Late 19th century China experienced numerous outbursts of anti-foreign and anti-Christian violence. But it was the incidents in Shendong province that would set the stage for the "Yihequan," (Wade–Giles: I Ho Ch’uan) - sometimes translated into English as "Boxers United in Righteousness” (or alternately “Righteous and Harmonious Fists”). This grassroots organisation would inspire, and lend its name to, the mass movement now known in the West as the Boxer Rebellion or Boxer Uprising (1898-1900). After spreading throughout northern China, the Boxers would converge on Beijing and lay siege to the city’s Legation Quarter with the aid of the Imperial Army. This was where foreign expatriates and native converts to Christianity from all over the country sought refuge from the growing violence. But the Boxers would not succeed in ridding China of its foreign presence. Troops from eight nations finally arrived in Beijing, protected the Legations, defeated the Chinese forces, plundered the city and the surrounding countryside, and summarily executed any suspected Boxer. While the immediate repercussions of the Boxer Rebellion were a great calamity, in the long-term their actions would help radically transform the face of China.
What some contemporary Western observers noted about the Yihequan was their unusual method of calisthenics (popularly labelled today as “kung fu”). On the one hand they claimed that they could strengthen their bodies to become immune to the effects of conventional weapons. But the Yihequan also believed that they could channel the gods of legend and popular opera and acquire their mythical powers and abilities in the heat of battle. This kind of magic thinking is rarely taught nowadays to martial arts students. It might even be a source of embarrassment if ever bought up. But it’s the one aspect of the Boxers Gene Luen Yang latches on to as a way to get into their heads. In his latest graphic novel Boxers & Saints, Yihequan magic becomes an all-consuming religious experience equal in power to the mysticism of the Catholic Saints. It’s an idiosyncratic approach that allows him to conveniently sidestep some of the historical complexities while touching on themes of great personal significance.
The comic itself could be described as a comparative study of two kinds of spiritual journeys, mirrored by the two-volume structure. While they could be read separately, they're really meant to complement one another. The first and larger volume focuses on Little Bao, a peasant boy from a small village in Shan-tung province (Yang uses Wade-Giles throughout the comic). Yang simplifies and streamlines the complicated tangle of events that occurred during the Uprising by making the fictional Bao the center of Boxer activity. Unhappy with how foreigners disparage local customs and throw their weight around without fear of reprisal, Bao studies martial arts under itinerant folk hero Red Lantern Chu, learns the magic ritual of spirit possession from an eccentric mountain sage, inspires the youth of his village and others to take up arms against the “foreign devils”, and establishes the “Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist.” In the beginning, Bao’s goal is as clear and simple as it is honorable. But as with so many crusaders, things quickly become muddled the closer he gets to achieving those goals.
The second volume tells the story of an unnamed girl who grew up in an adjacent village, but is treated as an outcast by her own family due to the circumstances of her birth corresponding to the numerically-based superstition that Four is Death. After being labeled a “devil” by her own grandfather, she becomes fascinated with a visiting Christian missionary, as foreigners are often called devils by the locals. Deciding that she has more in common with them than her own family, she attends catechism classes, begins to experience visions of the life of Joan of Arc, converts to Roman Catholicism, and takes the name Vibiana. When she is physically abused for her religious conversion, Vibiana runs away from home. This takes place a few years before Bao instigates the Boxer Rebellion. But as the Rebellion heats up, their two paths eventually intersect.
Of the two, Bao starts out as the more relatable character. He only wants to defend his poor community from those overbearing outsiders. The first act of his story can even be described as an origin tale. His father is attacked by villains, which motivates Bao to seek both revenge and justice. He then acquires a superpower after going through a few trials to prove that he is worthy. Yang’s economic cartooning style keeps everything pretty assessable. When Bao uses spirit possession for the first time, the sky is filled by the presence of various gods dressed in colourful opera regalia, then he himself embodies one of the gods. It’s reminiscent of Billy Batson transforming into Captain Marvel. As coloured by Lark Pien, this transformation provides a stark contrast between the impoverished countryside and the gaudily dressed opera characters.
The problems for Bao begin when he expands his mission from protecting the weak to defending all of China. As the mountain of bodies of not just soldiers and missionaries but also women and children begin to accumulate, Bao is goaded on by the god Ch’in Shih-huang, first emperor of China. Ch’in’s an Old Testament kind of guy, and his message to Bao is unambiguous - He has to be completely ruthless in his war against the foreign devils. But Bao is presented with a paradox. He’s being led on to fight for China by a story. But the longer the war lasts, the more he’s forced to ignore other equally important tales that emphasise compassion and mercy. As he’s reminded during the burning of an ancient library, “…What is China but a people and their stories?” Bao is torn between his patriotism and his humanism, and B&S offers no answer on to how to resolve his internal conflict and fashion a more effective synthesis. The political and personal remain irreconcilable domains, and the Boxers' quest to save China is doomed to failure.
Vibiana’s attraction to Christianity may have been based on less than honourable motives, but this makes her a more well-rounded character. Her lifelong struggles with her adopted faith are in fact perfectly in line with a long tradition of doubting Thomas figures found in Roman Catholicism. Her supporting cast is also largely composed of people struggling with faith each in their own unique way. While Bao’s visions are unambiguous, if terrifying, Vibiana is constantly being led astray by her spiritual communions with Joan. Vibiana speaks to Joan directly, but is often left more confused than enlightened. At one point, she even considers joining the Boxer Uprising since the Boxers seem to parallel Joan’s own military career. Towards the end, Yang weighs the two lives in favour of Vibiana’s more introspective quest over Bao’s more outward expression of belligerence. Faith should never be confused with absolute certainty. And judging from the act of self-sacrifice she performs to help Bao, Vibiana would have probably been at the very least recognised as a martyr by the Church had she existed at the time.
And thanks to that Catholicism, Yang can’t help but engage in the heavy-handed ecumenical tendency to mould the followers of other faiths into Anonymous Christians. In American Born Chinese, he inserted the character of Tze-Yo-Tzuh into the story of the Monkey King as a thinly-disguised Christian analog. In B&S he links the bodhisattva Guan Yin to Jesus Christ. Thankfully, he isn't as emphatic in conveying the message, though the practice can still strike a discordant and not entirely convincing note.
B&S is Yang's most ambitious and complex work to date reflecting his particular worldview. Due to Yang’s peculiar passion for exploring the dimensions of his faith, the comic can sometimes feel like a tangential investigation of the Boxer Uprising and of China itself. Let’s ignore/downplay whatever socio-economic factors contributed to widespread discontent and the rise of the Yihequan, and just imagine that it was an exclusively religious conflict. And who cares that infighting within the Imperial Court and Army hastened the demise of the Boxers. The final panel of B&S is a mournful portrait of Beijing (Peking) being burned to the ground as it's being sacked by foreigners. But as tragic as that all sounds, the war did have the effect of limiting the scope of Western colonialism within the country, and the modern China that would emerge after 1900 has noticeably gone down a far more secular path.
|via Godzilla Movies|
Gojira (Godzilla) created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsubaraya
(obligatory spoiler alert)
This was a surprise. I mistakenly assumed that Hollywood’s second attempt at Godzilla would be a remake of the 1954 original, like the 1998 misstep, based on watching trailers showing a very cranky Bryan Cranston screaming about humanity being sent back to the Stone Age, or a mournful Ken Watanabe mentioning a creature that couldn’t be killed from way back in 1954. While this is still an origin tale of sorts, the titular character is closer to the King of the Monsters of the 60s and 70s - Defender of the Earth from the truly nasty kaiju out there to get us. And that’s good news for those of us who want Godzilla not to be a villain that has to be vanquished at the end, but a hero who can come back to face new foes.
There are a few things you have to accept to enjoy this type of Godzilla film. For one, the people don’t matter so much. They might occasionally lend assistance, or be a nuisance. But mostly, they’re there to bear witness to the awesomeness that is the kaiju showdown. Those aforementioned trailers put Cranston front and center to sell the film to the public. His tragic relationship with Juliette Binoche during the first act of the story does provide emotional ballast, but with his death the human interest falls on the steadfast but dull Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This turns out to be a smart move. Did anyone in their right mind really think that Walter White taking on Godzilla was a good idea? The conflict between Cranston and Taylor-Johnson is mercifully settled by the time the kaiju first lock horns. More importantly, the totally perfunctory depiction of Taylor-Johnson’s family troubles mostly avoids the kind of mawkishness that’s always put front and center in effects-laden Hollywood blockbusters. So we’re not really forced to care about whether he’s ever reunited with his wife and kid.
Having said that, I am a little disappointed that Watanabe is simply used as the film's resident Asian. Some of the early scenes are set in East Asia, namely the Philippines and Japan. Yet the people in charge are mainly Caucasians. Even in San Francisco where much of the story takes place, people of color are pushed to the margins. At least Watanabe doesn’t die in the first 20 minutes, so that’s progress. On a side-note, why does the military keep calling Godzilla by that name when Watanabe first refers to him (or her) as Gojira?
Another important feature is that the military has to be pretty useless against the kaiju. It’s a relief that the film doesn’t resort to the usual jingoistic recruiting message about joining a band of brothers, despite the Taylor-Johnson character being a naval bomb disposal expert. He does his job with a minimum of wisecracks, and he’s so devoid of personality that the role could have been split into different officers for every other scene. The film also avoids the opposite cliche of portraying the military as incompetent jack-booted thugs. They’ve been ordered to do whatever it takes to stop the kaiju, but they’re at best bothersome pests, except at the end when Taylor-Johnson conveniently does something heroic. The act does slightly undercut Watanabe’s oft repeated pronouncements that it’s hubris for Man to think he can control nature.
A major stumbling block is the sparsity of kaiju action. This is another peculiarity of the series. Godzilla doesn’t appear until halfway through the film. And director Gareth Edwards adopts an understated approach that some critics have declared “boring.” Quite a few times the camera pans upward from ground-level to reveal an impending kaiju beatdown, only to cut-off at a crucial moment. We’re not allowed to have a really good look at Godzilla until the climactic battle. Personally, I can understand how this could be a huge problem given the dearth of compelling human drama. But I also don’t mind the restraint. One of the challenges of Pacific Rim was holding audience attention, largely accomplished by staging increasingly complex fight scenes with correspondingly higher stakes. Nevertheless, the dog-piling of action scenes could become tiresome at times. By keeping most of the kaiju action offstage, the moment when Godzilla gets the upper hand feels a lot more satisfying. And it helps that this film has some of the most gorgeous cinematography found in a 2014 summer blockbuster.
Ultimately, Godzilla is an incomprehensible protagonist/walking deus ex machina. Watanabe is convinced that Godzilla's there to restore balance, but never gives solid evidence to back it up. Why would a 350 foot tall prehistoric creature who looks like a cross between a dragon and an angry bipedal crocodile even notice, let alone care about the lives of millions of tiny San Franciscans? Is that even a meaningful question to ask of such a film?
Translated by Helge Dascher
Cartoonist Guy Delisle has carved out a special niche writing about strange foreign lands. That’s his approach to Pyongyang and Burma Chronicles. Noting the strangeness of a place may not be particularly insightful analysis, but it works perfectly for Delisle. His stockpiling of numerous insignificant details mirrors how most clueless Westerners experience the rest of the world. Delisle has become the spokesperson for early stage culture shock because he never achieves true mastery of his subject. Not that he seems to care. Even when set in a country that would supposably be more familiar to Delisle’s readers, Jerusalem: Chronicles from The Holy City still follows in the footsteps of those past travelogues. But when the same style is applied to this more ambitious work, its homespun charms are stretched and bloated, and ultimately exposed as a kind of affectation.
Delisle’s cartoon avatar always begins his journey as a blank slate, as if he’s never travelled abroad or did any prior research, and this ersatz naiveté mimics the gap between tourist and native. In this case, his self-enforced blandness provides a peculiar contrast to his tumultuous surroundings. Jerusalem is, above all else, a city mired in identity politics. Delisle acts perplexed when it’s explained to him that the international community doesn’t recognize the city as Israel’s capital (which left me incredulous. Is he that unaware of the Arab-Israeli conflict?). The first visible symbol of how identity has altered the landscape is when Delisle visits a checkpoint at the infamous West Bank/Israel separation wall and watches as the guards fire tear gas into the crowd when responding to a minor disturbance.
That wall becomes a favorite motif of his, a metaphor for a country defined by every kind of barrier. Delisle learns to avoid the “Ultra-Orthodox” Jewish enclave Mea Shearim, especially after noticing a sign that warns outsiders to stay away. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is managed by six Christian denominations whose representatives behave like rival street gangs. After watching a news report about a celebration at the church that comes to blows, Delisle makes the banal remark “But when you think that Christians can’t even set an example in a conflict that’s polarized the world for so long, it’s a bit depressing....” then thanks God for being an atheist. Delisle visits the once bustling city of Hebron, now the battleground for Palestinians and Jewish settlers fighting over the Cave of the Patriarchs. Netting is hung above the streets to protect Muslims from garbage tossed at their direction by the settlers. And he tries to come to grips with the clash over the two most high profile religious landmarks in all of Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall and the Dome on the Rock, noting the queer alliance between conservative Jews and fundamentalist Christians who believe that knocking down the mosque to rebuild the temple is a prerequisite to bringing about the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ.
To a nonbeliever like Delisle, these barriers present a huge headache. It makes the city a confusing maze of no-go zones linked by disparate forms of public transportation serving different segregated neighborhoods. When he gets lost and accidentally drives into Mea Shearim during the Sabbath, he’s attacked by an angry mob. It complicates normal routines like shopping and driving the kids to school, not to mention exploring the rest of the country. Extremely paranoid airport security makes Delisle's occasional brief trips abroad almost intolerable. His most self-aware line is delivered after he learns that the border authorities have rejected his request to conduct a comics workshop in Gaza. A colleague informs Delisle “They said, ‘The guy who draws comics? Forget it.’” This causes him to wonder “Maybe they've got me mixed up with Joe Sacco?” Like many of the expat community he regularly interacts with, Delisle is vaguely sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. As in Burma, he’s accompanying his significant other, who works for the humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). And as with Burma, it’s also the source of his emotional detachment. Delisle knows the assignment will last only a year and that he will not develop a deeper relationship with the place. But each of Israel's varied groups believe they have an irrefutable connection to this slither of land which precludes everyone else's claims. The Palestinians in particular appear to have no choice but to keep fighting for their ever-shrinking share of territory if they don't want to loose it to an implacable foe. Palestinian cartoonists and illustrators in Gaza are prevented from getting work in Jerusalem. But as an outsider and rootless cosmopolitan, Delisle has the freedom, or rather the privilege, to leave at any time.
And as with Burma, it’s not really about the host country itself, but about Delisle’s own bumbling efforts to adjust to said country’s weird customs. In smaller doses, his everyman schtick can be amusing. The multi-ethnic setting provides plenty of opportunity for Delisle to exercise his gift for caricature. But spread over a discursive, three hundred page graphic novel, the facile storytelling can start to grate. Do I really need to hear about every quiet spot or nice place to grab a bite? Or every bothersome checkpoint? Must I listen about how difficult it is to find good housekeepers or babysitters? Or Delisle drawing himself complain about how he’s too harried from taking care of the kids to actually draw? Jerusalem was the first Delisle travelogue I found a chore to get through at around the halfway point. Delisle also spent a fair amount of time recounting his domestic situation in Burma. Problem is his family portrait is equally nondescript. His SO’s job at MSF is barely discussed, let alone her unique viewpoint on the situation, and his two generically cute children are sort of a black hole that suck up much of Delisle’s time and energy. This saps reader interest the way being forced to look at someone else’s family vacation pictures would drain most people.
The lack of an overarching narrative over such a lengthy book draws attention to the limitations of the art. Delisle employs the occasional splash of intense color to break up the monotony. This just underlines the ugliness of the monochrome color scheme, exacerbated by the geometric flatness, minimal characterizations and wide-angle perspective. Delisle’s overall aesthetic hasn’t evolved much since Pyongyang, but at this point his commitment to it starts to either look like a withdrawal into a protective shell, or maybe a form of artistic laziness. Whatever the reason, Delisle remains mostly a master of the incidental.
|Image via Collider|
Rhino created by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a bloated sequel that harks back to the superhero films of the nineteen nineties, mainly because watching it caused me to make unfortunate comparisons with the Avengers-centric Marvel cinematic universe. Every entry of that series has pulled-off the feat of building off the momentum of the previous outing. Take the recent Captain America: The Winter Soldier which manages to draw together narrative threads that began way back in Iron Man, it comes across as a crucial middle chapter of a much grander tale as it does a Captain America story. But when Spider-Man confronts the villain tag team made up of Electro and the Green Goblin, I was uncomfortably reminded of the random villain pairings from Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Then, and now, they didn't make much sense as partnerships other than coincidentally sharing a common foe.
It doesn’t help that this film’s villains are so flat. Heath Ledger's memorable turn at bat as the Joker and Tom Hiddleston's fan-favorite portrayal as Loki helped enliven their respective hero-villain conflict. But Max Dillon/Electro (as played by Jamie Foxx) is your standard loser/obsessed fanboy who simply gets caught up in the whirlwind of events. He also looks like a poor man’s Dr. Manhattan. And while Dane DeHaan struggles mightily to impart some pathos into the sickly Harry Osborne/Green Goblin, he’s hampered by a script that that has his character grow increasingly loopy. Throw in Paul Giamatti’s overacting in his bit part as the Rhino/Aleksei Sytsevich, and the whole thing begins to feel very cluttered. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone might be a charming couple playing star-crossed lovers Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Unfortunately this isn’t an indie romantic-comedy, but a big, noisy action blockbuster with way too many subplots to keep track of. Even the central mystery of the disappearance of Peter’s parents, clumsily introduced in the first movie, never quite succeeds in inspiring the desired emotional catharsis, and kinda gets lost in the film’s massive fight scenes.
As for the fight scenes themselves. They’re spectacular and colorful, and make for pretty desktop wallpapers. There's something to be said for using New York as the stage for all those superhero battles. And it's fun to see Spidey interact with the locals (even if Stan Lee's requisite cameo is more pointless than usual). But they still can't totally eliminate that annoying weightlessness to Spider-Man whenever he swings through the city streets, a side effect of heavily depending on CGI to animate the action.
All this material is being crammed into ASM2 because of Sony’s hasty attempts to catch up to Marvel. They’ve already announced their intention to ramp up their Spider-Man film output. ASM2 in particular is burdened with conveying the message that OsCorp is the big bad behind most, if not all of, Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. The tactic might work out for them in the long run, but for now the audience has to contend with this hot mess.
By Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, Muntsa Vicente, Clayton Cowles, Kevin Wada.
She-Hulk created by Stan Lee and John Buscema.
Issue #2 continues the process of establishing She-Hulk as her own star. Having opened a solo law practice in Brooklyn, Jennifer Walters must now go about gathering a supporting cast. Such is the case with most distaff heroes that they’re usually playing the role of supporting character. But She-Hulk has as good a chance as any to make it as a lead given her profile and overall likability. Writer Charles Soule understands this, and gets to showcase her as a badass as well as a struggling lawyer in this issue.
The two characters introduced are her landlady Sharon King and eccentric paralegal Angie Huang, neither particularly intimidated by Jennifer’s reputation as a superhero. Sharon’s a former mutant and Charles Xavier student who lost her superpowers during the events spinning off from House of M. Now she rents out building space to superhuman-owned businesses. Angie has a bit of a mysterious past and insists on keeping a creepy-looking macaque monkey with her at all times. No doubt, more of the building’s numerous residents will pop up in the future. But for fans looking for a familiar face, Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat, joins the practice after she and Jennifer go out for a night about the town, and then storm a secret AIM facility against Jennifer’s better judgement.
The new setting not only appropriately reflects Jennifer’s own position as a female character trying to step out from the shadow of her more famous namesake, but as one of the few superheroes who doesn’t maintain a secret identity. So it makes sense that her superhero career and her day job should mesh more intimately and more openly. Jennifer isn’t Matt Murdock - a lawyer by day, masked crime-fighter by night trying to keep the two separate. And judging from the “blue file” first mentioned in issue #1 and how issue #2 ends, Soule is particularly interested in exploring just how being a superhero would affect her law practice, and vice-versa.
By Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire, Chris Elliopoulos, Adi Granov, Bill Siekiewicz, Skottie Young, Katie Cook.
Moon Knight created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin.
Moon Knight is Marvel Comic’s sort-of Batman knockoff, except he’s crazy in his own special way. Or is he? That’s the topic being explored in this premiere issue: Is former mercenary Marc Spector suffering from Dissociative Personality Disorder? Does he have brain damage? Is he acting on behalf of the god Khonshu? Or is he being possessed by an alien entity? The metatatextual explanation for those conflicting answers is in the various interpretations stemming from the work of past creative teams. But rather than attempt to untangle the character’s peculiar continuity, new writer Warren Ellis has a couple of talking heads give their two cents before the comic arrives at a tentative conclusion. Information is presented as fractured, coming from different sources, and not all of it is reliable. They’re pieces that have to be assembled and sifted through in order to arrive at a working theory on what makes Spector tick.
This is a deliberately paced comic that feels longer than its nineteen pages, thanks to artist Declan Shalvey. Much of the narrative’s meat and potatoes is the titular hero helping the police track down a serial killer at large in New York. Shalvey’s atmospheric panels combined with the shadowy tones of colorist Jordie Bellaire transform the city into the kind of vast and mysterious place full of concrete canyons and underground lairs that could hide the kind of villain Moon Knight pursues.The character’s redesign is particularly stylish and calculated to pay homage to classic pulp heroes. Spector is driven around in an automated white limousine, and he eschews the usual spandex for a white suit, white gloves, and a white bag over his head. When donning this attire, Bellaire leaves him uncolored with the white of the paper untouched. He’s literally a black and white figure, and the jarring contrast to the murky world he inhabits makes him an almost spectral presence. The theatrical effect reverses the usual urban crime-fighter MO of hiding in the shadows, and when a cop points out that his fashion sense will make it easy for the serial killer to see him coming, he nonchalantly responds “That’s the part I like.”
The comic is a pretty good showcase for Bellaire. As Moon Knight descends into the city’s dark belly, he eventually finds the hulking, blood-soaked killer, saturated in pure red to match Spector’s own empty white. Their battle is a classic color-coded case of brain vs brawn, or good vs evil. And as Spector later confronts Khonshu over his own true nature, the colors gradually shift to dark grays and blacks that swallow him up.
By Jeffrey Brown
Star Wars created by George Lucas
“I am your father” has become a ubiquitous meme since Darth Vader had his little talk with Luke Skywalker back in 1980 in what is now one of the most parodied scenes in pop culture. One recent example that comes to mind is when Evil Emperor Zurg pulls off the reveal on Buzz Lightyear in the movie Toy Story 2, resulting in the same pained reaction. But later on, the two are seen playing a game of catch in which Buzz excitedly proclaims “Oh, you're a great dad!” Jeffrey Brown milks that joke for all its worth in a pair of books Darth Vader and Son and its sequel Vader’s Little Princess. Had young Anakin been a more attentive father, would he have turned out a better person than in the movies? Probably not, but he might have learned to play a decent game of catch.
Brown has made his fair share of pop culture parodies, but this pair hews closer to the more heartfelt expressiveness of his autobiographical comics. This apparently stems from Brown becoming a father in real life. His awkward, often befuddled Vader is an avatar for Brown himself, except he’s raising a pair of superpowered kids within the house that George Lucas built. That might place these two books as among his cutest and geekiest efforts to date.
Darth Vader and Son concentrates on Vader’s relationship with Luke while Vader’s Little Princess turns its attention on Leia. Both are initially portrayed as very young, though they later age into teenagers. Each book contains a collection of mostly single-panel gag strips with no overarching narrative connecting them. Brown’s rough hand-drawn style is at its most detailed here when recreating its fictional backdrops. The results are kind of adorable. Brown’s simple colors, thick hatching, and the pared-down characters make him rather suitable as a children’s book illustrator. With their button eyes and broad grins, Luke and Leia make for especially sweet-looking tykes. Vader is lovingly drawn by Brown wearing his usual menacing visage, but this only enhances the character’s awkwardness when dealing with domestic situations.
The gags fall into two broad, sometimes overlapping, categories. The first presents the characters engaged in various parent-child activities like family meals, learning to ride personal modes of transport, teaching proper hygiene, playing sports, family outings, holidays, school functions, etc. The second are recontextualized scenes lifted from the Star Wars trilogy. This often results in Vader being embarrassed by his kids, such as when he’s about to force choke an incompetent admiral, only to be interrupted by an ecstatic Leia greeting him with a big hug. Vader might be able to terrorize the rest of the galaxy, but even his most ominous threats will barely evince a reaction from the serenely upbeat Luke and Leia.
Brown is at his best when he’s enjoying the Skywalker family dynamic rather than when trying to poke fun at the entire franchise. Vader’s face is an unchanging mask, but the range of emotions he goes through are palpable from what he says and does. In one cartoon, Vader is clumsily cradling a garish red necktie Luke has given to him as a gift. While his son hopefully looks on, Vader trIes to look grateful while thinking to himself “I CAN’T WEAR THIS.”
I’d say that Darth Vader and Son is the more successful of the two. Brown is better writing about toddlers than teenagers. Toddlers have the advantage of being precious and vulnerable. Teenagers, not as much. And it probably doesn’t help that Brown has no actual experience raising an adolescent girl of his own. But whatever the reason, this causes him to lean more on the source material for inspiration. While I appreciate Brown's trying not to repeat himself, the humor becomes a bit more formulaic in Vader’s Little Princess. Vader himself is often reduced to the role of overprotective father who doesn’t get Leia’s loose fashion sense, her foot-dragging over completing her house chores, or her taste in boyfriends. Sometimes, the jokes are just recycled from old TV sitcoms or cartoon strips, such as when Luke complains that “Leia’s been in the bathroom for, like, an hour!” Maybe Brown should have treated the character a little less like a princess.