Saturday, April 2, 2016

Retro Dark Horse: Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron #1

Dark Horse Comics successfully brought Star Wars back into the conscious of comic readers with Star Wars: Dark Empire in December 1991.  It was important for Dark Horse to follow up the Dark Empire mini-series with Star Wars comics that appealed to the fanbase, otherwise Star Wars would have suffered the fate of some of Dark Horse's other movie licenses that did not stick around long.  They published Classic Star Wars stories which reprinted Marvel stories and newspaper comic strips after Dark Empire and those sold okay.  The first Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi mini-series did very well and it received a followup mini series six months later.  Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi, like Star Wars: Dark Empire, was a strong event book for Dark Horse and definitely drew in readers because of the new time period being explored.  Dark Horse had published the first Droids mini-series which also saw a sequel Droids mini-series six months later, but that title did not do as well as Dark Empire II which began publication in December 1994, three years after the first Dark Empire mini-series began publication.  It was in this environment that Dark Horse publish Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron, the title that I feel cemented Star Wars as the comic industries' biggest movie license.

Star Wars: X-Wing started life as an extremely popular video game in 1993 that went on to see three sequels: TIE Fighter in 1994, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter in 1997, and X-Wing Alliance in 1999.  Bantam Books saw promise in this expansion of the Star Wars universe and hired Michael Stackpole to bring Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron to novels.  Dark Horse wanted to collaborate with Bantam and Stackpole was hired to also write the comics.  The Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron comic mini-series debuted in July 1995 and the first novel came out in 1996.  At first, Michael Stackpole was assisted by other comic writers, but by the end of the comic title's run, Stackpole was the sole writer of the stories.

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron was extremely successful as a novel series.  Many people feel that next to the Thrawn Trilogy, these books were the best Star Wars novels to be published by Bantam Books.  Dark Horse had originally only planned for three mini-series, but the success of the title led to it becoming an ongoing series that ran for 35 issues.  Both the novels and the comics featured stories that revolved around fan favorite Wedge Antilles, who assembled a cast of New Republic era pilots for the crew of Rogue Squadron.  The comics focused on the early days of the squadron after Return of the Jedi, while the books took place a few years later and focused on the squadron's part in the toppling of Imperial control of Coruscant.

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron #1a - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (July 1995)
The cover to Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron says everything you need to know about why this series was a success: The continuing adventures of Wedge Antilles!  Wedge was a character that had survived the major battles of all three original movies and had developed a fan following.  The cover is a simple one, Wedge, decked out in his Rebel Pilot uniform, is posed in front of a squad of X-Wing Fighters flying overhead.  As you can see, the title was originally conceived as a 4-issue mini series titled Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron - Rebel Opposition.

Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron was the first Star Wars comic that played loosely with what was a mini and ongoing series.  The first 20 issues of this series were labelled on the cover as if they were each part of a 4-issue mini-series.  But, the 21st issue is labelled as such on the cover as well as subsequent issues.  In effect, X-Wing Rogue Squadron was a series of mini-series.  Since mini-series are simply story arcs, in a way, this is pretty much how most mainstream comics are published today.  I recall having each arc cataloged as a separate title until issue #21 came out, then I quickly went back and changed it to a single ongoing series.  Publishers have been throwing curves at comic collectors like this since they first began publishing comics which always makes identifying and cataloging comics fun.

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