I had intended to review Amazing Spider-Man #700 for this week’s post, but a surprise mini-sleet and snow storm on Wednesday made the roads treacherous (my wife did about five one-eighties taking our daughter to a friend’s house at the start of the storm). Add that event to the snow falling on Monday and we actually had a White Christmas (or close enough anyway). Then once the precipitation turned to rain a forgotten Re-Fi settlement prevented me from going that afternoon. Yesterday, we packed up the kids to visit the (FREE) train exhibit at the U.S. Botanical Gardens in D.C., followed by our long delayed 20th anniversary celebration (sans kids) of lunch and dinner out plus a movie: Les Misérables. The film was very moving and I highly recommend it (Wolverine and Catwoman can really sing well).
While I should have been catching up on the HCs and comics that I’ve yet to finish reading this year (like The Flash), a debilitating migraine the Sunday before last forced me to move my nightstand pile to make room for a soothing caffeine-laden hot chocolate/coffee chased with some acetaminophen. And I’m ashamed to say I’ve been too lazy to put the pile back in order, so the only comics relatively accessible were a few dollar comics I picked up at my store’s year end sale. One of them was Marvel Comics Star Wars #29 cover dated Nov 1979.
Now, this book was published during my “lost” year (or more) of comic reading. Books I had gleefully embraced in the spring of 1977 somehow dropped off the map in 1979 only to be picked up again in 1980. I don’t recall the circumstances (low funds?) or the exact time frame, but I could probably determine it from issue numbers. All I know is that at one time I had a gap between Star Wars #22 and #35, which I think I got when I was in traction for breaking my left femur on 1980 Mar 20. So, when I filled in my missing issues completing the story was the primary goal, not condition and as is often the case I’m doing this back issue buying right before a well-produced reprint trade or HC is published (Dark Horse’s A Long Time Ago seven volume series). I must have gotten this poor copy in a quarter bin and then was fortunate enough to get the overcopy worth $6 for a buck. Okay that’s enough of that stuff; let’s delve into this really cool story:
Once upon a time, Star Wars was open to infinite possibilities. Lucas still had the ultimate yea or nay on his licensed material, but Marvel had to do something while waiting for the sequel and Archie Goodwin was usually at the helm. The film adaptation ended with issue 6 and the second one wouldn’t start again until issue 39, nearly three years of stories where you could do anything, but not too much either, especially since you didn’t really know where things were going. Now Archie and Al Williamson would later collaborate together on the Star Wars newspaper strip and tell IMO the definitive tale between episodes IV and V, but only after Empire Strikes Back was released. So, in this issue Archie is primarily focused on one of his own created characters that interact with the film version star warriors: A cyborg bounty hunter named Valance who first appeared in issue 16 along with a beautiful Walt Simonson cover and interiors (Walt would later enjoy an extended and exceptional run post-Empire from around #49 to #63).
Darth Vader is searching for the rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star and after a brutal interrogation comes up with the name of a certain blonde haired individual, Tyler Lucian. Tyler is really just a lead to (the still unknown to Vader) Skywalker. He abandoned the rebel base on the fourth moon of Yavin as the Death Star was approaching, in an attempt to escape certain death. He had no idea Luke would actually be successful and he’s been running from Rebels and Imperials ever since.
Valance is also hunting Tyler, but for a different reason. He already has encountered Luke and C-3PO and based on the narrative it seems they made a big impression on him and he spared their lives. You see this is the era where Lucas is still hated for the prequels; I mean Droids are still hated for the Clone Wars and a Borg like Valance is none to welcome in society. But Luke promised a free society where he could be accepted one day. He’s out to silence Tyler to prevent him from further betraying the Rebel Alliance. Just as he’s about to dispose of Lucian in the desolate setting of the abandoned resort town of Rubyflame Lake and it’s lava beds, Darth Vader flies up in his Tie-Fighter.
There is literally less than a page and a half interlude with Luke, Artoo, Threepio, and General Dodonna to prepare for the next chapter starring Princess Leia. The remainder of the issue is a big battle between Vader and Valance (back when Vader was cool and threatening before he was neutered by the Emperor in Return of the Jedi). Vader uses his mind-control to make Valance throw down his gun, but he can’t affect his mechanized half and Valance shoots out a laser from his left hand. Vader is impressed and offers Valance a job with the Empire, but Valance retorts, “A useful freak, not unlike your own position with the Empire.” Vader extends his light saber to counter attack, but Valance destroys the pier between them. Unfortunately, Vader effortlessly leaps across the boiling lava and kicks the half-man down. To quote: “The combat that follows is fierce and brief. SHRAAAK!” Valance lies smoldering on the ground while a triumphant Vader calls out to Tyler Lucian in the tower above. Valance grabs the black boot of the Dark Lord of the Sith. In a heated (pun intended) exchange Vader asks why Valance would sacrifice himself when it’s inevitable that he’ll eventually find the boy pilot. “Time, Force Master. The boy you seek…the one with the droids…is good. And he’s growing. Someday he’ll be your equal or your better. Any delay works in his favor…increases his chances. Any…Delay…” The cyborg almost succeeds in pulling Vader down into the Lava (déjà vu for Darth?) before the threat is ended with a flash of the crimson light saber and Valence goes down forever, melting to slag beneath the molten rock.
Tyler Lucian had been watching and listening to the exchange the whole time. With Valence defeated and knowing that Vader will soon capture him, he decides to finally do something for others (and the cause) and dives into the Lava himself. Vader returns to the Star Destroyer to overhear some troopers complaining about being in armor and saying derogatory things about Borgs. And he in vengeful spite issues an order that all personnel have to remain in full armor while the search continues.
It’s really a great story and I thoroughly enjoyed it again just as if I had bought it off the spinner rack. Too often when I read back issues I endeavor to go through a long run, but it’s nice to just jump in and appreciate a single issue all by itself. The art is by Carmine Infantino with Bob Wiacek. This is the same Infantino who penciled the classic Silver Age Flash and Adam Strange stories. His Star Wars work is an acquired taste to be sure as nothing is rendered correctly from Vader’s helmet to the proportions of a Star Destroyer, and the width of character’s faces. It’s like looking in a modern art exhibit, but the storytelling is really good and this one is one of his best Star Wars efforts to be sure.
So, thanks for joining me for a fond trip back to the Back Issue bin and for reading my posts throughout the year. Happy New Year everyone!!! Hmmm, I may just have time to get to the store and back before my wife returns from the gym…