WARNING: This review includes some spoilers for an as-yet unreleased issue. Read on at your own peril.
John Ostrander has returned to a galaxy far, far away, following on from his well-regarded run on Star Wars: Legacy. Having concluded Cade Skywalker’s epic adventures, Ostrander has created yet another new addition to the Star Wars canon – Jahan Cross, the eponymous ‘agent’, who for those paying close attention is strangely familiar…
The story is set ‘three years before the battle of Yavin’ and opens with Cross infiltrating the office of Colonel Muhrlein, an Imperial officer suspected of corruption. With the assistance of his droid IN-GA (whom he interestingly addresses as ‘Inga’), Cross confronts Muhrlein with the evidence of his crimes, while claiming to be a member of the Empire’s diplomatic service. Having failed to bribe his accuser, the Colonel resorts to loosing a pair of battle droids on the agent, but his would-be victim proves to have more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
With a greater conspiracy revealed Cross is on the case, ordered to hunt down the root cause behind Muhrlein’s operation within the heart of the corporate sector.(Timely!)
“Keep me informed Agent Cross.And keep the body count to a minimum, hm?”
The opening sequence to this issue moves at a rapid clip and the action beats do a fine job of letting the reader know the kind of man Cross is. A brief flashback to a mysterious woman in his past echoing the words of Muhrlein lets us know that this is yet another tragic Ostrander protagonist. No doubt future issues will reveal what events led him to become an instrument of the monolithic Empire. There is also a creeping similarity to the opening of Casino Royale, with the high concept of our hero being ‘OO7 in Space’ becoming clearer as the issue progresses.
He even has his own Q, here named ‘Pew’. Complete with an amusing ‘gadget testing’ scene, that quickly goes wrong for the unfortunate lab subject.
There’s some further wry humour at play here, such as IN-GA being revealed to have high heels, a reference to the confusing trait of female costumed vigilantes who run around on rooftops in uncomfortable footwear. Not that ‘she’ has any problems in taking out opponents in a singularly impressive fashion. Stéphane Roux’s art is a treat during these scenes, with IN-GA flipping through the air in high heels while blasting at battle droids. Cross’ steely-eyed expression also perfectly captures the character’s moral ambiguity, hunting down ‘criminals’, while being employed by the oppressive Empire.
Then there’s that cameo from a certain smuggler. It is to Ostrander’s credit that Han Solo and Chewbacca showing up to fight alongside Cross in a street brawl does not feel tacked on, or Marty Stu-esque. Instead it adds another layer to the protagonist, as it turns out he and Solo were at the Academy together and share a mutual respect for one another as pilots (although the name ‘Soontir Fel’ is dropped as another contemporary – no doubt this character will be showing up as an antagonist at some point.) So rest assured Han’s appearance on the cover is not another example of Wolverine Publicity.
Ostrander is a not just a known quantity when it comes to Star Wars. This is after all the gentleman who gave us Grimjack and Suicide Squad (the good one, not the ridiculous ‘clown car’ title belonging to the New 52 cohort). He excels at introducing small character moments that can turn the reader’s understanding of a sequence on its head and challenge expectations. The use of Bond tropes in Agent of the Empire introduces a welcome note of ambivalence to the black and white mythology of Star Wars. This first Cross miniseries is scheduled to last five issues, but hopefully we’ll be reading more from Ostrander’s latest slant on the Lucas Empire down the track. This is a fine start to a promising new title.
Star Wars: Agent of the Empire #1 is set to hit shelves on December 14th.