When you first watched Star Wars, did it matter to you how a lightsaber worked? Did you need to know what the “Clone Wars” were when Ben Kenobi mentioned them?
I doubt it.
The beauty of the original Star Wars trilogy is that it recontextualized familiar tropes in the setting of a space opera. As long as the viewer understood the basics of the world, a sword made of light didn’t need to be explained. It simply was.
And now, almost half a century later, those Star Wars inventions have become tropes themselves, and Count Draco Knuckleduster revels in them.
Well, to say that it simply utilizes the tropes is perhaps disingenuous. Peter Goral (of Killer Bootlegs, as the credits page and copyright information proudly proclaim) and Joseph Schmalke are less wearing their influences on their sleeve and more screaming them from the rooftops.
What this means is that while I haven’t read Phantom Starkiller #1, the first in the “Curse of the Cryptocrystalline Stone” series, I understand what I need to in order to enjoy the book. It really doesn’t matter what a cryptocrystalline stone is – I know that the titular Knuckleduster is Darth Vader, who is fighting a former apprentice named Starkiller who looks like Skeletor and is protecting a child with exceptional power and a mysterious destiny. The rest falls into place around it.
Count Draco Knuckleduster #1 presumably picks up where Phantom Starkiller left off. As Starkiller approaches Knuckleduster’s ship with the aforementioned child, Acele, and the cryptocrystalline stone in tow, Knuckleduster comes to a sudden realization, and orders an underling to bring the Codex of Cadavere to the Altar of Algal. There, Knuckleduster draws on the lifeforce of two beings in order to read the Codex – and here we see how the magic of Knuckleduster and the Force of Star Wars differ.
Magic in Knuckleduster is occult, runic, and dark. It feeds on life and grants boons to those willing to speak the ancient tongue. Knuckleduster keeps people around essentially as blood bags to draw his magic from. And in using this magic to read the Codex, he realizes a connection between Acele and the cryptocrystalline stone – one that ties into his own history, which I’ll leave you to discover on your own.
And discover it you should, as even if the story sounds derivative, Schmalke and Goral’s art and coloring respectively is worth the experience. They draw on the stylings of retro comics with a modern sensibility – Ben Day dots are used liberally for shading and emphasis. The dull, newsprint quality of the colors is used to excellently highlight certain scenes, causing the runes of Knuckleduster’s magic and the pastel colors of the main characters to standout from the background. It’s a fantastic looking book. From a certain angle, it could almost be the licensed Star Wars book that Marvel published in the wake of A New Hope’s release.
I will definitely be going back to read Phantom Starkiller #1 now. If you haven’t read it, you could easily just jump in with Knuckleduster, but based on the quality of the creative team’s work here, why would you when you can also start from the beginning? At worst, you might just get the itch to watch Star Wars – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.