Since the release of The Force Awakens back in 2015, fans have clamored for more information on the mysterious Knights of Ren. Kylo’s squad of cool looking baddies had a brief appearance in the film and will have an expanded role in The Rise Of Skywalker. Going in, we know that Kylo is their leader and we know that they all have different weapons and, well, that’s about it! Marvel’s The Rise of Kylo Ren teases out an expansion of those characters and sets up a storyline that will show us how young Ben Solo ended up donning his signature cape and helmet. There will be full spoilers for the first issue below, you’ve been warned.
The very first thing the comic shows us is a burn scarred and shirtless man, wearing a mask and referring to himself as Ren. Immediately, the story reveals something about the structure of the knights. They existed long before Kylo got involved and they recruit force users to join them in their pursuit of death and darkness. The occult nature of the group lends a sort of novel appeal to them, bringing to mind the marauders that followed James Earl Jones in Conan the Barbarian. After telling us a bit about the knights, the comic reveals something that actively changes Ben Solo’s arc. We find out that he didn’t destroy Luke’s Jedi temple. In fact, the boy seems downright upset about the destruction. This seemingly negligible change completely reframes our perceptions of Kylo Ren. If he didn’t single handedly snuff out the spark of the new Jedi Order, is he really so bad? Sure he’s slaughtered villages and committed some light patricide since then, but at least he isn’t a school shooter!
When confronted by some of his fellow students, Ben easily dispatches them while doing minimal harm. Once he does hurt somebody, we immediately see remorse wash over his face. Will Sliney’s art really shines when he’s translating Adam Driver’s face to the page. Sliney does an incredible job capturing the energy that the actor brings to the big screen while adding a sense of innocence to the character. Ben’s more hurt than he is bitter at this point. He’s afraid, lost, and looking for somebody he can trust. When one padawan asks where Ben is going, another answers that he isn’t going, “he’s running”-right into Snokes embrace. Literally, they share a hug. It’s a bit jarring to see Snoke presented so differently than he was in The Last Jedi. His smugness and taste for cruelty is replaced with a parental, caretaker vibe. Oh, and he’s wearing a very, very silly hat. The garden planet he’s on is lush and beautiful, giving an initial sense of peace. But buried within the space flowers and vines, the artist peppered in red flags in the forms of bones. The garden is built on death. This is a clever nod to the sinister nature Snoke hides under his sweet old smile. Presenting him in this light helps us understand how Ben could’ve fallen in with the disfigured old creature in the first place.
We also get a little hint as to what exactly happened to the old man Snoke’s face. Upon seeing him, Ben solemnly says: “look what master Luke did to you.” So unless Luke forced him to wear that stupid hat, it’s safe to assume that Snoke’s face was fully intact at one point. I look forward to seeing that moment play out. Star Wars is continuing its trend of filling in all the gaps, rewarding those who indulge in all the extra material by giving them the ability to experience the story with more depth. Or perhaps it’s more of a taxation process. If you want the big stuff to land, you have to pay for the little stuff too. Overall, the series is off to an interesting start. A lot of things have been opened up and repositioned, potentially changing our understanding of the events leading up to the sequel trilogy. The first issue has some strong art and some unfortunately clunky writing. Everything the original Ren says has an anachronistic quality to it that feels at odds with his ritualistic beliefs, and a specific line referencing Luke Skywalker’s connection with the force actively made me cringe. But despite that, and the potentially bad decision to undo some of young Kylo’s misdeeds, the initial issue’s willingness to expand things in interesting ways and it’s thoughtful art will keep me on board up through the end. Thankfully, it’ll be a short run. Let’s just hope they make it count.
Overall Score: 6/10
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