June 8, 2015
A long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away... actually, that works pretty well in this context, too.
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Patreon-sponsored review time again, and (throws out arms) hey, it's Star Wars-related! (beat) Sort of.
(Cut to shots of today's comic: "Steam Wars")
Linkara (v/o): "Steam Wars", as you can guess, is a steampunk version of Star Wars. However, the story zigs and zags away from the movie so as not to just be a complete carbon copy. It was also made by Fred Perry of "Gold Digger" fame, a series that I got frustrated comments from the fans of because I expressed that I really had no desire or inclination to read it, not because of any reasons people assumed, but just because, and I know this may come as a surprise to people, but I'm just not interested.
Linkara: Because, believe it or not, people can just not be interested in something. (beat) Except for this show, which everyone should be interested in.
Linkara (v/o): That's pretty much all I've got for an intro, though, especially since we have an entire miniseries to cover today. Oh, except for maybe that Fred Perry still looks more like faux manga than "My Cage". Seriously, people, you can tell me it's in how the eyes are drawn as much you want, but I honestly don't see it.
Linkara: Anyway, enough complaining about the people who I rely upon to keep doing this show that I sometimes imply that I hate doing. Let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Steam Wars".
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has the opening of the classic Star Wars theme playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): No point looking at the covers since I'm reading from the trade. Plus, there's just not much to say about them. All have a very swashbuckling movie poster look to them, and that's okay for what they are.
(The comic opens to the first page, revealing the opening storyline, very much in the style of a typical Star Wars opening)
Linkara (v/o): And since this is basically steampunk Star Wars, we open with an expository crawl. (reads title) "Episode I – AN EMBER OF HOPE".
Linkara: A forest fire of hope is imminent.
Text: It is a period of civil war.
Linkara: It is a time for people to continually ask Linkara when he's going to cover that event.
Linkara (v/o): Basically, the Resistance has managed to steal a secret formula for the Empire's– er, not Empire's, sorry... Hegemonic Crux...
Linkara: (confused) "Hegemonic..."? (looks up) Empire!
Linkara (v/o): ...secret formula for the Empire's energy deposits that allows them to build giant, steam-powered battleships that are capable of moving in absolute silence. Naturally, these plans are being carried by a "Duchess Imoen", and we see the stealthy battle zeppelins in action as they attack our rebel forces. One thing I will definitely give praise to the comic, we're not just carbon-copying the dialogue here. The story and visuals may be Star Wars, but it's trying for its own thing.
Linkara: Then again, people can also describe Eragon that way.
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, the Duchess runs off with a satchel, while the rebel forces, who appear to be tin soldiers in blue, try to hold off the battle zeppelins. We actually pull out to see the battle zeppelins are actually the TIE Fighter equivalents, and there is in fact a big-ass Star Destroyer attacking them on an open-top airship.
Linkara: Far be it from me to question our noble rebel forces, but is it wise to have your big, important, secret documents you stole up on top of the ship, where they can be blown away by the wind?
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, the Empire's forces descend upon them, and the Stormtroopers look friggin' awesome, with bicorne hats, flowing capes, and red eyes in the helmets. And check out the blunderbusses. Those things are huge! How the hell can a Stormtrooper miss with something like that? The Duchess is lead to an escape ship, where a guy in a mask and cowboy hat is... Let's just call him "Tan Bolo" for the moment*... and he tells her to get in the ship. And then there's a bear.
- NOTE: Actually, his name is Hansel Lowe.
Linkara: What? The guys from "Brute Force" needed to get work somewhere.
Imoen: Captain, there's a-a bear in your airship's engineering section!!!
Hansel: Which is exactly where trained ursine engineers belong, Your Royalness!
Linkara: You racist!
Linkara (v/o): The C-3PO equivalent here is CL-335, whom Tan Bolo refers to as "Kleese", and is more like if 3PO was posh and sophisticated instead of prissy, even having robot-friendly mutton chops.
CL-335: We're in a bit of bind up here in navigation, don't you know!?! That blasted samoflange has come loose once again! Going to need both a pilot and a co-pilot now.
Linkara: (as CL-335) Perhaps I could go out there and fight the Stormtroopers with (holds up fist) Marquess of Queensberry Rules, eh, chaps?
Linkara (v/o): He's also sassier than 3PO.
CL-335: And my designation is CL-335! I don't flit about calling you "Arse Face", now, do I?
Linkara: I like this robot better. Can we trade in 3PO for Kleese?
Linkara (v/o): They fly off, while back on the ship, the Darth Vader equivalent makes his appearance: this guy in red and white. Still pretty badass-looking, too. I bet his name is something like "Crimson Dokken" or something cool like that. So, what's he called?
Rebel: L-Lord Baron!
Linkara: (making a "finger quote" in confusion and disappointment) "Lord Baron"? Isn't that like naming him "King Emperor"?
Linkara (v/o): The survivors of the ship are rounded up for interrogation by Regent Minister. Despite his goofy name, he is still pretty intimidating, if a bit of a windbag.
Lord Baron: Listen well, you resistance scum! You cannot hope to* hide your secrets from me! The epistemic access to your past, present and future potentials is now mine!
- NOTE: Baron does not say, "...to...", he says, "hope hide". Linkara added in the "to".
Linkara: Actually, I'm pretty sure it's just a rental.
Lord Baron: And how can this be?
Linkara: (holds up fist) For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!
Lord Baron: How can I, another being, observe the un-observable...?
Linkara: (as Lord Baron) How can I do the impossible, see the invisible? (clenches fist) Row, row, fight the power!
Lord Baron: My thoughts exist in the infinite veil of the mysterious and true fabric of reality! Existential causality and all of its axioms are mine to behold!!!
Linkara: Dude, you switch to Geico. It's not that big a deal.
Lord Baron: Such is the power of a Quantum Dragoon!
Linkara: He says that now, but his power is actually in his new Duracell batteries.
Linkara (v/o): And his monologuing is so intense that it makes this dude's head explode! Ooh, that'll put your pan fish down. Any the gist of his Matrix architect speech is that he can read people's minds or something, and he figured out what it was that the ship was carrying, so he wants the supply ship that escaped captured again. And indeed, we soon see the enemy ships in pursuit, and I should probably give some proper names for these characters. Chew-bear-ca is actually named Smokey – subtle – while the Han Solo guy is... uh, Hansel Lowe. Okay, a bit more on the nose with that one. Duchess Imoen operates the ship's turrets in this case and is able to take out a lot of enemy ships, but thanks to the Duchess being distracted for a moment, being too cocky, as it happens, the supply ship is shot and they crash into a swamp.
Linkara: Man, we're zipping through the original trilogy and we're still only on the first issue! Can't wait to meet their version of Yoda.
Linkara (v/o): The Duchess has apparently inherited 3PO's snootiness in this case, as she's reluctant to go out into a mucky swamp with mosquitoes and stuff. But the group hauls ass out of there as more of the Empire's ships close in. They're forever running firefight with the Stormtroopers, and again, I wish we had Kleese in Star Wars, since he's carrying around a huge-ass chain gun and blasting away at the enemy. Unfortunately, while they make a path out of there, the Duchess realizes she's dropped the satchel containing the formula and has to run back for it – right into a bunch of troopers.
Duchess: Don't touch me, you-- you--
Stormtrooper: Actually... they aren't touching you.
Linkara: (as the Stormtrooper) Does that bug you? They're not touching you.
Person who looks like Luke Skywalker: That's the secret.
Linkara (v/o): And then Luke Skywalker is on the other side in the next panel.
(Cut to a clip of Kickassia)
Linkara: I'm not even in front of you.
(The next shot shows another Linkara behind the one he was talking to, then cut back to the comic)
Luke: It's all electron cloud repulsion. Nothing touches anything else.
(Cut to the obligatory shot of the Hitler Clones from "Superman At Earth's End")
Hitler Clone: Of course. Don't you know anything about science?
(Back to the comic again)
Luke: My great uncle Jessie was the first to learn that secret. He was the best Dragoon that ever was!
Linkara: Yeah, you say that now, but in the "Steam Wars" prequels, it turns out it's all just magic and crap.
Linkara (v/o): And Not Luke here is sporting, instead of a lightsaber, a storm foil; in other words, an electrified fencing sword that shoots out lightning at people. And since he can teleport, he takes out the troops single-handedly. Captain Lowe and company return, and Luke volunteers to take them to the secret rebel base on Yavin or whatever.
Linkara: And suddenly, with Han Solo and Princess Leia recruiting Luke, this is less steampunk Star Wars and more Star Wars in reverse.
Linkara (v/o): Issue 1 ends with the Duchess overjoyed that they found the last of the Quantum Dragoons, but Luke introduces himself as Beauregard Baron, son of Governor Senator.
(Cut to the second issue)
Linkara (v/o): Going into Issue 2, we once again break from the story roots as we meet Imoen's father, Duke Xenobia, who is meeting with the Boba Fett equivalent here, General Teft. The General is being dispatched to try to locate Imoen since things have gone to hell, with Xenobia even telling Teft about who the leak in the Empire was. Given his dialogue and who he's modeled after, you'd think that would mean Teft is a traitor, but nope! We'll get back to that later. In the meantime, Xenobia's base is quickly attacked, much to their shock, since it's in a warehouse identical to hundreds like it, and thus the only way they could be identified was if someone tipped off the Empire. They make their escape in a special train. Also, the engineer of the train is a pirate.
Engineer: Har! Yahar! Sure 'n' y'better start composin' that sweet ditty for when yer singin' me praises later, Cap'n!!! Yahar!
Linkara: Okay, in an official Star Wars canon, we have that '50s cafe, but no characters talking like pirates?
Linkara (v/o): There's not much to say for a good chunk of Issue 2, as it's just a train chase that goes on for several pages. They manage to fight off some of the lighter forces, although the Empire manages to drop a "rail-gun train" behind them, making me wonder why they don't just bomb the hell out of them, given the huge friggin' dreadnought ship flying over them. But the good news is that on a parallel track, our heroes are arriving. Lowe exposits that between issues, they salvaged their ship, the Twentieth Century Fox.
Linkara: Really? You know, this book was taking itself moderately seriously up until this point. Also, considering this was published in 2013, shouldn't that be "Millennium Mouse"?
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, they salvaged the ship and disassembled it for transport across the land with the help of local gas miners who were sympathetic to the rebels, but then spotted the resistance in the middle of their ambush. However, the Empire has actually dropped down two rail-gun trains now, and the heavy artillery is bad enough, but if they continue along the rail lines, they'll run through a village that's already been economically devastated by the Empire, and the battle will surely level the place and kill everyone. If they switch to a different rail line, they'll expose their flank to the enemy and be killed, and if they take yet a different line, they'll collide right into Doc Brown's train coming the other way. As such, Xenobia thinks their only option is surrender, but Beauregard, also referred to as "Bo" in the story, sees another rail line that he can trigger manually that will lead them to some ruins. Lowe thinks that's a crazy plan, and mainly because that means they're running right into concrete debris, but Imoen trusts Bo's judgment as a Quantum Dragoon. As such, the kid teleports, triggers the rail change, and they smash through some debris, giving the Empire the impression that they were destroyed. However, the debris was actually fairly thin and no damage was done to their trains. Bo explains the idea of his teleporting: quantum superpositioning. Theoretically, he's not really teleporting as much as existing in all possible positions simultaneously until he focuses and picks a specific location.
Linkara: Quantum mechanics has always been my favorite part of steampunk.
Linkara (v/o): However, Issue 2 ends with Xenobia placing Bo under arrest, recognizing him as the son of Archduke Councilman, and what's more, that Bo was actually present when his dad killed Xenobia's wife!
(Cut to the third issue)
Linkara (v/o): Issue 3 brings us back to General Teft, not having heard that Imoen has met up with her dad and instead is heading off to the swamp where the Fox had crashed. However, as he monologues about how loyal he is to Imoen and the resistance, we see a bunch of Stormtroopers lying in wait, having been informed of his position by, of all people, Xenobia! Yeah, we see him in contact with the Stormtroopers and that he thinks the resistance is doomed. He wants to surrender and that the resistance is just causing more suffering and death and wants to save his daughter from all of that. Forgiving for a moment how this rebellion is even still operating if its friggin' leader is actively betraying it, isn't that a little dramatically bad? Shouldn't it be a major revelation that Xenobia is the traitor, like "end of the issue" kind of thing? It's like how he revealed that Bo was present at his wife's death. That's the kind of thing that's a "DUN-DUN-DUH!" kind of moment, not something you just kind of reveal in the opening of an issue. But whatever. Despite Bo being imprisoned and the revelation Xenobia made about him, Imoen still wants to consult with him. Even Captain Lowe and Smokey the Bear vouch for him, but that's not enough for Xenobia's second-in-command, Captain Dolan. But she is the Duchess, so she's let through to talk to him. Using his ability to perceive all states of existence at once, he warns Imoen that they've been betrayed. Even now, an army is converging on their position, and they hadn't done any scouting ahead of time.
Linkara: Which seems kind of odd to me. You'd think that a big, powerful army would still send scouts ahead of time to make they weren't walking into a trap. But then again, I'm not the brilliant military leader that is Prime Minister Representative.
Linkara (v/o): Imoen orders him to teleport out of his cell, but Bo explains that quantum superpositions only works on immediate potential locations. And since he's locked up at the moment, there's not really a potential for him to be on the other side of the bars. It's a good restriction, but I question the logic of that, since, by that same token, there is the potential that his bars could spontaneously decide to melt into a puddle of goo. Sure, it's a one-in-kajillion chance, but it's still possible. But whatever. Imoen says she's going to get the keys to get him out of there. Xenobia meanwhile pulls a gun on Captain Dolan and claims that she's the traitor. But even she points out that she just returned from locating a previously undiscovered tunnel they could use to get the hell out of there. Before they can pursue this any further, Imoen runs up and snags his keys while ordering everyone to retreat to their trains and use the old tunnels to get out of there. Dolan is sent after Imoen, who catches up with a group of soldiers to inform them of a rather clever battle strategy for their retreat involving two pairs of soldiers leapfrogging back to keep the enemy at bay, one pair at a time, due to the limited space of the hallways. She then sends Imoen back to help Lowe and Smokey prepare their ship for escape, too. Yeah, believe it or not, this is actually "Steam Wars"'s version of the escape from Hoth, with four Stormtroopers tripping over themselves in the halls like with the AT-ATs (pronounces it "A-T-A-T"). Or is it pronounced "at-ats"? I always pronounce it "A-T-A-T". This is further highlighted when they call for backup and Regent Chancellor has to berate him for needing reinforcements when they've got their enemy pinned in a hole with superior numbers and technology.
Lord Baron: ...and you dare beg me to rescue you from your own incompetence, Colonel?
Linkara: (as Lord Baron) I swear, when we're done here, we're gonna have your performance evaluation, and I can foresee a lot of head explosions in your future, Colonel.
Linkara (v/o): Just look at this badass! I want to cosplay as him. Anyway, we end Issue 3 with Bo warning Imoen that they're too late now; his dad is here.
Linkara: (as Bo) We are so grounded!
Linkara (v/o): Issue 4 begins with the Stormtroopers continually having issues, especially since the rebels have also mined the hallways. The Colonel wants to bring in combat engineers who find the mines and clear a path, but Executor President kills him for his lack of progress and then orders the next-in-command to keep charging, regardless of how many men die in the attack.
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching Manos: The Hands of Fate)
Joel: You know, as a boss, he should be building them up right now.
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Dolan and the remaining troops beat a hasty retreat, especially since the Duchess' plan hadn't really foreseen that the Empire wouldn't be criminally stupid and just sacrificed their own numbers like they meant nothing and finally breached the hallway.
Lord Baron: Excellent work, Colonel Silas. You as well, Major Hines. You will both be evacuated to the medical engine immediately... and, should you survive your wounds, well rewarded for your valor!
Linkara: (as Lord Baron) If you don't survive, hams will be sent to your families, and they will not be billed for your replacement uniforms.
Linkara (v/o): With Bo free, he's able to teleport around and kill a bunch of Stormtroopers, aided by covering fire from the rest of our heroes. Our main cast makes it back to the Fox, but Mayor Duke realizes where they're going and teleports onto the ship. Bo goes out to face him, as do Lowe and Kleese, but Bo has to tell them to get the hell back in the ship and close all the hatches, just barely able to teleport along with his father to keep him from striking them from behind. Imoen explains that they're having a Quantum State duel, the two fighting in every possible position at once, selecting and focusing the best moves from every possibility in an attempt to narrow down an opponent's chances to win to nonexistence.
Linkara: Which frankly sounds a lot cooler than just jumping around like ninjas and deliberately aiming for your enemy's lightsaber!
Linkara (v/o): Bo is pissed off that his dad killed his mom for joining the rebellion. Speaking of betrayals, the Fox manages to get out of the tunnels... and right into an ambush by the Empire, thanks to Duke Xenobia. He has surrendered to them already and is ordering them to surrender as well in order to secure their safety. And of course, on the other end of the asshole dad spectrum, Bo has been knocked out by his father. Everything seems pretty bad. Even the ambush squadron for General Teft has reported in to inform them that General Teft is their prisoner. However, it's a ruse, and General Teft is giving the report and ending Issue 4. The final issue begins with our heroes as prisoners, Bo in particular having a big diving helmet put over his head to keep him from seeing around him and using his teleportation. And where are they bringing our heroes? The Death Blimp! The... Death Blimp. Because of course they called it the Death Blimp.
Linkara: And yet, all I wonder is, how many Koopalings are on all these airships that they have around? (points to camera) And does that mean Bowser is in the Death Blimp?
Linkara (v/o): Meanwhile, General Teft is preparing his own plan to get aboard the Death Blimp and free everyone with the help of their R2-D2 equivalent, sent to him by Bo. How and why? Well, as Bo himself explains in a hologram, he's experiencing a "quantum decoherent vision of the future", and thus knew he would get captured and would need their help escaping.
Linkara: And so far, that means that Bo is more effective than every Jedi ever.
Linkara (v/o): And to show just how really effective Bo is...
Gen. Teft: The drone gave me this: a list of events our mystical friend has outlined... and a plan to take advantage of his foresight.
Linkara: (as Gen. Teft) He also supplied me with a crap-ton of lotto numbers. We're gonna defeat the Empire and be stinking rich!
Linkara (v/o): Seriously, why can't all fiction involving prophecies of the future be like this? Don't be vague or cryptic, just provide a handy-dandy outline and a plan for how to deal with it. On board the Death Blimp, Imoen gets her hands on a gun and shoots down the guards. However, once Bo is freed, he comes to a realization: he had foreseen a "verge in the strings" – quantum strings, I'm presuming, unless part of the Quantum Dragoon thing is sewing – and it assumed it was referring to Teft, but now thinks it refers to her potential. And indeed, we've actually been given hints about this throughout the story, especially at how she's a natural at shooting accurately, despite having no training whatsoever. What's more, Bo says that she's the one who will defeat Magistrate Executive. The rebels begin a coordinated assault on them, first with fighters and hit-and-run attacks to create a diversion, while Teft's team infiltrates the Death Blimp. Xenobia wants to try to order the rebels to surrender, but shock of all shocks, the leader of the evil Empire is kind of a douchebag and isn't going to play nice. Teft and our heroes meet up, leading them back to their transport, but are intercepted by our happy villain, who demonstrates another technique when someone tries to shoot him: quantum commutation, AKA exchanging places with them so that they accidentally shoot themselves.
Lord Baron: Attention, Shock Troopers! I don't want my son using any of you for commutation! Depart from this arena so that I may use my full powers against this rebel!
(Cut to a clip of the Street Fighter movie)
M. Bison (Raul Julia): Troopers, out! Throw the enemy into the sea! Leave us!
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Bo demands that Xenobia be let go, but our villain decides to monologue some more about brutality and plans to kill him. Imoen raises her gun to shoot him down and fires. Naturally, quantum commutation is used again... but because of the height difference... or she subconsciously plotted it that way, thanks to Midichlorians or something... the shot instead just singes her hair and ricochets off of a bulkhead, going right back and hitting our antagonist in the face.
Linkara: And thus, Princess Oligarch is defeated.
Linkara (v/o): Our heroes run away, but what about the Death Blimp? Well, in the meantime, the rebels have used the information given to them about the fuel lines to the Death Blimp's incinerator system and promptly made it go kalooey. And since the enemy ships also relied on the Death Blimp for fuel resupply, they've basically killed their entire fleet with this action. However, there is still an Empire out there, so our heroes are heading off to a new base, so that Imoen can assume full command. Her dad will receive a pardon, but only as a stay of execution. He's still being interned at the base and won't be allowed to lead anymore. And so, our comic ends with Bo saying that he can foresee a great future for Imoen as a Quantum Dragoon, including a spiffy new outfit.
Linkara: (holding up comic) This comic... is surprisingly really damn good.
Linkara (v/o): It would be easy to write this off as a parody of Star Wars, just in a steampunk setting, but it honestly goes in different directions with the characters and tells its own epic story. Sure, there's repeated elements from Star Wars, and it's obviously the direct inspiration for its mythology, but as has been pointed out before, the original A New Hope was inspired by the hero's journey espoused by Joseph Campbell and by old movie serials and Japanese movies. It's probably more fair to say that "Steam Wars" is an homage to Star Wars, using similar iconography to retell the story in a new and exciting way. You've got elements like the Princess Leia analog being the ultimate hero and main character of the story, using actual scientific principles that could be mistaken for magic, like the Force, but still used in a pretty damn awesome and magical way, and new characters creating additional character conflicts and plot twists. There are still problems, of course. Han So Low and Smokey are completely underutilized.
Linkara: And you should never underutilize a grizzly bear that can shoot guns.
Linkara (v/o): And the Twentieth Century Fox is just a bizarre thing to reference in a book that otherwise took itself fairly seriously. The trade also adds in a completely unnecessary and superfluous story after the miniseries of Imoen going to relax in a lake and her speeder gets stolen by Bo, and is supposed to take place before the miniseries, but the interactions of the characters don't make any sense for the timeline of the story, so it's just weird to have in it. Overall, though, this was a really fun book and I actually recommend it.
Linkara: Next week, however, is the 350th episode. And we're going back to really crappy comics. (puts down "Steam Wars" comic gently, gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
At some point Imoen lost her glasses yet is still able to see fine without them. Put it up to Hollywood tropes in comics, I guess.
Bo's other vision of the future? Getting to go to Toshi station to pick up some power converters. Unlike Luke, it came true.
(Stinger: Footage of a summer-themed movie is shown)
Announcer: Ah, summer. A great time to go to the beach, make some s'mores, play in the pool, or maybe even just take in some sun.
(Suddenly, cut to Moarte, who is wearing summer attire)
Moarte: Or, you know, you could do something not boring. (cackles)
(Cut to the Longbox of the Damned title, with additional text on the bottom)
Announcer: Longbox of the Damned: A Midsummer's Nightmare. All throughout July on atopthefourthwall.com. (cackles)
(Cut back to Moarte)
Moarte: I've already got an incredible tan.