Review by C.J. Bunce

It is three years before Star Wars: A New Hope.  Jahan Cross is posing as special envoy for the diplomatic service.  His preferred companion is a feminine-inspired android named IN-GA 44 or “Inga,” adept at researching corrupt officials’ computers and uncovering just what they don’t want uncovered.  Cross reports to the director of Imperial intelligence, Agent Cross’s very own “M,” who sets him out on a dangerous mission.

Next week Dark Horse Comics is releasing a compilation of its take on dropping James Bond in the Star Wars universe with Star Wars: Agent of the Empire, Volume 1– Iron Eclipse, reprinting Issues #1-5 of the monthly comic book series.

Iaclyn and Elli Rossum are heirs to Iaco Stark, deceased owner of a droid factory.  Stark had married a beautiful blue Nautolan (those blue tentacled head aliens) woman named Dah’lis.  Agent Cross was pursuing Imperial Colonel Muhrlein and droid Inga uncovered information connecting Muhrlein with a vast smuggling ring, but everything points to Stark’s droidworks.  But there Cross hits a dead end, other than finding the curious name of the project: Iron Eclipse.  To pursue this lead Cross must enter the Corporate Sector, outside the protections of even the reach of the Empire.  First Cross must secure Inga as his partner and some techno-gadgets he assembles not from “Q,” but from an officer named “Pew” who supplies the latest in subversive security tools for the elite, intelligence gathering crowd.

At a dinner party we meet those first suspects: Stark’s widow, and his son and daughter.  It’s not long before Agent Cross exhibits even more qualities from the James Bond-inspired spy world, including using his own male charm to pursue Stark’s widow, only to find himself knocked out accused of her death.  Agent of the Empire is definitely the stuff of classic spy novels.  You’ll even find an alien detective in trench coat and fedora, which may just be a little too much cramming our world into the Star Wars universe.  But it’s all in fun.  In fact some of the story reads like some kids playing with action figures in the 1970s (or 80s or 90s or…), but it’s more than that–the writing is clever and crafted as a tight spy story.

On Agent Cross’s journey he has a chance encounter with an old Corellian friend and his loyal Wookiee companion, who assist Cross in getting out of a scrape.  But Cross is no Han Solo–and that’s good–he’s his own rogue and a bit of what you’d get if you cast Jason Statham as James Bond.  John Ostrander offers a quick-paced story here all Star Wars fans will like.  He gives us a view from inside the Empire, where everything is not as black and white (or dark and light) as you might think.  Of the initial Marvel Comics from Issue #1-107, my favorite story began with Issue #7, showing the offworld exploits of Han and Chewie.  This story takes place in that same time and place with the early days of Han as smuggler.  Unlike many other tie-in stories, which focus on well-known Star Wars heroes from the movies, Agent of the Empire only brings in Han Solo and Chewbacca as secondary characters.  It’s a great twist keeping these guys as a tangent, yet their presence grounds the story for passing readers wanting more of their favorite Star Wars duo.

French comic book artist Stéphane Roux offers some nice pencil work in this Star Wars series.  His detailed background work is unmistakeably Star Wars in design, from ships to weapons to worlds.  His characters are fun to watch and his action sequences are well choreographed.  His introduction of new aliens with familiar visual parallels in the prequels is a nice touch.  I liked the fact that there was a bit of an explanation for General Grievous here in subtext.

Like you’d find in a Bond novel or movie, keep an eye out for a lot of tongue in cheek situations and several parallels to Bond escapades, including Bond girls, a slick Bond ride, and tough female Bond companion–even if she’s not human you’re in for a touching story.

Keep an eye out for Easter eggs in Roux’s art, including a a “who shot first, Greedo or Han” scene, and a certain scene with the ill-fated Colonel Muhrlein, who collects certain rare weapons outside the pricetag of his income, including what may very well be a Klingon bat-leth and a Reman dagger from a universe not so very far, far away.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire, Volume 1– Iron Eclipse has a scheduled release date of October 24, 2012.  It is available for pre-order now at Amazon.com.

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