A Darth Vader, Vol. 1: Imperial Machine Review – Year One, Day One

TITLE: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine
AUTHOR: 
Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Giuseppe Camuncoli. Cover by Jim Cheung and Matthew Wilson.
COLLECTS: Darth Vader #16
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: 
November 22, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Can we talk about the lightsaber for a minute? Because to be honest, I’m getting sick of them. Specifically, their overblown importance.

I’ve talked previously about how I subscribe to what I’ll call the Red Letter Media theory on lightsaber use. Generally, the less we see of them, the more impactful it is when someone finally ignites one. This becomes apparent when watching the prequel trilogy. But in recent years, lightsabers have been getting a strange in-universe reverence. Not just as cool or dangerous weapons, but artifacts with an increasing amount of personal and spiritual symbolism. They’re almost characters unto themselves. I understand this from a marketing standpoint, as a lightsaber is a fanboy’s wet dream. But to me it makes little sense from an in-story perspective.

Mind you, there is a certain precedent for it. Lightsabers act as an instantly recognizable symbol for the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber, which later plays a prominent role in The Force Awakens. Luke builds his own lightsaber, which we see in Return of the Jedi. General Grievous collected lightsabers like trophies from fallen Jedi. So let’s not go so far as to say they have no significance at all.

But while I appreciated the use of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens as a link to the past, and a sort of symbol of for the Skywalker family, the notion that the weapon itself “calls to” Rey was a little much for me. What the weapon symbolizes is one thing. Giving it special powers is another.

Rarely will you find a better example of this strange lightsaber reverence than in Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith, Vol. 1 – Imperial Machine. Immediately after the events of Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine sends Vader on a mission to obtain a new lightsaber for himself. “I have very high hopes for what we might achieve together,” the Emperor says. “But first…you will need your lightsaber.” Vader must take a lightsaber from a surviving Jedi and use the dark side to corrupt the kyber crystal inside. Make it “bleed.” Obtaining this new weapon won’t be easy. But it is the first trial the former Anakin Skywalker must now face as a dark lord of the Sith.

So because the kyber crystals are “alive” in their own way, Sith lords use their anger to make them “bleed,” thus the red lightsaber. The idea itself is actually pretty neat. But did it merit an entire story based around it? Did Darth Vader’s lightsaber really need an origin story?  I don’t think so.

This strikes me as the kind of thing they could have explained in a scene before Vader goes off on his first big mission. Or maybe a one-shot where Palpatine gives Vader a kyber crystal, and shows him how to corrupt it. At first Vader has trouble, but he conjures up images of Obi-Wan and Padme and gets the job done. It didn’t need to be the motivation for an entire story arc.

More interesting than Vader’s quest to steal a lightsaber is the surviving Jedi he’s tasked with taking it from. Kirak Infil’a has taken the “Barash Vow.” Under said vow, the individual in question must cut themselves off from Jedi affairs, living only for the Force. It sounds suspiciously like what Luke is doing when Rey finds him on Ahch-To. Kirak also has his hair pulled back in two braids, just as Rey’s is in the Last Jedi footage we’ve seen. Coincidence? Probably. But you never know…

It’s almost always interesting to see Vader’s agony at the loss of Padme, the state of his body, and all that’s come as a result of his actions. It’s a glimpse into the hellish reality his existence has become. We see surprisingly little of that in Imperial Machine, given how soon this is after Revenge of the Sith. It is touched on effectively, however, in issue #5. As Vader is trying to bend the crystal to his will, a scenario plays out in his mind in which he turns on Palpatine and re-unites with Obi-Wan. He’s fantasizing about making things right, and perhaps atoning for his actions. In theory, that’s a path he can take. But of course, he doesn’t. Not yet, at least.

I spent a good amount of time ragging on Salvador Larroca for some of the work he did on the previous Darth Vader book. Namely drawing certain characters based off still shots from the various movies. The upside to this approach, however, is that Larroca draws a picture-perfect Vader. For me, if you can get that mask right then half the battle is won.

Giuseppe Camuncoli gives us a different kind of Darth Vader. It’s hardly picture-perfect. For instance, I’m not a fan of the panel at left. But I nevertheless find Camuncoli’s version more artistically pure. He’s creating of his own mind, and at no point do I feel taken out of this book when I see a familiar image of Vader or Palpatine, pulled from a movie still. That’s a trade I’m willing to make.

Camuncoli, along with inker Cam Smith and colorist David Curiel, waste little time in ripping up Vader’s iconic suit. It’s already in tatters by issue #2. Things only get worse when we get into the fight with Kirak Infil’a. We end up with a partially skeletonized version of Vader’s suit, which he pieces together using droid parts after being incapacitated and effectively broken in combat. In the opening pages of issue #4 we see him using the Force to put all the little pieces into place so he can haul himself to his feet. It’s an awesome visual, and a fun callback to Anakin’s expertise with machines. It’s later followed up on in issue #6, when Vader gets to repair the suit to his liking.

Issue #6 takes us into the next arc, which will feature the Inquisitors we saw in Star Wars: Rebels. We get a confrontation between Vader and the Grand Inquisitor in the Jedi Temple, which is pretty decent. Fittingly, Vader’s next target will be someone Star Wars fans recognize as a face from the Jedi Temple…

I maintain there was no need to end the previous Darth Vader book. We all knew Marvel would come back to the character eventually. There’s no shortage of creators to work on the life and times of the dark lord. While I have a major gripe with a lightsaber being Vader’s motivation in this story, Imperial Machine is still a solid read with mostly good art. Star Wars fans who aren’t as finicky as I am will enjoy it.

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A Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5 Review – Droid Martial Arts

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5, 2016, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Phil Noto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 17, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve curbed my expectations when it comes to this Poe Dameron series. I’m no longer looking for info regarding the state of the galaxy before The Force Awakens. This is simply an action-adventure title, which is fair enough. What I didn’t expect coming into issue #5 was for BB-8 to steal the show.

Poe, Black Squadron, and Agent Terex of the First Order remain trapped in Megalox Beta, a deadly prison run by the slippery and devilishly clever Grakkus the Hutt. Grakkus has struck a bargain with Poe and Terex: Whoever can break him out the fastest gets the location of Lor San Tekka, the man who reportedly knows the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Terex definitely has connections that Poe doesn’t. But Poe also has friends in high places…

BB-8 becomes the hero in this issue, leading the other Black Squadron astromech droids on a mission to compromise the prison’s security system. What follows is essentially Mission Impossible meets “Duel of he Droids.” The astromechs hide from guards, until we get what can only be described as a bit of droid martial arts (shown below). It’s a lot of fun, and very reminiscent of the BB-8 we saw in The Force Awakens.

Poe Dameron #5, 2016, droid martial artsSoule and Noto also do a tremendous job of capturing the charm and heart Oscar Issac put into the Poe character. He’s one for sarcastic quips, obviously. But he’s also a born leader. He’s compassionate and empathetic toward his teammates, and he stays positive even in the most dire scenarios. Soule gets Poe Dameron.

Phil Noto is pretty good at drawing him, too. Handling the pencils, inks, and colors on this series, Noto makes each setting in this issue very distinct. A sickly yellow haze hangs over Megalox Beta. Terex finds his way into a dingy and dimly lit cantina, not unlike the one we saw at Mos Eisley. The hangar the droids initially find themselves in is very calm, and has an almost relaxing quality to it with different shades of grayish blue. A stark contrast to the chaos they’re about to cause. And it all feels very familiar, very Star Wars. Noto also gives us a great cliffhanger shot, with the camera down on BB-8’s level as he looks up at a sizable new adversary.

Poe Dameron isn’t the book I wanted it to be. But the last two issues have been more fun, adventurous, and exciting than most of the Star Wars content Marvel has put out since it got the license back. It’s tough to sling mud at something like that.

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A Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 Review – Before the Awakening…

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1TITLE: Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Phil Noto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: April 6, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Star Wars: Poe Dameron has a lot going for it. Soule is an excellent writer who has experience in that galaxy far, far away. Phil Noto is supremely talented. There’s a lot of buzz coming off The Force Awakens, and there’s still much we don’t know about the events leading up to that movie. What’s more, Poe comes off very likable here.

So is it wrong that I left this issue disappointed?

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 picks up shortly before the events of The Force Awakens. General Leia Organa sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron, in search of Lor San Tekka (the man we saw Poe with at the beginning of the movie). Leia believes him to be their best hope of locating her brother, Luke Skywalker. But as Poe will learn, the First Order will not hesitate to strike if opportunity arises.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1, Phil NotoThe solicitation for this issue told us this series would give us “backstory leading directly into the holidays’ greatest adventure.” So it’s not exactly surprising to see the story focus on Lor San Tekka, and the details on what brought Poe to him. But it bears repeating: There’s still so much about the state of the galaxy that we don’t know. How was The First Order formed? What was the New Republic like? Lor San Tekka was a member of something called the “Church of the Force.” What the hell was that about?

Sadly, we didn’t get much in terms of information. We also don’t learn much about our title character. It’s not like we need to have a big revelation. Just a nugget of new info would have done the trick.

On the plus side, it’s not like this series is going anywhere any time soon. As it’s an ongoing series, Poe Dameron has plenty of time to give us new insight into these characters and their world. I just wish we’d got something here to help hook readers. I know it would have helped me in that respect…

Phil Noto is a very welcome addition to this book, having just come off of the Chewbacca miniseries. He’s very good at capturing the actors’ likenesses, while still keeping his his flair for animation in there. The little touches he adds to Poe and Leia’s faces in this issue really make them come to life. He also draws a damn fine BB-8, and a gorgeous X-Wing fighter. Hopefully he gets a well-deserved chance to have a decent run here.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1, Black SquadronThis issue sees Poe assemble Black Squadron, i.e. the star fighter pilots from The Force Awakens. We see one of the member is L’ulo, a green-skinned alien we first saw in Shattered Empire, who flew with Poe’s mother. We don’t see them touch on that here, aside from a brief mention that L’ulo has fighting with Leia for years. But it’s definitely something they can touch on later.

Charles Soule writes a very witty and likable Poe. The issue sends him into a giant cavern of some kind, where he finds a group of people who worship a big egg of some kind. That’s not exactly the direction I hoped this issue would take, but Soule is good at writing Poe with his back against the wall. At one point, Poe is trying to get himself out of a jam, and says: “What’s with the tone? No one wants to hurt your egg. I like your egg!” Combine that sort of humor with the presence of the adorable and faithful BB-8, and our book is in good hands.

We also get a brief back up story by Chris Eliopoulos, which is very comic strip-ish in the vein of Calvin & Hobbes. We see BB-8 become the go-between for two pilots who are crushing on each other. The Earth didn’t move for me on this one. But no harm done.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 is a good start. Not a great one, but a good one. There’s a lot of potential to continue expanding this portion of the Star Wars timeline, if Soule, Noto, and the team are allowed to. With Episode VIII getting closer every day, that might not be a bad  idea….

Images from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 Review – The Lost Years

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1TITLE: Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Marco Checchetto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not necessarily surprised Marvel chose Obi-Wan & Anakin as their latest Star Wars miniseries. What’s rather curious though, is the time in which it’s set. This story comes to us just a few years after The Phantom Menace, so they’re not tapping in to any of that Clone Wars stuff. There’s a definite downside to that, but the upside might just be worth it.

When we open the issue, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (now presumably about 12) crash land on the planet Carnelian IV. Master and apprentice are responding to a distress signal requesting Jedi aid. But Carnelian IV is a world that was thought to be dead. What exactly have our heroes wandered into…?

While Obi-Wan & Anakin may not have a lot of the stuff that made The Clone Wars or portions of the prequels fun. But it does have the potential to provide. something the prequels sorely lacked: Character depth.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin, lightsaberOur opening crawl tells us that both characters have begun to “question their roles in the destiny of The Force.” We later learn that Anakin has apparently talked to Obi-Wan about leaving the Jedi Order. This subject has been touched on, both in Attack of the Clones and the Revenge of the Sith novelization. But this is the first time I’ve seen the subject brought up when Anakin is this young. It’s also the first time I’ve seen it used without any sort of connection to Anakin and Padme’s relationship. That enriches the concept, from where I’m sitting. It shows us Anakin actually has conviction, and his morality doesn’t completely revolve around Padme.

So what would prompt Anakin to abandon his Jedi training at such a young age? If what we see in this issue is any indication, it’s because he’s dissatisfied with the way the Republic and the Jedi Order function. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it also has something to do with his mother. He was obviously still thinking about her in Attack of the Clones.

Of course, it’s not an accident that they made a point to focus in on Anakin’s lightsaber (shown above). We even get a flashback to “before,” and see a scene with him practicing with other students. How and if the lightsaber will play into the story, outside of Anakin simply using it, isn’t clear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets more special attention, given the role it played in The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1, Marco ChecchettoMarco Checchetto is no stranger to Star Wars, having drawn Shattered Empire. He and colorist Andres Mossa have a knack for creating gorgeous environments, vehicles, settings you very much believe could exist in this universe. The airships in this issue would have been cool even without the big crash (shown right). We don’t often see those kind of craft in Star Wars, and will hopefully see more before the story is over.

But Checchetto can run into trouble when it comes to people. It’s not that his figure work is bad. His characters just seem a bit lifeless on the page at times. They lack a certain energy, which in turn can rob the story of energy.

The success of Obi-Wan & Anakin relies heavily on what it can tell us about the relationship between these two characters that we didn’t know before. You know what else it relies heavily on? Us not seeing Jar Jar. We’re between Episodes I and II here, people. This is Jar Jar territory. We must be cautious…

Images from author’s collection. 

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A Death of Wolverine #1 Review – Old Story, New Consequences

Death of Wolverine #1, 2014TITLE: Death of Wolverine #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Steve McNiven
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 3, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

While I haven’t exactly had my eye on the man called Logan lately, two elements attracted me to Death of Wolverine. Firstly, the notion that it would be a (more or less) self-contained story, told in four weekly issues. You wouldn’t need to do any research or back tracking to get into the story, and it wouldn’t drag like a lot of event comics do. Secondly, Charles Soule is the writer. Soule impressed me with this work on Superman/Wonder Woman, so I was interested to him work with Wolvie in a story that’s pivotal, to say the least.

When we open the book, Logan has lost his healing power. The issue doesn’t dive into the how and the why of it, it simply sets that notion on the table and keeps moving. (FYI, Logan got infected with a virus that suppressed the ability.) But now that our hero is vulnerable, a price has been put on his head and the bad guys are coming out of the woodwork to take him down. The question is, who has their sights set on Logan? Who is it that’s put him in harm’s way like never before? We find out at the end of this issue, and it’s someone we know quite well.

Death of Wolverine #1, interior, 2014, Steve McNivenOf course, Death of Wolverine isn’t a new concept by any means. There’ve been a lot of “Logan fights his way through a lot of people” stories before. Hell, a few years ago we actually had Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine. So it’s not an uncommon story motif. And let’s not even get into superhero deaths. Coming into Death of Wolverine, we’re not even asking who or what will kill him, but rather how long he’ll actually stay dead. Still, the Wolverine vs. The World plot is as good as any to use if you’re going to kill off Logan. It’s a perfect way to give us some of his trademark violence and rage along the way.

We open the issue with a quiet scene, a calm before the storm (shown left). The reveal on pages four and five then gives us a strong sense of foreboding, and just what that storm will consist of. Soule stays pretty quiet from a narration standpoint, letting McNiven’s art do the talking. Considering the character we’re dealing with, and the quality of artist we have, that’s a wise move.

Soule also uses red, one-word caption boxes with white lettering to indicate intense pain, which Logan isn’t used to feeling the way normal people do. He simply tosses a body part out there (“Neck, “”Head,” etc) and lets the reader fill in the blanks. I’m interested to see how this trend progresses as we get closer to Logan’s demise.

Death of Wolverine #1, Steve McNiven, Logan, NukeOur villain for the issue is Nuke, a character created during Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil run. I’d just as soon not talk about Miller after Sin City: A Dame To Kill For bombed so badly. But the character serves his purpose here. He’s a meathead and a brute for Logan to beat up and get information from. He’s the kind of character Logan wouldn’t necessarily bat an eye over if he was his normal self. But now a fight with Nuke takes a different toll. Plus, McNiven and the artists make him look pretty good.

While it’s hardly a work of stunning originality, Death of Wolverine does what it sets out to do: Make me want to see how Logan dies. Soule’s writing rings true to the character, and the art sets the tone nicely. I’m curious to see where we go from here.

Image 1 from comicbookresources.com. Image 2 from author’s collection. 

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