Yes, Dark Horse is still printing new Star Wars Omnibuses, the trade paperback record of one of the longest and most fruitful licensed comics relationships in publishing history. Of course by now Dark Horse has resorted to collecting unrelated material together and slapping an exciting sounding name on it, 'Wild Space' is just a grab bag of obscure Star Wars comics material, some canon but mostly not, that pads out a volume to keep the Dark Horse section fat at the local Barnes and Noble. And you know what, it's actually great.
'Star Wars: Wild Space' feels like a successful flea market run where you buy a bunch of comics you've never heard of before and spend the afternoon in the wonderful weirdness that exists right outside the edge of well-thumbed blockbusters. Dark Horse always seemed to display the utmost respect for the Star Wars franchise, but never felt too beholden to any monastic strictness of what Star Wars could mean. Remember the time Jabba the Hutt was almost assassinated by space weasels? Or the drama behind the scenes of the Boonta Eve Podrace involving a podracer/pop singer and his wager with Ben Quadraneros? No? Well 'Wild Space' does, and if your like me you'll find yourself smiling at some of the wacky nonsense the Dark Horse bullpen got into when they relaxed and had fun with the universe.
The book is divided into sections, each a collection of different kinds of stories from throughout the publishing history.
The first, called Visionaries, is a selection of stories from Dark Horse's wonderful anthology series 'Star Wars Tales', linked together by the tenuous thread that they were all illustrated by concept artists from 'Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith'. By far this section feels the most like padding since the 'Star Wars Tales' series is already perfectly collected and picking stories out on this slim criteria seems to have little purpose other than buffing page count. The stories also are the weakest in writing, as the charm of 'Star Wars Tales' was always its art-gumbo style rather than regimented quality, but it's decent for the uninitiated. There's a Padme story illustrated by a landscape artist, painted like turn of the century impressionist art, and another one that inspired the cyborg enhanced Darth Maul from the final season of the Clone Wars animated series.
The second is a one-shot called 'Podracing Tales', a cartoony lighthearted backstory to the Boonta Eve Podrace from 'Episode One', giving all of the racer's motivations and schemes behind the scenes, from badly considered bets to bungled sabotage. While many older Star Wars fans may not appreciate being reminded of 'Episode One's existence in such exhaustive detail it's actually a fun part of the book, well written goofiness with cartoony art that gives it a flavor reminiscent of 'Star Wars: Droids'. Young Jake Lloyd Skywalker is blessedly absent, and the dense storytelling made me wish they'd done even more with it, another example of where the Expanded Universe took Prequel Trilogy material and made it infinitely more interesting than the films themselves.
Third, a series of Jabba the Hutt centric one-shots written by Jim Woodring during the mid-Ninties. Like a lot of other comics from the Ninties about the seedy criminal underbelly of the Star Wars Universe, the books are equal parts silly and sinister, exemplified in 'The Dynasty Trap' where Jabba finds himself mixed up with a psychotic and scheming crime family. Here, Jabba isn't the comfortable master of his domain we see in 'Return of the Jedi', but rather as much a swindler and jetsetting criminal as Han and Lando, getting in and out of tough situations with a combination of cunning and a bloodthirsty application of his bone-crushing girth. I imagine this is the section that veteran comic fans will have the most fun discovering or rediscovering, as it has that wonderful pre-prequel feel, before the franchise became more regimented and when the books were more imaginatively free-form. In addition there are two other stories in the same vein about Jabba with two other writers.
Fourth, something I was already very familiar with, the 'Tag and Bink' stories by writer Kevin Rubio and artist Lucas Marangon, about a pair of cowardly quick-thinking Rebel defectors that manage to participate in nearly every iconic moment of the film trilogy. It's clever imaginative parody with lots of memorable moments and one of my favorite versions of Lando Calrissian from the Expanded comics. Marangon's art is wonderful as well, with great comedic expression when drawing characters and clean impressive detail when drawing the classic ships and locations. From the much suffering Boba Fett to children trying to coach Episode II Anakin Skywalker on romantic dialogue 'Tag and Bink' is a great rarely seen gem of Star Wars parody. My one complaint is the bizarre absence of the 'Star Wars Tales' section of their saga, the only part missing of the series. Since they incorporated 'Star Wars Tales' content in the book I don't know why they'd leave the story out but it's an unfortunate bungle for whatever reason.
There's a Lando story unpaired with anything else, amusing but just kind of stuck in there, more appropriate to an inevitable Lando Omnibus.
Finally, this largely comedic book ends with a fitting tribute by legendary cartoonist Sergio Aragones and writer Mark Evanier to the Star Wars trilogy, featuring the creative duo going to LucasFilm to discuss making a comic for the studio. It's incredibly charming, with Aragones playing the fool and the two spreading their unique brand of buffoonery and self-deprecation over the canvas of the Original Trilogy. It leaves the collection on a great high note and is by far one of the best additions.
After reviewing a number of licensed comics in the last few weeks it turns out I had to go backwards to find much really worth reading. Not everything collected here is gold, and some of it is pretty bad in places, but you can feel artists and writers trying new things with the established series, or at least trying to tell a really fun story. Maybe it's because there's infinitely more you can do and say with Star Wars than you can with Mars Attacks or Godzilla, but I think it says more about Dark Horse as a publisher, as a company that has held a solid standard for writers and artists over the years that has made them one of the most consistently respected brands in the industry. The fact that Wild Space represents a scraping of what's left in their publishing collection barrel is an achievement in itself, showing what kind of stories treating a franchise with respect can make rather than milking collectors with disposable comics. Take the trip into Wild Space, you might never want to come back.
Writers: Various Artists: Various Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $24.99 Release Date: 10/9/13