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 Black Widow #3 Review – We Don’t Need Words

Black Widow #3 (2016)TITLE: Black Widow #3
AUTHOR: Mark Waid, Chris Samnee.
PENCILLER: Chris Samnee
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: May 4, 2016

***Need to catch up? Go back to issue #1!

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

What has really stood out about Maid Waid and Chris Samnee’s work on Black Widow thus far is how little they’ve needed to use dialogue. The other day I had praise for The Punisher #1 for this same trait. But Waid, Samnee, and their crew have made it a continuing trend. Thus far, it has effectively set this series apart.

Natasha Romanoff is being blackmailed by a man calling himself “Weeping Lion,” who is in possession of her “darkest secret.” Needless to say, she doesn’t want it getting into the public eye. Thus, Natasha has been doing his bidding, including stealing from a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, which we saw in issue #1. In this issue Black Widow returns to what remains of the Red Room, the Russian facility in which she was trained as an assassin. But S.H.I.E.L.D. is by no means done with Natasha, and she must continue to stay one step ahead of them.

Black Widow #3, 2016, page 5, Chris SamneeChris Samnee excels at conveying Natasha’s intensity strictly through his art. As present-day Natasha doesn’t say much in this issue, that’s pretty much a necessity. When she does something as simple as shifting her gaze in a different direction with a slight furrow of her brow, it’s a moment to note. She’s not big, loud, or talkative. But she’s still an Avenger, and a lethal weapon. So when she’s in a potential combat situation, there’s weight and importance to virtually every move she makes. That’s a hell of a dynamic for a main character to have.

Last issue we met Agent Elder, whose protege was killed during the events of issue #1. He’s got a damn good reason to be angry with Black Widow, though it doesn’t seem like he’s much of a threat to her. In the opening sequence she foils his pursuit of her with a simple trip wire. Perhaps that’ll make it all the more interesting down the road if he somehow ends up catching her.

Much of this issue consists of flashbacks to Natasha’s childhood as she walks through her former home. We see how it has deteriorated over time, and what few relics of the past remain. We get a sense of how Natasha was taught. There were strict rules, obviously. But there were also instances of care and compassion when necessary. Samnee, and colorist Matthew Wilson tint these scenes under a pinkish hue, which creates an interesting vibe. I would suggest it’s almost one of innocence. Obviously red implies a certain intensity, and of course Widow’s hair is red. And it is the Red Room after all. The implication seems to be that things are violent, but not nearly as violent as they will be.

Black Widow #3, 2016, Chris Samnee, poseThus far, Black Widow has been a visually commanding and intriguing series that might just give us new insight into one of Marvel’s longest-running female heroes. At the very least, we’ll get to see her kick a lot of ass. It’s tough to complain about that.

Images from readcomiconline.com.

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