Set in the same timeline as Marvel’s main ongoing Star Wars comic, between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, the Darth Vader series focuses on the galaxy’s most infamous Dark Lord of the Sith. Displeased with Vader’s failure, both in the destruction of the Death Star and his failure to defend an Imperial weapons factory from a Rebel attack (see Star Wars #1), he is cast out of the Emperor’s plans and effectively demoted from being the Imperial second in command.
Now forced to take orders from more senior Imperial officers, Vader begins to conduct his own investigation into the Emperor’s plans, and also into finding out the identity of the Rebel pilot behind the destruction of the Death Star. This is an opportunity to bring in some familiar faces which has been used well, and avoiding spoilers, Kieron Gillen (Phonogram, Young Avengers) has taken the opportunity to give some side characters a second lease of life.
Marvel have set themselves a difficult task with this title; being a headline grabbing character Vader will draw initial readers, but having detailed stories of him running around poses the risk of diminishing the character. The prequels (love them or more likely hate them) did not deal with the character of Darth Vader, they were about the fall of Anakin Skywalker. Telling stories about a force wielding, lightsaber swinging Dark Lord of the Sith without further weakening the character is a difficult balance to strike which these early issues do not yet seem to have found.
While Gillen has sensibly placed Vader’s activities and story arc outside of the main business of the Empire, he is still dealing with a character who has a limited range. As great and iconic as Vader is as an onscreen villain, there is only so much stomping around while spouting grave variations of “Don’t fail me” that can be read before attention begins to waver.
As the series progresses Vader’s investigations lead him to enlist the help of a droid archaeologist Doctor Aphra who is a much needed lighter note to Vader’s one tone dialogue, and Salvador Larroca’s illustrations with Adi Granov’s cover art have created what is sure to be a fan favourite character. Having a quick mouth and a penchant for reconditioning battle droids she resurrects a pair of droids who remind strongly of C-3PO and R2-D2-esque who had been decommissioned for being… psychotic.
These characters bring a welcome break to the tone and boost its potential, however when a supporting character is more interesting than the headline act the story is going to have to work hard to keep the audience. Of the recent Marvel Star Wars run this is by far the weakest and feels more like a concept born of merchandising than a story that needed telling.
Star Wars: Darth Vader issue 4 is scheduled for release on 8th April 2015
Star Wars: Darth Vader issue 5 is scheduled for release on 13th May 2015