Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith

Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith  

Dark Lords of the Sith collects the titular six part arc of Tales of the Jedi that ran from October 1994 to March 1995. The trade paperback was released in early 1996, and it was included in the omnibus Tales of the Jedi Volume 2 in 2008.

            Dark Lords of the Sith is the fifth story arc in the Tales of the Jedi ongoing series. Like the previous two, it focuses on the lives of Nomi Sunrider and Ulic Qel-Droma as they attempt to tackle a reborn Sith threat. We finally seek the fall of Ulic to the dark side, and newcomer Exar Kun follows the same path in an arc that is essentially all set up and little resolution. Featuring strong art for this series and a workable (though flawed) plot, Dark Lords of the Sith is a passable introduction to the coming arc, but fails to develop the supporting cast and opens up a few uncomfortable plot holes.
            The book starts with the return of Aleema and Satal from the somewhat frivolous sub plot in the previous comic. We are introduced to some genuinely creepy "Sith" stuff, and the two establish themselves as the primary antagonists for much of the book as they seize control of the Empress Teta system. We don't spend a lot of time in their heads though, and Aleema's Sith magic seems to be a bit weak when matched up against Jedi, but as the conflict from the Teta system forces the Jedi to intervene, culminating in a large battle sequence, we start to see the threads of a more sinister plot.
            Most of the book concerns the slow and steady fall to the dark side of two completely different characters: heroic and well meaning Ulic Qel-Droma and powerful but greedy Exar Kun. The book rapidly shifts between the two as one becomes corrupted by his ongoing and illicit search for ancient dark side secrets, venturing to Dxun, Korriban, and Yavin 4 while encountering ancient Sith spirits every step of the way. Exar is a character with somewhat muddled motivations, but his quest is a nice look at some exotic locations and an insight into the history of the Sith. Ulic on the other hand is obsessed with bringing Aleema and Satal's Krath cult down by any means necessary, and somehow manages to convince the Jedi leaders to permit him to pretend to be a dark sider to gain access to their secrets. Ulic's quest is a bit too convenient and doesn't hold up particularly well in terms of logic, but it is rooted on the idea that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and therefore somewhat similar to Anakin's fall in Revenge of the Sith.
            The final scenes of the book, in which a small task force of four Jedi and one beast transport are able to penetrate Aleema's defenses where a whole fleet was unable to previously in the book, tug at my suspension of disbelief. Besides the fact that this is a dubious feat, we get an incredibly awkward scene in Aleema's palace where the Jedi desperately try to convince Ulic to stop being an idiot. All of this goes on in front of Aleema, the person they were supposed to eliminate, and yet no one does anything. Ulic is obviously not sincere about his commitment to the light side by this point, but why leave a threat like Aleema alive? It doesn't make any sense. Another thing that seems suspicious is that Exar goes crazy on multiple occasions around his master, yet the master doesn't intervene or raise any red flags. He acts kind of surprised when Exar runs away, and does very little to help him. It is a disappointing outing for a Jedi master and too easy of a way to write his role in Exar's life out of the plot.
            As outlined above, most of the time spent on character development in this book is devoted to Ulic and Exar, with everyone else being marginalized in order to tell this tale. For the most part, this doesn't matter, as the host of random Knights, wise Masters, and evil Sith don't have anywhere to go anyways. I wasn't expecting, and nor did I get, an interesting character in the likes of Aleema or Arca, but it was quite disappointing to see Nomi Sunrider get pushed to the side here. She doesn't develop at all here, apart from learning a new force power, and establishing a tenuous and mostly unexplored romantic relationship with Ulic. As the most identifiable and compelling character in the series to date, this is a disappointing outing that sees her act mostly as a background warrior, though she does seize the initiative for the final act of the book, delivering a finale that is poorly thought out for reasons not involving this character. 
Stuff like this is kind of cheesy, but also a great way to show how messed up the Krath are.
            The art is mostly the same style as it has been for the entire run, albeit a bit more refined than in the previous arc. There are also some pretty cool items that help with characterization and tone. An example of this is all the crazy stuff Aleema and Setal do in their introduction: in this segment we see a man with a tongue that looks like a chest-burster from Alien, someone's head on a plate, another man brutally electrocuted, and a guy with his mouth stitched shut. It isn't exactly gory, but it is the kind of creepy stuff that does more for characterization than the mostly atrocious dialogue in this book. Additionally, there are some very creative panels that aren't like anything we've seen in the series thus far. A sequence in which Naga Sadow, a Sith who doesn't feature much in this story, causes a star to go supernova is exquisite, and a later full page shot featuring the jump to hyperspace looks more like an optical illusion than comic book art. It is a strong, colorful book with some interesting concepts and creatures, though it is far from realistic and certainly looks dated by today's standards.
Probably my favorite scene from this comic.
            There are a handful of more meaningful criticisms, too. Battle scenes suffer from being far too cramped. A two page spread of the battle at the summit on Deneba is so cluttered with images that it is hard to tell what is going on, much less appreciate any of the individual artwork. The duels, mostly in the second half of the book, fare a little better, but this is the rare book that actually looks better when everyone has their lightsabers powered off.  Another flaw are the facial expressions, which are mostly on the minimalist side and rarely evocative of anything. Nomi's hair still looks awful, and seeing the same stone faced expression on every character got old after awhile. I also counted at least two typos, and one panel in which the dialogue is attributed to the wrong character. Finally, the horrific third person narration is back in full force in this comic, cluttering pages and offering generally useless recaps of things that just happened, and commentary on obvious actions.
            Dark Lords of the Sith is a decent comic, but nothing spectacular. Surprisingly, the art is the strongest element, though Exar's journey is also highly enjoyable. Unfortunately Ulic's fall is a bit unrealistic, and the other characters get pushed aside for the two up and coming Sith to develop. Worth a read if you've been following the series, but not a good jumping on point and not exceptional as a stand alone work.
Final Score

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