New To You Comics #112: A Long Time Ago In ‘Star Wars: Darth Vader V1- Vader’

by Tony Thornley

With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals, and things that go bump in the night. This week, we’re celebrating Star Wars month (and the upcoming debut of Obi-Wan Kenobi) with the series’ most iconic character!

When Star Wars first premiered, Marvel was the original comics licensee for the franchise- publishing nearly 150 of a series that built a foundation for the Star Wars expanded universe. Not long after that series ended, the license ended up at Dark Horse until 2015, when it returned to Marvel. If you’re a new comic reader, this was a HUGE deal.

The line started with three titles- a “core” Star Wars series, a Princess Leia miniseries, and the series we’re covering today- Darth Vader by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado, and Joe Caramagna. The line was some of the best selling comics in decades, and frankly some of the best material ever published in the Star Wars expanded universe.

Picking up mere weeks after the destruction of the Death Star, Vader picks up with Darth Vader at his lowest point. He’s lost the trust of the Emperor, he’s trying to uncover the mystery of the young pilot who bested him, and he’s picking up the pieces of his life. The quest he begins will not just restore the Emperor’s faith in him, but will also set him on the path that will lead him straight to the son he didn’t know he had…

Tony Thornley: Two years into the column, and how have we not covered ANY Star Wars?

Brendan Allen: Have we not? I lose track sometimes. 

Tony: Looking at our list, unless we slipped one in there somewhere, yeah, this is first. When the new line started, this was actually the title I was a little lukewarm on. I wasn’t super familiar with Gillen, Larroca’s art had started to lose its shine, and I’m just not generally a villain guy.

Boy was I wrong. This might be my favorite Star Wars comic, and there’s a LOT to choose from. I even covered a whole bunch of them early in the pandemic.

Brendan: I actually hadn’t noticed this was Larroca until a few pages in, when I saw a couple things that really reminded me of his work on the new Alien series. His work on those books made me drop the series altogether, because it’s so terrible. You know it’s bad when I drop an Aliens book. I love Aliens. I love everything about the franchise. Everything except Larroca’s run. 

You can see some of the seeds here that lead to the atrocious work he’s doing now, but for the most part, this is visually much better. 

Tony: Larroca used to be one of my favorite artists, but at one point, he started transitioning into an extremely stiff photoreal style. In my opinion, this is the last time that his work was really consistent and readable.

Brendan:”Photoreal” is one way to say it, I guess. Cut, pasted, and traced is another. Anyway, my qualms with Alien isn’t why we’re here today. 

The biggest issue I have with the art in this book is that the action scenes feel just a little static. I was trying to figure out in one panel why there was a laser grid across the floor and realized it was Larroca’s way of depicting a lightsaber in motion. Later he uses the same sort of technique, but the lines only go in one direction, which makes a little more sense.

Overall, it’s a very good looking book.

Tony: Yeah I think it looks great. Though I agree that the action is sometimes too static, Larroca does a great job of making Vader imposing, and the supporting cast are always doing something interesting. The designs for Aphra, Triple-0 and BT-1 in particular are very engaging, sort of giving Vader his own entourage that echoes the friends that have surrounded Luke.

Brendan: That tracks. And to be fair, I wasn’t even sure it WAS Larroca until I went back and checked the cover after the third or fourth thing that I saw inside.

Tony: Vader’s quest to regain his stature and standing with the Emperor is the best plot Gillen could have conceived for the Dark Lord. In A New Hope he was really more of a lackey to Tarkin, and he was sent spiraling off into space around Yavin. The next time we see him in Empire Strikes Back, he’s fully a dark and angry force of nature that we know him as. Gillen took advantage of that transition to give him a plot for this story, and I really love that.

Brendan: This feels like a sort of reverse redemption situation. Also, a peek into the inner workings of the relationship between Vader and Darth Sidious. Obviously, Vader screwed the pooch with the Death Star, but you don’t usually think of him in a situation where he’s subordinate. Even in the movie scenes where he’s in the same room as Sidious, it’s implied heavily, but never really shown when he gets rebuked or has to defend his mistakes to his superior.

Tony: Oh absolutely. That relationship drives the entire story, even without the Emperor on page. Their relationship has clearly soured in the 19 years since Mustafar, and that makes their dynamic much more interesting than just master and apprentice.

Gillen could have fallen into a trap of having Vader chase Luke, or discovering another hidden Jedi. Instead, he moves him into a more unique direction, having him deal with politics and espionage. That sounds like it could have been boring, but he makes it a lot deeper than you’d expect, and still fills it with action. 

Brendan: That’s another great point. There’s so much meat on the bone between the film episodes. So many pieces of the story that could be fleshed out and explained better. It’s cool to see Gillen do exactly that, instead of trying to go off in a completely different direction and pull things out of the air. 

And back to the point about the relationship between Sith master and apprentice, it’s kind of funny to see the parallels between that dynamic and some of the more popular mafia tropes. Sidious is proud of Vader for betraying him. Calls back to that sort of ‘don’t trust a man who wouldn’t steal a little’ mob mentality. Everyone expects the betrayal, and if it isn’t in your character to sell out your homies for the right price, you don’t really belong.

Tony: Oh yeah, definitely Gillen’s Emperor is such a great part of the story. He’s basically toying with Vader the entire story. It’s a slow build that pays off throughout the story, and I think it’s a natural extension of their relationship in Empire and Return of the Jedi. Palpatine rose to power through manipulation and deception. It makes sense that he would have continued it for years after he rose to power.

So what did you think? 

Brendan: I like it. I don’t read a whole lot of Star Wars stuff, and I’m not even sure I’ve seen all the films and shows, especially with all the new stuff that’s available on streaming now, but this is a great story. Very accessible to casual fans, and sounds like there’s also a bunch in there for the hardcore purists to pick up on. 

Tony: Yeah, I agree. It’s probably my favorite Star Wars expanded universe story, and this makes me want to re-read the rest of the series.

What do we have up next?

Brendan: I’ve been wanting to do a Freddie Williams II crossover book for a while. (We may have already done one. Again, I’m old. I forget things.) He-Man/Thundercats is on sale at Comixology at the moment. Let’s hit that one up. 

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