Out of all the new characters introduced in “The Force Awakens” it probably makes the most sense to give Poe Dameron his own ongoing series. After all, “hotshot pilot for the Resistance” does offer up a wider variety of story possibilities than “growing up on Tatooine” and “growing up as a stormtrooper” (though, in the right hands, that might have some promise). So here we have the “Poe Dameron” ongoing series from writer Charles Soule and artist Phil Noto, no strangers to Marvel’s “Star Wars” comics. As the first ongoing title set in the era of “The Force Awakens” I was wondering how much latitude Soule would get in order to explore this period. The answer turns out to be not very much. Thankfully Soule’s skill at working with what he’s given serves him well here and turns this volume into a better read than I was expecting.
Now, when I say the writer wasn’t given much latitude to explore this new era of “Star Wars,” you need to remember what he was up to when we first met him in “The Force Awakens.” Which would be meeting up with the explorer Lor San Tekka who had information on the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. This ongoing series is all about the efforts of Poe, and the handpicked members of his Black Squadron, to find the explorer.
It’s not that worthwhile material can’t be mined from using the events of the films as beginning/ending points. However, the act of finding a guy who was only in one scene in “The Force Awakens” isn’t nearly as interesting as, say, explaining how Darth Vader got back in the Emperor’s good graces after the Death Star was destroyed. The good news is that Soule realizes this and does a decent enough job of filling out the two arcs here with some familiar sci-fi genre staples. In the first arc, Poe encounters a cult worshipping a mysterious egg which they claim will one day reveal their savior. The second arc has our protagonist meeting up with Grakkus the Hutt (the crime boss who is also a collector from Jason Aaron’s second arc of “Star Wars”) in a prison colony and subsequently forced into helping him break out.
I won’t say either of these arcs are great stories, but they present more interesting challenges to the characters than simply finding out where Tekka has gone. Enlivening them both is the title’s biggest surprise, Agent Terrex. An intelligence officer in the First Order with a very shady criminal history he clearly believes in the work he’s doing with the organization and that you can also have fun while you’re doing it. Whether it’s assuredly telling one of the rank-and-file stormtroopers that “Obstacles are for little people,” turning flamethrowers on the cult’s egg in order to get Poe to talk, or meeting up with some old friends at prison, Terrex brings genuine energy (with no small amount of evil glee) to every scene he’s in. This isn’t to say that he’s all smiles, as the way in which he’s thwarted by Poe and his team at the end clearly leaves him in a vindictive mood.
Terrex is inarguably the best part of this volume. However, where does that leave the title character? In a far less interesting state, actually. What really made the character stand out in the movie was the charisma of the actor who played him, Oscar Isaac. Take that away and you’re left with someone who is just a fast-talking hotshot fighter pilot. There are worse character archetypes to be stuck with, but not much is done to develop Poe on the page beyond that. I realize that Soule may have been hamstrung by larger corporate concerns, as any meaningful development to Poe is likely being saved for Episodes VIII and IX. Still, I can’t help but think that this problem may have been solved with a little more imagination.
Noto’s art is also a bit disappointing, but that’s understandable. The artist turned in some really spectacular work on the “Chewbacca” miniseries and that really had me looking forward to what he’d do here. From the first page it’s obvious that Noto has simplified his style for “Poe Dameron.” His style is still there, but there’s less texture and detail to it. The reason I say this is understandable is because he’s working on a monthly title here as opposed to a five-issue miniseries. Honestly, if this approach means that Noto will be able to draw every issue of the series and not have to hand it off to another artist for fill-ins, then I’ll take his simplified approach in the name of consistency. Noto also does a great job of capturing the “Star Wars” look of this new era, and that’s just as important as well.
Is it a dealbreaker when the title character is one of the least interesting things about his own book? Not when you’ve got someone like Agent Terrex to balance things out. He gives “Poe Dameron” the energy it needs and proves to be a worthy foe for the title character and the other members of the Black Squadron to fight against. It’s as if Soule realized that if he wasn’t going to be able to do anything interesting with Poe himself, he’d have to create someone that he could do that kind of stuff with. The same goes for the members of Black Squadron — can’t wait to see which one’s the traitor. While that may change with the next volume, right now I’m left hoping that Terrex winds up becoming the second original comics character from Marvel (after “Doctor Aphra”) to get his own solo series.