Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Flashpoint
The second volume collecting issues from the Knights of the Old Republic ongoing monthly, Flashpoint collects issues 7-12, published from July 2006 to January 2007.
Flashpoint, the second collected edition of the Knights of the Old Republic series, features a minor departure from the previous arc's tale of a Jedi on the run after being falsely accused of murder. This story isn't nearly as urgent in Flashpoint, and instead we are treated to Zayne and company getting caught in the crossfire between the Mandalorian armies and the Old Republic's desperate defense of their outer worlds. Zayne is also tested with an intense rescue mission and participates in yet another far-fetched scam cooked up by con artist Gryph Hierogryph. This book ends up being quite like the previous though, as the tone remains remarkably light and humorous throughout, and the art is once again wildly inconsistent with three different artists contributing. Despite rather weak antagonists and more frustratingly inconsistent art, Flashpoint is a worthy continuation of the saga of Zayne Carrick and it is a perfect example of the lighter side of Star Wars.
The first story, the three part Flashpoint arc, is a great way to start the book and a nice break from the ongoing narrative of Jedi prophecies and fugitives on the run. After the team is nearly destroyed by a Mandalorian raid on a small mining society that they were attempting to swindle, Jarael finds herself in the clutches of a Mandalorian scientist named Demagol and meets a Jedi from Zayne's past, while the rest of the group concocts a plan to break her out. This straightforward rescue tale introduces a new companion, disgraced Mandalorian Rohlan Dyre and while Rohlan remains enigmatic , this is more or less a breakout role for Gryph. Gryph's scheming and devious ideas pay off three times in this arc, and as his dialogue gets snappier and more entertaining, the character quickly becomes one of the most endearing in this series, now rivaling Zayne himself.
Next up is Homecoming, a standalone story to shed some light on the back stories of our villains, most notably ringleader Lucien Draay. This is a bit of a tonal shift from the previously light hearted tale of Zayne and company: Homecoming is quite sinister by comparison and even has many tragic elements concerning Draay's parental situation and up-bringing. We get to see how he grew his powers and how this powerful cabal of force-seers met with one another, which helps to define all five members of the group. Although it is a bit of a distraction and definitely doesn't gel with Flashpoint or Reunion, Homecoming is a fairly interesting one off that manages to give our main cast of villains some much needed depth.
Concluding this collection is Reunion, where the premise of what amounts to a bank heist ends up paying off brilliantly by introducing an important part of Zayne's character and generally being incredibly entertaining. Our heroes are short on funds, so they devise a quick footed, devious scheme to siphon money from one of the galaxy's most prestigious banks. Once again, this is high on comedy as Jarael and Camper blunder their way through their roles, complete with ridiculous disguises, while Gryph and Zayne stay behind to monitor the situation from afar. Things get shook up a bit when two Ithorian thugs kidnap the banker Jarael and Camper are attempting to deceive, and this leads to a rather important revelation in the Jedi's ongoing pursuit of Zayne, and a very important piece of his story is revealed for the first time. This is another consequential story that manages to retain the series' signature humor while advancing the plot in an intelligent way. By this point the pieces are starting to fit together quite nicely and characters are only getting stronger. Reunion is a perfect way to end this book as it definitely builds anticipation for getting around to the next volume in the series just to see what kind of situations our heroes find themselves in next.
This doesn't mean the book is perfect though: in both Flashpoint and Reunion, the villains are seriously limp wristed. Demagol, the Mandalorian scientist responsible for the experimentation on captured Jedi, is pretty clearly being set up to be a returning player at some point in this series, and hopefully he makes more of an impression than he manages here. He is subdued quite easily and we never get a taste for what exactly he is doing to the Jedi, only that it is apparently bad. The Ithorians in Reunion, as amusing as they are, are also bad villains, but for slightly different reasons. It isn't their bumbling incompetence that makes them bad, as this fits the humorous tone of that particular story quite well, but one panel in which they actually get the best of Zayne despite going toe to toe with a trained Jedi and possessing below average intelligence. Also, I've never known of the Ithorians to be great melee fighters but you wouldn't know it from this book. It just doesn't seem plausible and reeks of protracting the story needlessly, although it does lead to a pretty funny conversation between one of the Ithorians and Gryph. Nevertheless, I am really only nit picking: Zayne and his supporting cast are developing quite a bit and Gryph's dialogue just keeps getting better, as does his chemistry with Zayne. Jarael and Camper continue to amuse in their more limited roles, and even T1-LB has a few strong moments.
For whatever reason, the art problems on this book continue with Flashpoint. Three artists in six issues is no way to establish continuity, and though two of the styles are relatively similar and equally enjoyable, the third once again marks a major shift in the middle of an arc that makes it very hard to focus on the story. During the Reunion arc, penciller Brian Ching and colorist Michael Atiyeh are replaced by Harvey Tolibao and Jay David Ramos for the second half of the tale. This is immediately noticeable and incredibly jarring, especially because there isn't any kind of division to let you know this is coming. Making matters worse is that Tolibao's style is quite similar to Ching's, except that he takes the cartoony and sketch heavy line work that has characterized the series and over exaggerates it to the point where eyes are far too large and faces are a bit too distorted for my tastes. Jarael in particular suffers from this change in artist, going from an ethereal figure with porcelain skin to a pasty white woman with her eyes set too far apart, although Zayne often looks rather strange too.
The art team also does a nice job of using distinctive alien species and matching the style of the Knights of the Old Republic video game series when it comes to architecture and space craft and the like. Even though much of the art is inconsistent, all three teams do a fairly good job of keeping things straight on the design front. Another thing I appreciated were the expressive close up panels, most of which feature Gryph or Zayne. Although the synergy between artist and writer is a bit fractured, which is certainly understandable given the rotating door of artists working on this book, many of the punch lines and comedic situations are strengthened by the art and with a little more consistency this could turn into a great fusion instead of a merely good one.
While Flashpoint may be a bit unfriendly for new readers, this is definitely a book that all Star Wars fans should check out. It has pretty much everything you would want in a good Star Wars story and precious few weak elements. For having one of the strongest casts of any comic I've read recently and stellar writing that only gets better throughout the course of the book, Flashpoint earns my recommendation despite some bad art and uninteresting villains.