WandaVision Limited Series Review

After a long, very un-marvellous drought of content from the mainline MCU since Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019, fans have eagerly awaited what is the first of a slew of small-screen series coming to Disney+ for the foreseeable future. Was it worth the unusually long wait?

The short answer to the above question is yes, without a shadow of a doubt. The long answer, however, requires a look at exactly why this ambitious, crazily-premised sitcom spoof scratches the itch left behind by closed cinemas and empty theatres the world over. It may not be an equal substitute for the seemingly-cursed Black Widow feature, or the thoroughly mysterious Shang-Chi and Eternals properties for which there is still yet to be any promotion. But what is is, thankfully, is a risk-taking look inside the mind of the most tortured and tragic character still alive after Thanos’ war with the wider universe.

Wanda’s first clue that not everything is as idyllic as she would like

Grief-stricken after Vision’s demise in Infinity War and given no time to process her trauma, Wanda has taken control of a small town in New Jersey and made it her home with…Vision?!

Or at least, someone who looks like Vision. What starts as a homage to classic black-and-white era sitcoms barrels through the decades before reaching the 21st century, with each era offering its own set of clues as to what is really going on. Viewers could be forgiven for being totally lost after the credits have rolled on episode one. And two. And…maybe the third one as well. Eagle-eyed fans, however, receive vindication when the fourth episode pulls the curtain back on the twisted spectacle playing out in front of them when fan-favourites Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis join forces with a grown-up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel and S.W.O.R.D. to make sense of it all.

Although Monica is the only existing character from outside Westview who Wanda interacts with (and even at that, she is portrayed by a different, much older actress), viewers could hardly care less. Whether she is in sitcom-land, a S.W.O.R.D. makeshift base, or a witch’s basement lair, Elizabeth Olsen gives the performance of her Marvel career across nine heartbreaking episodes. Moving through the stages of grief we see her deny the truth, rage against her reality, drift into acceptance, and then ultimately find peace. Never before has such a journey been portrayed in a single property before, owing thanks to the new long-form storytelling afforded to Marvel Studios by Disney+.

One person who does not have Wanda’s best interests at heart is the only unidentifiable Westview resident – the mysterious Agnes.

There’s more to this overbearing neighbour than meets the eye…

Always popping up when is least convenient and portrayed brilliantly by the ever-talented Kathryn Hahn, Agnes fulfils the role of ‘friendly neighbour’ which has found life in nearly every sitcom since the genre’s inception. In the final third of the series we finally receive confirmation that ‘Agnes’ is in fact the infamous Agatha Harkness, a character who is intrinsically linked with Scarlet Witch in the original Marvel comics. While there she is mostly portrayed as a positive influence on the world, here we get the sense that in the MCU that statement could not be further from the truth.

For the most part, WandaVision takes risk unlike any other MCU project that came before it. Before the advent of Disney+ it simply would not have been feasible to output a long-form story like this in the first place, and only in the aftermath of record-shattering Endgame can Marvel Studios afford to get weird and challenge audiences in ways hitherto undreamt of. That is not to say that this fledgling limited series is without flaws; it absolutely has missteps which can and will rightly be criticised. But for the most part it does something wonderfully refreshing and unique – it dares to be bold.

When candlelit dinners go awry…

Sharing top-billing and elevating the series to great heights is Paul Bettany who, at long last, is afforded the opportunity to have fun with his role as The Vision.

If someone had told fans of Iron Man back in 2008 that the voice behind Tony’s armour would go on to play the resurrected husband of Wanda Maximoff in front of a sitcom live studio audience they probably would have laughed in your face. Thankfully that came to pass, and the franchise is better for it. While Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn spar and trade words (sometimes in equal measure), it is Bettany who provides the most complex performance. Having said that, the most impressive episode of the series is its penultimate one which hardly features him at all, speaking to the calibre of acting from all involved.

Having embraced sitcom life to the full, even employing stunt casting for the long-lost sibling trope, WandaVision starts to feel familiar from the seventh episode onwards when it reverts back to more traditional superhero fanfare. What it gains in spectacle however is lost in equal measure in terms of charm and uniqueness. Falling into the prevailing trap of a CGI fight between the hero and similarly-powered villain, some viewers will be left wishing that such a unique show would have instead opted for a more unique form of conflict resolution.

As for dangling plot threads, if Photon getting the call to arms in outer space and a restored Vision weren’t enough then surely a post-credits scene teasing the sequel to Doctor Strange will whet your appetite.

I’m dreaming of a White Vision

When all is said and done, fans and curious outsiders alike will look back on WandaVision with fondness, marvelling over just how well a bizarre concept like this was executed while still fitting seamlessly into a wider franchise. Even now, Disney+ apps are being booted up as we speak for immediate rewatches to start the crazy ride all over again and try to spot clues hiding in the background. What held it back from being truly great, however, was its hesitation in committing fully to the promise it made in being a “new era of television.” Certainly nothing like this has ever been done on the small screen before; but a small part of it has definitely been seen on the big one. In this way it scratches the itch left by an absent Black Widow release, but it falls short in staying true to the gimmick it paraded so proudly for the majority of its run.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Detective Comics #1027 Review

One week removed from worldwide Batman Day celebrations and the dust has now well and truly settled on the anniversary issue which marks the occasion. One thousand issues of Detective Comics have come and gone since the most popular caped crusader first graced its pages, and the question now on everybody’s lips is how does such an oversaturated character stay so popular and culturally relevant?

The answer to this question is quite simple really – although a thousand issues have come and gone (and many, many more if we include his other series), the character of Batman has undergone so much change and evolution that he would make even the scriptwriters of the Jurassic Park franchise blush. It is that state of constant flux, that flourish of individuality brought to the table by an army of different writers throughout the years, which makes Bruce Wayne the world’s most popular superhero. It is for that precise reason that a landmark issue such as this one is not an action-packed extravaganza, but instead a collection of a dozen short stories from a dozen all-star creative teams who all tackle a different element of the Batman mythology.

From an impressive feat of escape artistry in the first story “Blowback” to shepherding the rest of the Batfamily through a murder mystery in “The Master Class,” Batman’s prowess is on show right from the very beginning. As entertaining as these stories are, true value is found in those such as “Rookie” which tackle the idea of Batman, in this case how much of an inspiration he can be to the people of Gotham. This is then humorously twisted in “Detective #26” when the emergence of the Bat forces a would-be vigilante to seek early retirement when he realises just how ineffective he is compared to The Dark Knight.

That is not to say that more straightforward and traditional, albeit shorter, tales of the bat are not entertaining. Stories such as “Odyssey” manage to spin a complete and satisfying narrative, the dozen-page constraint having no bearing on its ability to be compelling. Whereas “Legacy”, which could very easily just have been a standard Batman vs. Dr. Phosphorous battle, instead looked to the future and reminded us all why this slightly-mad, night-prowling costumed character is unequivocally on the side of the angels.

The final two stories, “Generations: Fractured” and “A Gift”, being drawn-out advertisements for future stories feels inappropriate in a celebration of Batman’s past. However, others such as “Many Happy Returns” and “As Always” balance this out by reminding us how tirelessly the Bat fights against evil, be it the Joker or any number of cosmic entities. While we don’t meet the likes of Darkseid or the Anit-Monitor face-to-face, it would have been a missed opportunity to not have a story featuring the Clown Prince of Crime relentlessly tormenting the yin to his yang.

In conclusion, this issue is a tremendous publication from DC and while not every story included has been mentioned by name they all come together to feature something for everyone. Whether you are an old-school Batman fan or a relative newcomer, this is one collected edition-sized anniversary issue that deserves its place on your shelf rather than inside a bag and board.

Final Score: 10/10

Stargirl Season One Review

The first live-action outing from the DC Universe streaming service to be classed as “child friendly,” Stargirl proves that you don’t need strong violence, gratuitous swearing, or body horror to tell a compelling superhero origin story.

When a television series based on Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl, was announced in the summer of 2018 it was met with some confusion. Namely, how it would gel against the otherwise-mature content being produced on DCU. Thankfully it purposely does not gel, and instead finds its own tone, niche, and balance of wholesome teenage superhero shenanigans versus nefarious adult supervillain machinations. Although it benefited from a next-day broadcast on American network The CW, Stargirl takes a leaf out of its fellow streaming series’ playbook and consists of just 13 episodes compared to a network standard of 22. But just how well does it utilise a concise runtime?

Where the likes of Titans and, to a lesser extent, Doom Patrol stumble and sometimes spend too much time flashbacking to the past, this series strikes a perfect balance between supplying the audience with all of the context they need regarding the Justice and Injustice Societies of America while also setting up the successors to these mantles in a satisfying way. By the time the season has reached its halfway point the stage is set, the second incarnation of the JSA has been established and developed, and the ISA have already committed enough atrocities to make us want to see each and every one of them suffer a beatdown from the ever-impressive S.T.R.I.P.E. mecha.

Stargirl and her Cosmic Staff

Speaking of the invention of legacy sidekick Pat Dugan, the CGI budget and SFX wizardry present throughout the series is something to behold. Be it the emotive Cosmic Staff, the chilling villain Icicle, or the stunning action set pieces, it can never be said that Stargirl does not impress on a visual level.

That is not to say that the actual drama and emotional punch found here is lacking in any way, as nothing could be further from the truth. What many comic book-based series fail to do is convey a sense of risk, with the audience generally safe in the knowledge that the hero will triumph in the end and the status quo will be reinstated. Without giving away the plot of the finale, what can be safely revealed is that throughout the series enough tragedies and pitfalls dash the hopes of our young cast of heroes to assure the audiences that the gloves are off and as far as Season Two is concerned, no one is safe.

There is also enough emotional baggage associated with our heroes that you would need S.T.R.I.P.E. itself to carry it all. From dead parents to invasions of privacy to teenage angst, they’ve got it all.

The new crop of Blue Valley JSA heroes do justice to their predecessors

Hourman is haunted by the deaths of his parents, initially thought to have died in a regular car accident. It is revealed throughout the course of the series that the accident was in fact caused by Solomon Grundy on the fateful night which eradicated the original JSA, a revelation which motivates him to take down the ISA. Wildcat regressed from a sociable, straight-A student to a forced recluse at the behest of her parents after intimate pictures of her were leaked by her then-boyfriend’s jealous ex. In one of the series’ many plot conveniences, both of these teenagers are the children of ISA members. Dr. Mid-Nite, meanwhile, is more or less just along for the ride and is enjoying getting to know the AI replica of her predecessor which inhabits her high-tech goggles. Last but not least, Stargirl herself is determined to vanquish the ISA after learning that her father, supposedly the original Starman, was also killed alongside the parents of the new Hourman.

The real superpowers of the Injustice Society of America members are their anti-aging techniques

On the other hand, by comparison the vast majority of the Injustice Society members are disappointingly one-note, with the exception of scene-stealing Icicle and Brainwave who are determined to brainwash the American population and force them to conform to their ideals.

Nevertheless, stereotypical moustache-twirling villains aside, every episode in the series adds another piece to the puzzle that is the mysterious happenings in Blue Valley, with not a minute of screentime wasted. By the time the final confrontations take place in the two-part finale large dollops of vindication and justice are dished out to the audience’s glee, while also laying an intriguing foundation for Season Two.

In conclusion, Stargirl is a wonderful antithesis to the grimdark standard which has been set by other live-action series on DC Universe. Its main star is a delight to watch navigate the superhero realm, her co-stars are suitably fleshed-out and grounded in reality, and the classic superhero action is second to none in the television arena. While some of its villains hold it back from being the perfect series, their comeuppance will have to satisfy audiences for now before the survivors return to plague the JSA next year.

Final Score: 9/10

Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds Mini-Series Review

Seven months since its penultimate issue and a cancellation courtesy of DC, the latest Doom Patrol offering from the Young Animal imprint finally delivers a satisfying conclusion.

While unfortunate that fans of the characters had to wait so long for the final issue of this forcefully limited run, it could not have been more timely. Debuting its premiere issue a mere two months after the end of the critically-successful Season One of Doom Patrol on the DC Universe streaming service, this final issue now arrives just a couple of weeks after Season Two splashed onto our screens. Now more than ever, Doom Patrol and the mythos surrounding it is on the tip of everybody’s collective tongue and thankfully the brainchild of Gerard Way and Jeremy Lambert managed to stick the landing.

What makes Doom Patrol so popular amongst its fans is the different approach that the writers take when it comes to crafting superhero characters. They are neither all-powerful like Superman or paragons of virtue like Wonder Woman – in fact, they are more or less a bunch of screw-ups. No one would take ownership of that title as much as Cliff Steele does, played by Brendan Fraser in the television series, who at the beginning of this miniseries finds himself back in a flesh-and-blood body thanks to the events of the preceding run.

Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds #1 cover

Unable to reconcile his newly-found humanity with the lack of human connections he has left due to his association with the Doom Patrol, by the end of the first issue Cliff has hurled himself off a cliff in a speeding vehicle in what would be a suicide attempt for anyone else. For the hero known as Robotman, however, it is instead a tragic one-way ticket back into a cold, metal body which is now more familiar to him than the one he was born into. Now inhabiting a much more sophisticated form than he is used to, Cliff is able to receive automatic upgrades depending on how many civilians he helps, resulting in him going off on an obsessive quest to help anyone and everyone that he possibly can like a gamer who just has one more skill tree to complete before maxing out their RPG character.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Doom Patrol such as Rita, Jane, Larry, Flex Mentallo, Casey, et al. are caught up in a series of increasingly unfortunate events as plot threads from previous storylines rear their ugly heads. From a world of spherical creatures ruled by an orb-shaped overlord to a flex-off on a dilapidated beach resort to the confines of Mento’s mind, each and every scenario is wondrously brought to life by the the team of artists who made this miniseries a reality, including but not limited to the much-loved Doc Shaner and Becky Cloonan.

Just one example of Doc Shaner’s work from issue #3

In the end both storylines combine, with a piece of character development for everyone piled on along the way (such as Larry requiring the needs of a service dog), when it is revealed that Cliff is about to turn into DC’s equivalent of Galactus from the Marvel universe by upgrading himself to a planet-sized version of himself. This gargantuan Robotman, corrupted by his own obsession, is hell-bent on cleansing the universe of worlds in need of help and repair rather than undergoing the lengthy and tedious task of helping them.

If this series sounds like your cup of tea, then by all means race down to your nearest comic book store or bookshop and place an order for the trade paperback that is due out in September. Fair warning, however – this miniseries is not catered towards newcomers, and having a knowledge of the previous Doom Patrol series from the Young Animal imprint is a requirement rather than an option. From the very first issue the writers hit the ground running and assume that everyone is already up to date with where all of the characters are both physically and emotionally. Although a handful of footnotes are scattered across the first issue by the editor, these are more of a brief reminder rather than an actual provider of context. With that in mind, this wonderful odyssey through the warped imagination of Gerard Way and Co. is a worthy successor to what came before it provided that you can scramble over that massive hurdle.

Without spoiling the grand finale which has been so long-anticipated, it is safe to say that issue #7 manages to wrap up the sometimes-confusing and often-crazy series of adventures and mishaps in a satisfying way. Without speculating too much, the final page leaves the impression that any future miniseries or extended runs, be they from the current creators or a new team, will serve as a fresh start and a jumping-on point for new fans. Hopefully that comes much sooner than Season Three of the television series.

The brilliant Becky Cloonan made issue #5 sparkle with both scripts and pencils

Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds is a delightful reminder of just how much fun comic books can be when you remove any preconceived notions of what a superhero looks like or how they should behave. It stays true to form and pays tribute to what came before while also setting the stage for future stories, however it does this to the detriment of anyone who might have picked up issue #1 off the shelf because they liked watching Brendan Fraser swear through a voice modulator.

Final Score: 8/10

Hawkeye: Freefall Mini-Series Review

Eternally popular in both print and live-action media, Clint Barton is once again on a one-man crusade to fight crime the only way he knows how – with increasingly perilous difficulty.

There is a lot of goodwill from fans when it comes to a new Hawkeye miniseries. With a history including stellar runs from Matt Fraction and David Aja in 2012 and then again in 2015 under Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez, when this series was first announced last year fans hoped that Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt would be adding their names to that hallowed pantheon. And in many ways they do. In some others, however, not so much.

The premise of this new miniseries is straightforward enough to begin with – Parker Robbins, a.k.a. The Hood, is expanding his criminal drug empire and the corrupt authorities under mayor Wilson Fisk cannot be bothered to stop him. Enter Clint Barton, one of the few Avengers (West Coast or otherwise) who can still count himself as a street-level hero, the man on a mission who wants to see the streets of New York City cleaned up. Excellent, this sounds exactly like a classic ‘good guy versus bad guy turf war.’

Hawkeye: Freefall #1, courtesy of Marvel.com

The only problem with this is that The Hood is not just well-connected and an idiot, as Clint likes to remind us every now and again. He is downright formidable even to the strongest heroes on the block, and all Hawkeye has to his name are a bow and some arrows. Oh, and someone is impersonating his former Ronin persona and going after The Hood’s assets with a more violent plan of attack, so whoever this is probably needs to be taken down too. So a three-way turf war and six issues to tell it – this is going to be exciting.

Clint manages to get the better of Robbins at first, but not for long

And for the most part it is. There are a lot of action sequences, as well as a plethora of cool and interesting fight scenes involving The Hood’s supernatural abilities that are beautifully brought to life by penciller Otto Schmidt. However, a major drawback of this miniseries is that for something that only clocks in at around 120 pages in length it becomes needlessly convoluted around the halfway point. This unfortunately hampers the narrative a great deal as time needs to be spent explaining plot twists that weren’t necessary in the first place – time which is in short supply.

As it transpires, it is Clint himself who is donning the Ronin costume while pretending to be a mysterious newcomer who is capable of fending off the likes of Bucky, Falcon, and even Spider-Man. He is doing this so that he can secretly pick-off a number of The Hood’s assets in secret (with some uncharacteristically violent fallout) while still publicly striving to bring him to justice the legitimate way. Of course, Clint is Suspect Number One amongst the superhero community when his old alter-ego reappears on the scene, so the way he gives himself an alibi by being in two places at once is…a portable, one-hour-boomerang time machine.

On paper it is exactly the sort of comic book-y plot device you would expect to make an appearance, but in an otherwise grounded miniseries which shows the fallout of Clint’s many mistakes and the toll each and every encounter with The Hood is taking on his body it just feels out of place. When the device breaks and is impossible to repair by his new seventeen-year-old former-criminal tech expert you would assume that the narrative would return to its original premise, but instead even more time is spent finding ways to continue the by now eye-rolling ruse.

Not the sort of behaviour that you would expect from a (sometimes) well-respected Avenger

Still, this miniseries deserves a lot more than just complaints. By the time Bullseye comes onto the scene in the third act the stakes have well and truly been raised, and there are a number of casualties which weigh heavily on Clint’s conscience. This serves as a much-needed wake-up call for the purple archer and narrows his focus to the original goal – put a stop to The Hood’s criminal activity. The final issue concludes on a sombre note in contrast to the rest of the miniseries, and teases a premise which could very well be the basis of a fascinating follow-up series. As far as this one goes, however, it doesn’t quite reach the heights that one of Clint’s arrows could.

Presenting an interesting premise and hosting an all-star supporting cast, Hawkeye: Freefall offers gorgeous artwork, thrills and laughs throughout, and also a solid ending. However, its unnecessarily convoluted plot and slump around the middle take points off it and makes it miss the mark which Clint would normally nail even with his eyes closed.

Final Score: 7/10

Ant-Man (2020) Mini-Series Review

With Scott Lang now a household name thanks to not one, not two, but three different franchises within the record-breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe, this iteration of Ant-Man can still tell a compelling story in print as well as on the big screen.

When mainstream audiences last saw Scott Lang don the red and black Ant-Man suit it was to save all of creation from the would-be multiverse conqueror Thanos in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of an eleven-year narrative woven throughout twenty-two different cinematic outings. With the much-anticipated ‘Ant-Man 3’  still a considerable amount of time away, fans of the character will have to look elsewhere for their Scott Lang fix. Provided, of course, that they do not mind doing without the Paul Rudd likeness for the time being.

Is this miniseries, the final issue of which landed on the shelves of comic book stores across the world this morning, the cure for ant fever? In its small five-issue dosage, yes, it absolutely is. Picking up right in the thick of action we find Scott and his daughter Cassie foiling the plot of a band of drug mules, super-sizing themselves using patented Pym Particles to become Ant-Man and his current sidekick/partner Stinger.

Ant-Man (2020) #1 variant cover

We learn that at this current point in time in the Marvel comics universe Scott has found himself a little down on his luck, now being forced to live out of an ant hill in a garden in Florida because he cannot afford a place of this own. This is played as a joke with lovable consequences as we see him deal with annoyed ant roommates who would rather he take his problems elsewhere, but it also sets up the rest of our story nicely.

Interior art from Issue #1 courtesy of Marvel.com

Desperate for work, the superhero kind or otherwise, Scott begrudgingly accepts a mundane job investigating the disappearance of local bees. After all, he is the ‘bug guy,’ right? Although Cassie is not impressed by his seemingly-low aspirations due to her being offered a place on the Kate Bishop-led West Coast Avengers, the job turns out to be more than Scott bargained for when Nazi scientist-turned-supervillain Swarm is revealed to be responsible.

Swarms of bees have never been scarier

What starts off as a classic good-guy-beats-bad-guy conclusion to the first issue, the startling revelation is made that other villains comprised of an insect hivemind have been hunting Swarm, namely newcomers Vespa, Thread, and Tusk. From here the story snowballs as this trio of monsters are revealed to be merely henchman of the deadly Macrothrax, who in turn is the pawn of a trio of insect gods who live in the Savage Land by the names of Phthira, Crematrix, and Ve’trock.

By the end of the fourth issue Macrothrax has bested both Scott and Cassie, stolen the latter’s helmet and used it to brainwash Phthira and Crematrix to do his bidding, starting with murdering the hateful and cruel Ve’trock. Oh, and also lead the stolen-Pym-Particle-enhanced duo on a rampage across the world in order to assimilate mankind into his twisted insectoid vision for the future of Earth.

On paper, the concept of this miniseries sounds ridiculous. In practice, however, it is a story that you cannot possibly divert your attention from. Zeb Wells has crafted a hilariously thrilling story that effortlessly shifts from Scott arguing with an ant to Hope facing a crossroads in her life, and then back to Scott again as he fights for his life against brand-new villains who will captivate your imagination.

Maybe Scott bit off more than he can chew…

This is made easy by the stunning character designs by Dylan Burnett who makes each of the villains grotesquely unique in their own way, as well as putting his own spin on the Ant-Man and Stinger costumes – Scott’s ‘bee suit’ in the first issue is a particular highlight. Throw in a well-timed series of cameos from the Avengers, Spider-Man and Black Cat during the half-way point of the miniseries and suddenly it all contains just enough low and high stakes action to make it required reading not just for fans of Scott Lang, but for fans of superheroes in general.

This might be a little bit above Scott’s pay grade

While we won’t give out any spoilers for today’s final issue, what we will say is that Wells and Burnett have crafted an excellent addition to the Ant-Man mythos for a variety of reasons. They have captured the trademarked Scott Lang brand of humour and comic relief effortlessly, as well as laid the foundations for future stories involving both himself and Cassie, who by now has well and truly become a superhero in her own right. Although the concept of this miniseries quickly gets out-of-hand and is by no means as small in scale as Ant-Man himself, they manage to keep it grounded by always paying dues to the human problems which plague the men and women behind the masks. While the miniseries could have probably used one extra issue to let itself breathe for a moment and flesh out some of the new characters a little bit more, today’s final issue has still left us chomping at the bit for Ant-Man and Stinger’s next four-colour outing.

Final Score: 8.5/10

The Rise of Kylo Ren (2019) Mini-Series Review

A long time has passed since the origin story of the Sequel Trilogy’s standout character was announced at San Diego Comic Con. Now, eight months later, has Charles Soule delivered a satisfying ending (or beginning?) to this chapter of Ben Solo’s life?

The Rise of Kyle Ren #1

In short, almost. Last December, hot off the heels of Ben Solo’s tragic death in the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga on film, fans were desperate for more content starring the conflicted son of Han Solo. With the fandom in mourning, the first issue penned by Charles Soule and masterfully illustrated by Will Sliney scratched an itch that could be felt even in a galaxy far, far away. Fast-forward three months to March, however, and this series is no longer an itch-scratcher. It has become required reading.

The sad truth of it all is that this series has made it crystal clear that Ben Solo was never going to have a happy ending. Even from a young age Palpatine was whispering in his ear, sowing the seeds of the Dark Side of the Force in his impressionable mind in order for him to blossom into the not-quite-Sith Kylo Ren who captivated the imaginations of fans the world over in The Force Awakens. Right at the beginning of this series it is revealed that the Knights of Ren refer to the Dark Side as ‘the Shadow,’ a nickname which is then used like a dagger through the heart of Ben Solo fans when it is said by another of Luke’s former Padawans that he casts “a pretty long shadow” in the Force. All the more tragic is the revelation that Ben did not set fire to Luke’s temple. Does the lightning strike suggest a powerful Dark Side user like Snoke, or even Palpatine himself? A likely bet, but maybe a patented Maz Kanata “good story, for another time.”

Still, it isn’t all tragedy and pity. Some of it is pure nostalgia and adrenaline. Seeing ‘Prime Luke,’ some years after the events of Return of the Jedi but before he became the Old Man Luke seen at the end of The Force Awakens, is something that has been sorely missing from the wider canon since the erasure of the old EU. Seeing Luke being a mentor to young Solo and in his fighting prime, easily dispatching the Knights of Ren, was a joy to watch unfold as Will Sliney makes every sabre slash look just as iconic as they do when projected in a theatre. Unfortunately the Knights themselves are still as big of a mystery as the eponymous Ren who dies at Ben’s hands, solidifying him as their new leader. A throwaway line in the final issue indicates that they are essentially bounty hunters, but beyond that we learn nothing more about them apart from the occasional name-drop which can be found in the movie’s visual dictionary. Seeing the Knights be single-handedly defeated by Luke and then struggle to fend off a single Padawan in the final issue does little to boost their credibility before we next see them in The Rise of Skywalker.

Still, if there is one thing which this series does well in terms of fleshing out the background of the Sequel Trilogy it is Luke’s academy. Used sparingly, the academy itself is only shown a handful of times. The real intrigue comes from Ben’s fellow Padawan learners Voe, Hennix, and Tai. Destined to die before this series even began due to the nature of villainous origin stories, getting to know each of these three students and their different personalities was something that is dying to be replicated in an animated series set post-Return of the Jedi and featuring Mark Hamill. Until that fan dream comes true, we must satisfy ourselves with this teaser of those lost years. Who knows, maybe we will meet the three Padawans who died at the hands of Ben again someday, making their deaths even more cruel in the second half of this series.

Last but not least, the final conflict. Sadly a little rushed, the series needed more than one final issue to wrap things up after the cliffhanger in Issue #3. Although Ben’s transformation into Kylo Ren as he embraced the Dark Side (even catching a glimpse of a certain brown-haired girl from Jakku) was satisfying to see in all of Will Sliney’s glory, as was his bleeding of the cyber crystal which would go on to power his cross guard lightsaber, for the most part the final quarter was forced to spend too much time ticking boxes to wrap things up and not enough time laying bare the conflict within Ben.

While we did get a healthy dose of psychology during his battle with Tai in which he outlined the battle between Light and Dark inside of him, it comes from a place of conflict and not a place of self-awareness. Joining the Dark Side becomes more of a frustrated reluctance rather than a profound epiphany, which both undermines the string-pulling of Palpatine and cripples the sympathy felt by the reader. If Ben fell to the Dark Side because Snoke showed him love and affection and didn’t care that he was the son of Han Solo, shouldn’t the same be said of Luke not caring that he was the grandson of Vader? Not even a callback to the iconic over-the-shoulder lightsaber draw on Exogol in The Rise of Skywalker can negate this particular grievance.

In any case, the build up to Kylo’s ‘rise’ over the previous three issues did a great job showing a more innocent side to Ben Solo and of expanding the lore of this galaxy far, far away. With any luck we will see the Jedi outpost from Issue #2 in one of Soules’ works set during the High Republic era over the course of the next few years. However, the grand finale, visually stunning as it may be, needed a fifth or even a sixth issue to breathe and give the reader a better sense as to why Ben Solo became Kylo Ren.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

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