Review: The Sith Lord Quickly Learns His Place in Marvel’s Darth Vader #1
Today marks the arrival of Marvel’s brand new Darth Vader series from writer Charles Soule (Star Wars: Poe Dameron) and penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli (The Amazing Spider-Man) with inks and colors by Cam Smith and David Curiel. To clear up any confusion with 2015’s comic of the same name, this new ongoing series follows the fantastic 25-issue-run by Kieron Gillen, but takes place many years before on the timeline – immediately after Vader’s big “NOOOOO!” in Revenge of the Sith to be exact. Read on for the full review of issue #1. Spoilers ahead…
As I mentioned, the story begins immediately after Palpatine places Vader in that iconic suit we know and love and after his reveal that Vader killed Padmé in his anger. In a scene that plays out like an extended version of the one from ROTS, an enraged Vader accuses Palpatine of failing to do what he promised in saving Padmé. Vader uses the Force to slam the Emperor into the wall and Palpatine responds by sending a barrage of Sith lightning his way and threatening to finish what Obi-Wan could not.
Palpatine makes it clear that although they are “friends”, he will not hesitate to destroy him should he ever attempt to use the Force against him again – quickly putting the budding Sith Lord in his place. The Emperor also throws the blame back onto Vader while pointing out that her death, although tragic, is also a gift – in that it will be a catalyst to fuel his pain and anger and give him strength in the dark side.
Having finished their brief little squabble, Palpatine points out that Vader needs a new lightsaber. He asks Vader if he knew why Sith lightsabers were red, but much like the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, this is another one of those things that he was never able to learn from the Jedi, as their knowledge of the subject was limited.
Palpatine takes Vader to watch as Mas Amedda delivers a rousing speech about the treachery of the Jedi and their Separatist plot, highlighting the newfound freedom through the new Imperial regime. As he speaks, clone troopers toss lightsabers of fallen Jedi into a furnace, and Amedda tosses the final weapon (Yoda’s lightsaber) into the furnace before destroying them in front of the masses as a symbol of the recent extinction of the Jedi.
The emperor explains the process of “bleeding” a kyber crystal to Vader. This process has been mentioned before, most notably in the novel Ahsoka, but here, we are given a little more detail. It is revealed that kyber crystals are living things (hence their Force connection) and can actually respond to pain. As a Sith pours his hatred and rage into the crystal continually, the crystal eventually gives way and allows itself to turn red, the color of the Sith Lord’s rage. The process can be done with any Jedi’s crystal, but Palpatine refuses to just hand a lightsaber over to Vader. He informs him that the saber must be taken from a Jedi by the Sith himself – and thus the hunt begins.
The issue basically ends as Vader begins his quest to hunt down the remaining Jedi, and we are left wondering which one will one day provide the source for the Sith Lord’s crimson blade. I personally can’t wait for this reveal as it would be a cool little piece of background knowledge as we watch the original films in the future.
Although light on plot, the strength of this issue resides in the dialogue between Vader and his master. Nothing really happens of any significance storywise, but the back and forth between the Sith Lords was enough to keep me interested and at the same time disappointed when the issue came to its abrupt end. As with any first issue in a series, it’s impossible to tell what the quality will be moving forward, but this one shows a lot of promise as long as they can deliver on that Vader combat-awesomeness that we expect, as well as continue to build on the dynamic relationship between Vader and Palpatine.
It will be interesting to see how the story develops moving forward. To have true lasting entertainment value, Soule will need to avoid the temptation of just having Vader hack, slash, and choke everyone in sight. As awesome as those scenes are, if that’s all it amounts to, it will grow stale rather quickly. The story moving forward will need to be so much more than Vader being a physical force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.
Thankfully, I feel that the comic is in good hands with Soule, who has proven his ability to tell a good story many times over already with his work on titles like Poe Dameron and Lando. The first issue is certainly promising in this regard as I felt like we were able to really get a sense of Vader’s motivation, as well as the understanding that he is only biding his time with Palpatine. There is no real love for the old Sith Lord in Vader’s heart. He does only what he must to survive, and in this moment, he is looking only to vent his enormous rage on the galaxy.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and there were a couple of panels in this issue that I thought spoke volumes about the fact that underneath the façade, Vader is still Anakin Skywalker underneath. It can be hard to identify with Vader, as he does often appear to be more of a mechanical monstrosity than a real human. But this brief little moment (see above and below) where Camuncoli puts the reader behind the mask and the lenses shift to provide a more human-like clarity and perspective was a very nice touch. After seeing these panels, I instantly felt a connection to Vader and felt sympathetic toward him as a human being. At the same time, I was simultaneously dreading and looking forward to the hell he was about to unleash on whomever next crossed his path.
This also kind of clears up the question as to why Vader’s lenses were red in Rogue One and A New Hope, but different at other times. Apparently, this is a setting that can be adjusted by Vader accordingly. Symbolically, I think the red is representative of the time in his life where he is most disconnected from his humanity. Here, in this issue, he seems to be trying to latch on to whatever humanity he has left, whereas when we see him later down the road, he is truly more machine than man, thus the red lenses. As Luke begins to have an affect on him later in the trilogy, his lenses shift once again as his rage is slowly being replaced by the love he has for his son. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but its the little things like this that keep me coming back issue after issue on these Star Wars series.
While I very much enjoyed the journey we have embarked on so far with Vader’s continued story from Episode III, where the issue really shines is in the artwork. Unlike Salvador Larroca’s work on the previous series (which felt robotic and lifeless to me a lot of the time), Camuncoli’s work is vibrant and exciting with a life of its own. The characters are a little more stylized than I expected, and I appreciate the different tone that his art conveys from the previous Vader comic. The characters look more like comic book versions of themselves rather than a jarring uncanny copy of their depiction in various scenes from the films (which is what I hated most about Larroca’s work on Darth Vader and the current Star Wars series).
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how well that Smith’s and Curiel’s inks and colors work together so beautifully with Camuncoli’s pencils. A lot of that vibrant lively aspect of the artwork can be attributed to the work of these artists just as much as Camuncoli, and this team may be my favorite one yet in a Star Wars comic series. I hope they continue throughout the series so they can keep dishing out that eyeball candy.
I should also note that the issue includes a mini-comic by Chris Eliopoulos that features a mouse droid working for Darth Vader. Little droid-centric mini-comics like this have been tagged on to other Star Wars series in similar fashion, and this one provides the same kind of fun and humor that the others are known for – although this time, the pairing of the lighthearted cartoony illustrations with Darth Vader murdering people makes for an interesting juxtaposition. I could take or leave these little mini-comics as they are not really my cup of tea. But for what it is – it was mildly entertaining.
Darth Vader #1 is available now in your local comic shop or digitally on Comixology. After such a promising start, I strongly recommend you check this one out, especially if you are a fan of Vader and Palpatine. You’ll only be disappointed when it ends. Until next time, happy reading comic fans, and may the Force be with you!
Jordan Pate is Co-Lead Editor and Senior Writer for Star Wars News Net, of which he is also a member of the book and comic review team. He loves all things Star Wars, but when he’s not spending time in the galaxy far far away, he might be found in our own galaxy hanging out in Gotham City or at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, NY.