Darth Vader is, arguably, the best villain in all of pop culture. Part of what made him so menacing, and other popular villains for that matter, is how he was always a secondary character, keeping his inner thoughts a secret from the viewer or reader.
So when Marvel Comics, as part of their corporate synergy with Lucasfilm, announced a new ongoing Darth Vader series, I was hesitant to read it. I assumed having Vader as the spotlight figure would take away his mystique and see him humanized. Fortunately, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca managed to find a perfect balance of character moments and empty silence to craft this singular story about the Dark Lord of the Sith and made it the premier Star Wars comic for fans to read.
What helped to make Darth Vader so compelling was the lack of inner narration from Vader throughout the series. While most books of this nature would elect to dive into Vader’s mind, Gillen takes a step back and allows silence to speak for the character instead. Mentions of Geonosis and Naboo’s love for Queen Padme Amidala get no outward reactions from Vader, only silent panels. The disconnect between what Vader is thinking and what he’s expressing speaks more than even the best narration could.
The series also keeps Darth Vader from finding any level of redemption, reveling in the villainous nature of who Vader can be at his worst. Unlike other villain-centric stories like Hannibal Rising, which try to bring some level of sympathy to the villain, Vader is shown in all his menacing glory over the course of these issues. All of this keeps Vader as a regal, menacing character.
Darth Vader isn’t just about waxing poetic, however. Featuring a plot that involves Vader having to regain the Emperor’s favor after the destruction of the Death Star, Vader has plenty of moments that show what he is capable of. Some of the highlights of the series include Vader slaughtering anyone who would revel his plans to empire agents and installing a new ruler on a planet rebelling against him through murderous force. Fans of seeing Vader in battle will cheer for the moments of action throughout this book.
Since Darth Vader is less than expressive, Gillen and Larroca introduce several new characters to help move the plot along. In the traditional Star Wars fashion, each new character plays on traditional tropes in literature, imported into the Sci-Fi realm of this universe. Some of the highlights include Doctor Aphra, an Indiana Jones type archeologist with no moral center and Vader’s “partner” as the series progresses; Triple Zero and Bee-Tee One, murderous analogues to C-3PO and R2-D2 and the source for many moments of comedic levity; and Inspector Thanoth, a Sherlock Holmesian figure who investigates some of the most complex cases the empire faces. Each of these figures adds a fun new facet to the Star Wars universe and is the spice to Vader’s traditional notes of terror.
While Gillen excels at crafting the narrative, Larroca is a mixed bag when it comes to the art. The style he brought to the series was very photo-realistic, using certain images from the movies as the basis for some of his pencils. This means that some panels, mainly of Vader himself, come across as gorgeous, while others feel half-completed in comparison. His facial work in particular suffers at times, giving certain characters too many lines of detail and others too few. The artistic results are a mixed bag that, while mostly looking great, get dragged down by the sporadic disjointed figures.
The other issue facing Larroca’s art is in how he constructs certain scenes within panels. This is especially true of action scenes, as the sense of motion can be lost at times due to framing or a lack of fluidity to the figures. This is apparent in one of the final issues where Vader must fight a Rancor, yielding a battle that sometimes comes across as very static and hazy between panels.
The other large issue the series faces is that it relies heavily on crossovers with Jason Aaron’s Star Wars title. The first six issues sees several plotlines introduced in Darth Vader, such as Vader hiring Boba Fett to track down Luke Skywalker, that are completed in Aaron’s story. This all builds to the crossover Vader Down, which is the culmination of several key stories in Darth Vader, meaning readers must digest the crossover in order to experience the full Darth Vader story. The series works best when it can stand on its own, which it does in the back half of the narrative. But the first half is riddled with hints at stories that are happening in another book.
When push comes to shove, Darth Vader does has its share of problems. From inconsistent art to a reliance on crossovers early on, this book may not be for those wanting a complete book in it of itself. But for fans of the character, Darth Vader is a can’t miss extravaganza that tells a compelling, novel-like story about one of cinema’s greatest villains.
The entirety of Darth Vader is available now in single issues in comic books shops. Volumes 1-3, featuring the storylines Vader, Shadows and Secrets, and The Shu-Torun War, along with the collection for Vader Down, are also available. Volume 4, End of Games, will be released on December 6.