All good things come to an end.
That may be how fans of Ethan Sacks’ “Bounty Hunters” series for Marvel may be feeling. But rest assured, this is not the end of Beilert Valance, human cyborg bounty hunter. He has gone through many adventures in 42 issues — or 43 when you count the little story that teased the series (* Two Sides to Every Sortie, from Empire Ascendant #1).
In “Bounty Hunters” we got to see Valance really develop into a special character. While he was an interesting, obscure character from the “Legends” Star Wars Marvel comics, his bounty hunting side was not explored so much by Archie Goodwin, the character’s creator. What Goodwin did establish that carried over was that Valance was an ex-Imperial who turned into a Cyborg after suffering a serious injury in battle. He left the Empire to become a bounty hunter and he struggled with issues of identity being half human and droid, leading him to dislike droids. He eventually crossing paths with classic Star Wars characters, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, an experience that left him both enlightened, burned, and later remade.
Those core story ideas from “Legends” are still present in canon but remade. In canon, Han Solo and Valance were friends who met as Imperial Cadets. Valance had a rivalry with Boba Fett, plus complicated relationships with hunters like Dengar and Bossk. Valance had a mentor, a hunter named Nakano Lash who saved Valance from Stormtroopers after his cybernetic transformation. She mentored him as a bounty hunter, making Valance part of Nakano Lash’s crew — which included Bossk, T’onga and T’ongor, and for one job, Boba Fett.
Eventually, Valance learned from Dengar about Captain Han Solo’s fate, being captured by Boba Fett and frozen in carbonite by Darth Vader (* The Empire Strikes Back). Valance attempts to save Han Solo (* War of the Bounty Hunters) only for Boba Fett to get the best of him, leaving Valance for dead, allowing for Darth Vader to take in Valance as an asset to the Empire against the Crimson Dawn syndicate. Valance is eventually saved from that life by bounty hunter T’onga, a bounty hunter with a crew including Zuckuss, 4-LOM, Bossk and her lover Losha.
After an encounter with the Empire’s Inferno Squad (* Battlefront II) more members join the crew (outside of Valance) such as Deathstick, Durge, Khel Tanna, and Boba Fett (who they all had to fight in order to recruit). Valance finds himself in trouble once again, being victimized by cyborg fixer Tarr Kligson (who Jango Fett once knew) and The Scourge (* Dark Droids), being experimented on as a hybroid/cyborg void of any humanity, that came with a cruel memory wipe, erasing Valance’s past memories of past loves and making him act violently towards his allies. Luckily, Losha and Vukorah (leader of The Unbroken Clan, * but don’t tell IG-88 that) rescue him and Valance was able to recover most of his memory back. Unfortunately T’onga’s crew also dissolves when betrayed by Bossk (who says it’s in his nature as Trandoshan to backstab others) with Deathstick, Durge, and Khel Tanna. When Valance recovers his memories he remembers his friend Han Solo frozen in carbonite in Jabba the Hutt’s palace, which is what sets up the grand finale of the Bounty Hunter series with issue #42.
In Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #42 we see Jabba the Hutt conducting some business at his Palace, entertaining a sit-down between a merchant and a member of the Trandoshan clan. Jabba goes about business in the unfair way we would come to expect from the giant slug, before Valance barges in, fighting off Gamorrean guards and the mercenaries / bounty hunters in the room. Dengar is in the room, which is appropriate, as he is seen in Jabba’s Palace in “Return of the Jedi,” and Dengar is eager to get payback for the time when Valance had left him stranded on an ice floe on Jekara (after the “Auction for Han Solo” event). Unfortunately Dengar wastes so much time talking trash that Valance has no problem knocking him out with a brutal punch to the face (which Dengar’s girlfriend Manaroo expected). Valance then beats up some of the others there to protect Jabba before Valance noticed Han Solo in frozen carbonite. However, Valance is not at the Palace to save Han Solo at all (not directly, but I’ll get back to that), as he says to himself “you better do your part, Chewbacca” (referencing Chewbacca’s role in “Return of the Jedi”).
Valance tells Jabba the Hutt he wants to see Jabba’s Secret Droid — to which Jabba misunderstands as a form of job insecurity for Valance. It’s at this point where Boba Fett makes his attack, with a brutal jetpack-boosted punch and flamethrower attack, before finishing Valance off with a ZZZAAP to the head, which looked painful for sure, but it’s a bit unclear what this attack was. It looks like a normal punch but the sound effect text and the effect implies a strong weapon, yet it’s hard to tell if it’s a blaster shot from Boba’s gauntlet or what. While unclear, it does not diminish how cool the fight was. While Boba Fett has bested Valance multiple times in the series, Valance is a good opponent for Fett and it’s sad that they will likely not fight again. It’s like watching a famous one-sided wrestling rivalry come to a close.
After Fett succeeds in knocking out Valance, Jabba ponders what to do with Valance, wondering to feed him to the Rancor. Bib Fortuna mentions that the Rancor’s digestive system would not agree with eating a cyborg, to which Jabba the Hutt responds with a violent slap to the face. Boba Fett offers Jabba the idea of giving Valance what he wants: a confrontation with the secret droid. Jabba agrees and sets up an event around it at a Mos Espa arena.
The secret droid turns out to be a Megadroid, a Separatist army creation made of impenetrable durasteel that never officially came into use in the Clone Wars, although Jabba salvaged one that wasn’t destroyed in a factory for personal use. Valance basically wants to eliminate this Megadroid to give Han Solo’s allies (Luke, Leia, Chewie, Lando, R2 and C-3PO) a chance to save him without having to face an obstacle they could not overcome. Jabba saw the opportunity of doing a livestreaming of the Megadroid demonstration against Valance for rival syndicates such as the Pyke Syndicate (who we see on “The Book of Boba Fett” with their own giant Separatist-era droids) in order to intimidate them into doubling their payments to Jabba the Hutt, since the Megadroid would prove to be a menacing force in the underworld.
I found the livestream element interesting, kind of reminiscent of how in the “Star Wars: Demolition” video game where Jabba would televise his competitions for an audience. However things backfire for Jabba as Valance, despite losing an arm in the fight, manages to win the battle against the Megadroid, with some help from 4-LOM, Zuckuss, T’onga and Losha. Jabba ends up enraged that his demonstration fails. Both T’onga and Zuckuss acknowledge Boba Fett’s role in things: Boba’s suggestion to Jabba was meant as a win-win for Boba, as by Valance destroying the Megadroid it kept Boba as Jabba’s favorite bounty hunter. But if Valance and his allies died from fighting the giant droid, then Boba Fett has less rivals to deal with in bounty hunting — a moot point as Boba retires not long afterwards.
After the battle Valance contacts Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, and Leia Organa with an update on the situation, giving them the clear to advance with their plan to save Solo. The epilogue then advances a week later and shows that life goes on for the many bounty hunters of the series, demonstrating that it’s more than just credits that motivate a bounty hunter, it’s about finding a crew, and an understanding community. Unfortunately for Bossk, he seems to show regret in his decision, not feeling much community with his crew of drunks. (Durge being an alcoholic is amusing.) For those like 4-LOM and Zuckuss, they have each other. Likewise, T’onga, Losha, & Nakano Lash’s niece Cadeliah are sticking together with plans of opening up a Cantina.
In the last scene we see what becomes of Valance, as he saves the ex-Imperial Lieutenant Jyala Haydenn who was Valance’s lover for a short time. Like him she has a cybernetic eye as well. She was about to be murdered by the Empire in the final scene before he shows up, saves her, and offers her a new life to make new memories. So in the end, Valance does not die. After all the pain he suffered through he has a happy ending with the new love of his life.
I thought this was an appropriate ending. Had Valance died or became evil in the end, I think that would have been an unsatisfactory ending. His rival Boba Fett was well portrayed in this finale. This might be one of the last times we see Boba Fett as more of a bad guy (to a degree), very much following Cad Bane’s philosophy of “look out for yourself — anything else is weakness.”
Throughout the series any time Boba Fett appeared it had an impact on the story in a great way and his characterization was very much in line with George Lucas’ vision of the character. Ethan Sacks had no intention of making Boba Fett deeper or more likeable, but it makes sense, this series very much works as a story that bridges “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” so even if you only ever watched those films, you could follow along the story of “Bounty Hunters.”
Although the series does not do more than the necessary with guys like Boba Fett, Bossk, IG-88, and Dengar, it does add an extra dimension to characters such as 4-LOM and Zuckuss, making them seem a bit more heroic than one would have initially perceived from their first appearance in “The Empire Strikes Back.” The “Empire” bounty hunters are well represented in this series, although Dengar is made to look like a joke at times. (Apparently Ethan Sacks would have killed him off were Dengar not established to live beyond that point.) The finale getting to Jabba’s Palace not long before the start of “Return of the Jedi” was such a perfect way to end “Star Wars: Bounty Hunters” though.
While many had argued that the “War of the Bounty Hunters” crossover event as the canon replacement to the legendary “Shadows of the Empire” multimedia story arc, it’s really all of “Bounty Hunters” that is. The finale will make you want to watch “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” again, which is definitely a good thing. The art by Jethro Morales and Paolo Villanelli is very nice. Boba Fett especially looks good, although Luke Skywalker could have been drawn a bit better. The Megadroid was neat too, which was kind of a fitting final boss for Valance, so no complaints there, plus it made Jabba seem all the more powerful. Had Jabba had a Megadroid in Return of the Jedi it would have been a very different picture for sure.