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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Force in Focus: Star Wars #22

"To the Last Gladiator!"
April 1979

In a Nutshell
Han and Chewbacca attempt to survive the Wheel's arena. 

Writer/Editor: Archie Goodwin
Artists: Carmine Infantino & Bob Wiacek
Colorist: B. Sharen
Letterer: C. Robbins
Consulting Editor: Jim Shooter

Plot
In the zero gravity environment of the Wheel's arena, Han and Chewbacca team-up against the other combatants, much to Commander Strom's costernation. But Senator Greyshade points out that they both signed contracts to participate, which state that the matches are to the death, and can have only one winner. Should they fail to abide by those rules, both can be killed. Just then, Strom passes out, the result of the drugged drink given to him by Greyshade. Elsewhere, Luke, Leia and the droids continue to follow Greyshade's security forces, taping their reclaimation of the funds stolen by the Imperials in the name of the Rebels. But they're spotted and a fight breaks out, which ends with the arrival of Greyshade, who ushers the Rebels aboard his private yacht at gunpoint.


Meanwhile, Darth Vader's Star Destroyer races through hyperspace, heading for the Wheel. Aboard Greyshade's yacht, the former senator makes Leia a deal: if she runs away with him, to a world where no one has heard of the Empire or the Rebels, and promises not to try and escape, he'll let her friends go free. But, he cautions, looking to the display of the arena, she needs to decide soon, or some of her friends won't be alive to benefit from her decision. In the arena, Han and Chewbacca are left alone facing one final opponent. Han, knowing that only one of them can come out of the arena alive and believing Chewbacca has the better chance against the last fighter, tosses his blaster to his friend, demanding that Chewbacca shoot him.

A Work in Progress
In what is quickly becoming his signature move, Vader Force chokes the back-talking Captain Wermis. 


Um, Actually
Vader says that, prior to the contact with Luke which is motivating his journey to the Wheel, he believed the power of the Force was his alone; of course, later films in the series reveal that, even at this point in time, at the very least the Emperor is somebody else Vader knows who can use the Force.


The device which enables ships to fly faster than the speed of light is again called a warp drive.

The Space-Lexicon
Wermis is said to lack the stamina of Kobarian swamp dog. 

That 70s Comic
Greyshade and Strom have a conversation that, if anyone happened to overhear it, would serve as nice recap of recent happenings on the Wheel.


You Kiss Your Sister With That Mouth?
Luke reacts about how you'd expect to Greyshade's proposal to Leia, shooting it down on her behalf, though Leia, rightly points out its not his decision to make.


It's in the Mail
A letter in this issue's letter column points out that General Tagge was killed on the Death Star, will the response offering up an explanation that he left the station after his appearance in the film, and thus survived its destruction.


A response to another letter speaks at great length to the differences between novels and serial comic book stories, pointing out that each issue must appeal to both readers who are following along with the story chapter by chapter and readers who may be picking up an issue for the first time, saying that the latter group is far more often larger than the former group. Which is wryly amusing just for the way that's completely flip-flopped nowadays.

Teebore's Take
As the penultimate chapter in the "Wheel Saga", this unfortunately drags a bit at a time when the pace should be picking up: Darth Vader is still en route to the station, the heroes are still scattered, Han and Chewbacca are still in the arena. However, there's still some entertaining pieces on display: it's confirmed that Greyshade's interest in Leia really does stem from genuine, longstanding affection towards her (albeit formed mostly of his desire to have that which he can't have), which adds some complexity to Greyshade as the antagonist of the story. Meanwhile, Infantino is seemingly having a blast in the arena scenes, going nuts with the sci-fi imagery as Han and Chewie fight their way through a zero gravity environment, and the result is some of his best action work yet.

In the process, the Han/Chewie scenes also underscore an interesting truth about this series: as much as Luke is, ultimately, the central figure of the Original Trilogy, Han really is the star of this book at this point in time, helped in part by having received the most page time, but also because he's been at the center of most of the series big action sequences. As a result, the central relationship of the series right now isn't Luke and Leia, or Han and Leia. It's really the friendship between Han and Chewie. Which, granted, has always been a part of the Star Wars universe. But it's rarely the central relationship in a story, yet it's probably the most frequently and consistently portrayed relationship in this series at this point. 

Next Issue
The arrival of Darth Vader! 

Collected Editions 

3 comments:

  1. I guess this storyline is proof that decompression existed even back in the seventies. The Wheel storyline could've probably been only four issues, but Goodwin really stretches some of this stuff out for whatever reason.

    The Tagge stuff is so confusing. I just looked up the character on Wookieepedia and learned that the original novelization and comic adaptation (which you may have mentioned when you covered the issue) got Tagge and Motti backwards, so the character discussed in the letters page above was actually Motti, hence the reference to his "humiliation from Darth Vader." But thanks to the novelization, Marvel was under the impression Motti was actually Tagge.

    But in any case, it seems the the previous EU stuff all declared both had died on the Death Star, so if the Tagge character who shows up in this series was intended to be the same man as in the film, I assume that was later ref-conned to be somebody else. Gotta love this sort of early licensed fiction for its unintentional discrepancies.

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  2. Yeah, this is definitely at least a chapter too long - neither this issue or the previous one are complete wastes, but they could easily be condensed down to one issue without losing anything.

    The Tagge stuff is confusing - I probably should have mentioned that this letter is getting Motti and Tagge confused, but I totally forgot the novelization did as well. It gets even more confusing later in this series when a Ulric Tagge becomes a recurring character and is meant to be the same Tagge as was on the Death Star. But then other sources start listing Tagge as having died on the Death Star, so eventually (like, years after this series ended) it was determined that there were two Tagges: Cassio, who died on the Death Star, and Ulric, who later appears in this series.

    And, of course, all of that is moot now, as the new canonical Darth Vader series just goes with the far simpler "General Tagge wasn't on the Death Star when it exploded" explanation.

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  3. A couple of notes about letterer Clem Robins, just because: (1) There aren’t many creators from the late '70s still working regularly today, but Robins is a stalwart on the Hellboy/BPRD titles at Dark Horse. (2) Robins didn’t misspell his own last name [“Robbins”] in the credits. Gaspar Saladino was lettering splash pages for Marvel at the time, uncredited, to give the line a more professional look at first glance than it could afford across the board with a younger generation of newer letters and, in particular, to make sure the story titles looked good.

    // Greyshade and Strom have a conversation that, if anyone happened to overhear it, would serve as nice recap of recent happenings on the Wheel. //

    Ha!

    Unintentional Discrepancies is my new band name.

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