This week’s Marvel Rundown is turning back the clock to look at a pair of ’80s throwback titles from the House of Ideas. First up, the original Star Wars ongoing series, which ran for 107 issues from 1977 until 1986, makes a one-off return to tie up some loose ends with some long-forgotten characters. Can a modern creative team recapture the magic of a non-corporate-controlled galaxy far, far away? Then, indy auteur Ed Piskor’s trip through the history of the X-Men nears its conclusion with the debut issue of X-Men: Grand Design – X-Tinction. Does the issue capture the madness of the merry mutants’ 1980s adventures? Reviews of both titles await you in this week’s Marvel Rundown!
Star Wars: The Original Marvel Years #108
Written by Matthew Rosenberg
Illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Luke Ross, Kerry Gammill, Andrea Broccardo, Cam Smith, Ze Carlos, Jan Duursema, Stefano Landini, and Leonard Kirk
Colored by Chris Sotomayor
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Walter Simonson & Antonio Fabela
Alexander Jones: AJ, Marvel is taking the Star Wars property back a couple decades. What was your take on the one-off continuation of Marvel’s beloved original series?
AJ Frost: Alex! So great to chat with you for another week of running down Marvel’s highlights of the week. Man, what an amazing issue of Star Wars. This one really is for all the fans. For my part, I’ve only slowly been going through Marvel’s original Star Wars run recently, but it’s crazy to me all the stories that were being told when there wasn’t really this behemoth of a franchise to guide writers and artists in any particular direction. There were so many bonkers things about that original run, including Jaxxon the intergalactic rabbit (who I’m so thankful has a part to play in this issue!). This book really upheld that strange tradition while also feeling somewhat contemporary (but not really) and also a bit retro. A delicate balance (to the comic book Force!).
Jones: I agree on all fronts with your assessment. While I do think this installment was a bit too long, I definitely had fun reading the title. The writing was a solid throwback to the original series while still being accessible to newcomers. I am interested to hear about your take on the comic having read the original run. I really appreciated how the issue was assembled structurally. The way that the chapters broke everything kept the book feeling fairly fresh from cover-to-cover.
Frost: That’s definitely a throwback to that late-’70s era. Archie Goodwin wrote a lot of those old issues (and Francoise Mouly was a colorist for several as well. Rick Parker lettering too, of course!). I don’t have anything in front of me at the moment, but those books are structured—like the movies—on old pulps. So you’d go several pages and then there’d be a cliffhanger, and then you turn the page and it’s the next chapter. It’s like, Darth Vader is after our heroes again, or some weird bounty hunter dude is trying to collect payment from Han and, ‘ Oh jeez… how are our heroes supposed ta make it out of this mess.” I’m really glad that the creators here kept that vibe (and even some of those Benday Dots in the background). I know it’s pastiche, but it’s the best kind of pastiche, you know?
Jones: I feel like the issue as a whole could have come off as dangerously cheesy, but the way the script established a more serious background for Valance started the issue off on a solid note. Matthew Rosenberg’s writing was silly but streamlined enough to be taken seriously. I also had fun switching between the creative teams in the issue. I found most of the art to suit the issue nicely. Also, it sure does help that this is a massive one-off issue and not an ongoing or mini. I think Marvel rolled this out with the right publishing strategy.
Frost: I think dangerous cheese has always been part of the appeal of Star Wars, to be honest. How can it not be with weird creatures and droids and monks with laser swords who can control elements of the universe with their mind? But, you’re right, this is a project that should only be done periodically as to not overplay its appeal. As a huge Star Wars fan myself, we are definitely spoiled now with all sorts of media to consume related to the franchise. The comics of late have been a mixed bag to be sure, but having a one-off like issue 108 is random enough and entertaining enough to be a special thing. I know that Star Wars isn’t your number one thing. I’m interested in your perspective: If Marvel curated more Star Wars books like this one, would you be more inclined to read them?
Jones: For me this kind of throwback issue would only work once. The characters in the original trilogy are charming and it is interesting to see them teamed with characters like Jaxxon, but that would only work for me a handful of times. I really liked that this script was a little wordy and was paired with continuity elements and nostalgia-fueled plot points and characters from the initial run, but my passing interest in the Star Wars franchise would be pushed to the limit with a full mini-series of this title. That being said, I think this is a really creative way to celebrate Marvel’s 80th anniversary and look back at the history of the publisher. Given my low tolerance for this kind of issue, I would say huge Star Wars fans probably owe it to themselves to check this issue out.
Frost: I dig, I dig. I wanted to ask you about the art real quick. Maybe it was just the advance copy we received, but it really struck me as a more of a ’90s-style aesthetic than a ’70s one. Did you get that too? Or am I just seeing things?
Jones: Great observation. I think if we look into some of the names that contributed to the issue we can probably find out why. Giuseppe Camuncoli and Luke Ross are two names that contributed to the work who are still drawing Marvel comics today. With recent creators contributing to the book with a more throwback aesthetic, I can start to understand why even this issue would look a few decades removed than what you might expect from a book continuing a ’70s-based Star Wars saga.
Frost: Interesting. Good to know for potential readers. Hey, are we ready to put this review to bed? What is your verdict on this one, Alex?
Jones: I don’t think this is the issue to convert non-believers but I do think it is a great celebration of what Star Wars has to offer. If you have any fuzzy feelings about the property or the old comic give this one a try! I’m going with a STRONG BROWSE verdict, how about you?
Frost: This is a BUY. A great retro story with plenty of fun to be had for the hardcore and casual fan alike!
Final Verdict: Alex awards Star Wars #108 a STRONG BROWSE, while AJ calls it a BUY!
X-Men: Grand Design – X-Tinction #1
Written and Illustrated by Ed Piskor
Reviewed by AJ Frost
Here we are, the penultimate issue of Ed Piskor’s genre-defying epic X-Men: Grand Design. It really has been a roller coaster. For a casual fan of the X-Men, much of my knowledge of the characters was gleaned haphazardly from the movies (at least the ones that received semi-decent reviews). As a reader who never got hip on the extensive and convoluted mythology of the Marvel Mutants, Piskor’s Grand Design project is a life-preserver, a CliffsNotes of sorts to one of the longest-running arcs in comics. The latest issue is yet another can’t-miss edition, as well as a book that will surely appeal to hardcore and casual fans in the equal measure.
Piskor has not been shy to claim that this issue is what he’s been working towards over the last year. The first two volumes of Grand Design have followed the team since their 1960s inception until about the late 1980s, but here, readers have reached the apotheosis of the X-Men in their all their glory. We are now firmly in ‘90s territory when X-Men books sold millions of copies and upstart cartoonists like Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee made their marks of infamy. It is no doubt that this is the material that Piskor absorbed and loved the most, because this comic is, without a doubt, the most vibrant and crackling issue yet.
The narrative here is not one that can be laid out in a brief synopsis. If Spider-Man: Life Story is an aromatic medley of different eras all packed into one nice package, then Grand Design is a jambalaya: a sinewy and robust stew. Here, that means readers get a taste of all the best moments of X-Men history jumbled together into an appetizing package. We have the birth of Cable, the Mutant Massacre, clones of Jean Grey, (**mild spoiler**) the Dazzler performing at CBGBs, and so much more, all bundled together for your reading enjoyment.
As usual, the visuals here are the stuff of wonder. Piskor’s cartooning eye has only gotten sharper as the series has progressed and he is definitely breaking the boundaries of what a mainstream comic can look like. Yes, the gimmick of this looking like a musty, old Bronze Age book on newsprint is present, but that only enhances the experience here. It’s part of a contradiction that Piskor likes to play around with: this is a tale told across time and space but one that reaches for timelessness. It doesn’t matter when this book will be picked up, whether today, or next week, next year, or twenty years, it will be a self-contained epic that anyone can read and enjoy.
The most admirable aspect of Piskor’s work with Grand Design has been smoothing out the rough edges of X-Men’s past so that readers of the present and future will be able to comprehend the majesty of the tales being told. While Piskor’s aesthetic and influence haven’t changed, there is an innovation of storytelling happening on each page. His flow is so precise that it’s an amazing reading experience to see such a master of the form at work.
Final Verdict: This is a definite BUY and one of the highlights of modern comic book making. You won’t want to miss this one.
Next week, Felicia Hardy leaves the Spider behind in BLACK CAT #1!
The Beat Staff is an elite group of trained ninjas.