Darth Vader in A New Hope was a perfect as a villain that you could have. With no origin story developed yet, he was an absolute evil being. He has no issue with blowing up a planet. He kills a man who we identify, along with Luke, as a father figure. And, most terrifying, he survives. We have no idea when Empire starts that the movies are not about Luke at all. They are about Lord Vader and his story. He isn’t an absolute evil character, but a terribly flawed individual who bears the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders. It was a brilliant storytelling conceit, even though the stories themselves in the prequels were fumbled. Even The Force Awakens has the shadow of his presence. As a character, Vader has few peers.
It had to be intimidating for comic writer Kieron Gillen to pick a story about Vader. The Darth Vader comics, which started in February 2015 and end in the next month, takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. Vader is a weird place. He is assigned the blame for the Death Star blowing up. Being a sith, he doesn’t have many peers but now he doesn’t even have a master finding disfavor with his master. Vader in this storyline is making sure that he alone is the Emperor’s only right hand. He enlists Aprha an archeologist of weapons and weaponized droid. She reactivates Triple-Zero and BT-1. These droids are the negative image of C3PO and R2-D2. Triple-Zero is a protocol droid who relishes torturing others and BT-1 is R2 if he was a serial killer.
Gillen’s Vader is man who has his back up against the wall making him a most dangerous man. Vader is desperate but calculating. He knows his enemies and trusts no one. However, there is still some of Anakin there. Well, dark side Anakin as when he takes out a colony of Tuscan Raiders. He also is harboring a secret. Darth Vader is meant to be read at the same time as Star Wars (I would go with Comic Book Herald’s reading order for all the Star Wars titles if you have access to them…this story does stand on its own as well). In one episode that takes place in Star Wars, he comes across Luke Skywalker and has a hunch that the two are really close. He doesn’t tell the Emperor. So not only is he in disfavor he is harboring a secret from the one person who happens to be afraid of. To make matters worse, this set, which is placed in one collection, ends with Vader landing on a hostile planet…alone.
Gillen’s Vader is a terrifying character but one whose motivations we understand. He is a solitary figure who is being cut off from the one person who has any kind of connection with. He is dangerous. The supporting cast is fantastic as well. Triple-Zero is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in all of Star Wars. He is C3PO if he was programmed by Patrick Bateman. Aprha is a person searching for a father figure, and even though she knows that Vader can never truly fill that role, she wants to please him. Of course, it’s partially out of fear, but it is also because she wants to make him proud of her. The highlights of issues 1-12 are when we see what Vader is thinking. Gillen scripts flashbacks at perfect parts of the story.
This is where artist Salvador Larroca comes in and pushes Darth Vader to one of the best comics I have read so far. There are moments when the panel focuses on Vader’s face. I swear you can see Vader’s mask emote. I’m not sure how he does it, but I’m not the only one who has thought so. Ms. Nola Nerd Couple and I had conversations about it and it ended up in the letters section of the comic as well. Drawing Darth Vader is no easy task considering that a large section of the cast is droids or Vader. Yet, Lorroca does it beautifully.