WHO IS DARTH VADER? He has been many things: a SITH warrior, a commander, a destroyer. DARTH VADER is to many throughout the GALACTIC EMPIRE a symbol of fear and mysterious, otherworldly power. But there are some who have seen the DARK LORD in a different light. There are some corners of the galaxy so dark and desperate that even Vader can be a knight in shining armour. The first issue of a new STAR WARS limited series, writer Dennis Hopeless (CLOAK AND DAGGER, JEAN GREY) sheds new light on the many sides of the galaxy’s greatest villain.
A tranquil planet; its natives go about their routines, but this must be done before the Ender wakes. Then they must return to the underground dwellings when the beast awakens. Using flying droids to stand upon to harvest fruits to eat.
Above the atmosphere of the planet a war rages. Imperial and Rebellion fleets clash, the brilliance of explosions appearing to those below. Darth Vader is in the midst of the battle, but his craft is damaged and he loses control. His TIE fighter in free fall is heading for the planet surface.
Locals flee as the fireball has landed next to the Ender and is starting to wake. One boy stands there watching on in awe, too curious to flee for his own safety. The hatch careens away from the fallen craft and Vader appears from the wreckage. He is immediately faced by the Ender and the monster attacks.
Vader seems to be losing the battle, his unconscious form in the monsters grasp, the boy calls out to Vader, and the dark lord summons his lightsaber back to his free hand and slices at the fingers that hold him. The Ender releases Vader and he falls from a great height and disappears.
The Ender turns his attention to the boy, it catches up to him and corners him ready to strike. He begs for the Ender’s forgiveness as it looms over him. Vader appears on the back of a horse like creature, lightsaber raised and hurls himself with the Force to attack the monster once more. Vader deals a fatal blow and the Ender collapses and dies.
Vader is stood by the boy who thanks him, but Vader doesn’t want his thanks. An Imperial Star Destroyer manoeuvres into the atmosphere above and relieves Vader and his fighter with a tractor beam. The boy sits there in wonderment at what he has witnessed.
He returns to his camp and his people who are rejoicing in the death of the Ender. The planet has been freed from the great predator. They look on as he walks through the camp and they are begging him to tell the story of what he witnessed.
He takes centre stage, burning stick in hand like his very own lightsaber, he starts to regale them with the story of the battle.
I’m not going to lie, when I saw the initial solicitations for the start of this series I was filled with doubt; Vader on a ‘space horse’ with a ‘Captain America’ style Imperial logo shield just doesn’t work for me. As a piece of concept art, possibly, but as a story point, no. What I found even more bizarre was the timing of its release. Announced just as Charles Soule’s magnificent series was coming to an end, to reveal another Vader based series so close behind, I feared was a major mistake.
In reality, I found this issue to be a complete and utter surprise! They say, “never judge a book by its cover” and this statement couldn’t be truer.
Ok, I’ve mentioned the direct edition cover already, so we’ll move on quickly to the Lucasfilm movie cover. Another no from me, so we’re not doing too well from that aspect, are we? Then we have the other variants and for me, there are two nice choices. First, we have a cover by Romulo Fajardo Jr. and Leinil Francis Yu that shows Vader standing in front of the slain Ender with his lightsaber raised and the population approaching him in a revered way. The next variant from Elia Bonetti and Giuseppe Camuncoli shows Vader facing off with the Ender ahead of their epic battle, which for me should have been the choice for the direct edition cover. Bonetti and Camuncoli collaborated many times for the covers of the Charles Soule run and I always felt like they got what Vader was about.
There are a couple of things that I found about this issue that were fresh. Firstly, that the title or contents page is part the way into the story, meaning we are straight into the action from page one. This serves a purpose to the storyline and puts a timely break in the proceedings for the reader. Secondly, it looks Dennis ‘Hopeless’ Hallum is bringing us a 5-issue series of one-shots of fables and legends about Vader from an external perspective.
These two changes, although small, do make this issue fit in with a recent publication and the scene at the end of Episode VIII. Ken Liu’s brilliant book ‘The Legends of Luke Skywalker’ tells us stories about Luke post battle of Endor in his exploits to find out more about the Force as told by people who have met him. We also see a similar recital in the stable blocks of Canto Bight in the closing moments of The Last Jedi. While the basis of these stories will no doubt be canon, as they are told from another’s perspective the stories can then take a potentially larger than life path allowing Hallum a huge amount of creative freedom.
With this freedom, Hallum does give us a story of that type and shows Vader as the hero! Now to most of us, he is seen as the face of evil, the black armour and his ruthless temper, but for some galactic residents, could he be seen as a hero by them? He no doubt will be perceived as a hero on some worlds ‘saved’ by the might of the Empire that eventually fall under their rule. This is one of those stories and Vader removes a major predator from a planet to give them their freedom, so to speak. With these actions it also left me with a feeling that the hero of the Republic that Vader once was still exists in some way and his actions in this issue are reminiscent of his former self, Anakin Skywalker during The Clone Wars.
The artwork is of a high standard and Paolo Villanelli is an artist who I do have a lot of respect for and I like what I have seen so far. Along with Arif Prianto on colours for this issue, with their forces combined they make some of the art ‘pop’.
One-shots, along with annuals, have always been a bane of my comic reading experience, but with the ‘Age of Republic’ series and the upcoming ‘Age of Rebellion’ are we going to see more releases like this? From what we have seen so far for the upcoming ‘Galaxy’s Edge’ series will also be following a similar format, which I think is a strange turn in direction for Marvel. Maybe this is the format change that they are looking at to perk up content and ultimately sales? Only time will tell.
So, from what I felt was going to be a sticky start, it has turned into very a pleasant surprise. Here’s to issue 2!
This issue was released on 6th March 2019 and is available via the Marvel App and all good comic book stores. This issue retails at $4.99.