Dark Times #3 (Republic #86)
The Path to Nowhere Part 3 (of 5)
Story: Welles Hartley
Script: Mick Harrison
Art: Douglas Wheatley
Coloring: Ronda Pattison
Lettering: Michael David Thomas, Dan Jackson
Cover: Douglas Wheatley
Reviewed by: JF Boivin (09/06/2007)
Bomo Greenbark and the former Jedi general Das Jennir arrive on Orvax IV in search of Bomo's wife and daughter, Mesa and Resa who are now slaves of the Empire. They have come as passengers aboard Captain Schurk-Heren's smuggling ship Uhumele and owe them many thanks for helping them this far. To their surprise, three members of the crew pledge to assist the two companions in their rescue attempt on the planet. Soon after they arrive at the spaceport, the group finds several Nosaurian slaves trapped in a cage, but are attacked by T'surr guards. After defeating the attackers, Bomo learns some tragic news from one of the slaves.
[sketch & preview covers]
The opening scene is probably my favorite, because we see a bit of the everyday life of Palpatine and his apprentice Vader. After mentionning that Vader has a new assignment coming up on Murkhana (which is chronicled in the novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader), the Emperor senses that his apprentice does not approve of the situation on New Plympto where the natives were sold as slaves. Being a former slave himself, it reminds Vader of his younger days living on Tatooine with his mother. But ever the politician, Palpatine justifies slavery as being a better alternative than death for traitors to the Empire. And Vader is expected to accept this as final. This scene shows that some humanity is still left in Vader at this point, before he completely changes into the Dark Lord we know from A New Hope.
Elsewhere, as the Uhumele approaches Orvax IV, its two passengers Dass Jennir and Bomo Greenbark start questioning the crew's motives in helping them. There is a scene in the cargo hold where the captain meets with Ko Vakier and Crys Taanzer and they discuss their secret cargo, which should put some doubts in the readers' minds. Actually, Jennir is quite content with the fact that the crew has helped them this far, and doesn't expect anyone to continue in their quest to rescue Bomo's wife and daughter. Nevertheless, at least some of the crew volunteer their help. During a quorum of the whole crew and passengers where Ko Vakier, the Tintinna nicknamed "Ratty" and Mezgraf the Togorian (himself a former slave) pledge their life in helping to rescue the slaves and maybe thin the Imperial ranks a bit in the process.
Cut to the five companions at the spaceport on Orvax IV. The plan: keep a low profile and go to the lower levels where slaves are kept. For some reason, Ratty and Bomo are diguised as Jawas, which creates some very comedic moments. Then there is a four-page encounter scene which reminds me of when a swoop bike riles up a ronto on the streets of Mos Eisley in A New Hope Special Edition. After some Vulpter swerves his repulsorlift vehicle to avoid the two "Jawas", he slams into a gigantic beast of burden which then stampedes and threatens to crush the numerous pedestrians. But it's Mezgraf to the rescue, as he jumps on the animal and manages to calm it down. Mezgraf's experience as a slave has helped the group so far, but by removing his coat he puts them all in trouble. The beast handler is grateful that his animal was saved, but as soon as he sees Mezgraf's slave tattoo he shouts to alert the guards.
A pair of T'surr guards investigate, and now it's Jennir's turn to help by using the Force to "convince" them of their mistake. "There is no escaped slave." The act drains him of his strength as he starts sweating and almost collapses. At this moment, they hear Ratty call them over using a screeching language (which he figured is a good cover since he doesn't speak Jawaese) and announces that he's found the Nosaurian slaves. Bomo quickly runs down to see and starts asking questions about his family through the cage bars. But his shouting for his wife and daughter alerts three nearby T'surr guards and a melee ensues. They manage to defeat the guards (with no help from the diminutive Ratty) without using any blasters. For some reason, I find this aspect very interesting and different. The fact that the characters (including the guards) are using only their hands and melee weapons lends itself well to the low-tech/hi-tech blend of the setting and is an aspect often ignored in Star Wars fiction where we see mostly blaster fights. Ko Vakier seems to love his plain old sword, and Mezgraf uses his dagger with deadly efficiency. The guards use polearms and axes. Even Bomo is carrying a knife which can be a handy throwing weapon. Jennir is the only one carrying a blaster but he doesn't get to use it, perhaps to avoid alerting more guards.
Finally, the group is left alone with the slaves and Bomo gets some answers. Some of his former friends and neighbors recognize him and are happy that he's come to save them. Before they arrived on the planet, Jennir made Bomo realize that he may have to make difficult decisions if he sees other Nosaurian slaves. Will he be strong enough to leave them behind while freeing his family? But nothing could have prepared Bomo for the shock of what he learns from one Nosaurian lady: Resa was taken away by slavers the same morning, and Mesa was killed trying to stop them. Sad news for Bomo and a very sad ending, but as editor Stradley reminds us in the 2-page letters column, these are the Dark Times. So far, I find the story incredibly fun and I like every character in it. This series is the exact opposite of Rebellion in terms of quality.
Wheatley never ceases to amaze me with his talent as an artist. As I've mentionned in previous reviews, it is rare that I go back after reading an issue and look at each and every page to savor all the details. Every panel has its own little story to it, adding an incredible amount of information that dialogue alone could not reveal. There is a lot of research done for the artwork, and it shows in the variety of species, technology and backgound objects (a Mandalorian helmet is one of the many treasures seen in the Captain's cabin aboard the Uhumele). As far as references go, Wheatley has graduated from the Essential Guide to Alien Species to Wizards of the Coast's Ultimate Alien Anthology from which he took the designs of the T'surr (which in turn were taken from the Jedi Quest comics series). It is a very good choice and a good example of creativity since we rarely see this species. It's refreshing to see what other aliens the Star Wars galaxy has to offer aside from Wookiees, Twi'leks and Rodians. Having the two smaller heroes dress up as Jawas is also very cool. They even have little bulbs under their eyes to similate the glowing Jawa eyes, making them look exaclty like the actors playing Jawas did in the movies! On top of that, the letters page has some sketches of the big animal encountered in this issue, as well as a test showing a short-haired Jennir.
Three and a half months after the last issue, it's definitely worth the wait and the price.
Rating: 8.5 / 10 Highly Recommended