Knight Errant: Aflame
Aflame collects the first five issues of the ongoing series Knight Errant. Originally released between October 2010 and February 2011, with this trade releasing in August 2011.
Knight Errant: Aflame is the first arc of the rotating ongoing series Knight Errant, establishing the origins of our heroine, Kerra Holt, and setting her up with both a strong core of antagonists and an impossible mission that forms the motivation behind everything she does. Though this isn't my first exposure to the world of Knight Errant (I read the novel of the same name first,) Aflame is a superb introduction to a promising breath of fresh air for the Star Wars universe with fantastic characters and awe inspiring action scenes.
The book starts with Kerra, a newly promoted Jedi Knight, as just one of many Jedi conducting business in Sith space, including her former master Vannar Treece. Of course, as the promotional material and title itself hint, this doesn't last long, and after a spectacular action sequence Kerra is all by herself with an overwhelming task to complete: rescuing the enslaved and impoverished people in Sith Space from their crazed overlords. The rest of the book concerns her battles with the two Sith Lords, and her ever changing perspective and goals behind enemy lines as she struggles to redefine her mission in the face of cataclysmic losses.
There is quite a bit to like about Aflame's story. Firstly, we are treated to an all new element of the Star Wars universe with a socio-political dynamic unlike anything we have seen before. More oppressive and war torn than almost all elements of the Imperial dominion (which is still one thousand years in the future at the start of this comic,) there is a palpable sense of hopelessness that is captured well by the art team, and this sense of inevitability is arguably the most compelling antagonist Kerra must face. There is also a great mix of subtlety and straight forward action, with Kerra occasionally using stealth and manipulation to gain the upper hand, while also resorting to charging headfirst into the fray when her impulses get the best of her. Aflame is a thoroughly enjoyable opening arc that does everything it needs to do in order to set up more intricate future installments.
Despite only having five characters of any real importance, Knight Errant manages to shine due to the humanity and relatable flaws of its main character, and general insanity of its antagonists. Kerra is a well meaning up and coming Jedi Knight that often finds herself in bad situations as the direct result of her recklessness and idealism. Shades of many of the famous Jedi (Anakin, Luke, even Obi-Wan circa Episode 1) from the movies can be seen in the character, though she manages to distance herself from her more famous brethren through her subtle back story and dogged determination to succeed in the desperate mission. The two antagonists, rival Sith Lords and estranged brothers Odion and Daiman, manage to succeed by being unlike any Sith we've ever seen. They are a clever interpretation of the Sith Order and dark side users in general, becoming so consumed by their power that they throw lives away carelessly, Daiman because he believes himself to be creator of the universe, Odion because he takes great delight in ending lives no matter who it is doing the dying. The remaining two characters, Kerra's former master Vannar Treece and Chelloa civilian/resistance leader Gorlan, are solid in their limited support roles as mentors for Kerra. Gorlan in particular acts like a potential future version of Kerra, wizened up about the realities of the universe and simply trying to help out the largest amount of people as possible. Knight Errant features remarkably well crafted characters for being such a short story, an accomplishment made all the more impressive by the sometimes obvious limitations of the genre.
Knight Errant's art is done by two different teams, one for the first two issues, and another for the final three. As such, there is a fairly jarring transition between the two noticeably different styles, although the change in artists works out to be a net benefit in terms of quality. The first two issues suffer from incredibly poor facial features, particularly concerning Kerra, who quite simply looks awful in nearly every picture in this segment, but does score some points for the expertly planned battle scenes and intriguing vehicle designs.
Thankfully, despite the change in style, the good elements of the first 40% of the book stay mostly in place for the latter 60%, while dramatically improving on the portrayal of our cast. There is a shift from a more digital looking art style to a more traditional, yet polished, style that brings out the best in the characters. Kerra looks completely different in these issues, which is a bit startling at first, but it works out for well in the end because it is a change for the better. The great large scale battle sequences make a return appearance too, and the sequences concerning the refugees do a great job of capturing the sense of hope that Kerra is bringing to the system. As in the better majority of Star Wars comics, the sabers, lasers, and explosions look stunning. Overall an enjoyable effort from both teams.
Knight Errant is a near perfect start to a whole new era in the Star Wars universe. Featuring three great characters at the core, with an impossible mission and promising world building to fill it out, Aflame is an inventive and entertaining book with few flaws.