Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Not So Long Ago 3: Star Wars #8

To recap: Previously, Han Solo & Chewbacca journeyed to Aduba-3 and adopted the roles of Yul Brynner & Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven as they helped a priest bury a cyborg against the wishes of townsfolk. Following this, some locals approached Han with a job offer.

For decades it has been common for comic book covers to be generated before the interior contents. Thus, the cover below (again by Gil Kane) can truly be considered the first appearance of Jaxxon!

Although Kane doesn't draw the cast of characters entirely like Chaykin does inside, the blurb proclaiming "Eight Against a World!" which indicates this Magnificent Seven homage won't be holding to the same number of mercenaries. Jaxxon's costume is actually rather appropriate to the Star Wars universe - that is, he's clearly wearing a flight suit not unlike those the X-Wing pilots wore in the film. But then, it's not the clothes people complained about - it's that he's a big green rabbit.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to discuss Bucky O'Hare. It's curious to note how alike he and Jaxxon are; both wear red; both are space-faring adventurers; both have green fur; both are rabbit-men. Visually, they are somewhat different in that Jaxxon has a human-shaped body with rabbit head while Bucky has a quasi-human quasi-rabbit shaped body. Larry Hama and Michael Golden debuted Bucky in 1984 some seven years after this comic book so it's possible Hama & Golden were on some level inspired by Jaxxon.

Of course, the fact that Bucky O'Hare wouldn't exist for years to come points to why Jaxxon was such a hard sell. Although at the time Marvel had been making Howard the Duck into a hit character (and Star*Reach had begun publishing Quack! largely to tap into that market) and Cerebus was about to conquer the realm of independent comics, the funny animal adventure book wasn't yet a thing. There was no Bucky O'Hare; no Rocket Raccoon; no Usagi Yojimbo. Even then, comic book fans despised seeing funny animal characters interact with human heroes in anything other than parody; note how fans reviled the Green Lantern character Ch'p. Rocket Raccoon himself would not truly win over the hearts and minds of comics fans until the 2007 Annihilation: Conquest event when the character was already over 25 years old.

But enough about the cover; let's peer inside...

The story is titled "Eight for Aduba-3" and Chaykin is now joined by inker Tom Palmer, who would embellish the rest of Chaykin's issues. Following The Empire Strikes Back, Palmer would return to ink many, many more issues for several artists. Palmer was (and is) a heavy inker whose style tends to engulf whomever he renders, but he's quite well-suited to Star Wars as he lends the amount of shadows and depth to the world which it sorely needs; he is, in general, a very good choice to ink comics which are adapted from live action material.

From the first page Palmer's inks are noticeable; not only does the cantina look different from when Frank Springer helped render it in the previous issue, but the villagers are now depicted as young men wearing garb similar to what Luke wore on Tatooine in Star Wars. However, before Han can proceed with the discussion a lizard man named Warto picks a fight with Han because the woman he'd been putting the moves on at the end of the last issue was Warto's girlfriend. Han is badly outmatched, at one pointing being thrown into a table occupied by a furry ape-like person and an armoured guy whose brain shows through his helmet; the ape person turns out to be the armoured fella's girlfriend, causing him to pick a fight with Han as well. Finally, Chewbacca enters the fray; he doesn't even feel Warto's punches, but belts him out of the front window with a single punch; between this and having two women on his arm in the previous issue, Chewie seems to be the series' Conan!

With the requisite barfight out of the way, Han finally gets to speak with the villagers and their leader Ramiz, who explains they're being plundered by a band of Cloud-Riders (bandits on vehicles like flying snowmobiles) led by Sergi-X Arrogantus "the Arrogant One." I suppose if you were named "Arrogantus," people are bound to call you arrogant. Sergi-X has a fantastic Chaykin design from his big Mexican bandit-style mustache (again pointing to the Magnificent Seven), the spurs on his cowboy boots and his double-brested jacket. Sergi-X's bandits have been not only extorting money and destroying the villagers' crops but abducting their women - again, much like The Seven Samurai & The Magnificent Seven. Han decides to take the job and sends out for for other "space-hoppers" to visit he & Chewie's hotel room for auditions to join the operation.

The first recruit is Hedji, a "spiner" who can eject porcupine-like quills from his body. Despite being as much of an animal person as Jaxxon, he's a very solemn figure - somewhat like James Coburn's character in The Magnificent Seven and refers to joining Han for "reasons I'd rather not go into."

Next up is Amazia, "den mother of the Black Hole Gang," a bikini-clad woman sharpshooter (in case you forgot Howard Victor Chaykin was drawing this). She has a past history with Han & Chewie which isn't delved into and has, like Han, made herself an enemy of the Empire, referring to a recent attempt on her life.

The third to join is Don-Wan Kihotay who is, let's face it, a blatant reference to Don Quixote. Even Han quickly realizes Don-Wan is not what he claims to be - he purports to be a Jedi knight and brandishes a lightsaber, but Han surmises he's a crazy old man. Now, he thought the same about Obi-Wan in the film, but this time he's right - after all, he's Don Quixote in space! But I think this is kind of brilliant, a satirical version of Obi-Wan reaching the comics mere months after the film hit theaters. Don-Wan's presence allows Han room to mock someone as he did Obi-Wan, albeit this time his victim isn't quite sharp enough to know when he's being mocked.

The next would-be member is Warto, but he tries to shove his way past a giant green person with giant ears, calling him a "rodent." Yes, this is Jaxxon! And he't not happy with Warto: "I ain't no rodent, Cap'n..." he begins and when Warto knocks him aside he returns, "'Scuse me, junior... but I really gotta insist that you haul your wart-covered carcass back to the end'a the line, y'know?" And when Warto refuses, Jaxxon kicks him down the stairs.

"But, like I said before... I ain't no rodent! I'm more what ya call yer basic Lepus Carnivorous --- a meat-eatin' rocket-ridin' rabbit ta you, junior! Oh yeah -- an' give my regards ta the boys in the bar!"

It should be clear from the nickname "junior" that Jaxxon has a little bit of Bugs Bunny in his DNA. Of course, unlike Bugs he's not vegetarian: "You must'a been eatin' your space-carrots... never could stand 'em myself!" he says to Han. He gives his moniker as: "Jaxxon. You can call me Jax for short... which I ain't." The final two members are Jimm, alias the Starkiller Kid and his robot FE-9Q, alias "Effie." Once again, Thomas takes this as an opportunity to poke fun at the Star Wars mythos; he gave Jimm the moniker "Starkiller" after the early scripts where it served as Luke's surname and Jimm is dressed as Luke was in the first film (including the same hat Luke wore in scenes which were missing from the first theatrical cut). FE-9Q, however, is an extremely stuck-up & sarcastic droid who resents being treated as property, unlike the subservient C-3P0. "I don't belong to anyone... most especially not to anyone who calls himself the Starkiller Kid!"

Jimm is a farmer who dreams of becoming a hero, despite his utter lack of combat experience (his youthfulness and hotheadness are, of course, in refernece to Horst Buccholz's character in The Magnificent Seven). He reminds Han of Luke so much that the scene shifts back to Yavin, where Luke is being sent on a scouting mission to find the Rebels a suitable new base. Luke says his farewells to Leia and brings C-3PO & R2-D2 with him aboard a ship which looks like a miniature Corellian Corvette. En route, Luke begins thinking about Obi-Wan & Darth Vader (giving Chaykin an excuse to draw them) and then about Han - so the scene returns to Aduba-3.

Just as Han has assembled his six followers ("six stalwarts" Han calls them), they're directly approached by Sergi-X, who has added Warto to his Cloud-Riders. Sergi-X offers to pay Han more than the villagers to look the other way, but Han refuses (probably because it offends Han's pride). The Starkiller Kid tries to pick a fight but Amazia knocks him down, lest he start a gun battle which would be certain to leave more of Han's team dead than those of Sergi-X's. Han warns Sergi-X to leave the village alone, but he refuses: "If you persist, you will soon be nothing... just one more lifeless corpse, twisting in the desert wind!" Despite this proclamation, Han sends out his team to the village.

Tomorrow: Star Wars #9!

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