In Review: Darth Vader #4

Never has being so bad been so good. A must read for all Star Wars fans.

The covers: A disappointing pair to choose from in this installment of Star Wars’ most famous character. The Regular cover is by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Francesco Mattina. It shows Vader how he was left last issue after being sent flying from Mt. Pasvaal by Jedi Master Kirak Infil’a: broken. He reaches out to the reader. Is he begging or using his Force abilities to bring hell down upon his opponent? Only by reading this issue will one find the answer. This is good idea for a cover, but it’s too dark. The right third of the image obliterates the art. Also, Vader should be missing the lower part of his left leg, as it was cut off last issue. Again, a good idea, but not a perfectly realized cover. The Variant sadly suffers from the same issue: too dark. Created by Rafael Pinto Albuquerque, Vader stands in a smoking circle against a black setting. The right of the image is blue, from the light that emanates from below him, while the left is red from his lit saber. Terrific idea, but not enough of the character is seen. Moody, to be sure, but if this were in a film, I would think the makers were getting cheap with the budget. Overall grades: Both C-

The story: Darth Vader lies at the bottom of the cliff he was thrown from last issue. His left leg below the knee is gone. He stirs, moving his left hand, only to spy, through his cracked eye lenses, that it, too, has suffered damage. As he moves, Arex, whom Vader thought he had dispatched, lies next to him. “You are <KZZK> defeated,” the droid says. Its broken voice chides the Sith for not being able to beat Jedi Infil’a. Straining his hand, Vader uses the Force to raise the broken ‘bot and hurl it into a tree where it shatters and is silenced. With the diatribe done, Vader uses the Force to move his broken body back to its former self. Meanwhile, Infil’a returns to Am’balaar City, the first time in years, to retrieve something important. Writer Charles Soule teases some nice backstory to the Jedi Master’s life on the planet. I would love to see a series that focused on Infil’a’s past, but the action remains in the present and Vader wants a rematch. During the battle, Soule makes it explicitly clear why Vader is so successful, even on such an early task in his armored history, with something reinforced to the reader: Vader is a monster. Having seen every appearance of the infamous character on the large and small screen and read practically every comic story featuring him, I love when he appears in a Star Wars story. And that love got a serious reality check this issue. Vader is not to be loved, nor to be idolized. He’s not “bad ass,” a phrase I and several fans have often used to describe him. In this issue he’s revealed to an absolute abomination that continues to live, when he should not. He is to be feared, hated, and despised. Soule reminds the reader of this in the final five pages in a pivotal moment that will define the character and justify all his actions that follow. I did give a silent cheer of joy at the end of this issue, but felt awful at what had happened. Soule schools readers on what they should never forget. Overall grade: A+

The art: Giuseppe Camuncoli does the pencils and Cam Smith inks on this beautifully created nightmare. The first page is a full paged splash showing a beaten and broken Vader atop a mound of rocks. He looks like a fallen angel in a wounded forest. In the foreground of the image is Arex, whom the reader believes destroyed last month. In series of twelve equal sized rectangular panels on Pages 2 and 3, Vader shows he’s down but not out. With the simple gesture of a hand, the Sith shows life and power. His ability to pulverize Arex is startling, which leads excellently to his rebuilding of his suit through the Force. Even more impressive is that three of these panels cross the gutter of the two pages, but Camuncoli and Smith have set up their illustrations so well that the key elements of the panels are not lost in this “no man’s land” of comic illustration. Seen too briefly is Am’balaar City, which is beautiful. It captures the Star Wars style perfectly: futuristic, yet flavored with fantasy shapes, such as the city’s domes and its gorgeous waterways. Page 9 shows the Jedi Master frightened: there is no view of the Sith on the page, but the way Infil’a has been drawn in the third panel communicates to the reader that the nightmare has returned. The first panel on 10 shows the distance between the two opponents, with both artists zooming in on the antagonist who is hell unleashed. The final panel on 11 shows the power of one of the combatants and it is staggering. It leads to a full-paged splash on 12 with the pair battling again, and the Jedi has a clear physical advantage. When things begin to turn against him, the Jedi’s anguish is strong (the bottom of 13) and continues to worsen as the story progresses. Every panel in the final five pages shows the the strength and the agony of the fighters The moment that’s been teased since last issue occurs on 17 and it’s just as one would want it to be. However, it’s the actions on 19 that will remain in a reader’s mind long after this has been read. It’s beautiful and terrible. Overall grade: A+

The colors: The story and art are incredibly strong, but colorist David Curiel really sends this story into the stratosphere. Look how Vader is highlighted on the first page by having a light colored mountain behind him to put the reader’s focus squarely on him. The coloring of sounds really make the actions strong, such as when Vader rises and when he battles Infil’a. The blues that first appear on Page 4 are beautiful, which deliciously lull the reader into thinking that they will always tranquil. The knowledge that Vader is close by has the Jedi’s visage going a stress inducing burnt orange. This color is reused when Vader gets his close-up on 10. When Vader’s actions go horrific, the backgrounds turn red, intensifying the action. Curiel does an outstanding job on this issue. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Scene settings, groans, droid speech, sounds, dialogue, yells, and screams are created by VC’s Joe Caramagna. Vader’s speech should be different from the other humans, given that it’s augmented by his suit, but it is not. Also disheartening are the scene settings which look blurry because of their design. However, in this issue Caramagna is allowed to insert several sound effects and he does so masterfully, pumping up the conflict. There are also several grunts, moans, and yells that cement the pain of those who utter them. It’s not a perfect job, but it’s a good one. Overall grade: A 

The final line: What began as a quest for a lightsaber has become a defining moment when a monster solidified his path. A sensational, surprising story with visuals to die for, and characters certainly do. Never has being so bad been so good. A must read for all Star Wars fans. 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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