Monday, June 20, 2016

Classic Cover Comparison: Star Wars #98 and Classic Star Wars: The Vandelhelm Mission

Semi-regular artist Cynthia Martin began penciling the interior art for Marvel's original Star Wars title with issue #94 and she would contribute art until the final issue.  Her art style was awful for the Star Wars title.  Luckily for those who stuck with the title through to the end, there were a few decent issues.  One of those issues is Star Wars #98.

The classic team of writer Archie Goodwin and artist Al Williamson worked on the The Empire Strikes Back adaptation as well as many of the newspaper comic strips.  Archie Goodwin also wrote 37 of Marvel's Star Wars issues.  The two teamed up again to work on Star Wars #98 in a story titled Supply and Demand.  In the story, Han Solo is sent on a mission to the planet Vandelhelm to secure materials needed by the Alliance for building starships.  Han Solo's co-pilot is Nien Numb, Lando's co-pilot on the Millennium Falcon during the attack on the second Death Star.  Han's mission is to pick up two kids, a teenage girl and a young boy called the "Venerated Ones", from an ex-Imperial prison planet and transport them to Vandelhelm.  Vandelhelm's mining operations is run by a guild of superstitious metal smiths who take their direction from these kids, original descendants of the two families who discovered the planet.  The kids were held prisoner by the Imperials to force the guild, led by guildmaster Orrk, to produce supplies for the Empire with the Imperial oversight led by Admiral Mordur.  Since the fall of the Empire, guildmaster Orrk has allied with Admiral Orrk to maintain control of the guild and he is not keen on seeing the kids return to resume control.  In the end, Han, with help from Nien Numb and Lando Calrissian, successfully completes the mission.  Interestingly, despite a significant presence in the comic, Nien Numb is never shown speaking, although Han responds to him several times as if he is talking!

Star Wars #98a - Marvel Comics, U.S. (August 1985)
The cover art to Star Wars #98 is by expressionist Bill Sienkiewicz.  It does not represent the story inside the comic.  Inside, there is a sequence where Han Solo is wearing a space suit and fights Imperials, but the spacesuit looks nothing like what he is wearing on the cover and his fight with Stormtroopers is in the cargo hold of a transport barge, not in space.  To make matters worse, the space helmet makes it appear that Han has lost his head.

Classic Star Wars: The Vandelhelm Mission - Dark Horse Comics, U.S. (March 1995)
Almost 10 years after the original story, Dark Horse reprinted Star Wars #98 in a one-shot titled Classic Star Wars: The Vandelhelm Mission.  New cover art is provided for this reprint by the master artist Al Williamson himself.  The cover is taken from a scene inside the comic where Han protects the two kids from a pair of Imperial Stormtroopers.  Again, Nien Numb is slighted, since in the story, it is Nien Numb who shoots the Stormtrooper pair while Han is covering the kids on the ground.

There is no contest on which cover is better.  Star Wars #98 must have been drawn with little knowledge of the actual content of the story inside the comic.  Getting Al Williamson to draw the cover to The Vandelhelm Mission was a coup for Dark Horse and it is unfortunate Williamson did not get to provide his exquisite craft to the original cover.

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