When you think of the best way to introduce Darth Vader to the Marvel comics family, having him constantly be yelled at and disciplined like a child that broke his daddy’s expensive toy may not come instantly to mind. That idea apparently seemed like a good one to writer Kieron Gill, and he managed to make it work rather effectively. Our Darth Vader #1 review takes a look at this introduction to the iconic Star Wars villain and what could be in store for him in the future.
When watching the Star Wars films and rooting for the main protagonists, it can be easy to forget that there is actually a huge group of people responsible for, and living on, the planet-destroying weapon that the rebels blow up with a single shot to the tailpipe. Darth Vader is setting up to be about examining the other (darker) side of the coin, and this first issue revolves primarily around Vader’s total failure in letting the Death Star be destroyed, and prior to that letting the rebels escape with the plan in order to track where they ran to. I’m sure it’s been explored in other extended universe pieces, but as someone who has never read those particular stories (and considering they are no longer canon anyway), this is a welcome fresh side of the typical Star Wars story to explore.
It does get a bit heavy-handed at times, but for the most part Darth Vader‘s first issue handles the required bits of backstory well. There are a few panels that are ripped straight from Episode IV and shown as flashbacks, and a few others that are original scenes mirroring events from past movies. Obviously Vader needs to travel to Tatooine to meet with Jabba the Hut and hire a bounty hunter to track down the rebels who infiltrated Cymoon 1. Naturally, while visiting his old homeworld he goes on a sand people killing spree, and stands looking at the planet’s two suns, similar to what Luke Skywalker did in Episode IV. The symbolism of Vader mimicking Luke’s action – while not knowing he’s actually doing so – is admittedly not very deep, but it doesn’t feel too out of place. Besides, I have to admit I like seeing Vader roaming around places that we would never actually see him in the films. Movie Darth Vader kills life-long mentors and arrives to the sound of menacing music; comic book Darth Vader must atone for his failures of the Death Star by travelling to the seething underbelly of Tatooine. It’s a nice dichotomy and a unique new way to explore a character who has already been explored (and exploited) to no end over the years.
Vader also mirrors his own actions from the films during this first issue. Similar to how he lashes out at commanders on the Death Star, he calmly – but terrifyingly – threatens one of the higher-ups on his own Star Destroyer. Especially after seeing him being a whipped dog at the feet of the Emperor for much of the comic, it’s important to be reminded at least once in the intro book that he is in fact one of the most feared figures in the galaxy for a reason.
Art in the book is amazing, to put it bluntly. Everything from the character portraits to the action shots – every inch of the comic has a great attention to detail, and loyalty to its source material. Vader’s clunky fighting style comes across perfectly in his short fighting scene at in Jabba’s palace. The way his torso never seems to move and his swipes are all drawn to be very straight, flat angles helps portray the feeling of the slow – yet unrelenting – style that Vader employs in battle.
One bit of artwork that really stuck out to me is another during the scene in Jabba’s palace. During their conversation, the once mighty and terrifying Darth Vader is reduced to almost begging Jabba to help him, and Jabba brings up the point that he could easily be dropped into the pit below and forgotten about entirely. The shot that follows this little revelation has Vader looking extremely small under Jabba’s immense shadow. It’s not blatant enough to be in your face as an obvious comparison, but it’s a clever use of perspective to show just how small Vader feels at that moment, without making him actually say it.
As fun as it is to see a new side of Star Wars is this first issue, its biggest draw back is just how rigid everything feels. It may be just a symptom of being an introduction issue, but Darth Vader #1 is a comic without a whole lot of life. The story it tells is interesting enough, but it’s told with a generally bland, stilted method. Much like Vader’s fighting style, it gets the job done but it’s not always pretty. I am fully on board with Darth Vader after this first issue as a fan of the source material and being interested in seeing a different angle on a long-established story, but if there is any hope for the comic to rise above being a treat for fans and nothing more, it is going to need a dose of personality.
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