In Review: Star Wars Annual #4

One artist's contributions ruin this incredibly fun tale involving Sana, Luke, and Darth Vader.

The covers: Two very different covers for this annual experience. The Regular cover is by Tradd Moore and Matthew Wilson and I like it! Granted, Luke is very effeminate in the face, but I can roll with this cartoony style. I like his pose with his lightsaber and his jacket splayed open is great. Sana looks really cool with her gun raised high and her own jacket splayed out. Behind her is Vader in profile before a sun. The bottom left has a trio of podracers zooming by the stands. The colors are also top notch, with the yellow and orange background excellent. Why couldn’t this pair have done the interior of this book? I was surprised to see the Variant cover is by John Tyler Christopher because it’s not one of his typical Action Figure Variant covers that have graced many of Marvel’s Star Wars comics. This is a red and black cover that has Vader holding his lightsaber with both hands before him. The Star Wars logo is just below his hands and the word Annual is in tiny letters below that. The colors make this incredibly striking and if one takes the time to look at the illustration it’s equally impressive. Overall grades: Regular A- and Variant A

The story: Under the opening crawl of the first page there’s a note that this tale is set before Star Wars #8. That’s a necessary fact since this is just after her appearance in that series. Cullen Bunn’s tale is a clever one, but sadly none of the leads ever meet each other, though they do come close. The setting is on the planet Hradreek that’s shortly about to start a podrace. Sana Starros is there to sell the lightsaber of Darth Atrius to a nefarious character. Not only does this villain look devious, he has four armed Devaronians. Upon seeing the saber he says, “So much rage was channeled through this blade, they say it still resonates with the anger Atrius wielded when he cut down his enemies.” Picking up the blade, he ignites it and asks “Where is the other one?” She says she doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he responds, “Don’t be so coy, Starros. Surely you know this weapon is part of a matched set.” He grows angry and begins to stumble over his words. One of his guards asks if he’s okay and that’s when the boss begins to kill his bodyguards with the crimson blade. Starros runs from the room as quickly as she can. At an undisclosed base, an Imperial officer looks forward to the arrival of Darth Vader who is there to receive Atrius’s lightsaber. The Sith Lord asks where the other one is. The officer pays the ultimate price for his failure to have both. Vader tells a stormtrooper to find the smuggler that sold it to the officer so they can find the other weapon. Meanwhile, Luke is on Hradreek with Artoo to receive a credit stick that was created skimming the gamblers’ bets on the pod races. The young Jedi wants to leave the planet as soon as possible, but runs across the aftermath of a battle and sees a familiar looking weapon. This is an incredibly clever story by Bunn to have these characters involved in one tale, but never see the other. It would have been better had they at least seen the other, but what’s here is fun. Highlights include Luke showing a darker side, Starros escaping Vader cleverly, and Vader watching another do something he’s an expert at. Vader’s final action perfectly summarizes the character. I also admit to wanting to see more of Sana after reading this tale. A fun one-off story. Overall grade: A-

The art: The lack of one artist on this book hurts its visual enjoyment. The credits sadly do not state which artist of the three, Ario Anindito, Roland Boschi, and Marc Laming, is responsible for what pages, but two artists are considerably better than one of them. The first three pages of the book look great: the new world, Sana, and all the other characters are fantastic. I like how the artist was able to get some good emotions out of the aliens. Pages 4 – 6 are incredibly simplistic. They communicate what’s occurring in the story clearly, but the settings and the characters are very rough. They cannot compare to the opening trio of pages. The image of Vader that ends Page 6 is not good. Much better are 7 – 9 which focus on Luke. These have the character resembling Mark Hamill well and all the supporting and background characters look terrific. That’s the way this book runs: one artist for Sana’s pages, one for Vader’s, and another for Luke. The artist who does Vader’s pages really damages this fun story. Take a look at the first panel on Page 11, it’s just awful. Look at the large panel on 12, all the characters look terrible. To have an artist of this caliber illustrating Darth Vader undercuts any power that the character commands. How is it possible to compare these pages to Sana and Artoo’s brief scuffle and Luke’s actions? The answer is you can’t. Sana’s tale is great, Luke’s tale is fantastic looking, but Vader…Look at the last panel on Page 25. It looks as though it was made in five minutes. It’s awful. I’m so disappointed in a third of this issue’s visuals. And Marvel should be too. Overall grade: C-

The colors: Like the artists, the work of Jordan Boyd and Andres Mossa is not credited for who is responsible for which pages. However, unlike the art, both of these colorists do a great job on this book. The first page’s colors instantly set the world of Hradreek as vibrant. There’s a great reflection of the saber’s evil blade on Sana’s face on the top of 3. Though the art isn’t good, the colors on 4 – 6 use all the hues that are typical of Imperial bases. The coloring of sounds in bright colors on the light backgrounds make the sounds resound off the pages. Luke’s pages are very realistically colored, with the farmboy wearing his jacket from the end of A New Hope. That and his blonde hair have him stand out in any panel he appears. Artoo is also colored well, with his blues being eye catchers. The blues used for holograms are a good callback to the films and the pinks in the final pages are a neat, alien touch for sunset on the world. Overall grade: A 

The letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles creates scene settings, transmissions, dialogue, sounds, and Artoo’s beeps. I continue to take issue with the Star Wars‘ comic line choice for scene settings and dialogue, but the sounds, transmissions, and Artoo’s exclamations are fine. Looking at the book another time, it appears that the artist that created the Vader pages also created the sounds for those pages. I say this because they are not in the bold font of the other pages and are definitely not of the same caliber. That’s too bad, because Cowles does a great job on the sounds for the other two-thirds of the book. This element of the book will have a lower than usual grade not because of Cowles’s contributions, but for what the artist on the Vader pages has done. Overall grade: C-

The final line: One artist’s contributions ruin this incredibly fun tale involving Sana, Luke, and Darth Vader. I wish that Marvel had taken the time for one artist to illustrate the entire book, rather than having three different illustrators, with one who is not ready to be published. The issue is worth picking up because the story is incredibly clever and the characters are fun, but one third of the book looks awful. So disappointing! Overall grade: B-

To order a digital copy go to https://www.comixology.com/Star-Wars-2015-Annual-4/digital-comic/654126?ref=c2VhcmNoL2luZGV4L2Rlc2t0b3Avc2xpZGVyTGlzdC90b3BSZXN1bHRzU2xpZGVy

To see the covers go to my Instagram account: patrickhayesscifipulse

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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