- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

This chronic feature lets me review what has recently passed my bloodshot pupils. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to:

Mr. Zad’s Star Wars comic critique

Star Wars: Visionaries

(Graphic novel, Dark Horse Comics, $17.95)

Some of the imaginative folks from Lucasfilm’s art department and the visual-effects company Industrial Light & Magic (who are responsible for the ultimate look of the “Star Wars” films) are given the chance to create sequential art, and their talented hands and minds do not disappoint us.

This 136-page, standard-comic-book-size offering gives readers an outstanding extension of the Star Wars universe through 10 stories about a galaxy far, far away.

Three of the tales really stand out, as artists who are well-acquainted with the nuances of George Lucas’ mythos adeptly craft visual brilliance for the brains and peepers.

First, ILM art director Aaron McBride reveals an encounter between Sith and Jedi in one of the coolest short stories I have ever read.

Taking place on Tattooine, Old Wounds explores the return of Darth Maul, who supposedly met his demise in the movie “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.” Now he is back, in even more monstrous form, searching for the child Luke Skywalker.

Next, Sithisis allows concept artist Derek Thompson to horrifically illustrate the process involved when Chancellor Palpatine (aka Sith Lord Darth Sidious) decides he wants to hang out with the Dark Side of the Force. A Lovecraftian metamorphosis ensues during the Sith ritual whose evil even affects the Jedi order.

Finally, veteran ILM designer Warren Fu unleashes the definitive origins of General Grievous via intensely photo-realistic art and diabolical dialogue. The epic tragedy of the Separatist commander’s transformation into a Jedi-killing cyborg will make those who then watch “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” feel some sympathy for this mechanical Frankenstein’s monster.

The variety of both art mediums and subject matter can be appreciated by casual fan and consumed by the fanatic.

Clone Wars, Adventures: Vol. 3

(Graphic novel, Dark Horse Comics, $6.95)

I already have gushed in this column about how I consider Genndy Tartakovsky’s episodic animated epic, Clone Wars, featured on the Cartoon Network, to be a much better exploration of the Star Wars universe than anything done by George Lucas in his last trio of films.

An excellent sequential-art equivalent also exists as a quarterly, 96-page, digest-size (5.25-inch by 7.5-inch) comic-book treat that continues the war while maintaining all of the stylized animated illustrations, intense dialogue and action-packed battle scenes that make the cartoon such a pop-culture hit.

Within the third volume, a quartet of excellent stories are all realized in Tartakovskian detail by the artists, the Fillbach brothers. Readers learn about the tenacity of Clone Troopers to recover a gift for Chancellor Palpatine, that powerful Jedi Master Yoda is not against using heavy armaments to win an engagement, and how the actions of Jedi Plo Koon on the battlefield can mean much more than words.

Especially intense is a tale by veteran Star Wars scribe Haden Blackman that finds General Grievous taking a test to discover his worthiness to command the droid armies as Count Dooku forces him to simultaneously fight Jedi hater Asajj Ventress and bounty hunter Durge.

Star Wars: Obsession, Nos. 1 to 4

(Dark Horse Comics, $2.99 each)

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s darker side makes an appearance in a five-part miniseries chronicling the exhausted and emotionally frayed Jedi knight’s search for an old foe.

Taking place during the chaos of the Clone Wars, Haden Blackman’s story offers “Star Wars” fans glimpses of most major characters associated with the “Revenge of the Sith” film while placing them in action-packed land and space battles.

As Obi-Wan attempts to confirm the death of Asajj Ventress, Anakin Skywalker reluctantly leaves wife Padme and joins his mentor on a journey that will see them fight General Grievous, a ferocious Durge, and droid armies before the truth can be revealed.

Artist Brian Ching brings the tale to life through amazing illustrations of the vehicles, ships and creatures of the Star Wars universe but does not quite capture the human characters.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

(Interactive book, Publications International, $12.99)

Children not only read about the downfall of Anakin Skywalker through a large-size (12-by-12-inch), 21-page book filled with photos from the latest movie, but aurally experience it, as well. Through a slick, interactive component, readers match small image symbols displayed within the text to 13 buttons on a right-side activity panel.

When the corresponding buttons are pressed, they offer the likes of light-saber noises, snippets of actual movie dialogue from Mace Windu, Padme, Anakin, Obi-Wan and General Grievous, and other sound effects.

After working through the book, readers can take a 22-question quiz using a set of five buttons at the bottom of the activity panel. As a prompted narrator asks, “Who is the mother of Luke and Leia?” and, “Who is part droid, part alien?” players respond using the same buttons required for the book’s magic. Correct answers get a “May the force be with you” from Yoda while incorrect ones get a rasp from Darth Vader. The multimedia package makes a great companion for the first-grade Star Wars fan.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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