Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood

Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood

Six part sequel to Crimson Empire, released and collected in 1998-99.

            Crimson Empire: Council of Blood is the sequel to the thoroughly enjoyable Crimson Empire I, though it is really only a sequel in name only. Featuring a convoluted series of sub plots with little relation to series protagonist Kir Kanos, who is thrown into a peripheral role for much of this story, Council of Blood is a terribly disappointing sequel as it fails to do much of anything that the first one did right. The art is mostly similar to its predecessor, but characterization, plot, and pacing are much different and ultimately far worse.
            Much of the action in this comic centers not around Kanos and his quest for vengeance against the renegade Imperials, but the new ruling party known as the Council of Blood. The council consists of many representatives throughout the Empire, including a handful of aliens, various military figures, and a few economic leaders. This group is quickly beset by inner turmoil, manipulated from the shadows by the illusive Nom Anor. Members are slowly and quietly killed, and the balance of power shifts several times, centering around the duly elected leader of the council, Xandel Carivus. What could have been a decent political thriller is beset by two things. Firstly, the characters are either too anonymous or too stupid to relate to in any way. Much of the proceedings take place off screen, and we get very limited, plot driven scenes with the supporting cast that do nothing to establish their personas or give us someone to root for. The only one with personal scenes of any nature is Carivus, and he turns out to be the typically dim witted, power hungry Imperial warlord seen so often in these books. Sharing many of the scenes with Carivus is Nom Anor, a good mysterious character making his first Star Wars appearance in this comic. Fans of the New Jedi Order may want to read this book simply to see how the character got his start.
            Secondly, and the major problem for the entire comic, is that this political intrigue and mystery type stuff just isn't what the Crimson Empire series was built upon. The original was a straightforward action tale about revenge, honor, and duty. This one has very, very little of that, instead becoming a wide variety of things with no real focus in sight. Besides the political stuff that takes up the majority of the comic, we get an overextended survival horror-esque sequence in which Mirith and Kanos, once again reunited, must fight their way off a strange land controlled by the ridiculous looking Zanibar. There is also quite a bit of time spent exploring the palace of Grappa the Hutt and his business relationship with the Zanibar, in addition to a meeting gone awry with the Black Sun. All of this does tie in with the Imperials, but it feels so out of place and unnecessary.
            Mirith and Kanos aren't even their old selves in this comic, further ruining its enjoy ability. Their romance is completely contrived and utter rubbish; nothing happens to make the two fall for each other, and given how they parted ways at the end of CE1, it just doesn't make sense for them to hook up. Their relationship totally cheapens the ending of the last book, rendering Kanos' stoicism and sense of duty, and Mirith's heartbreak and sense of betrayal as completely moot. The two aren't even central characters here, as they are marginalized in favor of a random Hutt and the boring Imperials. 
The Zanibar: Too bizarre even for Star Wars
            The artwork is the same hit or miss style found in the first book, with few improvements. Once again, faces are hands down the worst element of the book. Mirith is a complete disaster in nearly every frame, and even Kanos loses some of the rugged charm he possessed in the first book. The art style just isn't suited for conveying human expressions, though most of the aliens (Grappa in particular) look surprisingly good. The Zanibar are an exception to this. They look like they crawled out of anything other than a Star Wars comic, and their slightly ridiculous appearance undercuts what is otherwise a slightly fearsome group. Another horrible design decision involves Kanos' assumed identity, Kenix Kil. Eschewing his iconic Imperial Guard armor in favor of an awful looking blue and yellow ensemble (including a stupid looking hat,) Kanos loses one of his most appealing aspects in many of the early scenes he is featured in. Thankfully, by the end of the book he is back to using his customary armor, but Kenix Kil's appearance (physically and figuratively) is perplexing and ill advised.
Landscape scenes are often majestic in this comic.
              With all that being said, the book still does manage to get several things right. The final battle lacks the epic tension of the one at the end of CEI, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable, well realized affair. Most of the battle scenes are pretty good, once again highlighting Kanos' Jedi like ability to wield his staff and carve up baddies. Additionally, the coloring remains solid, especially on the vibrant landscape images. Grappa's palace is also handled well due to the coloring, successfully creating an atmosphere as grimy, alien, and mysterious as Jabba's.
            Crimson Empire II marks a complete regression for the series and its protagonist, Kir Kanos. Rendering some of his decisions from the first book as inconsequential and significantly altering his persona, Crimson Empire II sees the character turn away from his honor bound mission in favor of wasting time with Hutts and entertaining thoughts of a romantic relationship. Hopelessly convoluted and poorly planned, not even decent artwork can save this ill advised comic book.
Final Score

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