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graph·ic nov·el

1.  a novel in comic-strip format.

I read them all.  The good and the bad, so you don’t have to.

Welcome to The Pull List.

And, as always…Spoilers ahead!

Star Wars Dark Times Volume 7: A Spark Remains
Writer: Randy Stradley
Artist: Douglas Wheatley
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Letters: Michael Heisler
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $19.99
Release Date: April 23, 2014

The recent announcement of Lucasfilm’s decision to forgo the Expanded Universe as a part of the canonical story of Star Wars is a day that most hardcore fans feared.

While some don’t care, most are outraged and have issued the usual threats of swearing off things that took place in a galaxy far, far away. What’s the point of engaging in the novels, comics and video games that explore this cherished fiction within fiction?

Because nothing’s changed.  Good storytelling is still good storytelling no matter if it “counts” or not.

Randy Stradley’s latest entry into the Dark Times series, A Spark Remains, chronicles an intricate plan to kill Darth Vader.

Yes, this has been done before, but Stradley goes down a different path.

Instead of a particular group of individuals gunning for the Sith Lord, we are treated to a hodgepodge assembly of characters of different professions and backgrounds. Vader’s relentless pursuit of the Jedi who escaped Order 66 has destroyed many lives. The somber tone of those plotting his demise came across extremely well because you could tell they were tired of surviving and wanted to live, even if their time was limited.

Over the years, Dark Horse Comics has done a phenomenal job of maintaining, and sometimes enhancing, the mystique of Darth Vader. Sometimes, they do too good of a job because we often revel in his immorality instead of despising him for it. It’s almost impossible to present a tame Darth Vader so Stradley only included him in moments where he was absolutely needed in order to prevent that bad-ass cool factor from diluting the gravity of a perilous situation that Jedi Dass Jennir and company face.

The ending won’t blow your mind, but it does go in a different direction which was a welcomed change.

Overall, the story reads better as one collected work because the various subplots don’t get lost in the shuffle like they do when waiting a month or longer for the next single issue. Now, Expanded Universe tales have been rebranded Star Wars Legends. I think this presents an opportunity for fans to read up on stories they’ve heard of but have never actually read.  

Dark Times covers a series of events that shape and mold whom the most beloved characters in the original Star Wars trilogy ultimately become.

Score: 7/10

Sidekick: Volume 1
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Tom Mandrake
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Troy Peteri
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99
Release Date: April 30, 2014

If you’ve read Superman Earth One, you know that J. Michael Straczynski is a specialist when bringing the emotional element of a story to the forefront.

Tragedy, abandonment, and ridicule has sent the life of Barry Chase, spiraling out of control.

However, he’s just a sidekick so no one cares.

The heroic Red Cowl is a hero people can be proud of and his death has left a city in mourning.  The mystery surrounding his assassination builds as Barry takes three steps back for every positive step he takes. You truly feel for him because he is a good person trapped in a defined perception instead of reality.

In many ways, this speaks to our perception of superhero sidekicks.

Sure, Robin is cool but everyone wants to be Batman. Still, they fight crime, help save the day and get little, if any respect. That would have to take an emotional toll on anyone. Barry, aka Flyboy, however, was all about the work and didn’t care or see how the public perceived him. Once he lost his mentor, it all came crashing down at once.

The way Straczynski pens the story just engulfs your complete attention because it’s just one knife to the back after another. I was late to the party on this series and I’m glad I jumped on now. It has all of the mature comic elements we’ve come to expect from Image.

Score: 8/10

Secret Avengers TPB Volume 3: How to MA.I.M. a Mockingbird
Writer: Nick Spencer, Ales Kot
Artist:: Butch Guice, Joe Rubenstein, Tom Palmer, Luke Ross
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $17.99
Release Date April 23, 2014

During the first and current Marvel NOW runs, Secret Avengers is an awesome series that every comic book fan should be reading.

The premise is different, the book looks good and the writers consistently make great use of multiple characters. S.H.I.E.L.D and A.I.M. play an integral role in this espionage tale that’s centered on Mockingbird.

While there are some dull moments, the action packed elements makes it easy to forgive.

There are several surprising reveals that serves the story well while reminding us why this is unlike any other Avengers series.

One of the things I love about the art is how beautifully dirty everything looks. Superhero tales generally have a sense of wonder. Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury and others have been put through the ringer and the coloring truly compliments that tone.

The arc seamlessly exemplifies the brilliance of this series. Everyone, no matter how big or small their roles are feel important and big moments actually pay off.

Score: 9/10

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