Friday, April 20, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: The Old Republic: Blood of the Empire

The Old Republic: Blood of the Empire

               The Old Republic: Blood of the Empire is the first in a series of comics that serve to set up the story and characters from the online game. This particular comic details the rise of Teneb Kel, Darth Thanaton from the game, and his efforts to track down a renegade Sith formerly under the service of the mysterious Emperor. Despite some bland characters and poor art, Blood of the Empire is a decent tie in that is heavy on action and light on deeper meaning.
                Our story starts off in a promising manner, with an engaging if predictable battle on the Republic controlled world of Begeren. After this start, the plot takes a somewhat contrived turn as the duo, Kel and his slave Maggot, are imprisoned for the crimes of Kel’s Master, Calypso. After a short interlude that successfully displays the ruthless nature of the Sith, we are given the main conflict of the story. Kel is assigned to hunt down Exal Kressh, a promising apprentice who fled from her master, the Emperor of the Sith. Kel’s quest then takes him across the galaxy, following Kressh’s trail and fighting plenty of battles along the way.
                Of course, the story isn’t quite that simple, and we get a few scenes from Kressh’s perspective that serve to both fill out the story and explain her motivations. Her motivations work really well in the overall context of the ToR storyline, serving a purpose greater than simply adding depth to a minor villain by showing the depths of the Emperor’s evil and helping to create a ruthless, near unstoppable fiend at the head of the Sith Empire. All told, Kressh isn’t a particular memorable or frightening villain, but she is at least fleshed out and explained more than usual.
                Characterization is one of the biggest flaws here. Besides Kressh and Maggot, our cast consists of the protagonist, Kel, and a bevy of random Sith lords and underworld types, in addition to two nondescript Jedi. This would be fine if Kel wasn’t so bland. Of the main trio, only Kel feels completely uninspired. His character draws from much of the ruthlessness and malice of the stereotypical Sith, but unlike Palpatine or Vitiate, he doesn’t take it far enough to be considered truly powerful. On the other end of the spectrum, he lacks a relatable backstory or inner goodness like Bane or Vader. What we are left with is a character with little Overall, Kel feels like a generic Sith through which the story unfolds, and not a powerful character in his own right.
                One of the biggest detractions from the comic is a series of events in which Kel is forced to land on the desolate world of Lenico IV. During this segment we are introduced to a random Jedi master-padawan duo. The duo has little impact on the main story, though there is a neat scene between the padawan and Maggot. The interlude, a result of a crash landing due to damage to Kel’s ship, feels unfulfilled and, beyond resolving this sudden conflict, does little to advance the plot. This part does feature some of the best landscapes seen in the comic, but is otherwise not needed and kind of boring.
Like many videogames tie-ins, Blood of the Empire features some elements of the game it takes half of its name from. As in the video game, we see a dedicated companion in the form of Maggot, an Abyssin slave that follows Kel around on his adventures. Maggot and his relationship with Kel is one of the more interesting aspects of the story, particularly from a character perspective. Their relationship isn’t exactly one of a master and his slave, but instead one of mutual respect and dependence. Kel needs Maggot to save him from an overwhelming situation more than once, and Maggot seems to rely on Kel for a purpose in life. Also like the video game, there is a copious amount of force usage and plenty of violence and destruction. While not unique to this game or this book, the power and amount of force use here rivals only The Force Unleashed in terms of unrestrained, no holds barred destruction. It works rather well, and does wonders for the otherwise bland artwork.
This comic channels the Force Unleashed in many ways, including this scene.
In terms of artwork, Blood the Empire is very inconsistent. There are some really good elements and some completely uninspiring ones. Some of the better features are the action scenes that seemingly make up well over half of the comic. These scenes are somewhat intricate without any use of cumbersome text boxes, and allow the art team to showcase a bold array of colors that bring the force lightning (a mainstay for just about every action scene in the comic) to life, along with the lesser known powers like a protection bubble Kressh uses in the climactic duel. 
The backgrounds are completely dull.
 Where the artwork struggles is with faces and backdrops. Faces are completely unreadable with the exception of characters in excruciating pain/death throes. These expressions are very strong, but with all other types of emotion, the artists fail to convey what the character is feeling. As for the backdrops, there are some good ones, particularly on Lenico IV, but for the most part they are homogenous and nondescript. Even scenes with lots of background characters and in colorful environments, a set up that has produced many an intriguing backdrop in numerous Star Wars works, fail to bring the setting to life here, as the authors use the same boring alien species over and over while failing to bring interest to the background through dynamic coloring or sharp contrasts.
As an excuse to write lots of action scenes and promote a (then) upcoming video game, Blood of the Empire works extremely well. The action is fast, furious, and executed well, while the book does make an effort to connect to the game in both mechanics (companion) and story (Emperor is crucial to the events of the game, Kel plays a small role.) As a truly great work of Star Wars fiction it falls a bit flat due to the uninspiring protagonist, comparative lack of depth or subtlety, and occasionally terrible artwork. Blood of the Empire is worth a buy for most readers of Star Wars comics, but less hardcore fans, or those who like a bit of substance behind the style, will want to look elsewhere.

Final Score

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