You would not
have me otherwise.
Darth Vader is a 25-issue Star Wars comic series from Marvel, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Salvador Larroca. This graphic novel incorporates issues one through six. The critically popular series is mostly standalone, although it does use elements from Marvel's main Star Wars comic series, and did have a crossover with it for the Star Wars: Vader Down story arc.
Writer Gillen adroitly captures the feel of the characters, particularly with dialog. You can easily imagine Ian McDiarmid's voice speaking the Emperor's lines and James Earl Jones voicing Vader's. The dialog has a classic trilogy feel but never feels trite or awkward.
Larroca's art is richly detailed: Vader looms menacingly or leaps into the fray; the Emperor lurks and sneers; Droids and stormtroopers battle; spaceships fly through the void. It all looks and feels authentic and is seamlessly Star Wars.
It's good fun. This volume spends a fair amount of time on setup. When I first read it I thought that some of it was, in the words of the Dark Lord himself, "all too easy". Riffs on familiar themes, if you will. But there's more than meets the eye, and it will all pay off spectacularly down the road. If you're a fan, and most especially if you're the sort of fan for whom The Empire Strikes Back is really the ne plus ultra of the series, then I can recommend it fully.
Mild spoilers follow
Set 19 years after Anakin Skywalker's fall on Mustafar, Darth Vader tells the story of the titular character following the destruction of the Empire's "ultimate peacekeeping force," the Death Star. As the story begins, Vader has an encounter in Jabba's Palace, echoing the future visit that Luke Skywalker will make in Return of the Jedi. We then flash back to Vader's audience with Emperor Palpatine, who is none to happy with the Death Star debacle's* sole survivor:
Oh, truly you are the chosen one, Vader.
Chosen to be the one responsible.
Vader's punishment includes being seconded to General Tagge, who he memorably force chokes in the Death Star conference room in A New Hope. We're told that Tagge left the Emperor's big bouncy balloon just before the rebels popped it. Tagge, it turns out, is a bit of a data nerd. Vader is unimpressed:
Tarkin had vision.
You have graphs.
Tagge gives Vader a mission, which he executes, but which also puts Vader on the trail of someone who is reactivating old Clone Wars droids. This leads us to meet three new characters who will be important through the rest of the series:
Doctor Aphra: A young adult human female, a confessed Vader fangirl with a bent for technology and flexible morals. She quickly and willingly falls in with Vader. Despite the constant danger from both her new boss and their missions, she's thrilled: "This is the greatest job of my life." she says. She's also one of the few humans in a book filled with armor and droids, allowing the artist to add a bit of cheesecake to the proceedings.
Triple Zero: He's basically the mirror universe C-3PO, twisted and evil.
BeeTee: BT-1, the mirror universe R2-D2. You can't have one without the other!
On first reading I thought we had three fairly trite characters: A Mary Sue and the obvious evil twins of our favorite droids. But as the series goes on, all three will get moments to shine and stretch beyond the obvious. And they all have great lines**, which it pains me not to share here. But you should enjoy them in context.
The last part of the book sets up a second thread of the full story, which I won't spoil. Suffice it to say that Palpatine's disappointment with Vader goes back to Anakin's fall, and plans were laid that Vader is only now beginning to uncover.
The book acknowledges the prequel trilogy through occasional flashbacks, but never in a way that reminds us of the flaws, or turns Vader into anything other than the brutal force that he is. It simply references the backstory to remind us of all Vader has lost, and all that he hopes to regain.
But it's the little moments that make the book shine for me. I'll share one more nugget, almost a throw-away, spoken by Vader in a flashback to A New Hope. Summon James Earl Jones' voice in your mind and listen as Vader describes Obi-Wan Kenobi thusly:
An old man who thought he could help gifted children.
He was mistaken.
That's the Dark Lord we know.
Followed by: Darth Vader: Shadows and Secrets. Also collected in Darth Vader: Volume 1 (a hardcover featuring both books).
All inset quotes, including the simulated opening crawl, were taken from the reviewed work.
* Go and read Webby's second definition of debacle. I'll wait...you have to admit, that really nails it.
** Okay, BeeTee mostly beeps. But he is a droid of action, not words.