Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron: The Phantom Affair

X-Wing Rogue Squadron: The Phantom Affair


The Phantom Affair was a four part story arc from the X-Wing: Rogue Squadron run of comics. The trade paperback was released in 1997, and it was collected in Volume 1 of the X-Wing omnibus.


Story

The Phantom Affair is set after the events of the first arc, The Rebel Opposition. The Rogues are sent to the world of Mrlsst in order to negotiate ownership of a new super weapon from the scholarly Mrlssi. Unfortunately, the Imperials, led by a villain from Wedge's past, are also trying to gain control of this weapon, through any means necessary. The ensuing comic is one of the finer comics in the Rogue Squadron arc, and is perhaps most notable for the fantastic flashback to Wedge's past-an origin story, of sorts.

The book immediately sets itself apart from the rank and file Star Wars adventure through its setting. The world of Mrlsst functions very much like a college environment; free speech, no matter how outrageous, is promoted, kids work as tour guides and security guards in order to pay for tuition, and underground garage bands are an important part of campus culture. This is a unique approach to Star Wars, and it helps to show an important but overlooked aspect of the universe.

Setting aside, the story has a number of good twists, though the premise of yet another super weapon will be tiresome to many. Fortunately the weapon isn't too prominent, especially early on, and it could just as easily have been information or standard armament for sale. The weapon at stake here is nothing like the stupidly overpowered Galaxy Gun from Dark Empire, and shows up only at the end, after yet another entertaining twist.

The book's characters will be familiar to readers of the first arc. Wedge, Tycho, Hobbie, Janson, Plourr, and Dllr make return appearances, as does Elscol and Groznik, newly appointed members of Rogue Squadron. Expanded Universe standout Mirax Terrik shows up to help the squad on this mission, and college student Koyi Komad plays an important role supporting the efforts of the squad. The book has a relatively large cast of characters, yet it manages to keep pretty much everyone included. Elscol gets a nice sub plot related to the death of her husband, while Wedge's origin story is phenomenal and easily the highlight of the story. Everyone else is interwoven expertly between the various sub plots, and the book never seems to marginalize any of the characters.

The characters are also consistent with their portrayal in the first arc. Though they don't all develop as characters, they are at least accurate enough to give their fans satisfaction. A standout here is Plourr, whom, while still annoying, is significantly more tolerable here than in Rebel Opposition. Dllr is a character that should be getting more face time. The only alien on the squadron (not counting Groznik, a Wookie that is as one note a character as you will find) Dllr is relegated to the same wisecracking and bantering personality that everyone else has. It would've been better to have a super serious or philosophical character, and Dllr is arguably the best candidate for that.
Wedge's origin story serves as an excuse to introduce the primary antagonist, Loka Hask. Loka's appearance is kind of hard to take seriously; he has a purple parasite attached to the side of his face that doesn't give him a very menacing presence. However, his personal connection to Wedge's past and adequate dialogue/characterization make him a more effective villain than the usual fare. He gets a bit unhinged at the end, but on the whole he is much better than the typical random Imperial.

The plot ends up being a bit more hard sci-fi than is a bit unusual for Star Wars. The scientist responsible for the super weapon goes into great detail explaining what it is and how it functions, and the weapon itself isn't isn't the standard destructive laser beam, or explosive. This element isn't overly burdensome, and in fact helps contribute to a comic that does things in its own way, often successfully.

The only real drawbacks come at the end of the story, as the plot suffers from some illogical moments. The entire sub plot with the "Ghost Jedi" is incredibly confusing and not at all worth the effort spend including it in the story. The conclusion was also a bit unclear as far as the fate of the weapon is concerned. Despite these problems, Phantom Affair is a fantastic continuation of the story that began in the first arc.

Art

The art is a huge improvement over the previous arc, boasting a more realistic, yet still quite creative, style that does a far better job of capturing the various action scenes.

Dogfighting is a much improved aspect of this arc
 The space scenes are handled particularly well. Unlike last arc's bland sub-orbital skirmishes that failed to capture any of the confusion and tension of starfighter combat, The Phantom Affair's starfighter combat is more realistic and tense. The ships are placed in more dynamic ways, and there tends to be far more Imperials than in the last comic, which was even odds for the most part. The designs themselves are good, but not great, and roughly on par with that of the first arc- the improvement here comes in placement and angle, not necessarily in the designs or coloring, though explosions are suitably toned down for this comic.

The new alien race is a bit odd looking, but far better than some of the designs we have seen in the past.
The artistry isn't quite so stellar when it comes to the world of Mrrlst. The Mrrlsi are an odd looking bunch of bug like aliens with prominent facial hair. It is a unique design, but certainly no worse than what was featured in most of the earlier Dark Horse comics. The worst aspect of Mrrlst though, is the bland backgrounds and overall uninspired atmosphere. The world doesn't really stand out in any way, and none of the locales featured are overly interesting. The world evokes the aforementioned "college town", but the artistry doesn't capitalize on this unique setting. Of note, however, are the bizarre easter eggs hidden in the background on some of the pages. Be on the look out for a cameo appearance by George Lucas, an alien with a design strangely similar to that of a Jamaican rasta, and a xenomorph from the Alien series.

This comic spends a great deal of effort in capturing the facial expressions of characters.
Facial expressions are much better than in the first arc. While the first arc had extremely uninspired faces that generally showed only a grim determination, this book does a much better job of channeling a wide array of feelings like despair, anger, joy, and surprise. The result of this is better connection to the characters and a more powerful comic. In particular, the death of Wedge's parents is extremely compelling due to the excellent artwork featured in that segment. The characters themselves also look very good in this comic. They remain easily distinguishable and visually appealing, while the new characters successfully add a bit of flavor to the group's overall makeup. Even Plourr looks a bit better here. The only character that doesn't look good is the villain, Loka Hask, due to the silly look parasite attached to the side of his face.

Conclusion
 
The Phantom Affair is a massive step forward for the arc in nearly every manner. The plot is more complex, the artwork is of much higher quality, and the characters develop in meaningful ways, particularly Wedge. The ideal starting point for those looking to get into the series, The Phantom Affair is an all around great comic.

Final Score
 
81/100

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