is publishing these once again in the omnibus format. The comics contained in "Dark Encounters" will be split between Omnibus 1 & 2. Here they are in case you're interested:

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