Friday, July 15, 2016

Vader Down By Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen

Vader Down
By Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen
Art by Mike Deodato and Salvador Larroca

All I am surrounded by is Fear. And Dead Men” Darth Vader

This comic is a crossover between the Vader series and the Star Wars series starring our happy band of rebels trying to overthrow the Empire. I haven't reviewed the other series but I do want to let you know that it's coming. As a consequence, this review is going to mainly looking at it through the viewpoint of the Vader series. Fair warning:  I'm going to hold off on talking about Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato until I actually review their series. Let's get into it shall we?

Last time Vader had gotten a tip that Luke Skywalker; the person he has spend money, lives and material to learn about and find like a drunken sailor on leave was on the planet Vrogas Vas. Without a second thought in his helmeted head the Dark Lord of the Sith rushed to that planet alone to confront and capture Luke... only to find it's a trap (please insert your favorite Admiral Ackbar joke here). It wasn't a trick however, Luke Skywalker was on the planet to visit a deserted Jedi Temple and he brought along a few friends. A battalion of them or so (well more like 3 squadrons and a company but really who’s counting? Besides me I mean.) and Vader is about to brawl with them all. I just gotta say, this is one glorious brawl.

This is where we see Vader just unleash himself because he is just done with everyone's crap. I can't really blame him. His boss and mentor is openly talking about replacing him; people keep disrespecting him to his face; he keeps having to work for sub par officers; it would make anyone murderous never mind a dark side worshiping near-psychopath. Now, I'm going to be honest, up til now my benchmark on what a Force user could do was pretty much Luke Skywalker and watching the Jedi in the prequel movies (yes, yes, we all dislike them but they exist). When I saw Vader going up against dozens of star fighters and companies of troops I was kinda asking myself ‘just what is it he can do?’.  I'm not going to go into details here but let me just admit I didn't know the power of the Dark Side. Vader goes head to head with a small army and it swiftly becomes you worried about the army instead of being worried about Vader. To future writers and creators, this? This right here? This is how you sell me on a villain being utterly terrifying! Vader becomes a force of fucking nature, like a man sized black wearing be-caped Godzilla in a worse mood than usual.
Vader isn't the only character on display here. Our protagonists from the movies (you know, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the Droids) are also here, along with what I've labeled Vader's Villain Party. They all show up for a messy brawl where all the characters throw down and mix it up. Now what happens in a lot of crossovers is you're left feeling that one team was tossed under the bus, forced to lose the fight by writer fiat. That doesn't happen here, it really feels like two teams of protagonists going at it and using everything they can think of to win this brawl. My favorite bits happen to be the droid on droid violence and the awesome fight between Chewie and Krrsantan. That said, Dr. Aphra and Han Solo also get their moments and their duel was fun to read. Meanwhile Luke, who has no clue what's really going on just yet is scrambling to avoid being captured by... Everyone.

However interestingly enough the real conflict of this story isn't Vader's, Luke's or even Han's. It's Leia's. Princess Leia wants Vader dead and with damn good reason. He did help blow terracide her culture. Yeah, you could argue that was Tarkin's order but Vader was up to his neck on that one. There is also the little issue of Vader torturing Leia back in A New Hope. I'm just guessing here, but something tells me Leia might be the kind of lady to hold a grudge over stuff like that. Personal reasons aside there are also solid political and military reasons to pour out a small planet's worth of resources to kill Vader. He is still the Emperor's right hand man and a Dark Lord of the Sith.  While this comic shows that his combat value is... insane, it's his value as someone the Emperor can trust to solve any problem he's pointed at that makes him a high value target. To be blunt it's actually worth losing a literal regiment or more to kill Vader, assuming you can get the job done. Leia is also faced with the question of whether or not it is it worth losing Luke and her friends to kill Vader. I would argue no, personally on simple practical grounds. Yes, killing Vader would be a massive blow to the Empire but the Emperor can replace Vader. It would take years, maybe even over a decade to train an equivalent Sith but it could be done (the biggest strength of the Empire is that it is a machine, every part except the Emperor can be replaced because that is how the Empire was designed. As long as the Emperor lives, everything else can be rebuilt). The Rebellion cannot replace Luke Skywalker, if he dies, the likelihood of their victory drops immeasurably. They can replace a thousand ground troops, they can replace squadrons of fighters but a Jedi? Not so much. Course I am arguing with perfect hindsight here so my math may be tainted by outside knowledge. She doesn't know it but it's Leia's decision here that is going to determine the course of the war and the fate of galaxy. I found that really cool.

The action is bone jarring, the pace fast but not break necked, the attention is fairly well balanced (although Luke and friends do get a bit more time then Vader, Vader gets more time than any single character so I feel it balances out). The writing works well, despite some minor shifts in tone depending on whether it was Aaron or Gillen writing, and some dramatic shifts in the art style (I find myself preferring the Vader's team art but that's a personal decision). This is a story of a battle, one of the many small battles across the galaxy that almost by accident ensure the final fate of the Empire. I greatly enjoyed seeing Vader go nuts on companies of innocent infantrymen.  Yeah sure he's the bad guy but there's something satisfying in seeing an actual powerhouse of a villain go all out and drive his enemies before him. Because of this Vader Down gets an A. Get thee hence and give it a look if you're a star wars fan, you'll thank me later kid.

Next week, we find out just how it is you deal with a goblin army in the tens of thousands and if fate can be denied or not. See you then.  
This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen. 

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