Marvel’s Darth Vader

5 Sep

It cannot be denied that Marvel Comics is going through a very rough patch. You can blame it on social justice, if you like, or a pointless push towards ‘diversity’ or even very poor writers and poorer editors, but it cannot be denied. Indeed, after a number of comics I liked were cancelled, I cancelled all my Marvel subscriptions. It was therefore something of a surprise when I picked up the first collected edition of Darth Vader and discovered that it was actually very good. I purchased the remaining collections in short order.

Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader follows our favourite villain protagonist as the Galactic Empire struggles to recover from the loss of the Death Star and the rise of the Rebel Alliance. Out of favour with the Emperor, Darth Vader discovers that he is now subordinate to Grand General Tagge (who had a bit part in A New Hope and was ret-conned into having left the Death Star before the disaster) and forced to compete with a set of new apprentices, created by the enigmatic Dr. Cylo. Unluckily for the Galactic Empire, Dr. Cylo has plans of his own …

Plotting his own course of action, Vader recruits a team of his own and, upon discovering that he has a son, starts planning to eventually take the Galactic Empire for himself.

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The story weaves in and out of established mythology – thankfully, it draws nothing from The Force Awakens and surprisingly little from the prequels. Vader’s encounter with Jabba in the first issue links neatly to the next two movies, as does his involvement with various well-known bounty hunters. Vader’s bid to prove himself – to claim his position as the undisputed second-in-command – links up neatly to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Even better, there is only one crossover with other comic books – Vader Down. I’ve grown to loathe crossovers because they force me to decide between buying several more comic books so I know the background or coming into the story halfway. But you don’t have to follow the Star Wars comic book to understand the background of Vader Down, although the crossover does dilute the focus on Vader and his allies.

But what really sells the book is the characters. Vader himself is evil, but nowhere near as unpleasant as the gloating monster he serves. Vader’s team, too, is a brilliant inversion of the rebel trio; Dr. Aphra, Triple-Zero, BT-1 and Black Krrsantan are all evil counterparts of the rebels. Naturally, this partnership doesn’t last long and part of the latter third of the series includes Dr. Aphra trying to get away from Vader. It’s no surprise that Dr. Aphra actually got her own comic book series afterwards, as she’s probably the best of the characters created for the comic books. (And a dark reflection of Han.) While she doesn’t beat Vader, she manages to trick him into thinking her dead.

The bad guys – or badder guys – are just as interesting, in their own way. Grand General Tagge firmly believes that the Death Star was a colossal waste of resources, all the more so as it was destroyed by a single starfighter pilot. His boring, but practical approach to war is actually quite effective – indeed, if he’d been left alive at the end, he might have won the war for his master. On the other side, Dr. Cylo and his ‘apprentices’ are bent on eventually taking the empire for themselves, pitting Vader against a series of increasingly dangerous threats and attacks. And the Emperor – affably evil, but sadistic; drunk on power, yet cold and calculating – looms large over the comic. I wish we’d seen more of him.

I wasn’t impressed with The Force Awakens. And I loathed the prequels. And the Expanded Universe always veered between true greatness (Heir to the Empire, The Hand of Thrawn) and utter crap (The Courtship of Princess Leia, The Crystal Star). But this comic book reminds us of why we consider Darth Vader to be one of the greatest movie villains of all time.

It’s worth a read. Go read it.

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