DARTH VADER: VADER | ‘New to Comics’ Review

New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books; explaining, reviewing, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. 

Monday’s post proved popular enough, and that’s all the excuse I need to keep talking about Star Wars comics. And after the main Star Wars book, the obvious next choice would be its companion series, Darth Vader.

Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Kieron Gillen
Art by: Salvador Larroca
Year: 2015

Collects: Darth Vader (2015) #1-6


CONTENTS
Background
Character Spotlight
Plot
Review


WHAT’S THE STORY?

As I mentioned up top, Marvel’s Darth Vader comic is a companion piece to their initial Star Wars title. Ever since he first marched his way onto cinema screens back in 1977, Vader has been regarded as one of, if not the, greatest villains of all time. From his iconic design to his merciless attitude and his unspeakable power, Vader is the perfect villain, whose popularity has only grown over time.

And while some may be disappointed with the prequels and Lucas’ depiction of Anakin Skywalker, it’s hard to deny the storytelling possibilities Vader’s larger backstory allows for, something to keep in mind as I take a look at Darth Vader: Book I, as Kieron Gillen and the writers that follow him take full advantage of both Original and Prequel trilogy events in their building of a compelling Vader ongoing (the first, in fact). 

Like its companion title, Star WarsDarth Vader is set soon after the events of A New Hope. There is a slight time delay between the two series, as Darth Vader picks up after Vader’s initial confrontation with Luke Skywalker in the initial issues of the other series. They do, however, end in the same place.

Like Star WarsDarth Vader only really requires a knowledge of the events that have happened in the original film. However, your understanding of the various characters and references will be better off if you’ve seen the other films such as Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom MenaceAttack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

You’ll also have a better reading experience if you’ve read or are reading the main Star Wars title.


CHARACTER SPOTLIGHT:

DARTH VADER

Real Name: Anakin Skywalker
Affiliation: The Galactic Empire
First Appearance: Star Wars [Movie – May 1977]

Rescued from a life of slavery by two Jedi Knights, young Anakin Skywalker was ushered away from his home planet of Tattooine and taken to the core world of Coruscant to be trained as a Jedi by Obi-Wan Kenobi. 
Skywalker rose through the ranks of the Jedi, becoming a great warrior during the clone wars, eventually taking on a Padawan of his own in Ahsoka Tano.
However, in blatant disregard for the Jedi Code, Anakin fell in love with and married senator Padmé Amidala, and his fear of losing her drove him to seek dark methods to save her from her fate. Corrupted by the Sith Lord Palpatine, Anakin turned against the Jedi and the Republic. But his quest for power could not save Padmé from her fate, and after being struck down by Obi-Wan, Anakin was confined to a life-support suit. Now reborn as a dark lord of the Sith, Anakin enacts Palpatine’s every command as his enforcer, Darth Vader.


WHAT’S THE PLOT?

The story runs concurrently with Skywalker Strikes, exploring Vader’s actions as he struggles to win back the faith of his master, Emperor Palpatine, after the destruction of the Death Star and Cymoon-1 and prove to everyone that he is still a force to be reckoned with – that his power and his worth haven’t dulled with age.

As such, the series sees Vader bartering with Jabba the Hutt, associating with bounty hunters like Boba Fett and the Wookiee Black Krrsantan and scheming alongside his new plucky ‘sidekick’, the breakout star of the series, Doctor Aphra and their homicidal droids, 0-0-0 and BT-1.

REVIEW:

But don’t let the words ‘plucky side-kick’ fool you. While fun, this tale is far from that of a joyful romp. It’s dark, morbid and filled with sadness and deception. And while Aphra and the droids presence does provide some humour, their primary purpose is to have someone for Vader to bounce off.

As you’ll know from the films, Vader is a man of few words. He speaks with his actions and his demeanour. Instead of raising his voice, he’ll draw his lightsaber. Instead of showing sadness, he’ll simply choke a sorry sucker out. And if there’s one thing Darth Vader loves, it’s choking people out:

Unsurprisingly, he also chokes someone out in this comic, but I’ll leave the ‘who’ for you to discover by yourself.

But with Aphra’s presence, you’ve got someone to bring the dialogue in what would otherwise be a very ‘quiet’ comic book. That’s not to say this wouldn’t work without Aphra. Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca are clearly keen students of the Star Wars saga, and that shows, not only in satisfying story that references and links to the Original Trilogy but also to the Prequels.

This is why the prequels, despite their flaws, are so important. The stories they tell give future writers something to work off. Without Anakin’s relationships, Vader would be, for the most part, an unknown entity. And yeah, sure, a new writer could come along and build him up, but being able to go in with a fully formed character and put him in situations knowing his past makes those situations far more interesting. Whether that be the Emperor mockingly telling someone that the word ‘children’ brings up bad memories, or characters asking if Vader’s ever been to Tatooine.

In fact, the two scenes that are most rooted in the continuity of the prequels in this comic are the most powerful. Vader thinking back to his life as Anakin, and how it reflects his current situation can make him even more terrifying or tragic.

Furthermore, it fleshes out his relationship with the Emperor to a great degree and really makes Palpatine seem like a real arsehole. Which, let’s be fair, he is. The very foundations of Vader’s apprenticeship are called into question in this comic, as both the Emperor and Vader’s various peers look down on him like a simple tool. They dehumanise him, and as a result, you find yourself empathizing with a villain, despite having just seen him do some pretty despicable stuff.

And then there’s art. While I’m always a bit uncertain about how I feel about Larroca’s art, on account of it’s weird ‘realism’ often giving me a bit of an ‘uncanny valley’ vibe, here, I find, it really works, perhaps due to the fact that most of the subjects don’t actually look human. While John Cassaday’s art over on the other Star Wars title is pretty stellar; his Vader, among other things, has a tendency to lean into being somewhat cartoonish. Larroca’s art here doesn’t do that in the slightest. It fits perfectly with drawing Star Wars characters, and his Vader looks like it’s been plucked right out of the movies.

Once again, the force is strong with this comic-book, and for that, I give it a…

Thanks for reading! Is Vader the greatest villain of all time? And who’s your favourite Star Wars character? Let me know in the comments below!

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