Hey, with a subtitle that creative you know it’s good…
In all seriousness, yes, Darth Vader Vol. 1 is good, living up to the bar of quality set thus far by this Marvel series. It’s better than Skywalker Strikes, but in many ways presents me with the same problem. In the way I’ve mentioned before that nobody needs me to tell them that Star Wars is good, that goes double for a story entirely focused on Darth Vader. I mean, come on! It’s Darth Vader, perhaps the greatest cinematic villain ever created, and the benchmark to which all others have, and will, be compared. There exist no adjectives here, he’s replaced them! I genuinely cannot think of the words to describe to a complete Star Wars virgin why this character has become perhaps the most iconic in all of popular culture. Fortunately, I don’t need to, because unless you just came out of a coma you’ve been in since 1966, you already know!
And just in case you really have just come out of a 50 year coma, and for some reason my ramblings are the first thing you’ve tuned into, here are some things you should know: This thing you’re on right now is called The Internet, and it’s great… most of the time; we landed on the moon, that was fun; the Berlin wall came down; and, what else? Oh yeah, Star Wars was awesome and Darth Vader was the most awesome thing about it!
So yes, if my babbling didn’t tip you off, I’m finding it kind of difficult to expand on simply telling you that Vader doesn’t disappoint the legacy of its namesake. I reckon about tw-no, three shots of whiskey should do it. I’ll just be a moment…
Vader’s story-line runs roughly in parallel to the events of Skywalker Strikes, and after the destruction of both the Death Star and Cymoon 1, the Sith Lord appears to be on something of a losing streak. The Dark Side does not forgive failure, and so Vader is called back to Coruscant to answer to the Emperor. After making it very clear that his apprentice is on thin ice, Palpatine puts Vader under the orders of Grand General Tagge, the new supreme commander of Imperial forces, and sends him off on a mission to re-secure the Empire’s supply lines. Vader, however, suspects that his new duty is meant to get him out of the way, so Palpatine can replace him, and he’s not so far under his Emperor’s thumb to take that lying down.
Before he can do anything about it though, Vader must escape from under Tagge’s control. Tagge proves to be a far less accommodating boss than Tarkin, considering both the Death Star and Vader himself to be vanity projects when next to increasing the strength of the fleet. He assigns a young officer to tail Vader and evaluate his every move, on a mission to take out a pirate space station, which Vader suspects is getting intelligence from an Imperial mole. Vader accomplishes his task; and all too conveniently uncovers Tagge’s officer as the mole, freeing him up to pursue his own agenda.
Next, Vader starts building a small team from outside Imperial ranks, to avoid any information getting back to the Emperor. He recruits Triple-Zero and BT-1, a pair of droids who operate as a psychotic reflection of C3PO and R2D2, as well as doctor Aphra, a rogue archaeologist with an… appreciation for violent people and droids. They journey to Geonosis to recover a company of old battle droids from the Clone War, and then on to a station, built into the carcass of a live space-whale on the edge of the galaxy (and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say), where Vader believes he will find and put an end to his replacement.
However, when they arrive, Vader discovers Palpatine has been on to him this whole time, and allowed him to make his way to the station in order to begin a set of trials against other cybernetically enhanced warriors, to prove he’s worthy of retaining his place as the Emperor’s right hand.
If there’s a big problem with Vader then it’s a common one found in most arc-beginning books, in that it feels like mostly set-up while providing very little pay-off. What action is here is just fine, but the final brawl the book spends all its time building up to isn’t actually final at all, and none of Vader’s opponents spend enough time on the page to really get a handle on whether they’re going to be interesting or not. In any case, if you’re at all familiar with Star Wars, then you know the outcome of this contest must be a forgone conclusion, so it’s hard for me to get invested about any of it. Hopefully the following books will make it worth my time, but for now it’s fortunate that Vader has a lot else going for it.
There’s really no getting around it, Doctor Aphra is the stuff fan-fics are made of. A young, attractive, rogue scientist and adventurer who probably also writes love letters to death row inmates in her spare time meeting Darth Vader? The hormones practically leak out of the page…
Actually, no. Don’t think about that too much.
To the book’s credit, it doesn’t go so overboard with this that it becomes icky, and jokes aside it’s actually a fascinating dynamic. This is a scenario where the limitations of writing expanded universe fiction are a help rather than a hindrance. Obviously, the relationship between these two characters can’t actually amount to anything, because we already know how Vader’s story ends. The comic does an excellent job of letting Vader’s moments of silence, and the fixed expression of his mask, do the work, allowing the reader to, well, read into them. However, regardless of whether or not Aphra really is stirring the ghost of something human in him, he’s not going to change, and if he did she probably wouldn’t like him as much. These characters are on an inherently destructive collision course, and they both know it… and they’re both just crazy enough to roll with it.
Another interesting relationship is that of Vader and Palpatine. In the original Star Wars trilogy, it was always left as a fairly open question just how loyal Vader was to his master, versus his own interests. In The Empire Strikes Back, he seeks to turn Luke to the dark side in the name of overthrowing the Emperor. Is violent usurpation just the nature of the dark side, that places so much stock in hate, cunning and ambition, or are Vader’s objectives personal?
It was a question the prequels raised, and never answered, that irritated me (when I bothered to think about the prequels at all). Why would Anakin Skywalker, after his rebirth as Darth Vader, bother to keep doing Palpatine’s bidding when his original reason for betraying the Jedi is lost to him? It can’t be gratitude for saving his life, not after what his life has been reduced to, and it’s not as if Vader is overly invested in the success of the Empire. Victories of the fleet and gains of territory are mundane compared to the power of the dark side, which is the only thing he openly shows any reverence towards. Most of the time, it just seems like his position gives him an excuse to take out his rage on the rest of the galaxy, and that’s the closest thing he has left to a will to live. However, when Vader finds out that Palpatine has been considering replacing him since long before the Death Star, he seems to feel genuinely betrayed. This is shortly followed by the discovery of Luke’s real identity, and the book seems to interpret this as the moment where Vader truly understands what his relationship to his master is, and the first moment where he desires to be rid of him. Could it be that Vader has for all this time still been clinging to the image of Palpatine as a father figure, and only with the knowledge of his own fatherhood does he realise how ridiculous that idea was?
If you think Darth Vader is cool, read this book. If you don’t, then I find your lack of faith disturbing.
(P.S. Apologies for the delay. Normal scheduling should resume next time.)