Acclaimed comics writer Michael Moreci branches out into novel-writing with Black Star Renegades, an homage to Star Wars with a tone a bit more along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy and Firefly. Fans of the genre will not be disappointed, as Moreci has the conventions of space opera down pat. This is an entertaining adventure from start to finish.
Moreci has published major DC Comics stories for Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Suicide Squad. He has also worked on comic tie-ins for Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, Army of Darkness and Robocop. This laid the groundwork for his highly-regarded original series Roche Limit (Image, 2014-2016), Burning Fields (BOOM!, 2014-15), Curse (BOOM! 2014), Transference (Black Mask, 2015) and ReincarNATE (Heavy Metal, 2016).
Moreci’s success as a comic writer raised a question for me: why is Black Star Renegades a novel and not a comic series? This story frankly would have worked at least as well as a graphic novel. But I can hardly fault him for wanting to give a new medium a try. Moreci (or his editor) does make a couple of rookie mistakes, including exposition in dialogue (this is sometimes necessary in comics, but comes off as really awkward in a novel). He also repeatedly uses “decimate” to mean “completely destroy,” which is not exactly wrong in modern usage, but other words convey the same idea better.
But these are minor quibbles. Moreci’s characters are well rounded, and the novel’s actions derive from their motivations. Cade Sura is a Rai, “a defender of peace and justice throughout the galaxy.” Cade lives in the shadow of his older brother Tristan, who is widely believed to be the Paragon, prophesied to defeat “an evil so comprehensive, so unrelenting”: the star-draining evil empire of Praxis. Their goal is the Rokura, a fabled super-weapon that only the Paragon can wield.
Cade is something of a cross between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, half-knight, half-scoundrel. He is happy to play a supporting role to Tristan, piloting his beloved ship the Horizon Dawn into danger so Tristan can fulfill his destiny. But Tristan’s destiny is thwarted by an aptly-named Fatebreaker, a dark version of a Rai. And the Rokura turns out to be less like Excalibur than Stormbringer.
Cade joins forces with Kira Sen, the hard-drinking, mohawked leader of Omega Squadron. She has lost patience with the decision by the Rai to avoid direct conflict with Praxis while waiting for the Paragon to emerge. She has suffered personal tragedy at the hands of Praxis and wants to take the fight to the enemy. She quickly gets her wish.
As these last few paragraphs make clear, this universe is very much inspired by Star Wars, and I could easily fill this review by describing how a shido is a lightsaber and the War Hammer is the Death Star. But this novel is more than just Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off. Moreci offers a more nuanced morality than the light side/dark side struggle at the heart of George Lucas’ masterpiece. The Rokura, in particular, adds a welcome dash of Michael Moorcock to a genre that tends to oversimplify the ethical quandaries its characters face. Like Star Wars, this story is too big to resolve in one “episode,” and I look forward to seeing how this saga unfolds.