Monday, December 5, 2011

Shepherd492 reviews: Dark Empire II

Dark Empire II


Dark Empire II was a six part story released in 1994-1995. The trade paperback was released in late 1995, and a second edition was published in 2006.

Story

Dark Empire II attempts to be the "Empire Strikes Back" of the Dark Empire trilogy, but ultimately fails due to a plot that is overly similar to the original, poor characterization, and several gaping plot holes.

DE II takes place just after the original. Luke is seeking out new force sensitives to join his New Jedi Order, while Leia and Han are awaiting the birth of their third child. The plot quickly cuts to an Imperial vs. Imperial scene that features one of the only good action sequences in the entire book. Many new creations are at work here, and the battle itself is an explosive spectacle that effectively gets the action going.

After this, the book quickly loses much of its draw through the resurrection of the Emperor. Not only has he somehow been revived, but he can now also grant his followers the ability to be Dark Jedi. This ridiculous power is extremely illogical because all he seemingly needs to do in order to turn an everyday person into a Jedi is wave his hand and make it so. He does this no fewer than six times in the book, and each of the appointed Dark Jedi are awful villains that are killed instantly in the fights in which they participate (with one exception, whom dies in a similarly bizarre way.)

This raises yet another issue in a series plagued with logically deficient happenings. Why would Palpatine even need Luke, or even Vader, if all he needed to do in order to instantly give someone Jedi skills is wave his hand over them? What was the point of "grooming" Vader for all those years in the prequels when all he needed to do was instantly convert him? Furthermore, why doesn't he just do this with all the stormtroopers and officers in his empire? This poorly considered plot point leads to a slew of forgettable villains, terrible action scenes, and an unnecessary plot hole early on in the comic.

Han and Leia do basically the exact same thing they did in Dark Empire I. They travel to Nar Shaddaa to make contact with Vima-Da-Boda, but once again, the focus of this sub plot is Boba Fett's attempted capture of the duo (and Chewbacca.) Boba Fett's dialogue is extremely out of character and more than a bit cliched, and he defeated handily at every turn. This isn't a powerful villain every bit Han's equal, this is a thug that is defeated in a pane or three. Boba Fett's inclusion in this story is self indulgent, useless, and embarrassing. He does little to advance the plot, the action scenes featuring him are short and bland, and this comic (along with the previous) do quite a bit of harm to his already questionable character.

Meanwhile, Luke and redeemed Dark Jedi Kam Solusar journey to the world of Ossus. The two encounter a native band of force users there, and Luke becomes romantically involved with one. The romance doesn't go anywhere, and the girl definitely doesn't seem like she is on Luke's level. Perhaps the ultimate indicator that this relationship is a bust is that, after she is killed off after only about twenty pages, Luke promptly forgets about her. Palpatine twice sends his Dark Jedi to kill Luke, but each time, the result is laughable. The first time, Luke and Kam handily defeat the baddies, only for Ood Bnar, the mysterious Jedi from the holocron in Dark Empire 1, to sacrifice himself needlessly in order to destroy the final bad guy. This strange episode serves no point in the context of the story, and Ood could have  been better utilized.

The only good plot is the one that features Lando, Wedge, and the droids leading an assault against Palpatine's stronghold on Byss. The resolution isn't the best, but the action scenes are superb, and their inclusion added a fresh layer to the somewhat stale storyline. It also serves as a more in depth showcase of some of the cool constructs that the Imperials use at the beginning of the comic, and overall gives a sense of importance otherwise lacking from the storyline.

The resurrection of the Emperor is obviously important, but he doesn't really do much here. Beyond blessing his followers with the ability to instantly become force sensitive, he does little else besides manipulating events from behind the scenes, though he lacks the same prescient menace that he had during the Prequel trilogy, as literally none of his plans bear fruit. His appearance is ultimately not very important, and leaving him out would have actually improved the comic and given it more credibility.

The end of this comic could've been much better, as the Emperor tests his new superweapon against the Alliance's base. It initially appears that the Rebel leaders were utterly destroyed, but of course it is later revealed that everyone lived, because they had already moved the base by the time that the Emperor attacked. What could have felt more like the Rebellion truly licking its wounds, and in a bad place instead seems more like a minor setback before a major triumph.

Art

The fight between Viper droids and modified rancors finishes off the only epic battle in the entire second half of the book.
The art featured in Dark Empire II is much like the art of the original. There are plenty of new vehicles, starships, and peoples, but the amount of actually effective and interesting designs are roughly halved here. The epic battle between Imperials at the beginning does a great job of introducing new technology. The Viper droids-huge, bug like vehicles- are used to great effect throughout the comic, factoring heavily in Lando/Wedge's plot, and looking extremely cool throughout, including a memorable battle with rancor like creatures.

The Shadow Droid is a bizarre idea, and the design itself is nothing special.

The opening scene also introduces us to some poorly conceived designs as well. First up is the Shadow Droid. This bizarre creation is a starfighter piloted by the brain of a deceased Imperial fighter ace. These guys don't show up much, and the concept is absurd, even for Star Wars. The SD model attack droids were also unneeded. These droids show up briefly during the fight on Balmorra, and their uninspired design and lack of purpose prevents them from leaving much of an impression.

Nar Shaddaa looks good, however that neon sign is both insulting to the reader and inconsistent with Star Wars canon.
The two tone art is re-applied here, though it isn't quite as effective as it was in Dark Empire II. Unlike the original, Dark Empire II uses many natural environments, and the art doesn't compliment them in the way that it should. It still does a great job conveying the urban filth of Nar Shaddaa, and the sterile environments of the command centers for each faction, but it leaves much to be desired when detailing the worlds of Ossus and New Alderaan. I was also disappointed in the lightsaber design, after it looked so good in the first book. The robust, towering pillars of light are replaced by flickering and understated designs.
This early shot does a great job of showcasing the detailed penciling and masterful sense of scale used on most vehicles.

The sketches themselves once again do a fantastic job of capturing ships, and an extremely poor one of conveying certain characters. Leia is by far the biggest victim of this. Throughout the comic, she is portrayed as being almost manly; from her square jaw and short hair to her scruffy attire, she retains none of the graceful femininity seen in the movies. Palpatine is seen exclusively in his younger body for this book, and he loses quite a bit of menace in this form. With swept back hair and a long black cloak complete with upturned collar, Palpatine looks more like a sub-par Count Dracula than he does a menacing Sith Lord. Everyone else looks atleast adequate, but generally the characters don't look natural. Even Luke and Han look like robots in a few panels...the pencils were not up to par here.

This is about as long as most of the lightsaber duels last.
The action scenes themselves are terribly conceived. Very few of them last more than three panels, and watching Luke or the Ossus Jedi kids or whoever instantly kill their opponent does not build any kind of tension whatsoever. Prolonged lightsaber duels simply do not exist here, and what we do get are more of an embarrassing series of defeats for the random idiots Palpatine "promotes" to Jedi.

Conclusion

A near-complete disaster, Dark Empire II takes the good aspects of the original, and either retreads them in a completely unimaginative way, or removes them altogether. The few good action scenes at the beginning and end of the book aren't worth suffering through the sub par art and story in between. A sequel that never should have happened.

Final Score

26/100

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