I’ve recently been reading the Darth Vader comics published by Dark Horse between 2011 and 2014, four arcs written by Haden Blackman and Tim Siedell. Bit of a mixed bag, if I’m honest, and pretty much all of them suffering from just-another-story-syndrome. Back in the day, we used to get Star Wars stories that formed a cohesive narrative, predominantly in the novels of course, but series like Star Wars: Republic and Star Wars: Legacy showed that the comics could do that just as well. Following the release of Revenge of the Sith, however, both Dark Horse and Del Rey seemed to make a conscious effort to move away from providing an actual timeline, and instead opted to “tell a Boba Fett story” or, as is the case here, “a Darth Vader story”. The result tends to be a story that exists in a vacuum and, by the end of it, leaves you wondering just what the point of that was, in the grand scheme of things.
So let’s take a look!
Darth Vader and the Lost Command kicks things off with Vader leading a search for the son of Grand Moff Tarkin (who knew?) into the Ghost Nebula. There, they uncover a conspiracy for the Atoans to secede from the nascent Empire, under the leadership of Admiral Garoche Tarkin. It’s a pretty good story, actually, with some awesome fight scenes and a small cast of compelling characters.
We see an interesting side to Vader here, where he is still stricken by the concluding events of Episode III. It’s a device that we see used first in Empire: Betrayal, which was published as the prequels were still being made, and seemed at the time to be a cheesy way to tie-in, but in retrospect seems entirely appropriate. That Vader’s memories here are being affected by the Atoan Shaman, Saro, is just more interesting, as we see what Vader had hoped his future would be. Very interesting, anyway!
This miniseries was the only Star Wars story I read in 2013, and the first that I read following my moving house that year, so has some fond memories for me in that respect, as well. However, it is still well worth picking up. Unfortunately, Dark Horse only collected it, and the other Vader series, in hardback, which just messes with my shelf-edge presentation too much, so I have kept the original comics individually instead. I’m strange like that…
Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is a more curious beast. Published in 2012, it tells the story of another insurgency against the nascent Empire, led by an instructor in the Imperial Academy on Raithal, a general named Gentis. His motivation is actually very compelling, that he is driven to despair over seeing so many of his sons killed in Palpatine’s name. However, as the story moves along, I found myself asking “so what, you’ll kill the Emperor, set yourself up in his place, and start having other peoples’ children die in your name? Jackass.” But maybe that’s just me.
The story is told from the point of view of one of the Raithal cadets, Laurita Tohm. Disfigured in a terrorist attack on his family’s gas mining station, Laurita emerges as an ambitious lieutenant who I was worried would turn out to be one of these “I’m a good Imperial” types, but actually proved to be quite ruthless as the story got going. Gooooooooooooooooooooooood. The ending was really quite unexpected, but so very, very appropriate that I actually laughed aloud! Does that make me a terrible person? Well, possibly, but it was a good ending.
Something I was very excited about, seeing the cover of issue 4, was the appearance of Grand Moff Trachta. First introduced in the aforementioned Betrayal storyline, he has become one of my favourite Imperials, something that has really been heightened by the fact that, for years, he had only made one appearance in the literature. I’m going to be writing about the Empire storylines when I get to them, but for now, suffice it to say that he’s always struck me as a real Imperial’s Imperial, and I’ve longed to see more of him. However, his appearance in Ghost Prison, while entirely justified, fell much flatter than I’d hoped. In the end, he’s the one who turned out to be the Imperial-with-a-conscience, and the character felt cheapened for it. It felt like Blackman was trying to foreshadow the events of Betrayal by showing his disapproval of Vader and his methods, but I don’t think Trachta is the type to confide his feelings about the Emperor’s Enforcer to a cadet he barely knows. Hm.
Of the two Blackman stories in this series, Ghost Prison definitely feels like “just a Vader story”. The whole point of it seems to show the Dark Lord to be a ruthless leader, but we already knew that. So, hm.
Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin was published in 2013, and has always struck me as a wonderful title for a comic book series. As I’m sure you all know, Star Wars was heavily influenced by Oriental culture, and the title of this arc sounds like a samurai movie or something. To me, it does, anyway.
This story was pretty good, too. I’m always a bit wary of such things – a wealthy industrialist’s son is killed by Vader, so he goes after revenge by hiring assassins to kill Vader, it seems so ridiculous a plotline! But then, we the audience have seen what Vader is like – in-universe (at least, in-Legends-universe), Vader is a shadowy figure sent by the Emperor to make things happen. Outside of the inner circle, very little is supposed to be known about him. As such, these kinds of plotlines are kinda forgivable.
Something I really enjoyed about this story was the headless serpent thing. The Star Wars universe is supposed to be vast, where all manner of strange things take place. Seeing weird cults like this reminds us (reminds me, at least) that it really is full of all manner of stuff. I thought it was done really well, and the focusing-crystal thing that Vader finds on that moon didn’t actually feel cheesy at all (read it – you’ll know what I mean then!)
The conclusion was also really effective, with the Emperor proclaiming his dominion over Vader. Completely in-character, and quite creepy for it. All in all, this was a cracking tale, and ushered Tim Siedell into the expanded universe oh-so-late! Well worth picking up, even if you can only find it in hardcover.
Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows is the fourth in this quartet, and like Ghost Prison before it, is told entirely from the point of view of someone other than Vader. It’s actually an old Clone Trooper who’s doing the talking – an embittered clone who has come to hate the Jedi since they abandoned him to die, and sees in Vader something of a kindred spirit. However, things aren’t as rosy as he first thought in the New Order, and he eventually escapes for a more humble life.
Clone Troopers with minds of their own have become a disconcerting theme in the wake of the Clone Wars cartoon series, one that must surely make the old clonemasters of Kamino pull their metaphorical hair out in the face of such failure. However, this comic shows that in a different light, and it actually becomes pretty compelling as a result! Despite the fairly grim narrator, there are some moments that made me chuckle.
A lot of this one, however, felt a bit like some of the old Empire issues – particularly, To the Last Man. I suppose people want to see the Empire having crushing defeats as well as unbridled victories, but there were a lot of panels that put me back on Maridun with Lt Sunbar. That’s not to say it was a bad thing, of course, it just didn’t feel particularly fresh or anything. Coming towards the end of Dark Horse’s run in 2014, it’s almost tempting to think they shifted resource away from the Star Wars line to bulk out their other titles and ensure a continued readership into 2015, and certainly these issues are quite full of full-page adverts for their other titles. Maybe I’m just being cynical, however.
At any rate, the main point of this story seems to be that, once again, Vader is a ruthless leader. In fact, there were a couple of points where Vader felt like an incompetent leader – while these stories are all set in the early days of the suit, Anakin was never supposed to be that bad in the Clone Wars. As someone who always led from the front, it surprised me that he would stay back here. Anyway. For me, this was a disappointing finish to the series, but the strength of Lost Command and Ninth Assassin tends to overshadow anything overly negative.
So there you have it! A bit of a mixed bag, and all of them unfortunately fall into the “just another Vader story” category. With Marvel’s ongoing Vader series starting imminently, I’m intrigued as to what they’re going to do about these things. The Marvel series is to be set between IV and V, of course, whereas all of these stories take place immediately after III, but given that Kieron Gillen basically has only the slightly nuanced movie villain to work with, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the character this time around.
There are nevertheless some really good books to be found in this series – don’t let the Legends banner put you off!