Released from the continuity limbo of “Legends”, fan favorite Star Wars EU character (The future Grand Admiral.) Thrawn gets his own solo comic, a six issue adaptation of his creator Timothy Zahn’s novel Thrawn. In Star Wars: Thrawn #1, writer Jody Houser, artist Luke Ross, and colorist Nolan Woodard tell the story of how a blue skinned Chiss alien almost immediately became the favorite of Emperor Palpatine and shed insight into how he became one of the greatest strategists and most complex villains in the Star Wars mythos. It’s less origin story/Easter Egg cutesiness and more the first move in a chess game that goes beyond Empire versus Rebels. (Fingers crossed that the Yuuzhan Vong are a thing in the Disney Star Wars-verse.) Plus Thrawn is just flat out cool even if he’s a lieutenant and not a grand admiral in this comic.
To go along with the chess metaphor, it’s fitting that the first few pages of Thrawn #1 are arranged in a neat nine panel grid from Ross that complements his precise figure work. Without a single word out of his mouth, Houser and Ross establish Thrawn as both a wily fighter and tactician, who eludes a platoon of stormtroopers and smuggles himself onboard their ship. Colorist Woodard lays out a dark palette and only relents for Thrawn’s blue skin and red eyes, and this gift for cloak and dagger fights serves the book well later.
Even though he seems like he’s always in control, Thrawn has one weakness: his difficulties speaking Basic, the lingua franca of the Galactic Empire. This leads him to bond with Eli, who just wants to keep his head down, crunch numbers, and run calculations on an Imperial supply ship, but ends up becoming the closest companion to one of the most ambitious men in the galaxy. Eli also allows Houser to keep some of the Thrawn mystique intact by having him as the narrator instead of letting readers have a glimpse into Thrawn’s tactical, unorthodox mind. Unlike, say the Prequel trilogy where we find out that Darth Vader used to be a nine year old who had the penchant for saying “Yippee” and grew into a whiny 19 year old that complained about sand, Thrawn #1 forms a portrait of its protagonist’s youth by showing how other people react to him.
And one of those people is Emperor Palpatine himself, who is illustrated in wrinkly lines from Luke Ross and a mix of darkness and light showing the glow of Coruscant and the power of the Dark Side of the Force. Even though he’s an exile from his people, Thrawn talks and bargains with the Emperor like an equal in a epic tete a tete. However, Palpatine is definitely playing dirty when he says that Thrawn’s old war companion, Anakin Skywalker, is dead, and this undisclosed fact might be the most intriguing element of the series so far as well as being a great callback to Obi Wan telling Luke that Anakin is dead. During these scenes, Ross and Woodard tap into the epic vein of Star Wars with blue tinged background shots of Anakin and red flames for Vader hinting that he and Thrawn will most likely come face to face some day.
But Thrawn #1 isn’t all foreshadowing and foreboding. The main portion of the book reminded me of the early scenes in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek where Kirk and Spock are at Starfleet Academy and starting to adjust to the roles they’ll later take on as legendary pop culture figures, but with an evil twist. Thrawn immediately has an handicap at the Academy when his instructor, Deenlark, gives him a lieutenant’s plaque even though he’s a cadet. Of course, he uses this to his advantage. Houser also executes a pragmatic twist on the old “rookie hazing” trope with Thrawn devising an interesting punishment-by-way-of-promotion for his tormentors, who are at officer school because of nepotism. Thrawn doesn’t join the Empire for hubris or power trip reasons, but to solve problems in productive ways. He’s not a villain; he’s a consultant.
Thanks to Luke Ross’ screen toned, yet easy to follow art, Nolan Woodard’s blue and black color palette, and Jody Houser’s precise writing and plotting, Thrawn #1 is a riveting read even for the most origin story fatigued comic book/Star Wars fan.
Story: Jody Houser Art: Luke Ross Colors: Nolan Woodard
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review