Review: Phil Noto's Work in Chewbacca #1 is Absolutely Charming
Chewbacca #1 isn't a comic that will leave you with the impression of how wrong it could have gone, but it's something worth considering. Writer Gerry Duggan opted to write the furball's small side adventure with only growling dialogue and absolutely no translation. He is stranded on a planet when his ship breaks down and stumbles across a slavery ring that he can help eliminate. In the hands of a lesser artist, many of the scenes in this script would be unclear or easily misread. However, Phil Noto is illustrating the entire issue and he executes every page with panache and clarity.
The issue opens with a setup for the adventure to come, leaving the introduction of Chewbacca page five. Noto opens this scene on Chewbacca lying in a field of flowers, eyes closed and the slightest hint of a smile on his lips. He is absolutely serene here, and the splash page will remind fans of Star Wars why they love this guy so much. He's big and powerful, but also cuddly and graced with the inner life of a minor philosopher. It's the sort of page that makes for both a perfect visual reintroduction and a print worthy of being hung on the wall.
Things don't stay peaceful for long though as Chewie has to deal with his crashed ship and bigger problems. Noto capably communicates these scenes through clear posturing and subtle facial acting. The silent aspects of his story when he has to diagnose and attempt to solve a problem are relayed excellently. Noto knows exactly which moments to display and how to display them. Chewie doesn't have the full array of human features to express emotion in these moments, leaving Noto to emphasize his eyes and lips. In these two aspects, Chewie capably reveals a wide range of emotions from frazzled consternation to thoughtful concentration to suppressed rage. It's all there in a story that reads as thoughtfully as Chewie's own mental processes, with his visual displays reading like speech bubbles.
Noto also incorporates a warmth to Chewie's fur. His blend of straw and deeper brown fur resembles that of a teddy bear or an enormous plush blanket. He is a calming, powerful presence. This is further emphasized by the cool backgrounds he spends his time in, both the beautiful fields in which he has wrecked and flat, constructed services of a small city. Noto's colors both elaborate that Chewie is not only an outsider, but a positive force for change.
The central conflict of Duggan's story is slight, but he understands that it doesn't need to be complex on a plotting or thematic level. There is a strong focus on exactly what will sell the title, the Wookie actually in the title. Chewbacca has been a memorable sidekick for almost four decades for good reason. He is an underspoken, (generally) gentle giant, comparable to other cinematic heroes both old (Andre the Giant) and new (Groot). Duggan has composed Chewbacca #1 to act as a showcase for the big guy, complete with plenty nasty villains to face off against and a lovable scamp of a sidekick for Chewie to call his own.
Chewbacca #1 is a delightful read, one that doesn't lose its luster upon a second or third go. There's elegance to its simplicity. Nothing here will change how you look at comics or the main character, but it's hard to imagine a more enjoyable adventure to lie back with. Noto is masterfully telling a fantastic adventure set in a galaxy far, far away, one that will leave you wanting to follow Chewie wherever he goes next, even if you can't understand a single thing he's saying.