Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Salvador Larroca
“We do not suffer failure.” Darth Vader
There are standards. Standards by which you measure and weigh things to see if they are worthy or will be found wanting. Even for villains and antagonists. Standards like Magneto, Sauron and Darth Vader. When I was but a tiny lad, watching Star Wars for the first time, Vader immediately got my attention. He was massive, dark, implacable and relentless. He seemed more a force of nature in a black suit then a man. When he beat the crap out of poor Luke in Empire Strikes Back, I believed every moment of it because Vader Was Unstoppable. I mean Han even shot him and Vader didn't even seemed annoyed. A blaster shot didn't even slow him down! Of course Luke, who was no where near as cool and cunning as Han Solo (look I like Luke, he's cool but we're talking Han Solo here) was just meat to the grinder. Of course you could bring up Luke's win in Return of the Jedi, which is fair, but let me ask you, when our favorite Jedi was on the ground bawling due to having an entire lighting storm frying his ass... Who did he need to pull out the win? Daddy Vader himself of course. The man who won the war for Luke single handed.
So you can understand why the prequels hurt? I mean it was kind of a gut shot. The kind of injury that rots and leaves you suffering a slow lingering death full of pain and humiliation. I was expecting Anakin Skywalker to be a hardcore kind of guy, a hero maybe. Instead, well, the Anakin in the movies didn't sell me on any idea expect that Obi Wan really needed to find someone to be a parent to the boy. Maybe I expected to much? Maybe my standards were to high? Either way the result was for a period of time I was put off Darth Vader, his appeal had been tarnished a bit. Of course I could still take refuge in the movies but well I think we all know how the human mind works. Doubts and concerns have a way of worming their way in. So when I heard there was a Vader comic, I was kind of on the fence about it. I really wanted more awesome stuff about Vader... But other attempts to look at him had been kind of... Underwhelming.
The Dread Lords of the Mouse however do not tolerate failure and are not as forgiving as the House of Lucas. Summoning a creative staff from deep within the pens of Marvel, such as British born, veteran comic book writer Kieron Gillen. He started his work in 2003 and hit the big time in 2006, since then he's written for Uncanny X-Men, Young Avengers, Thor and Iron Man. He wrote an issue for Avengers vs X-Men but everyone makes mistakes. The other half of this team Salvador Larroca is also a long time Marvel Veteran. Born in Spain way back in the 1960s, if I were to list all the comics he's done art for I wouldn't have space to review the actual graphic novel that brings us here today.
The comic begins after A New Hope but before The Empire Strikes back. The Death Star is a very expensive cloud of dust orbiting Yavin and Vader is the sole survivor of the greatest military disaster in the Empire's short history. The Emperor makes it clear who he's blaming for this and it ain't the dead guys. So Vader, insulted, degraded and dismissed is sent back out to the trenches to make good. Having a bucket list of problems and diminishing resources Vader decides what he needs to do two things, one, start murdering his problems. Which he does with ruthless aplomb. Two, subcontract the problems he can't murder. There are a couple of ways to do this, either by hiring outside help or by recruiting new personal, Vader opts for both of course. Hiring bounty hunters to deal with a couple problems and recruiting others to deal with yet other problems.Which brings us to the other major characters in this graphic novel.
Dr. Aphra is one of the new recruits, a rogue archaeologist and lover of old weapon systems, she makes her living by hunting down old super weapons or abandoned weapons tech, updating it and selling it to the highest bidder. This also means she will break into high security vaults and areas in order to loot these systems as she believes “It Should Be In an Armory!” She's very talkative compared to Vader, which I find a good thing. It helps maintain Vader as a laconic brooding presence while giving us some humor to keep the mood from getting sour. Dr. Aphra also provides the two other members of Vader's Adventuring party Triple 0 for example is a protocol droid who has a sideline in torture and interrogation. He also has a nasty habit of draining his masters of their blood for shits and giggles. He's very snarky and a bit snide which makes his interactions with Darth Vader really fun. His counterpart is BT-1 who can pass as an astromech but is actually an assassin droid. Whoever made it seems to have made what I like to call the Gandhi mistake, after the Gandhi in the civilization game (if you don't know, there's a reason why veteran civ players will tell you to kill Gandhi before the fucker gets nukes). See, BT-1 was designed an in advanced weapons lab and right after he was turned on? He kinda killed everyone in the lab. Needless to say Dr. Aphra is incredibly excited about turning him on. She's that kind of girl.
With his adventuring group Vader confronts the conspiracies and schemes within the Empire that threaten his position and power. It's interesting that in this comic we never see Vader going head to head with the Rebels (that's left to the other Star Wars comic). Instead he's fighting pirates, robbing from aliens, threatening Jabba the Hutt, and fighting and killing other imperials. Vader doesn't seem to consider the Rebellion his main threat in this book instead being much more worried about other imperials and backstabbing from the Emperor. To be fair, Emperor Palpatine has a much better record in killing Apprentice Sith (ask Count Dooku) then the Rebellion does at this point and it is in the nature of the Sith to brutally murder each other at the drop of a light saber (hence why we have the rule of two in the first place!). The book never lectures us about this or points this out though. We are left to simply read and consider as it makes very clear the backstabbing untrustworthy nature of the Sith Regime, where it's rulers and elites must spend time and resources against each other just to make sure they can do their jobs without... Dying. Maybe I'm naive but that's kind of a flaw in the organization if I got worry just as much about the people on my side as the people who are suppose to be shooting at me. Maybe being in the United States Marines Corp spoiled me. I mean yeah I had personality conflicts and people I didn't like but I never had to ask myself, hey if we get attacked is the Lcpl there going to shoot the enemy or me? Darth Vader does and his solution to this problem is to destroy everyone that he can't be sure of. But in the Empire, just who can you be sure of? It's no accident that he had to go outside of the Empire for trustworthy henchme... Henchwo... Henchpeople?
All that said, Darth Vader is definitely back in true form! He's amoral at best, he's relentless, pitiless, massive and unstoppable. More Machine then Man! He is the villain protagonists we want, the one we need and the one we deserve! The book avoids trying to sell on the idea that Vader isn't a villain. Instead the book says, yeah Vader's a bad guy but hey, there's a lot of bad guys in this Galaxy. The writing is worthy, the art is worthy and the opponents are type I can't wait to see fall beneath his lightsaber! That said, the graphic novel doesn't really resolve this story, it's half of the story and a lot of set up. Which I suppose is a problem in serial story telling. I'm a big believer that a graphic novel should tell a complete story and I feel the ending left me hanging a bit. Of course I'm very eager to see what happens next and I will be bringing you a review of Darth Vader Volume 2! If you're a Star Wars fan, if you want to see more of the real Darth Vader or if you enjoy a good (bad?) villain protagonists who doesn't engage in any moral waffling or gray areas... Then you too should come to know the power of the Dark Side. Darth Vader gets a B+ as I have A New Hope but the Empire hasn't struck yet .
Next week we sound the bells with Sabriel by Garth Nix.