Review by Frank Plowright
With a long comics and newspaper career behind him, Russ Manning’s final work was the Star Wars newspaper strip until the cancer from which he eventually died at 51 prevented him completing any further art. As with the later strips by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, Dark Horse re-formatted and coloured the newspaper strips to more resemble traditional comic pages. This is more successfully achieved than might be considered, and while some might prefer the entire strip, the re-working presents a smoother reading experience by omitting the daily re-cap panels.
The strips only were credited to Manning when originally published, but it’s odd that Dark Horse chose not to add credits for writers Don Christiansen, Steve Gerber and Russ Helm, the latter an alias for Archie Goodwin then still writing other strips. More understandable is why Dark Horse chose to reprint the Goodwin and Williamson material first. Either by choice or instruction, these strips lack the sophistication of the later work, and seem very much aimed at a younger audience. The dialogue is simple, and frequently expository (even taking into account the strip’s daily nature), and there’s a far greater emphasis on C3PO and R2D2.
Manning’s art always had a clean simplicity, and that’s very much in evidence. It’s also nice to see him throw in a few robots along the lines of those he used in Magnus Robot Fighter in the 1960s, one of many influences on Star Wars.
Some of Manning’s Sunday strips aren’t included here. They ran parallel to the earliest episodes, but weren’t connected to the narrative, focussing instead on Han Solo and Chewbacca. Also absent are the strips drawn by Alfredo Alcala before Williamson assumed the art duties.