The first "Star Wars" trilogy is the most difficult time period to write original stories without retreading what's already been done, but in "Star Wars: Agent of the Empire: Hard Targets" #1, writer John Ostrander and artist Davide Fabbri present a slick, cool and strangely likable character in Jahan Cross of Imperial Intelligence.
Cross is the Empire's James Bond, and this story takes place shortly before the events of "Episode IV: A New Hope" on the peaceful planet of Alderaan. Star Wars expanded universe fans will recognize numerous cameo appearances including Ysanne Isard, the hardened female Imperial leader from the "Rogue Squadron" novels, a younger Princess Leia and the most infamous bounty hunter in the galaxy, Boba Fett. With these characters and others, Ostrander has utilized established Expanded Universe lore and riffs off it, while at the same time presenting an original character readers can latch on to in Cross.
Ostrander writes a smooth script, tying things seamlessly into the established mythos while keeping things fresh with Cross. Creating an Imperial spy native to Alderaan with readers knowing the eventual fate of the planet adds a layer of intrigue foreshadowing Cross's eventual fate. Will he betray the Empire? Is he on the planet when Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star? We don't know and Ostrander does a great job providing it as a major hook of investment.
The script has a strong political slant with Bail Organa, true to his look in the prequel films, stirring up support for the Rebellion in secret. Ostrander doesn't let things get dry during talks of alliances, Houses and maintaining appearances -- I was wondering if Alliance politicians, Borsk Fey'lya or Mon Mothma were going to show their faces. Ostrander successfully inserts humor, too, most notably during a moment of speeder theft needed in any spy chase scene.
My "Star Wars" lore is shaky on Count Dooku's family tree, but the importance of the Dooku character introduced in this issue could have been made clearer to readers. What's the relation of these characters to the role Christopher Lee played in the prequels? It's familial, but beyond that, it's ambiguous. There's another minor quibble I have with the use of tech -- ships can be manufactured that fly through space, but it's impossible to produce laser sights that don't reveal the shooter's position? Seems unlikely.
Davide Fabbri's art fits the norm for Dark Horse's "Star Wars" line -- it's not mind blowing but it's lively and detailed. His attention to continuity doesn't go unnoticed, depicting similarities in the look of the Alderaanian guard's uniforms and those worn by Rebel Troopers in "A New Hope." Fabbri's characters have expressive faces, serving Cross and the story well, but his bodies look stiff.
Where the previous "Star Wars" comic set during the Original Trilogy, "Rebellion," failed to live up to expectations, Ostrander and Fabbri have done a good job here establishing their independence from that lore, but still tying things into the bigger picture, acknowledging its existence. There's a great bait and switch in this issue -- I fell for it -- and after it's revealed there's no sense of gimmickry. Cross's world is burrowing deeply into his head, and the Empire might not be the stuff of order he thought it was. Fans of "Star Wars" or spy fiction will find something to like in this issue.