Friday, March 24, 2017

Retro Dark Horse: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Mini-Comics

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed proved to be a hit and was the fastest selling Star Wars video game ever.  It only made sense that a sequel would follow and The Force Unleashed II was released in 2010 along with a novel and graphic novel.

Two 16 page mini-comics were also published which contain an excerpt from the graphic novel.  One mini-comic was packaged with the video game sold at Target and this version has a black background and Darth Vader's visage on the cover.  The video game says Bonus Mini-Comic on the package cover.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Mini-Comic a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (October 2010)
available with video game sold by Target
Another version has a white background and the cover looks more like the graphic novel cover and was published by Titan Books in the U.K.  I suspect the U.K. version was also sold at a specific retailer.  The video game says Bonus Comic on the package cover.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Mini-Comic a - Titan Books, U.K. (October 2010)
available with video game sold in U.K.
While these mini-comics show up from time to time on eBay, I have found the cheapest way to acquire them is to buy the video game with the comic.  When purchasing the video game used, make sure the comic is included.  Always inquire about the condition as many video game sellers use generic photos rather than take pictures of the actual items.  For sealed packages, look for the Bonus Mini-Comic or Bonus Comic blurb and don't assume the package pictured is the one that will be received.  Look to see if the description includes the comic.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Retro Dark Horse: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Mini-Comic

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was devised as a multimedia event similar to Shadows of the Empire.  Released in 2008, it has a video game, novel, graphic novel, and toys, but, unlike Shadows of the Empire, The Force Unleashed is remembered more as a video game with tie-in products.  A large reason why is because the game used ground breaking technologies including Euphoria and Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) which provided a level of realism not seen in previous Star Wars video games.  Euphoria provides on-the-fly animation of 3D characters, allowing for different outcomes rather than using predefined animation.  When characters are thrown around in the game by the user-controlled Force wielding Starkiller, they behave in ways that are not repeated like traditional video games.  DMM also increases the realism by allowing inanimate objects in the game to break and bend according to the material they are made of.

While much of the focus was on the game, and deservedly so, The Force Unleashed also provided a compelling story about Starkiller, Darth Vader's secret apprentice.  Starkiller is at first tasked by Vader to eliminate the remaining Jedi in the galaxy and finally is used as a pawn to expose the leaders of the fledgling Rebellion.  Along the way, he is befriended by the Imperial pilot Juno Eclipse and the holodroid PROXY.  The story is rich and unpredictable, told in both the Del Rey novel and the Dark Horse graphic novel.

A mini-comic containing an excerpt from the graphic novel was published exclusively for inclusion with copies of the game sold through the online Star Wars Shop.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Mini-Comic a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (September 2008)
available with video game sold by the online Star Wars Shop
The cover for the mini-comic does a good job of capturing the enhanced Force abilities of Starkiller.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Retro Foreign: Philippine Marvel Special Edition #2: The Empire Strikes Back

Vintage Philippine Star Wars comics are among the rarest Star Wars comics in the world.  The Philippine edition of Marvel Special Edition #2: The Empire Strikes Back is an example.  One copy that has found it's way into my collection is from a posting in Joel Reyes Noche's blog titled Marvel Super Special #16.  If you compare the front cover of his copy to the picture I have taken of the book in my possession, it is clear these are the same exact comic.

Marvel Special Edition #2: The Empire Strikes Back a - Alemar's?, Philippines (1980 - 1985?)
contains Marvel Super Special #16
I have a second copy which is even more beat up with a detached front and back cover and has the blank price box colored in with a black marker.

Marvel Special Edition #2: The Empire Strikes Back a - Alemar's?, Philippines (1980 - 1985?)
contains Marvel Super Special #16
2nd copy
Like it's U.S. counterpart, it is treasury-sized.  There is a blank white box where the price, issue number, and packager name is on the U.S. edition.  There is a U.K. edition of this comic which is another variation of this; it keeps the issue number and packager name with only the price removed.  The interior pages are reprinted from Marvel Super Special #16, not from Marvel Special Edition #2 which is apparent when looking at the title page.  Like the Alemar's Star Wars #1 - 4, this comic is published in English.

Marvel Special Edition #2: The Empire Strikes Back a - Alemar's?, Philippines (1980 - 1985?)
title page
I am speculating this book was published by the Alemar's bookstore chain based on a response found in Noche's posting and a stamp found on the cover of my second copy:

I use to own a copy that was bought in Alemars. This one was of my first comic books.

Marvel Special Edition #2: The Empire Strikes Back a - Alemar's?, Philippines (1980 - 1985?)
Alemar's stamp
An argument against it being an Alemar's exclusive is there is no ad in this comic for Alemar's.  Like all the Philippine Star Wars comics I have in my collection, these comics are extremely worn with one copy structurally sound and the other not.  Despite the wear, I am happy to have these specimen in my collection.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?

There is a standard measurement for most comics published in the U.S., but publishers do vary the format depending on where and how the comic is sold.  For example, the 36-page standard comic format works great in a comic specialty shop and on some newsstands, but a bookstore might prefer a smaller paperback format.  Some retailers do not want to deal with the low cost of a standard comic, instead preferring trade paperbacks, graphic novels, or a larger (and more costly) magazine-sized comic.  Digest-sized comics are ideal for a checkout line at a grocery store where space is a premium, but if a publisher wants to draw attention to their comic elsewhere in a store, perhaps on the end cap display of a toy aisle in the 1970s, they might decide a treasury-sized comic would attract more attention.  IDW has found success with micro-sized comics that allows them to place comics on racks with trading card packs.

Even the standard size of a comic has changed over the years; each subsequent age has seen the size shrink in both page count and physical measurements from the previous age.  Here is a table with the standard comic size for the age, understanding that the alignment of age to size is not exact, but a general guideline:

AgePeriodStandard Comic SizePage Count
Golden Age1938 - 19567 3/4" x 10 1/2"68 pages pre-war; 52 pages post-war
Silver Age1956 - 19707 1/8" x 10 1/2"36 pages
Bronze Age
Modern Age
1970 - 1985
1985 - present
6 5/8" x 10 1/8"36 pages

When one looks at comics from different countries, the formats vary widely as well.  In the U.K., a thin magazine-sized format was used for Star Wars Weekly by Marvel.  An even larger measurement was used for Yugoslavia's Denis and Plitikin Zabavnik comics.  German publisher Willams-Verlag released Star Wars comics that are roughly magazine-sized but even taller.  The next publisher of Star Wars in Germany, Egmont Ehapa, went with a more squat format but the comics are wider.  Brazilian publisher Editora Abril's O Incrivel Hulk issues are digest-sized.  Indonesia's publishers mostly use digest-sized issues as well, but also released standard and even treasury-sized Star Wars comics.  The Star Wars movie adaptation from Editorial Novaro in Mexico was released in the aguila or digest-size, but other Star Wars issues in this series are in the avestruz or standard-size.  France's Titans comic are standard size or slightly larger, but very thick.  And nothing beats a Japanese Weekly Shōnen Magazine for thickness; the six issues that contained the Star Wars movie adaptation are like phone books.

These different formats for comics can be a hassle for collectors wanting to store their collection.  I store standard sized comics or smaller (micros, digests, paperbacks, etc.) in comic boxes using Silver Age backing boards and bags.  For magazine-sized comics, trade paperbacks, and hardcovers, I find magazine boxes using magazine backing boards and bags work best.  I also use magazine boxes for CGC slabbed comics.  And for the even larger formats, like treasury-sized comics, they are placed in treasury backing boards and bags and neatly stacked.  I still haven't found a box size that works for these comics.

I have scanned most of my collection on a flatbed scanner (and store those scans along with a description of those books in a Java application/database that I wrote) but CGC slabbed and treasury-sized comics are too large to scan.  I have resorted to taking pictures of them on my phone and cropping those pictures.  My preference would be to scan those books, but I do not have that capability currently.  In fact, I have about a years worth of foreign treasury-sized acquisitions waiting to be photographed and shared.  Here is a preview of some of those foreign treasuries, to whet your appetite for postings to come:

foreign treasuries including:
Canada, Indonesia, Philippines, U.K.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Retro Dark Horse: Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Special and Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Wizard 1/2

Star Wars and cereal have a long history together going back to the early days of Star Wars mania.  As a kid from the era, sugar cereal was a great way to start the day, but when the cereal came in a box whose back was covered in Star Wars images and included a Star Wars prize inside, that was heaven!  In 1978, General Mills offered stickers in various brands of cereal including Boo Berry, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, and Lucky Charms.  Cheerios included double-sided mini-posters.  Later in 1978, Boo Berry, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, Cocoa Puffs, Strawberry Crazy Cow (really!), and Chocolate Crazy Cow (why not?) would offer cards (the cards were paper thin and larger than traditional trading cards which have a cardboard stock) while Trix and Lucky Charms contained paper hang gliders.  And in 1979, you could mail-away for a Star Wars tumbler for $1.25 and proof of purchase cut from Cheerios boxes.  For whatever reason, The Empire Strikes Back was not used to market breakfast cereals, but in 1984, Kellogg's introduced C-3PO's cereal, which tastes like Apha-Bits.  Inside boxes that year were plastic rockets, sticker cards (trading cards with removable stickers), and masks of various characters.  Unfortunately, the C-3PO's cereal did not last very long.  It would be another 11 years before Star Wars returned to breakfast tables in a large way.

In 1995, Kellogg's took advantage of the Star Wars resurgency to sell cereal.  On boxes of Froot Loops was an offer for a mail-away Han Solo in Stormtrooper disguise action figure from Hasbro's nascent line of Power of the Force toys for only 2 proofs of purchase.  Corn Pops offered a mail-away Making of Star Wars VHS tape for 2 proofs of purchase.  The 11 oz. box of Apple Jacks contains a Droids comic strip on the back of the box, but the 15 and 19.1 oz. boxes had a free mail-away offer for the Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Special comic from Dark Horse.  Admittedly, I was most excited about the Han Solo action figure at the time and I ordered 5 of them.  I only ordered 1 Making of Star Wars VHS tape.  And I ordered 3 of the Dark Horse comics.  I recall having to use addresses of friends and family for all this booty, since the offers were limited per household.  Of these items ordered, only the comics remain in my possession.

X-Wing Rogue Squadron Special is a thin comic with a simplified story aimed at children.  In the story, Rogue Squadron, led by Wedge Antilles, manage to free the planet Tandankin from Imperial remnants led by Grand Moff Nivers.  While battling the Imperials, Wedge destroys a monument, drawing the ire of the Tandankians.  Luke Skywalker tells the locals about Wedge's heroics at the Battles of Yavin, Hoth, and Endor, changing the minds of the Tandankians who apologize to Wedge.

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Special a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (August 1995)
Apple Jacks cereal mail-away
Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Wizard 1/2 was published in 1997 and is sometimes confused with Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Special.  This comic was available to readers of the Wizard magazine who sent away for it and paid for the shipping costs.  The story inside takes place just prior to the Battle of Yavin as Wedge Antilles and other X-Wing pilots escort a cargo ship contain astromech droids needed by the Rebellion from the planet Commenor.  They are attacked by a squadron of TIE Fighters and one X-Wing pilot, Cesi Eirriss, sacrifices herself so the others can escape.  Back at Yavin 4, the droids are delivered and Eirriss' replacement, Luke Skywalker, joins the X-Wing squadron.

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Wizard 1/2a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (February 1997)
This Wizard 1/2 issue also has a variant edition.

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Wizard 1/2b - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (February 1997)
platinum variant
A version of this comic was published to give-away for free to first day movie goers for The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition on February 21, 1997.  The only difference between the mail-away comic and the first day presentation comic is the wording on the cover.  Both versions of the comic were printed at the same time.

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Special Wizard Edition a
- Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (February 1997)
same content as Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron Wizard 1/2
free to first day attendees of The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition

Sunday, March 19, 2017

First Appearance: Agent Terex

Star Wars: Poe Dameron is the only ongoing title from Marvel set in the era of the new trilogy, taking place just prior to the events in The Force Awakens.  In the series Poe Dameron has already been recruited as a pilot for General Leia Organa's Resistance having formerly served in the New Republic.  The Resistance and First Order are not in open conflict, but there have been skirmishes from time to time.  The First Order is preparing for an offense against the New Republic and Poe Dameron leads a squadron of fighter pilots called Black Squadron and their main mission is to find Lor San Tekka who knows the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker.

Introduced in the second issue of the series, Agent Terex is the main antagonist for Poe Dameron.  He works for the First Order's intelligence agency and he is tasked by Captain Phasma to find Poe Dameron who "intercepted key information being passed to us by a New Republic senator".  This assignment has ensured Agent Terex crosses paths with Poe Dameron frequently and he has appeared in every issue of the series since his introduction.  Terex is intelligent, arrogant, and ruthless.  He served as a Stormtrooper in the Galactic Empire and he hopes to see the First Order assume the same dominance over the galaxy that the Empire achieved.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #2a - Marvel Comics, U.S. (May 2016)
Star Wars: Poe Dameron #2b - Marvel Comics, U.S. (May 2016)
Agent Terex's first cover appearance is on the standard edition of Poe Dameron #2.  He is flanked by First Order Stormtroopers.  He does not appear on the variant cover which shows Poe Dameron in his X-Wing escaping from TIE Fighters.  The variant cover was initially released as a 1:20 ratio incentive for retailers.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Retro Foreign: Swedish Stjärnornas Krig Album #2

Sweden is nestle between the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, and Norway and is one of only 3 Scandinavian countries (Finland is not considered part of Scandinavia despite the close proximity to the other countries.)  Sweden is the most populous Nordic country; in 1977 it had a population of over 8.2 million people.  Semic Press, responsible for publishing the earliest Star Wars comics in the region, is based in Sweden.

Semic Press' second Stjärnornas Krig or Star Wars album for Swedish readers was released in 1978.  This 84-page trade paperback contains Star Wars #11 - 15 and is title Draklorderna or Dragon Lords.

Stjärnornas Krig Album #2a - Semic Press, Sweden (1978)
contains Star Wars #11 - 15 (minus some pages)
S. Bramsen's signed the artwork for the painted cover which is based on the Carmine Infantino cover for Star Wars #15.

Interestingly, Semic Press did not translate Star Wars #7 - 10, but instead skipped these issues and others during their time publishing Star Wars comics.