IDW Publishing returns to the fore with the latest spinoff from their successful Star Wars Adventures line, Clone Wars Battle Tales. The five-issue series was originally timed to coincide with the culmination of its animated counterpart, but delayed due to The Unpleasantness that is 2020. The format here is similar to IDW’s tried and tested Vader’s Castle series; a recognisably Star Wars setting plays host to an ongoing framing device, in which one of our characters relays a tale in flashback before cutting back to the narrator and the setup for the next issue. Five weeks, five tales, one story.
Issue 1 opens with the fortune-cookie ‘Loyalty is not a virtue given; it is earned’, taking place on Hisseen sometime before the battle of Christophsis. Captain Rex, Commander Cody and Commander Wolffe are struggling, even with the combined might of their squadrons, to hold back the battle droids of the Separatist army as they attempt to secure the planet for the CIS. The dramatic arrival of Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Plo Koon is welcomed by the troops, but when Cody quietly confesses his uncertainty in General Skywalker’s willingness to stick to any given plan, Rex tells of the time on Benglor when Anakin went the extra mile to save the lives of his soldiers, earning their unquestioning loyalty as a result…
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Clone Wars Battle Tales is written by title-regular Michael Moreci, displaying once more the firm handle he has on characters in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Inks for the wraparound segment come from Derek Charm, himself a regular highlight in the pages of Star Wars Adventures, with his sharp, high-contrast style perfectly suited for the battlefield. Charm uses framing and posture to convey the intensity of emotion felt by characters whose faces are obscured, and the relentless threat of an enemy force comprising entirely (for this strip) automatons. Colours for this section are by Luis Antonio Delgado, again a dynamic range crafted to complement the punch of the line-work. We don’t see much of the Hisseen landscape, but the palm trees on view suggest that Delgado’s ochre skies could the result of either a tropical sunset or sustained artillery. In the current era of Star Wars, either option is possible, as is both.
Once we’re taken back to Rex’s time on Benglor, the humid jungle and its terrifying fauna are brought to life through the pens of Arianna Florean and Mario Del Penning. Theirs is a much warmer style reminiscent of classic Disney characterisation, with Anakin and the 501st trekking through the foliage looking for signs of Separatist occupation. All helmets are off resulting in more expressiveness (air-conditioned battle armour? You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking so, but apparently not) and the earth-tones of Valentina Taddeo’s colours have the stifling heat radiating out of the page. For all its softer edges, the action is still rendered with precision, just also with the lighthearted air of exasperated troopers rather than any sense of grim desperation.
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Clone Wars Battle Tales looks fantastic, it just feels slightly ineffectual, like filler-content for a series that’s half-way through. No small part of the problem is that the Vader’s Castle anthologies run throughout October and have the ‘spookiness’ of that month as a common thread and backdrop. What we have here is a Clone-centric story inlaid with another Clone-centric story, neither particularly outstanding on their own and neither really boosting the other to a higher level. Carbon-scored adventures on the front-line are a recurring motif in the Clone Wars era anyway, so it’s difficult to see what the unique focal point of the run will be. It’s always good to be the the company of Rex and Cody, but will that be enough?
Time will tell with the series, but this is not the strong opener that we know IDW are capable of producing…
Star Wars Adventures: Clone Wars Battle Tales #1 is available now from IDW Publishing and your preferred comic retail outlets.