Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Lando 1, originally released July 8th, 2015.
Spencer: Maybe it’s just because of the way superheroes dominate the medium, but when I think of comic books, my mind immediately turns to fighting. It’s almost unheard of to find a superhero who doesn’t fight in some capacity, and even in the indie books I read, most of the characters are spies, soldiers, robots wielding built-in weaponry, or kids struggling to survive in the wild — the one thing they have in common is that they all fight. Lando Calrissian, however, does not. Throughout Lando 1, Charles Soule and Alex Maleev depict Lando as someone who may know the value of a good warrior, but prefers to win his battles with cunning. It’s a compelling take on the character, one that helps set him apart from his good buddy (and fellow smuggler) Han Solo, and one which also establishes this mini-series as a heist story through and through. Sure, there’s action, but the twists and turns of Lando’s high-stakes schemes (as well as the schemes hatched against him) are what this series is really all about, and that’s a fun new direction for the Marvel Star Wars books to explore.
Soule wastes no time dropping us right into one of Lando’s heists, opening on Lando trying to steal a trinket from Imperial Governor Ssaria — only, instead of just taking it, he flat out tells Ssaria that he’s going to steal it and then convinces her to let him get away with it. It’s a ballsy move, one of those moments that’s absolutely character defining — perhaps even moreso when we discover Lando’s reasons for taking this approach.
It’s easy to think of Lando as a risk-taker, and in some ways he is — he’s a gambler if nothing else, and that’s always risky — but he’s also a fan of a calculated risk. Charming Ssaria went against all odds, yet if his risk paid off, it would produce a far better outcome than any of the easier ways of stealing the trinket could provide. This goes hand-in-hand with Lando’s desire to avoid fighting — it’s not that Lando can’t fight, but he simply wants the least messy outcome, and that often means foregoing violence (an easy, if exhausting solution) for something with a bit more nuance.
In this case Lando’s risk pays off, but we can tell that they just as often don’t — after all, Lando wouldn’t be so deep into debt with Papa Toren if all his gambits ended successfully, and even this successful heist ends with Toren stiffing Lando on their deal. Toren offers Lando another job, though — stealing an Imperial ship in for repair. Lando, his friend Lobot, and a couple hired hands pull the job off effortlessly, but only after much preparation. That preparation is the key — Soule and Maleev dedicate more pages to planning the heist than actually pulling it off, and that’s because Lando’s victory is owed mainly to the amount of effort he and his cohorts put into planning it out. I love how the idea of Lando as a schemer sets him apart a bit from some of the other Star Wars protagonists — Luke tends to win his battles thanks to the Force and sage advice, while Han relies on a fast blaster, a faster ship, and sheer dumb luck, but Lando wins his battles in his head before they ever even begin. That takes an impressive amount of skill and imagination to pull off, but Lando’s got both elements in spades, as he’s well aware.
We can, again, see some of Lando’s thrill-seeking, gambling side showing through here. Lando’s desire not to fight still has a pragmatic aspect, but it’s also based in his own high confidence in his skills. Winning a battle without even firing a blaster is a challenge, and it’s one Lando prides himself in being up to, but unfortunately, he hasn’t always thought things through as well as he ought.
Again, Lando underestimates Toren, never considering that he may stiff him on the stolen trinket, and then takes another job from him without even thinking that Toren may screw him over on that one too — or that Toren may just be leading him into a trap. Even when it comes down to the actual heist itself, Lando brushes off one key detail.
The problem isn’t that Lando misses this detail, but that he flat out disregards it as unimportant. After the amount of work he put into the rest of the heist it comes across as clear overconfidence, especially considering how important this detail ends up being — the owner of the ship is Emperor Palpatine himself!
I can’t help but wonder if Lando’s inevitable confrontation with the Empire here will play into his later decision to betray Han to them in The Empire Strikes Back, but either way, I can see the seeds of the Lando he’ll eventually become in the trilogy planted throughout the issue. Soule’s given us a Lando that’s pragmatic enough to eventually leave behind a life of smuggling, gambling, and good times to run a city, but also daring enough to later leave that to join the rebellion. At the same time, though, Lando 1 also greatly expounds upon a character I thought was underserved in the films, better defining his particular brand of cunning and establishing him as his own character rather than the foil to/fill in for Han that he often came across as.
Even divorced from his prior interpretations, though, Soule and Maleev’s Lando Calrissian is an engaging lead character; charming, cool, and confident, and with his own unique take on his universe, but also more caught up in his own bad habits than he realizes. Patrick, are you as fond of this take on Lando as I am? What are your thoughts on Maleev’s art? And hey, what do you think of Lobot’s famed enhancements? I admit that they would be super useful to me at work, but I still think I’d rather just toil away with a calculator than get those things drilled into my head.
Patrick: I wonder if those implants take away any of the fun of doing math in your head? You know how it’s kinda fun to round numbers off in your head and fumbled your way through a solution to a problem, but at least it was more fun that pulling up the calculator on your phone and punching in the numbers – I assume it’s the exact same thing. Plus, from Lobot and Lando’s conversations, it sure sounds like the implants don’t take every factor into consideration before calculating the odds: Lando could read the room, interpret the chemistry between he and Ssaria and guessed that his Truth Gambit would work. Lobot’s implants most not be empathic, otherwise they would have calculated a likelihood of success higher than 1 in 10,000.
But to answer your more substantial question: I love this take on Lando, partially because Soule is taking what little we see of the character in the films and spinning it out into a fully fleshed out character. Lando Calrissian doesn’t get a lot of screen time in Empire or Jedi, and his agency is Jedi is mostly restricted to his ability to fly the Millennium Falcon. The only real action we see Lando undertake in the films is when he turns on the Empire after they’ve taken over his city and captured his friends. That plan is also enacted cunningly and with minimal violence.
The only other thing I can really say about Lando from the movies is that he’s a charmer. It’s a charm that doesn’t necessarily work on the ladies, but the camera fucking loves him. Maleev — whose line-heavy, almost Sean Murphy-esque, style often obscures faces in the middle-distance, pays extra special attention to Lando’s close-ups. I’m having a hard time coming up with more charismatic drawings I’ve seen this week (and that’s including Fiona Staple’s Archie (which we’re talking about tomorrow!)).
It’s almost a magic trick – Maleev is channeling Billy D. Williams’ considerable charm, and he does so by being true to his own style, rather than chasing some impossible-to-realize approximation of photo realism. There’s always a little bit of a problem when a licensed comic attempts to render real-life people on the page. We’re used to seeing Star Wars, Firefly or Buffy the Vampire Slayer as real people on the screen, so that’s the standard many comic artists attempt to achieve. But it takes one hell of an artist to even come close to making that work. Maleev reminds us that identifying what visual qualities the audience is responding to on-screen and then abstracting and adapting them for the page is what actually works to evoke these characters.
Soule actually has a similar approach, but applied more generally to the world of Star Wars. One of Drew’s regular complaints about Star Wars comics is that they would rather trade in alien races that we’ve seen before rather than embracing the spirit of the films and inventing their own aliens. After all, which statement is more true? “Star Wars is Star Wars because it has Wookies in it” OR “Star Wars is Star Wars because a new alien race can be introduced at any minute”? Papa Toren could easily have been a Hutt or some kinda of Rhodian (as we just saw in Darth Vader 7), but Soule writes one of the weirder characters I’ve seen in these comics. Maleev, of course, is happy to oblige.
He’s a soft-spoken gangster with three attendant pixie-monsters that do all of his talking for him. If that doesn’t scream “Star Wars” I don’t know what does. That’s a pretty consistent quality in Soule’s storytelling: his runs of Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns, She-Hulk, Thunderbolts – all identified the spirit of invention within those properties and then continued to invent in the same style. Writers like John Hickman and Geoff Johns may have the reputations of godfathers of mythology, but all of their innovations stem from their particular brands of genius. Soule, on the other hand, somehow reverse-engineers the creativity that originally went into the properties he’s expanding upon.
I loved this issue — though, that should come as no surprise: my affections for the new Star Wars comics is well documented on this site. I wish we could get a little more insight into what exactly is driving this insistence on excellence. Is it the fabled “Lucasfilm Story Group?” Or perhaps I’ve been underestimating editor Jordan D. White? 30 years from now, we’ll get to do a post-mortem on the beginning of the Disney-era of Star Wars and that will be some fascinating shit. In the meantime, I’m just happy to have such imaginative, inventive, and true-to-the-spirit-of-the-movies comic books.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?