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Clone Wars #1-3

#1 "Inside Job"

Scripting: Rik Hoskin
Art: Andres Ponce
Coloring: Digikore
Lettering: Andrew Jams
Released: 12th November 2009

#2 "Keep the Faith"

Scripting: Tom DeFalco
Art: Tanya Roberts
Coloring: Digikore
Lettering: Andrew James
Released: 10th December 2009

#3 "In Triplicate"

Scripting: Rik Hoskin
Art: Tanya Roberts
Coloring: Digikore
Lettering: Andrew James
Released: 7th January 2010

Reviewed by: Paul Urquhart (01/28/2010)

Clone Wars comes from Titan, who have a long association with the Star Wars franchise in the UK, and who’ve been producing the Insider for American audiences since 2007.

Two things will surprise American readers about Clone Wars: the page format is larger, and the comic story in each issue is just eight pages long. That’s because Clone Wars is designed to appeal to a demographic that's often neglected by this genre: small children. And when its Transformers stablemate has seen numbers peak above 40,000 in a far smaller market than the U.S., perhaps that’s not really a bad thing.

Even so, these are still short strips, and made shorter by the fact that each so far has been a stand-alone adventure. What offsets this limited quantity is the fanboy-pleasing quality of the stories and art. These are good Star Wars comic strips, and I'd rate the overall quality higher than the most readily comparable American equivalent, the similar-sized one-shot stories from Star Wars Tales.

Issue #1 was been scripted by Rik Hoskin—not a name I know, but he seems to be a specialist in tie-in comics for licensed material, and either he’s good at handling the continuity Holocron, or else he’s a fan. Either way, it works. This little story captured the mood and pace of the cartoon, wasn’t afraid to add new things, and even managed to include the military enclave on Gall: an unexpected but enjoyable reuse of an Imperial-era setting from Shadows of the Empire.

The visuals were provided by Argentinian artist Andres Ponce, who is clearly capable of great things. This guy is the best talent at inventing instantly convincing Star Wars tech that I’ve seen since the late, lamented Eddie Biucovik—within the first two pages of this strip, we got a new Separatist assualt ship, a new starfighter design, some civilian flyers, artillery emplacements and Republic body armour. All of them were excellent.

In one respect, though, this strip had to work hard to match to the visual style of the Clone Wars TV series—in capturing Anakin Skywalker’s facial features in close shots. Ponce’s portfolio shows that he’s an excellent penciller, specializing in a heroic realism in the manner of Adam Hughes, but with an ability to swtich between brooding shadows worthy of Eisner and Steranko, and a clean, simplified cartoon style; but it takes effort to express the marionette-like appearance of the Clone Wars character-models, playing the detail down to the point at which it becomes abstract and cartoony without disappearing into simple shapes—and it’s even tougher to carry that balance over from the pencils to the completed (and uncredited) inks.

The second issues had a very similar story—once again, Anakin and Ahsoka defended an Outer Rim base against the Droid Army—but that didn’t matter, because the sheer quality of the dialogue carried it: I could very definitely hear the characters’ voices leap off the page, and with the voice comes the character. In surprise, I glanced at the credits, and saw that the scripter for this little gem was Tom DeFalco—yes, that Tom DeFalco, Marvel’s former editor-in-chief and all-round industry legend.

Back to Hoskin for #3, with a story that breaks out of the pattern, and also focuses firmly on Anakin—the middle section is quick-paced action, but it hints effortlessly at what Darth Vader will become, and the framing sequences are a lot of fun. The art here is by Tanya Roberts, who also drew #2. She uses a cartoony style that fits really well with the Clone Wars vibe, and here, she found a confidence that cut loose as the story dived into the Coruscant underworld.

We got an excellent visual contrast between the polished spires of the upper levels and the dirty streets of the undercity (you can tell she lives in Edinburgh, really???) plus superb details that enriched the narrative and, once again, made it firmly a Star Wars story—the low-life thugs in a street gang, a hawk-bat diving for its prey.

As in the Dark Horse books, the colouring provides a visual unity while the artists vary, but it’s a surprising style from Indian-based atelier Digikore, with watercolour shading and a pallate heavy in brown, red and metalic blue: this gave the first two issues a slightly muted appearance, but it’s competent stuff, and it worked very well in the latest issue.

So, it’s pretty good, but if all this is only packed into eight pages, what’s the rest of the comic taken up with? Well, there’s a toy gun on the cover of every issue, which should distract younger readers for a while—purely for review purposes, I can tell you that they shoot their darts and disks and foam missiles pretty hard and fast. Next issue, there’s a notebook-and-pen set, which is perhaps less destructive.

The interior pages are taken up with previews of upcoming cartoon episodes, information files on characters and technology, competitions to win Star Wars toys, and quick quizes and puzzles—all illustrated by frames from the Clone Wars TV cartoon. I suspect it’s assembled by series editor Andrew James, who has been overseeing Titan’s Clone Wars material since 2007, and who has a fine, cynicism-free editorial style for communicating with kids.

The angled infoboxes and big colours are a bit garish for me, and a lot of the content is a competent reworking of pre-packaged continuity information—a lot of it, to my cynical adult gaze, looks like advertising for the TV series and its tie-in products—but it probably works very well for young readers who don’t use the internet that much, who’ve never heard of Incredible Cross-Sections, and who undoubtedly want to know what’s up with the Clone Wars.

In addition, issue #3 showed some stretching of the boundaries, with a rather fun resum?? of starfighter tactics, and a bio page for Aurra Sing that makes good use of her Expanded Universe backstory. I’m hopeful for more like this: it’s nice to see it competently done.

So, overall, Clone Wars is good, and apparently getting better. Speaking as a thirty-year-old fanboy, I’d enjoy a slight increase in the length of the actual comic section, and maybe a little experimentation in style. It’s also worth mentioning that multi-part stories could turn the eight-page format of Clone Wars into a credible epic without compromising the kid-friendly agenda: Simon Furman has proved it over in Titan’s Transformers title, which is probably the most fun that franchise has had on the printed page in about twenty years.

I’d like to see Andres Ponce and Tanya Roberts cut loose on Star Wars without the stylistic restraints of matching the TV series, too.

Then again, the Clone Wars comic seems to work already for what it aims to do—pleasing the kids and providing a good Star Wars comic strip—so why change it at all?

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