Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm comics

I definitely should have read the Dawn of the Jedi comics before venturing into the first novel set in this time period. I would have enjoyed Into the Void more.

At the library on Wednesday, I picked up the first tradepaperback in the Dawn of the Jedi comics series — Force Storm. It gathers issues 1-5 of the Dawn of the Jedi series, and provides a much better explanation for this time period than Into the Void did. Not to mention it introduces characters that I like much, much better than Void’s heroine, Lanoree.

Usual warning.

Draigon-loads of spoilers ahead.

Proceed at your own risk.

The series starts off with a concise but thorough explanation of how the Je’Daii came to live on Tython. The Dai Bendu monks have been safeguarding a Tho Yor, a mysterious object which is in reality a (maybe sentient) space ship. One day it calls to them, and they board it, leaving their world. Across the galaxy, seven other Tho Yor do the same thing, gathering Force sensitives like Wookies from Kashyyyk, Witches of Dathomir and Twi-lek from Ryloth. As the ships travel to the Deep Core, and Tython, they pick up Force sensitives of other races. These people unite to form the Je’Daii, residing on Tython, a planet rich in the Force and orbited by two moons, Ashla (Light) and Bogan (Dark).

Over time, non-sensitive children born to the Je’Daii are sent to live on other planets in the system, as Tython, with weather that reacts to changes in the Force, has proven to be too dangerous a place for them to live. At the time this story takes place, these outcasts have settled all the worlds in the system, and there has been at least one system-wide war. Also, no one, outcast or Je’Daii has managed to find their way back out of the system. The very last planet, ‘Furies Gate’, has an orbiting station (also named Fury) to watch for the return of exploratory ships which are sent out periodically to find the route out of the system. To date, none of them have returned — but something else nevertheless finds its way into the Tythos System.

The comics then start to weave together two storylines, with references to a third — the Infinite Empire, the experiences of a select group of Je’Daii, and fleeting mentions of someone called Daegen Lok.

The story opens on Tatooine, yes, the Tatooine of the Skywalkers — only this planet is lush and covered with water. It’s also under attack by the Rakata of the Infinite Empire, who appear to have a massive desire to conquer the entire galaxy. The ‘Predors’ — warlords — of the Rakata keep ‘Force Hounds’ who, among other things, seek out Force-sensitive worlds and people. One of these hounds, Trill, has sensed a powerful Force-world in the Core, but can’t locate it. Xesh, another Hound, says that he can, and off he and his Predor go into the Core.

No surprise, the world is Tython, and naturally, Xesh’s ship crashes on it, killing everyone but him. In entering the system, it passed by Fury Station, and Hawk Ryo sets out to track it, sensing the Dark nature of its occupants. Hawk was a character introduced in a short story set before Into the Void, and it looks like I nay have been right — the comics seem to be setting him up to play a larger role in these events.

We’re next introduced to three Je’Daii Journeyers, or apprentices — Shae Koda, Tasha Ryo and Sek’los Rath. They each saw a vision of a masked person (Xesh) and set out to find him. Daegen Lok, an exile on Bogan, has the same vision — only he senses the darkness, and the power, within the person. The Je’Daii arrive just in time to witness the crash of Xesh’ ship and find his escape pod — and of course, to get into a pitched fight with Xesh, who then flees into the Abyss of Ruh, a place of Darkness on the planet.

Xesh, incidentally, brings the first ‘Forcesaber’ — a blade of light — to Tython. Unfortunately, this lightsaber can only be ignited through the Darkside.

Ultimately, Xesh is subdued by the Je’Daii, but only after he acts against all his instincts and training to aid Shae in her fight against an attacking creature from the Abyss. He admits that he could not allow her light to be extinguished, and that he does not understand their version of the Force at all. Since he is so completely out of balance in the Force, knowing only the Darkside, he’s banished to Bogan, there to study upon the Light and hopefully achieve balance. The fifth issue ends with the ominous statement by Daegen Lok that “Finally, it has begun.”

I enjoyed the comics much more than the novel, in part because the comics were more understandable. That opening explanation provided a basis from which to dive into this world, since so many of its terms, and Je’Daii behaviors, are different from those of the Star Wars Universe of later years. Moreover, the very fact that this story was in a comics-mode really helped, by giving a visual to the unfamiliar terms. Forcesabers and other new terms are easier to understand when you see what they look like.

Although, a rancor is still — unpleasant — whether it’s a full rancor or a half-breed. I’m just saying.

The one thing I wished they had done here was to provide more of a background for Daegen Lok. I know that people are exiled to Bogan because they are too far into the Darkside, but who Bogan is, and what he may have done while under the influence of the Darkside, are not explained here, although you’re definitely left with the impression that he’s going to play a large role in the story.

Overall, these five issues were a nice start to this part of the Star Wars Universe, although they do raise some interesting points about the changes that have occured ove time, particularly among the Jedi. One of the fascinating aspects of the comics was reading the creed of the Je’Daii:

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no fear, there is power.
I am the heart of the Force. I am the revealing fire of Light.
I am the mystery of darkness in balance with chaos and harmony,
Immortal in the Force.

Contrast that with the modern Jedi creed, which holds that the Darkside is not to be touched by Jedi, and that merely touching it will taint that Jedi’s actions forever. These Je’Daii, at least on the surface that we have seen thus far, appear to be more in balance, able to see and use both sides of the Force without (hopefully) falling prey to one side or the other. Indeed, just as those too immersed in the Dark are banished to Bogan, those who fall too far into the Light are banished to Ashla until they can regain their balance. An extreme move to one side of the Force or the other is not desirable in the eyes of the Je’Daii; balance is everything.

I’m still mulling over the implications here for the Jedi of later years.

I haven’t read anything past issue 5, as the library had nothing further from this series. But I can see that I’ll definitely be visiting the comics shop for additional issues, so I can follow up on the storylines introduced here.

And figure out if these Je’Daii are more knowledgable about the Force than Yoda and his Council.

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Is Hawkeye in Avengers 2?!?

From an article on the BBC app announcing that Robert Downey Jr. will return for Avengers 2 and 3:

Downey, 48, was one of the main stars of 2012’s Avengers Assemble, which united superhero characters Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor and the Black Widow, as played by Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson respectively.

All four of the stars are expected to join Downey Jr in the forthcoming films.

A statement on the Marvel website said Avengers 2 will feature “favourites from the first Avengers film and new Marvel characters never before seen on the big screen.”

Okay. First, there were SIX superheroes in Avengers — and Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, was the sixth. Suddenly, no mention of him — which is either sloppy journalism or a reason for me to become very annoyed and/or concerned.

Because, second, I’m a Hawkeye fan since forever, and if they add in some new characters and leave him out — well, I’m going to be extremely annoyed, maybe even to the point of NOT seeing the film. Or seeing it only once, on the regular screen, instead of the marathon IMAX, 3D, multiple viewings. And under my new rules of life — possibly not even buying merchandise from the film. Because seriously, life is too short to waste on things that annoy me.

Must Read: Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

If you love superheroes, and zombies, and end-of-the-world survival scenarios, you must read Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. Even if you don’t love those things, you must read this book.

I took a brief detour from reading my way through Star Wars (I’m through Into the Void and Lost Tribe of the Sith and Revan, which I’ll review shortly). The sun had finally come out, after all the rain and gloomy skies of Thursday and Friday, and I planned to drop myself onto a blanket in one of Valley Forge Park’s grassy meadows and read something quick and light while relaxing before a busy week of work. So I browsed through the library shelves and spotted Ex-Heroes, by Peter Clines. The blurb on the back said the novel featured super-heroes fighting zombies. I figured it would be a fast-reading, but ultimately forgettable, book.

And it is — fast-reading, that is. Forgettable, it is not.

I assumed the book would follow the standard comics plot: Danger appears. Superheroes answer the call. Superheroes save the day, stopping the danger and preventing the collapse of civilization. Life returns to normal.

I was so wrong in my assumptions.

IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET — SPOILERS AHEAD ——>

A virus begins spreading in Los Angeles, the location for the story. The virus turns dead people into zombies — or exes, for ex-humans. Naturally, the superheroes respond, but slowly –a number of them are only a year or so into their powers and they don’t know each other really well. Before they can even mount an effective defense — the plague overwhelms the City. And the world. Our heroes aren’t concerned with that, though; they’re just trying to save the City of Los Angeles.

Surprise Number 1: These superheroes do not save the people or the City of Los Angeles.

Surprise Number 2: Some of them can’t even save themselves.

Yes, that’s right. Some of the heroes fall victim to the virus and become zombies themselves. Superpowered zombies.

The best these heroes can manage is to hold back the inevitable and preserve one tiny little corner of the City with a few hundred/thousand survivors.

And that’s what makes the novel so interesting.

You see, one of the things I love about so many of the comics superheroes is that they’re flawed. Yes, they have powers. Specialized equipment. Secret identities and hideouts and really cool vehicles from which to fight criminals and supervillains.

But underneath it all, they’re still human (well, the ones who aren’t extraterrestrial beings or deitites, that is). They have flaws. They experience fear, feel inadequate, lack confidence. They make mistakes, and they don’t always do the right thing even when they know what the right thing is. Despite those failings, they get back up — or are helped back up — and return to try again, and again, until they fix their mistakes.

And that’s what this book got right. We get into the heads of the heroes and find out how they become powered and more importantly, why they started into the superhero gig. And those insights feed into the events of the main storyline and how the characters react to a bigger threat than either zombies or supervillains.

I sped through this book at light speed, finished it, then went back and reread it. Because I was surprised how good it was, and how much I enjoyed it. Let’s face it — based on the plot outline, this book could have been so bad. So very, very bad. It could have pandered to the whole zombie apocalypse stereotype and filled the pages with gore and death and little to no character development or plot beyond ‘shoot the dead guy in the head.’ Instead, I read a book with believable people who happened to have superpowers. People who screwed up and yet continued trying to do what they could to help others. In the end, they manage to save their little corner of surviving civilization, but at a high cost.

The book isn’t perfect — for one thing, you jump back and forth between the past and present, and different characters’ viewpoints, but if you keep your attention focused, that’s a small problem that can be handled.

How much did I like this book? Enough to drive to Barnes and Noble on my way home and buy both it and its sequel, Ex-Patriots. There’s a third book coming out in July.

I’ve already pre-ordered.

Go and buy these books. You won’t regret it.

And now, I’ll return to Star Wars.

Alas, Marvel

Oh Marvel, why did you have to screw up my digital comics addiction?

I love comics.  Oh, I love books, and movies, and TV shows as well.  But comics are different.

The books I like run the gamut from entertaining and funny to self-improving and thought-provoking.  My favorite movies and TV shows are tear-jerking, soul-rending, heart-stopping and sometimes outright terrifying.  But comics?  Comics combine all those emotions with laughter and comfort.  Comics take me back to simpler times, when I could count on my heroes to to solve every problem while quipping one-liners.

I race to comics when I’ve had a particularly nasty day, because where else can I get a quick emotional boost and a thorough distraction in less than 40 pages?  And above all comics, I worship Marvel.  Truly.  But this latest redesign of their website — forget it.  I’ve seen new Microsoft products with fewer bugs and less customer irritation.

Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited was a wonderful feature that fit perfectly into my ‘digitize’ mantra.  Thousands of back issues, neatly formatted for a convenient reader.  I could track what I’d read, mark comics to read in the future, toggle easily from one comic into the next in the series.  If I was eager to read more about Hawkeye I would just search the character.  And if I wanted to revisit the Secret Invasion, I could just search for the series.

I have a subscription to MDCU.  Had.  Have — at least until I call the bank tomorrow and ask about reversing the charge.  You see, Marvel ‘improved’ MDCU, transforming it into the new “Marvel Unlimited.”

Improved it as in removed the features that made it enjoyable and transformed it into something so impossible to use that I’m essentially paying for something with little resemblance to what I thought I was buying.

Rather like paying for a new pair of Manolos and getting the left shoe from a used pair of low-budget sneakers.

I can’t even begin to list the problems I’ve found in trying to use it — that is, when the website isn’t jamming and freezing to the extent I nearly have to physically shut down my computer to get out of it!  No way to record what I’ve read or what I want to read.  No easy way to toggle into the next comic in the series.  The few comics I tried to pull up took so long to load that I gave up and backed out.  When something did load, the new reader did such a poor job of aligning it that I couldn’t read half the print and again backed out.

Useless.  And my resolution for 2013 is to eliminate useless things.

I won’t stop reading comics — but it looks like I’ll be sticking to the print ones now.  And since I’ll be print-only, well, I’ll probably buy fewer Marvel and expand out into other comics.  Been awhile since I read Batman, there’s the new Arrow — time to check out DC and the indies, I think.

Great sigh of sorrow, here.  I really, really wanted their redesign to work.  I loved MDCU.  It was my go-to place.  I had big plans for reading my way through whole series I’d missed.

Guess Netflix will be getting a workout, now.