In Review: Darth Vader #1

A solid start to the Sith Lord's second series. Recommended reading for all Star Wars fans.

The covers: It’s a new Star Wars series, so that means lots of variant covers — fourteen for this first issue! The Regular cover is by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson. It’s a dark rose colored cover that features a bust shot of Vader, bent over, holding his lightsaber. It’s nice, but the image is too far away from the reader — look at all the empty space under the Darth. I understand having to have Vader with his saber on the cover, but all of the saber doesn’t have to be shown; it seems that was the choice made with this cover. There’s also a Textless Variant of this cover, but there’s even more empty space at the top. The Francesco Mattina Variant is a much better cover because the Sith Lord is centered on the cover, so the empty space above his head looks at least balanced, and we all know there must be balance to the Force. Vader is standing on a cliff of a volcanic world, possibly Mustafar. He looks down as his cape billows behind him. Nicely done, Mr. Mattina. The Adi Granov Variant is also a good cover. The point of view has the reader looking up at Vader, his lightsaber activated and held in both of his hands. Behind him are the chaotic combination of yellow and orange, but the Sith is safe within a cave. Again, a good cover. There’s also a Textless Variant of this cover. There are two Action Figure Variant covers from John Tyler Christopher. The first (A) features Anakin as Vader as seen on Mustafar after he’s killed all the followers in the control room. The large image of Hayden Christensen is fantastic and the action figure looks cool with the hood up. Simply incredible. The second Action Figure Variant (B) is also by Christoper, but focuses on Anakin Skywalker. This is an image of the young Jedi before he succumbed to Palpatine. Again, the large image of Christensen is awesome and the figure is great, especially for the work done on the hair. I have to get both of these at some point! Scottie Young is responsible for the Baby Variant, but I wouldn’t think of his characters looking like babies on any of his variants. Though I’m often not a fan of his covers, this one is funny. A tiny Vader asks the emperor if red is his color, to which the bug-eyed Palpatine has a funny response. The characters look great and the setting is also excellent. There’s a Blank Variant cover that features only the title at the top and the company and number at the bottom center. This is the perfect book to take to one’s favorite artist to draw a unique cover or to get signed by all the contributors. Once filled, this will look awesome, but on its own, it’s not much. The Era Variant cover is by Phil Noto and it’s an odd choice for a cover. This is a close up of Anakin from Revenge of the Sith as the helmet is attached to his face. He’s got a snarl of pain on his face as it’s lowered down. This just looks really empty to me. As with the Regular cover, maybe if the image was closer to the character it would have a greater impact on the reader. The Homage Variant cover is by Mark Brooks, which is a fantastic take on the cover to The Uncanny X-Men #145. Looking like a dog eared copy of that book, Darth Vader is holding the unconscious body of Padme, while on the ground are the bodies of several of his own personal troops. Outstanding cover for art and colors, as well as having the masthead of the 80s along with the tiny heads of several troopers under the price. A Must-Own cover if ever there was one. The Movie Variant cover is credited to Lucasfilm and features a bust shot of Vader, against a red, smoky background, holding his lightsaber in both hands. I’m really getting bored by red covers with Vader holding his red lightsaber. This is okay, but, again, too much empty space on the left. The Legends Variant cover is by Rod Reis. This has a close-up of Vader before his castle in the distance, on a dimly lit Mustafar, holding his lightsaber. Before him is a holographic projection of the Emperor sitting in his chair. An awkward composition of Vader with hologram on a cool (?!?!) Mustafar. The Fried Pie Variant is finally something different. This has a haughty looking Vader, front and center, holding his saber down, while behind him is an ocean of the Emperor’s Guard. I like that all of Vader can be seen and the Emperor’s Guards are behind him. An excellent job from David Lopez. Overall grades: Regular B-, Textless Regular C+, Mattina Variant B+, Granov Variant A, Textless Granov A, Action Figure Variant (A) A+, Action Figure Variant (B) A+, Baby Variant A, Blank Variant C, Era Variant C+, Homage Variant A, Movie Variant C-, Legends Variant C+, Fried Pie Variant A

The story: After a three page intro and a one page summary of all that’s happened to Anakin, now Vader, the story actually begins with Vader, now suited in black, releasing his wrath at being told Padme is dead: he makes a fist, he causes a surgery droid to implode, the Emperor laughs, and he sees Padme strangled by the Force. The Emperor is thrown back by his student’s fury. Vader wants to know why his wife was not saved. Palpatine says, “Padme…is dead, my friend. Even the power of the Dark Side cannot bring her back. But in her death, she has given you a gift. Pain. Now…you must choose. Will you accept that gift? Will you use it…or will you die?” Any person vaguely familiar with the franchise knows what the choice will be, however no one could predict what the Emperor does next. The answer sets this arc in action. Writer Charles Soule has the Emperor give the origin of red lightsabers, which is pretty cool, and this information is contrasted with a broadcast of Mas Amedda’s speech to the masses about the Jedi. This contrast was the best part of the issue. The final nine pages of the issue have master and pupil heading to the Mid Rim for Vader to obtain something. The “Mid Rim” is a terrible name. Granted, the Outer Rim has been around forever, but are readers going to go to the Inner Rim at some point? Unlikely. Outside of the poor name for a setting, what Vader does on this new world is amazing. The final ten pages are the story “No Good Deed…” by Chris Eliopoulos. This focuses on Darth Vader and his faithful mouse droid that completes jobs he feels are beneath him. This is funny and completely in line with keeping the Sith a threat. This is the not the first time Eliopoulos has done a back up story in a Star Wars book. Can he get his own one-shot, please, Marvel? I enjoyed both stories, but the second story was better. Overall grade: A-

The art: The first story is pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli and inked by Cam Smith. This is not the photorealistic art that Salvador Larroca brought to Marvel’s first Vader series, but it is still good. The double-paged spread of 2 and 3 that shows Vader’s fall to one knee as he releases a violent explosion of the Force looks great; Vader looks cool and seeing the Emperor thrown back is a surprising visual. In fact, the Emperor is a real stand out visual throughout this story, looking horrific, insane, and monstrous. Page 4 shows him in three different panel emoting amazingly. The speech that Mas Amedda makes is fantastic every time it’s visited, with several panels being shown on a screen, so the image is slightly distorted. Page 10 is brilliant — the strongest moment in this character’s history. Pages 14 and 15 have no dialogue, as Vader, suited up, is on his first mission on his own. Just seeing how Vader uses the technology of his suit is worth the cover price of this book. A somewhat familiar looking ship is shown on 16 that looks incredibly slick, and only loses focus with the action in the panel beneath its introduction. 17 – 19 has Vader fighting at his peak, giving a preview of his speed and savagery that’s only been seen in Rogue One. The final page is an outstanding full-paged splash showing Vader brilliantly. If this is what the art’s going to look like for this series, I can’t think of an fan that would complain. Not only is Chris Eliopoulos the writer of “No Good Deed…”, he’s also the artist, and he’s terrific. He makes Vader look frightening, and the mouse droid has a terrific personality, and the tiny bot doesn’t even have a face like Darth does. The Imperial officers have got sensational reactions for what’s occurring to them, but it is the mouse droid that steals the story. If I had purchased a blank cover to this book, I would want Eliopoulos to create the mouse droid. I repeat, “Can he get his own one-shot, please, Marvel?” Overall grade: A

The colors: David Curiel does an outstanding job with the colors on the first story. The room where Vader first dons his armor is an incredibly dark setting, but Curiel is amazing in keeping it dark, but using great highlights to make things stand out. Pages 2 and 3 shows his ample skill, with the reflections on the characters outstanding and the explosion behind the Emperor awesome. The blues on 5 and 6 are terrific, similar to the same colors from the films, but different enough to tell the reader that this is a different type of attack. The reds at the top of 7 are perfect, and take note that Curiel colored the sound in the second panel the same color. Nice touch. The whitening of the computer screens is a great cue for the reader to realize that what he or she is looking at is a broadcast. Colors are key to Pages 14 and 15, and I’m hoping that the story allows Curiel to do more of this is future issues. The final ten pages are colored by Jordie Bellaire. Set entirely on a Star Destroyer, Bellaire keeps things in the familiar blacks and grays, but every aspect of Eliopoulos’s art can still be seen. Vader’s eyes have a smoldering red that makes him seem rightfully inhuman. Certain sounds also have some unique colors, giving some of the noises a louder feel than others in the same panel. If Eliopoulos gets his own one-shot, Bellaire needs to accompany him. Overall grade: A

The letters: Dialogue, grunts, sounds, yells, a broadcasted speech, and scene settings are created by VC’s Joe Caramagna. I’m glad that Caramagna got to insert several sounds into this issue; this issue seems as if it has more sounds than any other Star Wars book I’ve read in over a year. They are particularly outstanding on Pages 18 and 19. The font for dialogue is something I’ve taken issue with since the first Star Wars comic and I stand by it. The font looks weak when uttered by Vader or the Emperor. And considering Vader is speaking through an augmentation in his armor, his speech should look different. Chris Eliopoulos is a triple threat in this book, writing, illustrating, and lettering his tale. He’s been a letterer on Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon for a long time and he brings his excellence on that book to this outing. I feel in love with the mouse droid’s visuals and I also love its sounds. The look of the droid’s sounds contribute heavily to its personality. Overall grade: A 

The final line: A solid start to the Sith Lord’s second series. Answers what Vader did after he first assumed the armor, and it wasn’t pretty. Recommended reading for all Star Wars fans. And can Chris Eliopoulos get his own Star Wars one-shot already? Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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