With 2017 in the books, there’s plenty to discuss and dissect from its Star Wars comics, as not only did Marvel have plenty to offer fans, like a beat-every-expectation second Darth Vader series, Doctor Aphra‘s adventures went in directions not even I hoped, and the Star Wars mainline series changed writer hands, but the biggest news was how they weren’t going to be alone anymore: IDW joined the fray with its younger marketed Adventures series. But how has Marvel and IDW’s combined 80 issues of 2017 fared, what were their triumphs and failures, lessons and hardships? Without further ado, my 2017 Star Wars Comics Year-In-Review, while operating a little differently this year, will look back at what did and didn’t work, reveal my top 5 moments list with too many to pick from, and include some hopes and fears for 2018.
— Spoilers for comics released in 2017 —
I’m starting this year-in-review differently by doing something I should be doing more often: crediting/mentioning the editors and letterers from Marvel. I’ve already begun mentioning them in reviews for the beginning of a series/arc and at the end, but in my 150+ reviews, I haven’t mentioned them as much as I should have. First off, Jordan D. White and Heather Antos have been funneling comics our way since 2015, including classic hits like the first Vader series and the Lando mini, while allowing original character (and fan-favorite) Doctor Aphra to rise to her own series. They’ve taken risks, especially with the aforementioned Aphra, but they’ve also played it conservative, sticking with a narrow time frame and familiar, marketable faces. Both of those choices are understandable and possibly one is out of their hands: sticking with the post-A New Hope/pre-Empire Strikes Back might be more of a Lucasfilm edict as they are still fleshing out the sequel trilogy events, while sticking with familiar characters is simply due to this being a business in the end and they need to sell comics. Either or both, I’ve really enjoyed most of series that have come out so far and have faith they’ll keep up the good work, but I hope they’ll challenge readers and themselves in the years ahead like The Last Jedi did everyone.
Also a group I’ve been neglecting? The secret sauce of every issue: the letterers! It’s mainly been Joe Caramagna and Clayton Cowles, with Chris Eliopoulos, though the latter provides us with the delightful droid-centric one-shots attached with various series’ first issue more than be a letterer. Regardless, since it’s been such a small group since the start, there’s tons of consistency across every series, from the more noticeable, like droid noises, to the littler things, like how Han Solo’s interior monologue is done in the same blue speech box across all series, starting with his miniseries. The importance of their work might be easy to overlook, but they are vital to your reading experience and the team for Marvel has provided us with constant quality work.
Here are the things I liked the most/thought worked the best from the comics in 2017:
Would I still have liked a series based on a new character/female character/POC/or less recognizable character? Absolutely, but despite my (and many other’s) trepidation about a second Darth Vader series after the classic run of the first one, I shouldn’t have been worried. Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith, written by the excellent Charles Soule, with art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, who I’m now a big fan of, with colors by David Curiel, and inks by both Cam Smith and Daniele Orlandini, have delivered a rare feat: a series just as good as the first, with the potential to be regarded higher. Diving into what Soule has frequently called Vader: Year One, we pick up IMMEDIATELY after Revenge of the Sith and watch Vader begin to embrace the Sith-ly ways and shun whatever of Anakin is still somehow inside of him. This is a not a well-tread period of time and the creative team takes full advantage of it, diving deep into Vader’s psyche in intriguing ways while pulling off surprises and exciting storylines every issue. From Vader bleeding a kyber to make his first Sith lightsaber to Jocasta Nu’s attempt to rebuild the Jedi archives, there’s everything you wanted to see and more you didn’t imagine, making for a compelling experience.
B) Aphra’s Series is EVERYTHING
Before Doctor Aphra hit shelves, I cooked up a list of reasons why both fans and those not acquainted with the good Doctor yet should be excited for her series. By the year’s end, it hit every single item on my list: 1) Personality/Moral Ambiguity? For starters, she pulls a trick to get her dad to have a serious talk to her and then there’s the recent Tooka-bomb incident. TICK. 2) Job Description? Uncovering the Rur artifact…and trying to sell it. TICK. 3) Orientation? Sana Starros burned some bridges but the Imperial Magna Tolvan might just be coming around to Aphra. TICK. 4) Supporting Cast? Not only has she been surrounded by all sorts of the galaxy’s strangest and deadliest, things with the Murderbots have taken a devilish turn. TICK. 5) Separation from the Films/Character? Minus the crossover, The Screaming Citadel, and obviously Vader, she’s not tracking in those circles anymore. TICK. But it has gone on to do more than tick off the boxes I hoped it would, constantly surprising and making me laugh issue after issue, while it’s able to create all sorts of new and exciting developments unburdened by characters wrapped in plot armor. Plus, myself and the Manor were threatened by the Murderbots…what more can one want?!?
C) Marvel is (now officially) No Longer Alone
Starting properly in September, IDW Publishing joined Marvel in producing canon comics with their Star Wars Adventures series, which is geared towards a younger audience. From what I’ve read, it’s great for the age range it’s shooting for, but your mileage will vary if you’re not the target market. They’ve at least been able to have a great variety of characters in its anthology format, going so far as to include sequel trilogy characters already (like Rey and Rose), while a miniseries linked with the suitably aged Forces of Destiny project is so on-brand it’s perfect. And while there’s been plenty of fan comics throughout the years, nothing has caught my attention, and so many other fans, than 2017 newcomers, A Star Wars Comic! Every month of the year they released a new comic, which ranged from expanding a Rogue One character’s story, the recent honoring of Carrie Fisher’s passing, or a true wonder of a tale (#6: Wild Space) showing how easy it is to create memorable new characters. The quality is astounding and the variety is compelling, and adding in the fact it’s totally free, you have no reason not to check them out!
Here are the things I didn’t think worked and how to fix them:
I have enjoyed both Vader Down and last year’s The Screaming Citadel to some extent, but neither have resonated much beyond their stories nor truly felt special. Vader Down felt like it stretched out a slim story for big action while The Screaming Citadel crammed too much story into too little space, though arguments can be made if either really deserved the space they did get in the first place. Both crossovers have felt like they could’ve just been told as part of their respective series without a need to make it some type of event, and the fact the repercussions from both haven’t gone past their final panels makes them feel like odd, standalone adventures. My advice would include having the next crossover be a big, giant event that will alter, at the very least, the lives of the characters/trajectory of both series, instead of feeling like another bump on the road. And as Manor contributor Chris said over at Eleven-Thirty Eight, they should begin seeding the crossovers a little earlier, so their story ideas don’t appear almost out of nowhere. Regardless of how they approach crossovers going forward, I honestly believe the best course of action is not do any for the time being. Maybe never do them again. But when they do bring one back, make it something actually special. And for the Force’s sake, if you’re going to have different artists for each series involved in the crossover, try to make sure they have similar artwork, because TSC‘s discrepancy in art style throws you right out of it, and that might be the biggest sin of all.
B) Artistic Woes
There’s no real clear person to blame for what’s been happening with some of the artwork in select series of 2017, but it’s a problem that isn’t getting any better. Is Salvador Larroca, once one of my favorite artists, solely to blame for his heavy reliance on tracing faces in the Star Wars mainline series, or is having to meet some quota set-up by Marvel to keep getting paid at fault? Are the Editors allowing it through because it allows them to hit said quota, they honestly like it, or because Larroca was willing to hustle? Regardless, it’s a practice that is ruining the series, delivering ugly moments which take readers out of the experience, especially like this panel to the right where three different faces are used to trace one character, leading to facial whiplash. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Mace Windu miniseries suffered from Windu’s face (or anyone’s, for that matter) being butchered randomly and a truly frightening Yoda that’ll haunt your nightmares for years to come, which could’ve stemmed from a similar behind-the-scenes issue because Denys Cowan’s stylized art, when not dealing with familiar characters or planets, wasn’t terrible (though not great either). Whatever is happening that is leading to artists taking shortcuts to fit quotas needs to end, because I’d rather wait an extra week/month if it means they get a chance to really dive into the work and put out quality products that don’t make readers wonder why they are spending money on a series. However, plenty of artists have not fallen on crutches or seemingly rushed work and delivered plenty of issues with glorious art, so one has to wonder how much any BTS stuff really factors into all this. Unfortunately Larroca hasn’t been given a break from the Star Wars series (the solicitations for March revealed he would be staying on for Kieron Gillen’s second arc of his run) so I have to hope he can go back to more original work and less tracing, but I have pretty high doubts. In the end, I don’t quite know how to fix this one other than I hope the creative people see the problem, hear the fans’ issues, and consider them seriously as they move forward.
C) Dearth of Female Creatives and Characters Continues
Here is the tally of total female creatives for Marvel’s Star Wars comics from 2015-2017: 10. Total males? It’s breaks 70 and that’s missing a couple. Here is IDW’s tally of female creatives, which just started at the end of 2017: 8, which tops Marvel’s 2017 (and 2016) total of 6. Total males for IDW: 17. IDW almost has had more female creatives after only 5 issues and will have even MORE in 2018 with their all female writer-led miniseries Forces of Destiny, which ties into the animated show. Meanwhile, the numbers for Marvel speak for themselves, so if IDW can already match, and have the potential to have more in 2018, what is it about Marvel that hasn’t allowed them to create a more level playing field? I understand this involves many things, including time, as IDW’s writing commitments are short, 1-2 issue jobs, while Marvel mainly traffics in 5-issue minimums, and also this expands into the wide world of comics publishing, where male creatives honestly outnumber females, but there are plenty out there so why not give them a shot? IDW is doing that with the FoD miniseries, could Marvel do something similar? All you have to do is look at 2016’s Han Solo, by Marjorie Liu, and despite a series about a male character, it had the highest female character percentage/parity for any Star Wars comic series before it and
after (I’ve complied 2017’s data already, and Poe Dameron came in at 1% less than Han‘s 47%) (I missed a crucial feat from the Captain Phasma miniseries, by Kelly Thompson, it had 56% parity, making it the highest yet. Both series were written by women…see the trend?). My data from 2015-2016’s comics was included in Eleven-Thirty Eight’s annual Diversity Report, but in short they were about the same as the novels have been since the 2014 reboot, with nearly 70% diversity (non-White Human Males over WHM) and 30% parity (female and male roles), and 2017 was unfortunately no different (even for IDW). On the flip side, things are actually going well for POCs both in the comics and behind-the-scenes, at the very least, so there’s one small victory among all of this. Regardless, more diverse creatives, more diverse characters, and more fans can see themselves in Star Wars.
D) Over Reliance on Familiar Names
Focusing on familiar names is both a sound business decision and can guarantee fans will be excited about the new content, but it doesn’t always mean quality, as 2017’s miniseries showed. They didn’t bring anything worthwhile or important to the characters they focused on, beyond one exception. Captain Phasma was 2017’s sole miniseries that added to its lead’s characterization, but it helps that we’ve not had a lot of Phasma in the films. As for the Darth Maul and Jedi of the Republic – Mace Windu series? Both contained teases of something far more interesting than what we got, and each ended without really adding to either character. In Maul, while the flashback of him training with Palpatine was nice, the focus on bounty hunters like Cad Bane and Aurra Sing both teased a far more interesting set of characters to follow and reminded readers how little time we’ve spent with the criminal underworld lately. (While I realize Bane and Sing are familiar names, they’ve not had the focus and exposure that Maul has.) As for Mace Windu, the flashback to a young Windu training under his Master offered a tantalizing glimpse at seeing how he comes to terms with the anger simmering inside of him, while taking us back to a more intriguing time for the Jedi as actual peacekeepers. Hopefully 2018 can find more intriguing tales to tell with a wider variety of characters.
Looking Back at My Fixes/Hopes/Fears for 2017:
In my 2016 year-in-review, I had some ideas for how 2017 could both improve or fail, and now I’m going to quickly look at what I did and did not get right:
- First off, this is the first time I didn’t have “Expanded Female Universe” as part of the ‘what I liked’ section because after crunching the numbers (as I mentioned above), they didn’t quite pan out the way I felt. I mainly mentioned it in previous years because while there weren’t many female characters, it felt like they were more due to them having major/important roles, while plenty of the male characters just fulfill background badguy roles, but it’s a hard thing to quantify.
- The Star Wars series woes’ hopefully ended when Kieron Gillen was brought on board as the new writer. (Though there’s been a curious lack of Sana Starros so far…) I wrote up a retrospective on Jason Aaron’s 37-issue run, where things started off strong but slowly dwindled as the years went on, though it wasn’t all bad towards the end.
- Rogue One‘s adaptation was all around better than The Force Awakens. However, it’s a fearful thought that we could have three adaptations in 2018: Thrawn, The Last Jedi, and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
- Tie-ins did not die, which is alright with me. The Last Jedi has gotten the most so far with Captain Phasma, Storms of Crait, and DJ: Most Wanted, while Rogue One had at least one in 2017. I’d prefer tie-ins to adaptations.
- New characters, Star Wars Rebels characters, nor Qui-Gon got a series in 2017, instead just more familiar faces.
- There were finally less series set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes in 2017 than any year before it.
Biggest Hopes for 2018:
- That the Star Wars mainline series ends. Kieron Gillen has promised a trajectory for the series to take us to The Empire Strikes Back and I want them to follow through. The series has been enjoyable on and off, and we’ve yet to really see what Gillen will bring to the table, but it’s time to give this era/series a rest. I’d not be opposed to “ending it” by resetting the series to issue #1 and setting it somewhere else on the timeline, but I really believe we need a new series in its place.
- An original character is created specifically to start a new series/miniseries, either to set-up something much bigger coming down the line or simply to stop relying on familiar faces.
- The era between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens starts to be explored as the sequel trilogy nears its end. A series following one of Luke’s potential students, starting before they join/are recruited to Luke’s academy? A peak into what Rae Sloane found in Wild Space that brought about the start of the First Order? Or setting up the potential allies who will rally to the Resistance’s side for Ep. IX?
- Star Wars: Hera. ‘Nuff Said
- A tie-in to Batuu, the planet that’ll be the star of Galaxy’s Edge aka Star Wars Land opening at Disneyland/Disney World in 2019. This could actually be related to the original character point I just made.
Biggest Fears for 2018:
- The Aphra series ends. We’ve gone from fearing for her life in the Darth Vader series to fearing her series itself will end, which, I have to say, is an upgrade at least! I feel this one is unfounded, but it’s always an outside possibility and regardless will always worry me. Some solid proof it won’t get cancelled anytime soon? It’s been selling just above the Poe Dameron series, in the mid-thirty thousands, and Poe will continue beyond its 25th issue so I feel like Aphra‘s future is safe for now. Unless they end it so they can focus on her upcoming TV show, right? One can dream. One can fear. And one can always hope. Or take Aphra’s advice: “…I spend a lot of time trying to avoid thinking of how things end.” (issue #13.)
- As I mentioned above…3 potential adaptations?! Let’s get something, anything, else than more adaptations. There’s nothing wrong with them, but that time and resources could be put into creating something new instead.
- That there isn’t an alien lead. While there was Maul in 2017, Chewie in 2015, and 2018 will have the Thrawn comic, which technically stars an alien, he’s basically a blue human in appearance and it’s an adaptation, so not an original series. Honestly, something along the lines of ASWC’s 6th issue, which starred two aliens, is a great place to look for inspiration. The galaxy is made up of more than humans, so not only giving a non-human a starring role would be appreciated, but also more side characters being non-human as well (Aphra‘s doing a good job of that, at least!).
I’ll revisit these in 2018’s year-in-review!
Top 5 Moments (in no particular order):
2017 might have been the hardest year to pick a Top 5, and while I’m aware I could always expand the category so it wouldn’t be so difficult, keeping the list at 5 forces me to make hard choices and pick the best of the best. That being said, 2017 wasn’t difficult like last year’s, where there were a ton of little great moments strewn across nearly all the series, but difficult in its own way: can I find a way to pick a moment that isn’t from Doctor Aphra or Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith? Read on to find out!
Vader Bleeds a Kyber Crystal to Create his first Sith Saber (Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith #5) — In what might be one of the best moments in the entirety of Marvel’s comics run so far, Vader’s efforts to bleed a kyber was so surprising and visceral it left me reeling. Having obtained a kyber to corrupt from killing a long-in-hiding Jedi, Vader travels deep within the depths of Mustafar (to a spot he’ll build his castle over later) and sets out to funnel all his rage and fury into the kyber, attempting to bend it to his will and have it become the defining red blade of the Sith. The kyber does not go quietly, projecting a mesmerizing alternate universe series of events to show Vader he can turn back, he can be redeemed, that it’s not too late for him, but he overcomes its hopeful vision and throws all his anger and rage into it, bending it to his will. It’s an unforgettable sequence of events, which took me quite by surprise when first reading it, and truly adds to the tragedy of Vader’s continued fall to the dark side, while signalling a destruction of what little of Anakin is left in Vader at that point (though not all of him, but quite a lot). It also has some wider story possibilities, because it sure would be interesting to see how bleeding the crystal went for Kylo Ren and other dark side users.
Aphra makes a Deal with the Ultimate Devils (Doctor Aphra #12) — Triple-Zero and BeeTee, the murderbots Aphra brought to bare on the galaxy because she can’t stand to see such beautiful weaponry kept in a vault, have always been creepy due to their penchant for murder, mayhem, and torture, but it’s always been funny enough where it was never truly creepy. That all changed when the murderbots, growing bored with Aphra’s tamer adventures that didn’t put their specific skills to good use, maneuvered her into giving them what they’ve always wanted: freedom. As they hang the threat of telling Vader she’s still alive over her head, she acquiesces to their demands and let’s them go, no masters/overrides to be found, seen in a bone-chilling panel displaying their ecstasy over their freedom. While they are still funny, the creepiness is cranked up to 11 now and makes my skin crawl every time I see them. Despite that, it has already led to one of the best new power dynamics in not only the Aphra series, but out of all the Star Wars comics to date. They are Aphra’s Masters now and how the hell can she escape them? It’s a question I can’t wait to see play out in the panels of Doctor Aphra, even if it’ll creep the hell out of me.
Carrie Fisher’s Life Honored during L’ulo’s Funeral (Poe Dameron #14) — The life of Carrie Fisher, after her devastating loss at the end of 2016, got an unforgettable and fitting memorial as part of the 40th Anniversary Panel at 2017’s Star Wars Celebration Orlando; The presentation they gave still brings tears to my eyes and there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room I was in at Celebration. In The Last Jedi, Leia’s role in the film feels almost like a fitting goodbye to the character, giving her some of her best material to date. But before either, writer Charles Soule decided to adjust a funeral about Black Squadron member L’ulo to address her passing as well, and it contains a hopeful and inspiring message about Carrie’s impact, even long after her passing, on the fans and the people who knew her best. The moment in the comic involves Leia trying to get Poe’s mind around needing to be a leader at some point because she won’t always be around, and after she passes the baton onto the next generation in The Last Jedi, it’s a fitting and touching reference. “And, I’m sorry to say, probably sooner than we’d like…I’ll be luminous.” May the Force be with you, always, General.
Aphra’s (Short) Cocktail Sabbatical (Doctor Aphra #13) — After saving some priceless artifacts, escaping Vader’s notice as he crashes her black market soirée, letting the murderbots run free, and paying off her debt to Black Krrsantan, what’s a girl to do? For Aphra, after selling a portion of the artifacts before returning the rest to their rightful owners, it’s taking those credits and sitting beach side, cocktails coming like a revolving door, and enjoying a life without murderous droids, deadly Wookiees, and Sith Lords. But endings like these are reserved for heroes, so of course her cocktail sabbatical is cut short, due entirely to her own actions not terribly long ago. (Aphra shoots first, always!) What makes this such a stellar moment is how it not only brings the first 13 issues of the Aphra series full-circle, revealing repercussions for the opening scene of issue #1, but also so succinctly wrapping up the first year, taking her on a wild ride where her world would never be the same afterwards. If the series had stopped at that issue, I would’ve been satisfied, which is a surprising thing to consider because I’ll always think we need more Aphra content, but that speaks to the strength of this ending. Plus, reading the final line, imagining the credits rolling, and putting on Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation (per writer Kieron Gillen’s suggestion) makes it all the sweeter. *begins rocking out*
Vader Embraces being a Monster to Defeat Kirak (Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith #4) — After a devastating defeat from Jedi Master Kirak Infil’a, and rebuilding his suit from scraps, Vader confronts the Jedi atop a nearby city’s dam. As he begins to lose again, Vader comes to realize he can’t best Kirak on skills with a lightsaber alone. Instead, he embraces the nickname Kirak has christened him: Monster. Using his intimate knowledge of what it means to be a Jedi, having so recently been one himself, Vader stops attacking Kirak and attacks the city, crushing the reservoir in an attempt to flood the city, which forces the Jedi to sheath his blade. Kirak is no match for Vader’s raw anger and fury, his attempts to stop Vader’s actions with the Force coming up short, and Vader finally bests the Jedi, hanging him out over the city to watch it drown and then snapping his neck, dropping him in the resulting drink. Had Anakin not been destroyed he’d have likely continued to be the boastful, lightsaber specialist as a Sith Lord, but his suit and new body parts have their limitations. In this arc, and specifically in this battle, he comes to embrace those limitations for what they really are: an obstacle to overcome which allows him to further embrace the raw power stored inside of him and his connection to the Force. Anakin had done some dastardly things prior to Mustafar (younglings, anyone?) but taking out an entire city to get at one man, that’s truly monstrous.
Runner-up: Sana Starros’ convoluted, but well-meaning scam in Star Wars #34
(Fun facts: 2017 is the first year a character sacrifice didn’t make the list; Aphra has made the list all 3 years; a series with Vader as the main character has had a spot all 3 years as well; Charles Soule and Kieron Gillen are the only writers to have a moment picked from one of their series all three years; first year a miniseries didn’t make the list)
I was so sure that Doctor Aphra would so easily take the top spot for 2017 but the newest Vader series came out of nowhere, threatening my prediction from 2016…it just didn’t threaten it enough.
- Doctor Aphra
- Darth Vader – Dark Lord of the Sith
- Poe Dameron
- Captain Phasma
- The Screaming Citadel
- Darth Maul
- Rogue One (adaptation)
- Star Wars
- Star Wars Adventures
- Jedi of the Republic – Mace Windu
2017 was more miss than hit, but when it hit, it hit like a damn spaceship ramming you through hyperspace. The Doctor Aphra, Darth Vader, and Poe Dameron series delivered the goods, be it humor, surprises, and/or X-wing adventure/action, and haven’t let up since. While the Captain Phasma miniseries was a pleasant surprise, the rest of the year didn’t quite live up to 2016’s, but it never became intolerable. Here’s hoping 2018 can right the ship in some places (looking at you, art issues and creative diversity) and bring more surprises along the way!
One final note: starting in 2018, we’ll now include wrap-up reviews for every arc in a series, each miniseries, and the full ongoings when they come to a close. It’s a better way to bring into perspective how each issue contributed to the entirety of an arc or series, looking back at how the overall product delivered its intended message.
Aphra (#1-6) | And the Enormous Profit (#9-13) | Remastered (#14-19) | Annual: #1
Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith
The Chosen One (#1-6) | The Dying Light (#7-12)
The Gathering Storm (#7-13) | Legend Lost (#14 – 16) | War Stories (#17-19) | Legend Found (#20-25) | Annual: #1
Yoda’s Secret War (#26-30) | Out Among the Stars (#33-37) | Ashes of Jedha (#38-43) | Annual: #3
The Screaming Citadel (crossover of Doctor Aphra and Star Wars on-goings)
Darth Maul (miniseries)
Captain Phasma (miniseries)
Jedi of the Republic – Mace Windu (miniseries)
Rogue One (comic adaptation)
Rogue One – Cassian & K-2SO Special (one-shot)
The Last Jedi – Storms of Crait (one-shot)
Star Wars Adventures (IDW)
Vol 1 (#1-2)
Check out all the Canon Comic Reviews here!