Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1 – A Beyond the Films Review

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Star Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler is now posting short, non-spoiler reviews for many new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will often follow in the weeks or months thereafter on the podcast. 


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The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1 (hardcover, 2017)

From 1979 into 1984, while Marvel Comics received much of the credit for keeping Star Wars fiction “beyond the films” alive in comic form, the Los Angeles Times Newspaper Syndicate was keeping the torch lit in its own right with daily (and weekly) Star Wars newspaper strips. Now, Marvel and IDW have teamed up under IDW’s The Library of American Comics banner to present the Star Wars newspaper strips in their original, unaltered form, through a series of three hardback collections. The first arrived just in time for the 40th anniversary of A New Hope, but is this the collection you’re looking for?

The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1

I suppose we should address the banthas in the room here first. The classic newspaper strips began under Russ Manning from Mar. 11, 1979, through Oct. 5, 1980. As Manning became too ill to write prior to his death in 1981, Russ Helm took up the mantle briefly to help finish out what we think of as Manning’s run, then writing duties were passed into the hands of Archie Goodwin until the strip’s end exactly five years after it began on Mar. 11, 1984. The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1 contains the entirety of the Manning (and Helm) run and none of the subsequent Goodwin run.

For those keeping score, the stories included have seen prior release in various forms. The Hyperspace area of the official Star Wars website once contained image files of all of these stories except The Kashyyyk Depths. The Dark Horse Comics series Classic Star Wars: The Early Adventures reprinted all but three (The Kashyyyk DepthsPlanet of Kadril, and The Constancia Affair) in colorized form. The Constancia Affair was released by Dark Horse as an exclusive comic book for KB Toys in 1998.

These exact same stories by Manning and Helm were also just reprinted three months before this hardback edition in Marvel’s own Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Newspaper Strips, Vol. 1, where they appeared alongside the Han Solo at Stars’ End strip that launched Goodwin’s tenure and the stories found in the first three (or 3.25, give or take) issues of Dark Horse’s reprinted Classic Star Wars  series that focused on Goodwin’s stories. That said, while the Feb. 2017 Epic Collection release does include more stories, its format (comic book dimentions) and approach leave much to be desired. Rather than providing reprints of the actual newspaper strips, the Epic Collection volume instead reprints anything previously reprinted by Dark Horse in their colorized and often edited (or added-to) format. That collected edition retails for an MSRP of $39.99. (It is also noteworthy that this volume was the first time The Kashyyyk Depths strips were reprinted since their original newspaper run.)

The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1 from Marvel and IDW does indeed cover just Manning and Helm storytelling, and it does cost an extra $10 with an MSRP of $49.99. However, this volume, unlike the Epic Collection that beat it to the market by a quarter, is truly a publication meant for newspaper strip purists, those who see these tales as part of a library of stories for their era that should be read in their original form, and those who like their historical Star Wars untouched. Much like the highly sought after 1991 three volume set produced by Russ Cochran that collected all of Goodwin’s strips with longtime artist partner Al Williamson, this is a volume that presents historical Star Wars tales as worthy of being seen as a part of literary history, not just a pop cultural blip to be forgotten.

All strips are presented in their original form, either in color or black and white, dated on each page. Pages are slightly oversized from standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper and presented horizontally to maintain their original presentation style. The book opens with an introduction by Rich Handley (full disclosure: I’ve worked with Rich on previous Star Wars related projects), followed by a tribute to Russ Manning by Henry G. Franke III. This large hardback work includes a dust jacket and a small cloth bookmark in the vein of a Bible to keep one’s place.

Fans deciding whether to pick up this or the Epic Collection reprint series should consider their priorities. If the priority is being able to just read these stories in their most modern form, overall price, or price vs. volume of content, then the Epic Collection will do nicely. For those more interested in the historical value of such a collection or a more pristine, high-end presentation of the stories, The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1 from Marvel and IDW is the way to go. You are indeed paying a premium for quality, but given the number of times these stories (minus The Kashyyyk Depths, only available in either of these two new releases) have been reprinted in original or altered form, many fans will be looking for something with added value this time around to justify replacing an older copy of the stories with a new one.

The Verdict

The stories contained in The Classic Newspaper Comics, Vol. 1 are not Star Wars at its finest. As anyone who read through Classic Star Wars: The Early Adventures knows, they are a bit cheesy and odd at times. As a piece of Star Wars history (and part of the Legends continuity), this run of ten tales (Gambler’s WorldThe Constancia AffairThe Kashyyyk DepthsTatooine SojournPrincess Leia, Imperial ServantThe Second Kessel RunBring Me the ChildrenAs Long as We Live…The Frozen World of Ota, and Planet of Kadril) are an important milestone in the Star Wars publishing line’s evolution, making this book (and its two subsequent volumes that will soon collect the pristine Goodwin era strips) a sort of master class in Star Wars newspaper strips the way they were meant to be read.

Recommended for: Those interested in the Russ Manning era of Star Wars newspaper strips in their original form, perhaps out of an interest in their historical significance.

Not recommended for: Those seeking out the cheapest way to get the most stories that include these, those who are seeking colorized or re-edited stories from more recent reprints, or those who couldn’t care less about the historical significance of these works and just want to read more Star Wars stories.

The copy used for this review was purchased at retail.

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