Knights of the Old Republic #39
Dueling Ambitions Part 1
Story: John Jackson Miller
Art: Brian Ching
Coloring: Michael Atiyeh
Lettering: Michael Heisler
Cover: Daryl Mandryk
Reviewed by: JF Boivin (09/07/2009)
Zayne has been a fan of swoopdueling all of his life. So when Gryph's latest scheme brings him to the reknowned arenas of Jervo's World, a dream becomes true when he gets a chance to participate in the annual Tandem Open. And when he gets to meet the champion Goethar Kleej, the encounter doesn't turn out as well as expected.
And now, for something completely different... Gryph was absent from last issue, preparing some scheme. Now we find out what took weeks of careful planning: "Bulgryph Mandrake" is the new wiring inspector working at the orbiting arena called Jervo's World. The station, owned by is Lhosan Industries and run by The Franchise, is a popular spot for legal and non-lethal swoopdueling. And where there is a popular sport, there is also heavy betting. Gryph found out that there is a broadcast delay from the secondary arenas allowing for someone witnessing the event live to know the outcomes a few seconds in advance. One reason Gryph chose this particular location to rip-off is in retaliation for Lhosan's chairman Jervo Thalien duping him (back in issue #23.
But when Zayne arrives with Jarael, Gryph finds out to his dismay that the last thing the ex-Jedi is interested in is making money. Turns out that Zayne has been a speeder-bike racing fan since he was a kid. He is fascinated by this legendary place where all the racing champions have ridden over the years. He just missed the great Goethar Kleej's last race, but this disappointment is soon forgotten when Zayne learns that the Tandem Open is about to start. As he takes up a seat with Jarael and explains to her the rules of the game, they meet up with Gryph who lays out his plan to them. But Zayne is way more interested in something else: he signs up in an amateur race. Not only has this been his dream all his life, but if he wins he can be awarded a replica of Goethar's speeder bike. With Jarael also disinterested in profiting from other people's pain, Gryph is disappointed that his partners won't help him with his plan.
Meanwhile behind the scenes, something is afoot. As mentioned earlier, the story opens with the great Gotal swoopduelist Goethar Kleej's retirement after winning his 4th consecutive solo aerial duel. This makes the owner of the establishment, a Krish named Bardron, very unhappy. Bardron replays Goethar's speech where he also revealed that the way the Franchise recruit their fighters may not be entirely legal. Bardron then seems to imply that because they control the broadcasts, this information has not reached the public (he says he cued a prerecorded speech instead), which would have revealed a clue about the "farm system" (more on that in the following issues I imagine). Goethar is ordered back in the races, and just to provide the right motivation Bardron shows him a recording of a swoopduel where Goethar's young son Aubin is participating. Bardron reveals that if both Goethar and his son win in the Tandem, they will be freed from their contract. But if one of them looses, they will be indentured for life.
While Zayne is participating in the Tandem qualifications, Jarael is discussing her state of mind in the recent past. All of a sudden, a commotion attracts their attention: security guards are assaulting Rohlan, whom they believe is a Mandalorian saboteur. Gryph saves him by conning the guards into believing Rohlan is a contender for the last qualifying bout of the Tandem. Bardron himself appears, summoned by the guards, and he approves of Rohlan's participation. Zayne comes back from his race into the ready room where Rohlan is having his armor spikes ground down (it is after all a non-lethal sport) and they briefly talk about the Mandalorian's desire to venture outside of the ship without fearing reprisal because of his race (this is during the Mandalorian Wars). When Zayne reaches his locker, he sees his has a young Gotal for a roommate. The Gotal happens to be Aubin and his father visits him at this moment. Zayne and Goethar recognize each other by reputation, and the Gotal threatens to kill Zayne's loved ones if he doesn't ensure that Aubin stays alive and makes it to the finals.
I really love this story (I have yet to not like one in this series so far). Miller really has the gift to make readers follow the characters on personal quests, yet still make it feel like it's only a small part of a bigger galactic picture. The narration does a good job to explain the location in only three panels (on page 5), and later Zayne explains the rules of the Tandem races without feeling like exposition. And the topic of racing and sports in general is a topic not often explored in Star Wars stories. We've seen a bit of it in the movies, most notably the podrace from The Phantom Menace and the nuna-ball game seen in the Outlander Club scene of Attack of the Clones, but it is really inspired here by the first Knights of the Republic video game where the player can participate in swoop races and arena duels. Jackson decided here to create a sport that combines both, and that is also legal and quite profitable for the organizers. Of course, we're starting to get the feeling that there are shady things going on with The Franchise but this is only the first part of three and I'm sure we'll learn more about that very soon. And while all this is going on, we still get to discover more about Zayne, Rohlan and Jarael. Miller always manages to create very compelling characterization.
First of all, the scene from the cover doesn't really happen in the story, unless of course it's something that happens "between panels" or in a later issue. But still, I really love Canadian artist Mandryk's work (check out his amazing paintings at MandrykArt.com). And of course, series regular Brian Ching is back at this interior art duties after a two-issue break for "Prophet Motive". At this point, I am getting used to his style and associate it firmly with this series. But I don't particularly appreciate it, it's just not my thing. I do love Atiyeh's coloring as always, and thanks to that enhances the panels immensely.
Zayne is racing on a professional circuit. Shady dealings going on. A great introduction for this three-part story.
Rating: 7.5 / 10 Recommended