“From the Vault” is a periodical column used to explore pre-2000s comics (though we might skirt that ‘guideline’ a bit), especially reprint collections and the random gems of comics publishing.
Dark Horse Omnibus Editions
Today we’re taking a look at Dark Horse’s recently published Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space, Volume 1, an aptly named, 480-page behemoth collection of “rare and previously uncollected stories from UK publications, toy pack-ins, cereal boxes, Star Wars Kids magazine, and even issues that were originally published in 3-D!” (back-of-book synopsis). Wild Space was published on June 4, 2013, so it’s fresh in my mind and on the bookstore’s shelves, and it’s been such a successful endeavor that Dark Horse has a second volume on the way in October.
For those unfamiliar with the Dark Horse Omnibus line, a little background might be in order. Dark Horse officially describes the Omnibus books as, “a way to showcase actual novel-length stories or series, and to provide homes for “orphaned” series, single-issue stories, and short stories which would otherwise never be collected, or which might fall out of print.” These books aren’t entirely dissimilar to Marvel’s Essentials or DC’s Showcase Presents, but have more in common with DC’s Archive Editions, since all Dark Horse Omnibuses (let’s not go with a silly, faux Latin plural here) are color reprints. In addition, Omnibuses are 6.1 x 9 inches, as opposed to most TPBs which are usually between 6.4 x 9.4 and 6.7 x 10.2 inches depending on hardcover, softcover, various other printing decisions. This means that Dark Horse can offer full-color book that are usually the same page-length as DC’s Archive Editions (between 250 and 500 pages, usually close to 350+) for a low price of $24.95. Combine that price with the fact that some of the individual issues collected in the Omnibuses are sometimes difficult to find, and this makes Dark Horse’s line one of the best reprint collection TPB series on the market, without a doubt!
In addition, whereas Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase are not the very best put together books in terms of craftsmanship, with terrible glue blinding that falls apart quite easily and doesn’t at all attempt to stand the test of time (most of the people reading those are collectors! We cry when our stuff breaks…), the Omnibus books—like most of Dark Horse’s TPBs—are excellently bound, very sturdy. Omnibus quality books are the norm for Dark Horse, and their enjoyability is greatly enhanced by knowing you’re getting hundreds of pages of quality, acid-free glossy (comic book grade) full-color paper bound so that you don’t have to tread carefully when reading or transporting.
Marvel and Star Wars
There’s a whole heck of a lot in this volume, so I should say “spoilers,” but then again the stories included herein were written between 1977 and 1998. To begin with, I have to say that if you’re a Star Wars fan—and you certainly should be—there I two things to consider: (1) the Expanded Universe (EU) is perhaps the greatest realization of the Star Wars vision begun back in 1973 when Lucas was developing his galaxy (nope, I’m not going to use the belabored “far, far away” quote, it’s just too low hanging a fruit) , and (2) Star Wars and comics go hand in hand, and comics and the EU go hand in hand.
Back in 1977, three months before the movie came out, Marvel published in comics format the first half of the original movie, oh yeah, and it’s illustrated by Howark Chaykin. Well Star Wars clearly did incredibly well, and the comics did just as well, since for a whole year the only way to get more Star Wars was through the comics (Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first SW novel, wasn’t published until 1978). In fact, Star Wars was so financially beneficial for Marvel in the late 1970s that Jim Shooter, Marvel’s 9th Editor-in-Chief starting in 1978 has claimed that their Star Wars comics kept Marvel financially afloat during the difficulties of the late 1970s (story is detailed in Star Wars Insider #142, July 2013, p.42-49).
Most of you are probably comfortably familiar with the knowledge that Dark Horse is the SW publisher of comics, but let it not betrouble your brain that Marvel held that title for nine years (1977-1986), during which time they published 104 issues of an on-going series (plus three annuals) in which #1-6 were A New Hope and #39-44 were Empire Strikes Back adaptations. Return of the Jedi was adapted in a separate four-issue series. Additionly, Marvel also published Marvel Illustrated Books: Star Wars (2 issues, 1981-1982) and in their short-lived 1977-1979 Pizzazz magazine they included six-page Star Wars shorts; Marvel UK published Star Wars Weekly, which ran from 1978 to 1983 for a 102 issues.
So, yeah, Marvel and Star Wars sort of go hand in hand, and Marvel’s creator were largely responsible for developing the Expanded Universe in those first 9 years, interestingly they stopped published SW comics in 1986, the same year as Dark Horse’s first comic. Dark Horse bought the Star Wars comics license and began producing Star Wars comics in 1991, with Dark Empire, and has since produced 84 series and one-shots, which comprises hundreds (thousands? Don’t know, I didn’t feel like counting them all!) of additions to the SW universe. Despite Dark Horse now publishing plenty of fantastic comics (at least one new SW book comes out a week), Marvel’s still remains classics, and especially those produced in the UK are difficult-to-find-yet-bad-ass addition to the Star Wars saga.
But not everything in Wild Space is Marvel’s, as there are at least half Dark Horse licensed stories as well. But background is always fun, and you folks probably know all about SW and DH, right?
Wild Space, Volume 1
In this section I’m just going to give you a synoptic taste of the stories collected herein.
The first half of the book is devoted to Marvel reprints from Pizzazz and Star Wars Weekly, extremely difficult to find for an American collector, and just as rewarding narratively. These stories take note of quotes and references from the first film, and turn those into entire narrative arcs, written by folks like Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin, with art by Howard Chaykin, Carmine Infantino, and other big shots! These stories include a planet-sized computer that generates element-controlling androids; Imperial tomfoolery on an ice-planet which foreshadows Hoth; the story of both how Chewie had been an Imperial captive and how Han had to dump Jabba’s spice load. There are also more random stories which find Luke and Leia trapped on a planet once home to an ancient, powerful civilization, and which hosts a weapon capable of cutting an Imperial Star Destroy in two! Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s sort of like what’s currently happening in Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin… These early stories were not only a smart way to make a quick profit on the Star Wars hype, but they also point to the fact that early SW fans and SW comics writers really didn’t have a clue where Lucas’ saga was going; somehow, still, after decades, most of these stories could probably be squeezed into canon continuity, and some have been. Additionally, these early stories are a must-read for SW fans because they expand on the emotions of the characters, allowing us to glimpse the post-victory emptiness and loss of Luke and Leia (not really Han, though) following the kabooming of the Death Star—for me, this is important, because it’s the start (yeah, in 1977!) of what the EU is all about; namely, taking this incredible space fantasy beyond the superficial pew-pew-ing and medium-shaping special effects.
And if you thought getting a glimpse at a dozen or so early Star Wars comics (not the Marvel on-going, which you can get in 4 other Omnibus volumes called A Long Time Ago…), then the second half is sort of like a fangirl and -boys wet dream. These include SW tales by Alan Moore and Steve Moore (who taught Alan how to write comic scripts), who brings their infinite comics voodoo to bear on some of the weirdest Star Wars stories I’ve read today, which call on the paranormal and mystical side of the Star Wars universe, the feeling of the Force as intuited by Original Children tykes and seen more recently in the Star Wars: Clone Wars television show. They’re probably the highlight of the Omnibus, but that doesn’t mean that the various Star Wars 3D and Star Wars Kids issues are any worse. The 3D issues (sadly that effect, which I’m told wasn’t very effective, doesn’t carry over into the Omnibus) explore Luke’s mourning his Aunt and Uncle by returning to Tatooine days after the Death Star explosion to give his farm to a random thug…yeah. We also witness the discovery of Hoth, an early battle with Darth Vader, the Rebels rooting out a spy amongst them, the acquisition of a new X-Wing fleet thanks to Han steeling an ancient pirate treasure, a funny story in which C-3PO becomes a total jerk, the tale of Lando becoming Jabba’s palace guard (with a maze for kids to complete!), and the comics additions to the 1996 Shadows of the Empire multimedia project. Finally, there’s a silly Apple Jack’s cereal box advertisement!
In putting all of this together in one book, Dark Horse, led by collection editor Randy Stradley (also Star Wars Zone Editor), have created an archival marvel of the comics world, for both SW and comics fans alike (though preferably both). If I’m being totally honest, it’s the Dark Horse Omnibus line (and I love for DC Showcase, despite its flaws, and their better Archive Editions) which inspired me to want to be a comics editor, and I have Randy Stradley to thank for setting an example of editorial prowess that is truly incredible. He’s a man worth his weight in rare Star Wars comics.
The Good, The Bad, and The Jar Jar
You’ve already heard the good; it’s called Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space, Volume 1! If you’re curious to check out this omnibus now—and why on Kashyyyk wouldn’t you be?—Comic Book Resources even has a preview, which showcases one of Alan Moore’s stories and two of the Star Wars Weekly tales.
There’s really nothing bad to say about this book, other than voiceless complaints. For example, because Wild Space, Volume 1 brings us various Star Wars Weekly issues, ESB #149, assorted selections from Star Wars Kids, and even a cereal box advertisement, it whets my appetite and pangs my hunger for filling in all those spaces! It’s probably unlikely that an Omnibus filling in the gaps will be published anytime soon, if ever, really, because the stories are really more for hardcore Star Wars fans and collectors, rather than a general readership (though, really, anyone with some SW smarts would enjoy these stories, I think). And while Wild Space, Volume 2 is on its way in just two months, it won’t be filling many of those gaps, since it’ll featuring mostly stories about Han and the bounty hunters, and plenty of rarer gems from Dark Horse’s publication run (no Marvel comics there!) The contents can be seen here, and if you’re aching for more Star Wars comics via the Omnibus line, fear you should not have, for plenty available there are. Currently 32, a list of which is found here.
And now, for the Jar Jar: There were several editing oversights that kept out the usual Omnibus-style page delineations and cover sheets with artistic information, a minimal issue that was probably overlooked by many, but which bothered me as it caused at least one major confusion by not explaining the continuation of an unfinished narrative into a completely different series. There were also several unlabeled comics in the second half. I mean, if they could give a one-page cereal advertisement comic a cover sheet, surely they could have made sure all of their stories were seen to in similar manner. Then again, this is the first editing mishap I’ve caught in the Dark Horse Omnibus line, aside from a few typos left over from the original issues.
Overall, Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space, Volume 1 is a fantastic addition to the fan’s collection, another way Dark Horse is showing that it truly cares about the Star Wars franchise, an archival and editing marvel collecting some of the most charming, zany, and incredible early Star Wars stories which fill in important cracks in the Expanded Universe’s history, as well as more recent pieces from Dark Horse (including a cereal advertisement!). Dark Horse has never failed to prove that the license to produce Star Wars comics should stay with them, and this is just one exotic, well-priced taste of why.