Randy Stradley

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 6 (April 1999)

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The series ends with some undeniable problems–the Romeo and Juliet aspect is idiotic–but Richardson and Stradley manage to reign in their big conspiracy storyline.

They don’t resolve some of their threads, which is both a good and bad decision. It’s good because there’s not enough room for the resolution, but bad because they sort of promised it for the first half of the series.

There’s a lot of content to this issue–it’s not just a wrap-up. The wrap-up is saved for the last three pages or so… and it isn’t enough. This issue’s problems with pacing sort of reveal the series’s problems with it in general.

Gulacy is rushed here. He can’t make it all fit. It’s the least impressive art on the entire series, though there are some good space battles at the open.

The series nearly succeeds, overcoming a few major story problems.

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Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 5 (March 1999)

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It’s a romance now? Seriously? Wow.

After a solid first half, Richardson and Stradley are running off the rails. They set up a convoluted set of schemes and subterfuges and are now rapidly resolving them. And what solves them all? Sworn enemies kissing.

But the issue has a bunch of great Gulacy sci-fi action so it’s impossible not to enjoy it. There’s spaceship battles, there’s blaster fights, it goes on and on. Even the talking heads stuff is great; Gulacy’s got lots of Star Wars technology around to draw.

But the writing has just gone off the deep end. The writers introduce a major new character this issue (more important than any other new character in Council of Blood actually) and reveal he’s been working behind the scenes the whole series.

It’s a complete mess. It’s like Richardson and Stradley changed their minds about the series’s plot halfway through.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 4 (February 1999)

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I’m not sure it’s possible this issue could have a softer cliffhanger. Soft as it may be, it does signal a change in Council of Blood… it’s finally a sequel to Crimson Empire.

Until this issue, Richardson and Stradley have been avoiding what they promised at the finish of the first series. While the previous issues touched on it, they more concentrated on the overall Dark Horse Star Wars universe. This issue brings Sinn (I finally remember her dumb name) and the Imperial Guard together.

And it does so on a strange planet with stranger aliens and Gulacy has a great time with all of it. There’s a lot of action this issue; Gulacy has to condense approximately twelve action panels to one page.

It’s a packed issue.

Sadly, bringing back the first series’s character relationship, the writers start to stumble. It’s an okay comic, but the characters are nonsensical.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 3 (January 1999)

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Interesting. The series is now half done and Richardson and Stradley haven’t shown much of their hand yet, as far as future events go. Instead, they’re still raveling the narrative. The reader gets to be a little ahead of the characters, but since there’s still no protagonist, it doesn’t hurt the comic.

This issue spends most of its time going over the business practices of the Hutt character. They’re sensational, which makes them engaging, and the writers hint just enough at how everything connects to make it intriguing.

There’s also some more business with the Imperials, with the writers identifying the villains among the villains.

It’s effective. It even makes one (stupidly) consider reading more Star Wars comics.

Nice art from Gulacy and Emberlin. Gulacy’s got some great page compositions to mix action and dramatics. He also takes the time to indulge his humorous side.

It’s a very strong issue.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 2 (December 1998)

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Once again, there’s the item you can tell Gulacy just went gloriously overboard with. This time, it’s one of the squid faced aliens–but as a Hutt dancing girl. Emberlin inks are especially good; there are some great alien worlds panels in the first few pages.

Richardson and Stradley are slowly developing the overall story. The dialogue is good, the characters are all good. The issue passes without many hiccups, but it also passes without a real character. Crimson Empire II is apparently a licensed Star Wars comic first and a narrative second.

In fact, this issue is still setup for whatever’s going to come, big and small. The previous issue introduced two general story lines. This one expands it out to three or more. The writers are enthusiastic about whatever they have planned and it helps.

It’s still too soon to decide on the series, but the issue’s good.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire II: Council of Blood 1 (November 1998)

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Once again, Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley are deliberate in their setup. Council of Blood has some fight scenes–well, some violent acts without real bloodshed (just the threat of it)–and some space stuff, but it’s all about the politics.

Just from this issue, it’s clear the dialogue’s better than the first series, at least for the politicians. While the comic obviously owes a lot to Star Wars–specifically Jedi–it’s hard not to see some Dune comparisons too.

I’m not sure how it reads to regular Dark Horse Star Wars readers, but it’s incomprehensible without reading the first series. Sadly, the Western flavor to the story isn’t back–there’s way too much planet-trotting–but Richardson and Stradley have a good tone.

Paul Gulacy (inked by Randy Emberlin) does fairly well. Emberlin’s a little thick for Gulacy. Gulacy’s best work is in the little details.

Blood starts fine.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 6 (May 1998)

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Why couldn’t they have just done it as a Western? It would have been perfect.

The final issue of Crimson Empire has the best and worst from the series. The woman–her name is Sinn, which is stupid so I probably forced myself to ignore it–declares to the “holy stars” she’ll hunt down the main guy because it turns out he’s kind of a bad guy. Now, “holy stars” (Star Wars was always a little areligious, wasn’t it?) aside, it’s terrible writing from Stradley and Richardson. Sad the series ends on a bad note writing-wise.

Luckily, Gulacy does fine. His art’s really complex this issue. There are these side scenes to an issue long fight scene, so Gulacy’s got to concentrate on supporting cast while fighting goes on in the background. There’s lots to track; the reader has to pay attention.

Except for bad writing, it ends well.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 5 (April 1998)

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This issue, if I’m adding right, takes place over a couple hours. Maybe the reason Star Wars comics aren’t taken seriously is because in those two hours, not only is a space battle determined, but there’s also time for the woman and her sidekick to fly to an entirely different solar system to save the protagonist.

The protagonist doesn’t get any lines this issue, which is too bad, but does fit in with the Crimson Empire is a Western feel. It’s unfortunate Gulacy and Richardson didn’t cultivate that genre and reign in the story. Seriously, the leaps in logic (I mean, the Star Wars movies establish how long space travel takes) might be what keeps this franchise down.

Russell doesn’t ink Gulacy too harshly; it’s nice to see the Gulacy eyes return this issue. There’s a lot of good art and the battle scenes are all very well-paced visually.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 4 (March 1998)

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This issue concentrates on the Rebels, specifically the woman. I can’t remember her name though. Stradley and Richardson repeat all the other names so much, she and her lizard-man sidekick are sort of nameless. I’m sure they say it a few times throughout… just didn’t make any impression.

There’s a lot of excellent Gulacy composition here. He might not be spending as much time on his art as he did in the eighties, but the panel design is still there.

Gulacy’s art gets the issue through. There’s really not much going on, just the woman being tortured and giving information in a scene a little too reminiscent of the first Star Wars. Stradley and Richardson might have considered it homage but it’s really quite lazy.

While the issue’s fine, it could have easily been half the length. There’s a lot of padding. Lots of filler for a bridging issue.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 3 (February 1998)

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From the second panel, it’s clear something off with the art. Either Gulacy hurried through faces and let Russell finish or Russell got eager and got rid of all Gulacy’s rounded lines. The former would just be unfortunate… the latter would just piss me off. This issue doesn’t feel like Gulacy until about halfway, which is too long.

Even though very little happens–there’s a battle scene, some talking among good guys, a flashback, bad guys talking–it’s probably the best issue of Crimson Empire so far. Richardson and Stradley aren’t being coy about their protagonist anymore and, in fact, reveal him to be a rather complex character.

Hopefully some of these complexities will have room to play out. There’s also a lot with the Imperials infighting and politicking, which is amusing enough (but probably the worst scenes as they look so silly).

Art problems aside, it’s getting rather entertaining.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 2 (January 1998)

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For some of this issue, the Gulacy sci-fi art makes one forget it’s a Star Wars comic and imagine it’s just a Gulacy (with Doug Moench) comic. Then Richardson and Stradley have some awful dialogue from the big villain and the illusion comes crashing down.

It’s like the comic can get away with bad dialogue because Star Wars got away with it. But there’s a lot more of it here, as the bad guys bicker with each other.

Still, the story’s compelling enough the dialogue doesn’t matter. Oddly, the good guys’ dialogue is fine. It’s just the insidious declarative statements.

By the end, when the bad guys attack, Gulacy nicely gives the art a cinematic pace.

The story’s somewhat predictable, save a couple details, but with the action scenes sold it’d be hard to not be enjoying it. It’s a Western set in Star Wars land. Lots of fun.

Star Wars: Crimson Empire 1 (December 1997)

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Crimson Empire answers the burning question… what’s with the guys in red from Return of the Jedi. The ones who had fabric capes on the action figures.

Of course, it’s mostly just backdrop for the story of a fugitive. It probably could fit a Civil War story too. A stranger comes to town, kicks butt, has to hide with possibly duplicitous newfound friends. Meanwhile there’s a big villain out to get him, along with all the little ones.

But the real attraction so far is Paul Gulacy’s art. Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley’s script is fine, it’s just not compelling on its own. But Gulacy always does interesting sci-fi, even when he’s working from existing designs, and Crimson is no different.

The action scenes are a little too static, but the vistas are great. P. Craig Russell inks Gulacy well.

It’s a decent comic, with a lot of possibilities.

Dark Horse Presents 69 (February 1993)

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The Predator story keeps getting worse (it turns out it’s just a prologue to some limited series, I love it when Dark Horse uses Presents to advertise their licensed properties). Given Raskin’s worsening artwork and Stradley’s bad writing–he uses a government report as the narrative exposition, he’s used similar devices in the past successfully… here he fails. It’s an awful story; very happy it’s the last installment.

Duffy and Sakamoto have another Nestrobber installment. It’s mean-spirited and lacking in charm. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I’m completely perplexed with Duffy’s intent. It’s supposed to be manga, but I can’t figure out why anyone would want to read it.

Davis and Paleolove annoy a little. There’s some really pointless writing here. Art’s weak too.

Campbell’s got an amusing slash horrifying anecdote installment of Alec. Only a page, but enough to clear the palate after the rest.

CREDITS

Predator, Race War, Part Three; story by Andrew Vachss; adapted by Randy Stradley; pencils by Jordan Raskin; inks by Bob Wiacek; lettering by Clem Robins. Nestrobber, Survival Skills; story by Jo Duffy; art and lettering by Maya Sakamoto. Paleolove, Part Two; story, art and lettering by Gary Davis. Alec, An Old Australian Yarn; pencils, inks and lettering by Eddie Campbell. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 68 (December 1992)

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The Predator story continues and its problems become real clear. Stradley’s trying to take a “real” approach to certain elements–gang members, serial killers–and it just comes off as silly with the Predator running around. Raskin’s art suggests he’s unprepared for such a big assignment (and Wiacek seems to have been brought in to correct things via the inks). Then there’s the inexplicable cliffhanger. So far, very unimpressive.

Campbell’s got two Alec strips. One is really cute, the other is just a nice example of a one page narrative.

Davis is back with Paleolove. The story is longwinded and the art is still primarily concentrated on the scenery. Davis objectifies his female protagonists in the last panel, which sums up all of Davis’s work.

Duffy and Sakamoto have a story with a bunch of kids and their guardian angel, a hit man. It’s well intentioned, but not any good.

CREDITS

Predator, Race War, Part Two; story by Andrew Vachss; adapted by Randy Stradley; pencils by Jordan Raskin; inks by Bob Wiacek; lettering by Clem Robins. Alec, The Remarkable History of the Nullarbor Nymph and Ah Kids, Don’t Ya Just Love ‘Em; pencils, inks and lettering by Eddie Campbell. Paleolove, Part One; story, art and lettering by Gary Davis. Nestrobber, Swimming Lessons; story by Jo Duffy; art and lettering by Maya Sakamoto. Edited by Randy Stradley.