Sunday 6 March 2022

Tom Veitch: Legacy of a Dark Empire

Tom Veitch has died at the age of 80 due to complications from coronavirus (COVID-19).

The comic book writer is best known to Star Wars fans (myself included) for his seminal Dark Empire trilogy, originally published by Dark Horse Comics in the nineties. Poignantly, Luke Skywalker's return in The Book of Boba Fett left me misty-eyed and yearning for a live-action adaptation on Disney+.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based comic book guru, looks back at Tom Veitch's pioneering career.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Where do we go when we die? Or, perhaps more importantly, where do we want to go? If hell is of our own making then perhaps that applies to any afterlife.

In The Light and Darkness War, Vietnam vets fight in a sci-fi Valhalla while dealing with the psychological effects of the Nam conflict. The gritty script by Tom Veitch and exaggerated, bristle-chinned characters drawn by Cam Kennedy captured my attention when the comic was first published by Epic Comics in 1988.

Lazarus Jones, the main character, has survivor’s guilt, mourning the death of his helicopter crew. As his mood and his world gets darker, he finds himself in another world where his fallen comrades fight a different war. The heroes find a solace of sorts but knowing that the battle is eternal, they don’t exactly get a happy ending.

Veitch used comic book action as a gateway to examine themes of brotherhood, loss, and how we treat veterans once a war is done. He went on to explore the sanctity and connectivity of living things in his Animal Man run for DC Comics in the early ‘90s, where down-to-earth superhero Buddy Baker learned there were other Animal Masters linked to Earth’s fauna. The natural world had to be defended, Veitch surmised, and humans had to consider the paradise they were paving.

Around the same time, Veitch and Kennedy reunited to depict another legendary conflict, this time set in the Star Wars universe. Readers were finally able to see Luke, Han and Leia again in a limited series from Dark Horse Comics that took place after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and captured the essence of the original trilogy, with high adventure, a fast pace and a spiritual subtext along with some breathtaking space battle art.

Along with Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire (also set after Star Wars: Return of the Jedi), Veitch’s world rebuilding kickstarted the deluge of Star Wars fiction and merchandise through the ‘90s, in turn, a proof of popularity that would help make the prequel trilogy a reality.

The Old Republic era was first introduced in Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi, also written by Veitch and published by Dark Horse Comics. Lucasfilm Games published BioWare's award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series in the early part of this century. A movie set in that period is rumoured to start filming this year.

Although Veitch is best known as a comic book writer with a background in underground titles like Skull Comix, he was also an author and poet. He passed away on February 18th 2022 at the age of 80. Whether his own afterlife is an Eden or a Valhalla, he has left a grand legacy of storytelling, full of empathy and excitement, leaving his mark in print and in the stars.

What are your memories of reading Tom Veitch's comic books? Let me know in the comments below.

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