Star Wars comic books were first published by Marvel, and since Disney now owns Marvel AND Star Wars, they are being produced at The House of Ideas once more. But in the 1990s and early 2000s, Dark Horse Comics was the home for Star Wars sequential art. The company was founded in the 80s and has become well known for critically acclaimed, creator owned comics like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe or Frank Miller’s Sin City. They’ve also held the licenses to make comics of many other preexisting properties, like Alien and Predator (combining the two universes years before Hollywood did) and Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.
Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics did much to expand the galaxy far, far away. They published books featuring the main characters from the films, but also focused on very minor ones like Wedge Antilles or the Emperor’s Royal Guards. Some of their original characters went on to appear onscreen in the Prequel Trilogy (at the behest of George Lucas himself!) and The Clone Wars animated series. Their Tales of the Jedi series explored the history of the Republic, Jedi Order, and Sith thousands of years before the films, and was the basis for the very popular Knights of the Old Republic games. But when I was a Star Wars-lovin’ lad (who am I kidding, I still am!) one of my favorite DH SW series was Droids, featuring the solo adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Similar in concept to the old Droids cartoon, the DH Droids run consisted of a few miniseries chronicling the pre-Star Wars adventures of Artoo and Threepio as they made their way throughout the galaxy, bumming from master to master. One of the coolest stories was a one-shot penned by longtime Star Wars-scribe Ryder Windham and co-written by the man behind the golden droid himself, Anthony Daniels! The Protocol Offensive was released 20 years ago and happens to be one of the first comics I bought for myself; picked off a spinner rack in one of those smaller mall bookstores that later got gobbled up by Barnes & Noble. It’s one of those “prestige” format comics with a spine and no advertisements. The interior art and cover are awesomely painted by Igor Kordey, but the creases on the book’s spine are all me, baby.
The story opens with Artoo and Threepio newly in the service of a government called the Tion Hegemony, a backwater, nominally independent power that is mostly left to its own devices by the Empire (this sector is also the setting of the 1980 Star Wars spin-off novel Han Solo and the Lost Legacy). The Hegemony is doing the whole “Star Trek” thing and negotiating peace between the tribes of the planet Tahlboor, and Threepio is tasked with translating for the delegates.
The book is well written and entertaining, but the art is what really makes it. Kordey does a perfect job at rendering the droids and plops them into environments that feel Star Wars, but are very fresh and unique. One of the coolest designs is that of the Tahlboorians – humanoid, but with enough differences to be truly alien (space opera “alien,” that is). I love how the cleft at the corners of the eyes runs back and splits with the “artichoke flaps” or whatever you want to call them. An inspired design, very different but human enough to still be sympathetic to xenophobic Earthpeople.
We learn that the Tahlboor is contested by two tribes, the city-dwelling Troobs and the agrarian Hobors. The first part of the comic takes place aboard some kind of diplomatic station/starship where the droids visit a sweet space casino (dig the Little Red Riding Hood & Big Bad Wolf cameo; something that took me years to notice):
After the droids cause a diplomatic incident at the casino and negotiations threaten to break down, Hobor Chief Nimondro reveals he possesses some kind of terrible weapon on the planet’s surface:
The Chief uses his newly revealed power as leverage to move the negotiations to the planet below, where the droids are separated between the two tribes and become embroiled in intrigues and a brewing conflict.
I give props to Windham for actually writing out all of Artoo’s bloops and the Tahlboorian language in the word bubbles. The Protocol Offensive is a cool little tale, in which Artoo and Threepio are the center of the story and both get a chance to be genuinely heroic. It’s a whodunnit which Kordey does a great job of bringing to life in a vibrant locale.
The book is a one-shot and stands on it’s own, so you don’t need to be familiar with other Droids stories or any of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. I’ve seen it here and there in back issue bins so it shouldn’t be too hard to find in a store or on eBay, and I’m sure it’s been collected in a Droids omnibus by Dark Horse (and probably will be re-printed by Marvel at some point). The rest of DH’s Droids offerings are well worth a read, too.
I’ve been digging up and re-reading a lot of my old Star Wars comics lately, so expect more spotlights on DH’s great stories set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away!