Jedi: The Dark Side
The Dark Side is the five issue first arc of the ongoing monthly released in mid 2011. The trade was released in February of 2012. As of July 2012, there has been no announcement concerning a second volume.
Jedi: The Dark Side is a comic that looks to showcase an important event in the life of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn: his first apprentice's fall from the Jedi Order. This apprentice, Xanatos, and the subsequent story have been well covered in the Jedi Apprentice line of young reader books, but this is the first opportunity to see where Xanatos, and Qui-Gon for that matter, got his start. Unfortunately, Xanatos doesn't do anything for me, the mystery is somewhat inconsequential and rather lifeless, and the supporting cast does little to elevate the book in any way. Not even some occasionally excellent artwork can make up for the excessive amount of boring characters and predictable plot progression. Jedi: The Dark Side is a mediocre book good for fans of Qui-Gon, but less enjoyable for anyone else.
The premise behind this comic is that Qui-Gon, Xanatos, in addition to Jedi Master Tahl and wayward padawan Orykan, are assigned to investigate a high profile murder on the world of Telos IV. What should be a fairly straightforward mystery is then complicated by the fact that the temperamental Xanatos was born on Telos, and seems to harbor some resentment over the details of the mission.
Progressing through the usual hurdles and twists, the narrative begins to take shape. There isn't much of a mystery here, as we are introduced to the primary players early on and the rest of the conspirators are fairly easy to discern after that, but it is still an enjoyable affair when Xanatos isn't in the picture (more on that later.) Qui-Gon gets to do plenty of cool things and it is good to see a different side of the Jedi order. Unfortunately the simplicity of the plot and easily puzzled out reveals leads to a book that gets a bit tedious when it focuses too heavily on the murder. Of course, Xanatos and his constant whining is also the source of a good deal of agitation, so the book is a bit of a disappointment in terms of the actual story.
The plot is also hurt by random events that are given little context. Qui-Gon adapts a disguise and makes a contact with the insurgents, but there is no explanation as to his curious appearance (he somehow applies a peel off mask in order to look like an old man) or how he managed to find the contact in the first place. Also, the appearance of a character resembling Mace Windu in an early council meeting manages to create a mystery where there was no reason to be one through an extremely poor rendering of the character and the lack of a name attached to the man. Contrasting this, the author sometimes tries far too hard to recap the mystery to keep it fresh in your mind: Qui-Gon refers to the ringleader of the insurrection as "A Jedi, but not a Jedi" at least three times.
I wasn't a big fan of most of the characters in this book. The big draw here is obviously going to be Qui-Gon, and this book offers us a rare glimpse at the pivotal character. Interestingly, he is about what you would expect, even though the comic is set some twenty years before the events of The Phantom Menace. Qui-Gon is every bit the wizened Jedi Master here, possessing the same risk taking and defiant persona that dominated his character in the films. He doesn't progress or change in any meaningful way in this story, though the finale of this arc actually does set up a potential intriguing second act with Qui-Gon going into a self imposed exile (now we just need to get someone to actually do the second act, fingers crossed.)
So Qui-Gon is far from the problem, and his fans will not be let down in the slightest by his appearance here. Where then, does the cast go wrong? Well, pretty much everyone else is mediocre to horrible. Tahl is a mysterious character with a potentially intriguing character and origin, but she just doesn't show up that much, especially after the first half or so of the book. Instead, she ends up shuffled out of the plot in order to give Qui-Gon and Xanatos more face time. Xanatos is an incredibly annoying character, especially if you were put off by Anakin in the prequels. To picture Xanatos, just take Attack of the Clones Anakin, strip away any real tragedy, cut out the unfortunate romantic elements, and make him a whiny idiot in precisely every conversation instead of just most of them. There is exactly nothing good about this character, every time he showed up the book declined in quality for the simple reason that his motivation seemed to consist of nothing more than finding a way to be insulted by everything. Acting as a foil/object for further aggravation for Xanatos is Orykan, a masterless Twi'lek padawan tagging along on the mission. The character doesn't seem to do much besides make awful expressions of horror, ultimately serving the plot as nothing more than another reason for Xanatos to randomly get angry. There might be a decent character buried in there somewhere, but for the context of this book she is basically just a useless piece of window dressing.
Qui-Gon's supporting cast isn't very good, and his opponents are even less compelling, albeit mostly for the same reasons. The three people behind the uprising on Telos IV are visually intriguing and potentially strong characters, but they are let down by stagnant development and unclear motivations. Dairoki, a hideously scarred man that is certainly the most striking of the group, has a ton of potential to be an interesting character. We learn that he is a former member of the Jedi Order, having left during his time as a Padawan for reasons left unclear for the story. A lot of this character seems to be based around this element of his life, although this is just speculation because we get to see almost nothing of the character's personality. His reasons for murder and inciting violence are never made clear, but his background and hideous scars are enough to give the character an air of mystery. I would love to see him return in a future story. The same cannot be said of the two other plotters, both of whom share a special connection with Xanatos that seems to be their defining character trait. These characters are even less detailed than Dairoki, and they lack the same menace that he has. If you are invested in Xanatos, these two do a competent job of complicating the story, but if you are only concerned with the mystery element because Xanatos is such an awful character, then these two are a bit thin. Ultimately this book is a good, but nonessential, look at a younger Qui-Gon, with some rather forgettable characters added in.
|At first, Qui-Gon is barely even recognizable.|
The Dark Side makes use of a stylized, shadow heavy design that actually turns out pretty well, despite a poor start. Qui-Gon's enormous, badly deformed nose really detracts from the art initially, but as the story progresses his face goes from being an ugly mess of lines to a recognizable and enjoyable representation that does a good job of capturing the character's emotional state. Not everyone is so lucky though: Orykan wears the same exaggerated expression in every panel, and Xanatos looks like Anakin in a different colored uniform. I didn't get any impression from the portrayal of Crion, Xanatos' father, or Nason, his sister. Their clean cut and polished looks do somewhat contradict the role they will have in the story, particularly Nason, who looks far too innocent to be plotting a massive conspiracy.
|I liked this scene, but it pops up with almost no explanation.|
Action scenes are bolstered by a strong sense of movement, excellent compositions, and vibrant energy effects. A duel to open the book between Xanatos and Qui-Gon is the only example of saber fighting we get in the entire book, but it looks great and is the perfect way to introduce both characters. The sabers look great, and coupled with some very neat blaster effects, there is a ton of color and movement in every action panel. The only thing that irked me with any of the action was the sometimes excessive use of sound effects, something that only serves to impede on the artwork needlessly.
|The sunset in the background really makes this scene.|
As far as the setting is concerned, it is fairly consistent throughout. Both Coruscant and Telos IV benefit from great sunset scenes and generally strong lighting. The Jedi Council on Coruscant and the backstreets of Telos are appropriately lighted and conveyed, and some allusions in the script help tie Telos back to its memorable appearance in Knights of the Old Republic II. The setting isn't the most memorable, but the great landscapes and lighting help to make it at least entertaining in its own right.
Jedi: The Dark Side is a mostly bland book with a promising ending and very strong artwork. This is definitely worth a buy for Qui-Gon fans, even if it is a mostly predictable murder mystery with a very tiresome personal conflict thrown in. All around, a very mediocre work.