Comic Book Review: Star Wars Special: C-3PO
Well this is exciting! James Robinson and Tony Harris working on a comic together! They were the creative team on Starman, one of the best comics of the 1990s that was fierce with imagination, introspection, and adventure. They’re both really talented people, you need only look at Air Boy and those really great Justice League United covers to see that. Sadly Harris and Robinson haven’t worked together in over 15 years (minus the covers on that nice Shade miniseries from 2011). So what has brought these two back together? A one shot as part of Marvel’s editorially heavy mandated Star Wars line to explain why C-3PO has a red arm in The Force Awakens! Well, that’s something.
All joking aside, it is kind of sad that the juggernaut of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars can wrangle up some of the comics industry’s shining talent to churn out high-end fan fiction that can’t really branch out in its own directions lest they contradict a trio of thirty year old pulp science fiction flicks. Of course the opposite would be to make high-grade independent books which likely won’t out sell a Red Hood comic, so is the cruel lay of the land.
Fortunately, Marvel’s Star Wars line has been exceptional. Sure they engage in an at-times embarrassing level of fan service, but it’s hard to find one that’s genuinely bad. The same applies to this comic, Star Wars Special: C-3PO, also known as The Phantom Limb, is a shockingly good book despite its flimsy conception to fill out another Wookiepedia page.
The cover by Tony Harris is, for lack of a better word, shiny. Harris’ compostion is actually quite generic, simply C-3PO standing next to his own giant looming head. The photo-realism mixed with the intense light gleam of Drew Struzan, minus the action or clutter more associated with Struzan’s work. Though static, it is certainly eye-catching. Harris does great work with colors given how monochromatic the entire image is, even risking to engulf the book’s logo. It does make C-3PO’s arm stand out as it clashes with everything else on the page but not glaringly so. It’s a reassuring image as Harris’ have a very unique style, often associated with 1920s art deco which isn’t in the same vibe as Star War’s 1970s blocky space aesthetic.
Robinson opens the story on an unnamed planet. A ship crashlands and the only crew to escape before its engulfed in fire are the onboard droids. C-3PO is among them who comments “We are in quite a predicament.” Indeed they are, C-3PO and company have with them a droid prisoner called Omri with information which can save Admiral Akbar from execution by the First Order. The droids must trek across the hostile alien world to a downed ship and get home. It’s a fairly bare bones story, but where Robinson makes the book stand out is the journey than destination. The comic actually becomes a commentary on the treatment of droids within the Star Wars universe. This has been one of the awkward questions about the galaxy far far away, droids are often depicted as a sub-class of sentience, living only to serve their biological masters, so what is their standing? The Phantom Limb comes up on the darker side, foregoing wishy-washy explanations and turning the book into one of the most existentialist takes on the typically whimsical Star Wars lore. The book’s casts features a wide variety of droids from their purpose, to their speaking abilities, to programmed intellect. Omri comments on the nature of how droids frequently have their memories wiped by the different factions vying for power in a war that matters nothing to them. Droids carry wounds from battles they do not remember fighting. They change sides like hardware and are limited in their ability to care or deviate from their programming. It’s a dark, although often heavy-handed take on robot fiction which appropriately reads like something from a seedy out of print pulp novella. Robinson captures the talkative titular droid himself, but the others come off a bit bland and forgettable, however that might be the point.
Tony Harris is always fun on interiors. His work with the droids is commendable, capturing their rigidity, their sheen, and battle scars. There’s plenty of bizarre and unique panel layouts that are familiar to his style along with bold lining. It’s also good to call attention to the smoke effects which Harris excels at. It should be noted there’s some which are digitally added that look very off. Despite the fixed faces of the droids (some forgoing them altogether), Harris gets chances for great expressions. Featured also are a couple of two-page spreads which are used to great effect and in unconventional ways though their content is somewhat spoilery. I do wish there had been a panel to better show off the autonomy of a construction bot since they’re often in the background or not shown in full. Harris also has a great talent for monster designs which are put to great use. The colors are equally masterful. Harris colors a very dark story but it’s never grey tones, always vibrant and changing. The eye can’t help but notice the much more traditionally technicolor sky full of alien worlds which seems to highlight the contrast of this story. Below the bright and fanciful stars is a darker reality.
C-3PO #1 is an exciting and distributing tale. James Robinson and Tony Harris prove what a talented team they are as they shed light on one the senseless lives of droids in the Star Wars universe. The story is told like an old school robotics yarn which Robinson does admirably. Tony Harris is ever the talent on art and colors and this book’s a case for why he should be doing more interior pages This book is the type of Star Wars fable I’ve been wanting, not a bunch of fan service to reaffirm old school Star Wars fans, but to tell compelling new stories.