My pattern for comic reviews around here lately has been to write up reviews when I have five to knock out, but something came up that made me think I should do a quick read-through of three Star Wars-related trades from Marvel Comics I had in my unread trade stack.
Why not start with the character who has been surprisingly effective as a lead for a series, the scariest villain in the galaxy Darth Vader? He has yet another new series, and the first volume has the subtitle Dark Heart of the Sith.
From the looks of things, the current batch of series are set just after the events of Empire Strikes Back, and that holds true for the new Darth Vader series. Vader has just made an offer to Luke Skywalker after a lightsaber duel did not go his son’s way, and Luke learns a horrifying truth about his parentage, ultimately rejecting Vader’s outstretched hand. From here, writer Greg Pak opts to have Vader reflect on why his son would reject him. In Vader’s mind, that’s a sign of weakness, and he wants to know who is responsible for making his son so weak.
I am not sure Vader really learns much of anything. Traveling with a talkative forensics droid and three Deathtroopers, Vader’s path takes him to find out where his son was and how the boy came to be. Vader already knows Obi-Wan was involved, so what more does he need to know? As it is, Vader’s quest takes him on a path to consider the most unexpected of legacies: his late wife Padme’s. She had a lot of friends and supporters who don’t quite know how she or (as far as they know) Anikin Skywalker died. And they all blame Vader for the death of both of them.
Now, Vader shouldn’t make a good protagonist. Villain stories are tough enough as it is in mainstream comics. Factor in the usual problems of a licensed book working around established canon like various incredibly well-known movies, and you have a situation where, quite frankly, the book just should not work.
And yet, more often than not, Marvel’s various Darth Vader books have been rather fun. It probably helps that the writers put on these series include the likes of Kieron Gillen and Charles Soule. I am not sure I would rank Pak with them. The man has done some great work with the Hulk, but this series wasn’t quite on par with the previous two. It doesn’t help that the droid accompanying Vader won’t shut up and is a bit obnoxious. Vader is a largely silent figure, of course, and someone has to explain the plot to the readers, but I could have done a bit without the droid, or at least had him stay a lot quieter. It was a wonder Vader didn’t shut the thing up half the time. Like Gillen, Pak is also using a lot of various minor movie characters, this time from the prequels, to show what effect Padme and Anikin had on various people. Vader has to contend with his feelings for his wife, knowing full well he is responsible for her death.
It works out well, but as I said, it isn’t quite on the same level as the previous two series. I will admit that artist Raffaele Ienco manages to draw Vader’s helmet at various angles to suggest how he might be feeling, a nice touch given Vader doesn’t show his face. That said, I am not sure Vader was ever able to answer the question he set out to learn, namely who made Luke “weak”.
But it was a decent enough start, and Marvel’s luck with Vader-led series continues. 8.5 out of 10 bigger fish.