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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Talking Star Wars: The Darth Vader/Snoke Theory, Sith Lord Mufasa

Supreme Leader SnokeBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

1. The Darth Vader/Supreme Leader Snoke Theory

Man, people are really grasping at straws with some of these theories about The Force Awakens. I guess it’s natural, considering we know so little. But jeez…

The latest wild theory making the rounds is that Supreme Leader Snoke is somehow Anakin Skywalker, mostly based on the visual similarities between Snoke and Anakin when the mask came off in Return of the Jedi.

Frankly, this makes even less sense than the idea that Rey is somehow Obi-Wan Kenobi’s daughter. Granted, the folks at Disney are obviously taking the franchise away from where George Lucas intended it to go. But bringing Darth Vader back as the big bad in this new trilogy completely undoes Anakin’s character arc, which took six movies to complete. Yes, Anakin fell to the dark side. But he was redeemed. Having him turn to the dark side, then turn back, only to fall again is not only redundant, but frankly stupid. What’s more, Anakin died, remember?

Star Wars: Dark Empire, Palpatine, Cam KennedyFrankly, I think it’s more likely Snoke is somehow connected to Palpatine. But even that’s a stretch. Much like with Rey, I’m hoping Snoke isn’t connected to any previous character, and is simply a new threat to the galaxy. We’ve know that a Church of the Force exists, right? Lor San Tekka is affiliated with them. Who’s to say a similar church couldn’t exist for the dark side? Theoretically, Snoke could have discovered his own Force abilities, become scholar on the Jedi, the Sith, etc., and started such a church himself.

As for the scars, I always like the notion that characters who tapped into the dark side so extensively, like Palpatine, saw their flesh deteriorate as a result. Some of you might be familiar with Dark Empire, a comic book series released by Dark Horse in 1991. The prequels weren’t a thing yet, so it obviously hadn’t been established that Palpatine’s face had been scarred the way it was. In Dark Empire, writer Tom Veitch wrote that because of the great power he wieded, Palpatine’s body would decay more rapidly. As such, his spirit would inhabit numerous clones to gain eternal life. I’m not suggesting the same is true for Snoke. But I love the idea that one’s body pays the price for all that evil.

In any event, answers will come in time. The wait may be excruciating at certain points, but the answers will come.

Star Wars Rebels, Darth Vader, Kanan2. Sith Lord Mufasa

All this excitement over The Force Awakens has finally prompted me to check out Star Wars Rebels. I haven’t been disappointed. I’m not quite caught up yet. I just watched the episode where Vader faces off against Kanan and Ezra. Which brings me to something that needs to be said about James Earl Jones reprising his role.

Like all of us, I love James Earl Jones. He’s an amazing, iconic performer. If there’s one person you want voicing Darth Vader, it’s him. I’m not trying to dump on Mr. Jones, here…

But is there any way we can get him to toughen Vader’s voice up again?

Maybe that’s just not the headspace Mr. Jones is in these days. But listening to him as Darth Vader in 2015 sounds like Mufasa pretending to be a bad guy. At any moment, I practically expect him to start talking about “the great circle of life.” In this episode, Karan and Ezra are talking about all the hate and fear they can sense. But this character doesn’t sound hateful or menacing. That’s a problem.

Darth Vader, don't make me destroy youFour yours truly, the most intimidating line Darth Vader has in the entire Star Wars saga is in the moments leading up to the “I am your father” reveal. It’s simply: “There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you.” Mr. Jones has a growl in his voice that’s absolutely bone chilling. If we can get a fraction of that intensity into these Rebels performances, I’ll be a happy man.

Because let’s face it, nobody wants Sith Lord Mufasa.

Image 1 from starwars.wikia.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com. Image 3 from starwarsrebels.wikia.com. Image 4 from vestalmorons.wordpress.com.

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A Darth Vader #5 Review – “This is…Blasphemous.”

Darth Vader #5, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #5
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca. Cover by Adi Granov.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: May 13, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Darth Vader continues to be immensely better than any of Marvel’s other Star Wars titles. Trust me, folks. It’s not even close. Why? Oh, let me count the ways…

It captures its main character perfectly. It sprinkles in just enough prequel material to display Vader’s depth, but not turn die-hards off. It has added new characters that add both intrigue and humor. It’s also beautifully drawn, and does enough artistic justice to the classic Star Wars visuals that when it adds something new (For instance: A secret base on top of what can only be called “space whales.”), it’s that much easier to buy it as a part of this iconic universe.

In this issue, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca bring Vader, Doctor Aphra, Triple-Zero, and BT to a secret base in the Outer Rim, which supposedly houses those the Emperor has deemed worthy of replacing him. But the dark lord isn’t quite prepared for what he finds. In his own words: “This is…blasphemous.”

Darth Vader #5, space whalesOddly enough, Gillen and Larroca play with some visuals from The Phantom Menace here. We see Vader carving his way through a thick door, as various armed soldiers stand by. We then have Triple-Zero, a silver protocol droid just like the one we saw in Episode I, emerging from the resulting smoke. But then we’re hit with a swerve that’s nothing like what we saw in the movie. This is a team that’s great with playing with fan expectations, giving you what you want, but not necessarily the way you thought you’d get it…

On the subject of visuals, that two-page shot of the space-whales is amazing. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie, but it feels very true to the cruel spirit of the Empire. Vader calls them an abomination. But the ironic thing is, he’s something of an abomination himself. That’s not necessarily a connection everyone will get, but it’s there.

Darth Vader #5, Triple-Zero, Salvador LarrocaI mentioned this last time, but Triple-Zero is a riot. The sheer notion of an “evil butler” type is hysterical. But when you put him amid the chaos of the Star Wars universe, next to a no-nonsense-type like Vader, the ensuing comedy feels very organic.

I’ll try and stay spoiler-free here. But what Vader finds on the base is, at face value, very compelling. Gillen seems to be playing with the notion of the Jedi and Sith being an “ancient religion,” which was introduced in A New Hope. At one point, someone even says: “The Force is obsolete.” This is made all the more interesting when you consider this base is sanctioned by Palpatine, a Sith himself. From an in-story perspective, I question Palpatine’s motivations here. Is he truly preparing for a world without The Force? Or is this part of a larger scheme? I’m inclined to think the latter.

The idea of The Force being obsolete or dormant might also be an interesting piece of forshadowing for The Force Awakens

Darth Vader #5, Doctor Aphra, Salvador LarrocaWe don’t get a lot of time with Doctor Aphra in this issue. But what we do get is enough to keep me invested in her. Tragedy follows Darth Vader wherever he goes. And there’s little doubt that tragedy is what lays ahead for this woman. It’s simply a question of how, where, and when.

But that’s simply one of many elements that makes this series a must-read for Star Wars fans.

Images 1 and 2 from author’s collection. Image 3 from jedi-bibliothek.de.

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A Darth Vader #1 Review – He Doesn’t Like Sand…

385431TITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #1
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PUBLISHER: Salvador Larroca
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: February 11, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 made me understand what it’s like to be a Sith Lord.

Or at least, it gave me a pretty powerful glimpse into what it’s like to be Anakin Skywalker inside that black suit. To say the very least, it’s not fun.

Following the events of Star Wars #1 and 2, Vader must once again face The Emperor as a failure. Palpatine blames him for the destruction of the Death Star, and also for allowing the Rebels to escape on Cymoon. Now, to find Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance, Vader must ally himself with the likes of Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. Naturally, this brings him back to Tatooine, Anakin Skywalker’s home planet.

1508_darth_vader_1_artThe idea of Vader returning to Tatooine has been an intriguing one as far back as The Phantom Menace. But to my knowledge this is the first time we’ve actually seen it. It doesn’t disappoint, especially when we reach the end of the issue.

However, much like Jason Aaron and John Cassaday in Star Wars #1, this issue relies quite a bit on the nostalgia factor to draw readers in. But while Star Wars #1 picked both lines and certain imagery from the original trilogy, this issue plays with actual shots and sets from both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. The image of Darth Vader entering Jabba’s palace, dealing with the guards and Bib Fortuna, and then standing there amongst his cronies is obviously an alternate take on Luke’s entrance from Jedi. Later, Larroca essentially pencils screen caps from A New Hope to provide us with a flashback page. One can argue than in terms of relying on nostalgia appeal to cheaply hook readers in, Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 is an even bigger offender than Star Wars #1.

So with that in mind, why is the former a good issue, while the latter is a bad one? For my money, it’s all in the way the issue was written.

54661fbff3030Darth Vader #1 draws you in with the notion that Vader will be journeying into Jabba’s lair, just as Luke will later do, using very specific images and shot from Jedi. But the real hook comes when Vader and Jabba start talking. Vader refuses to address Jabba by name, simply calling him “Hutt,” like he’s merely vermin. When Jabba tries to exercise his own power, Vader retaliates, at one point choking Jabba with the Force. Through this scene, we not only get a sense of how little regard Vader has for life, but how his hatred and anger are always with him. They are not a temporary state of being. They are his very existence.

We also get a scene with Palpatine, where we see that despite Vader’s ever-present anger, it still hasn’t brought him the power he seeks. He is still a servant of the Emperor. Or as Palpatine says: “A blunt instrument far better to be wielded than to wield.” He then places Vader under the thumb of one of the Imperial commanders we briefly saw in A New Hope (prompting one of those screen cap flashbacks), and deliberately hides the identity of a new ally. We later close on a familiar, yet ever so dramatic two-page spread.

darth-vader-1-easter-egg-chosen-one-122394Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 is essentially a look at what Vader’s life is like in the aftermath of the original film. He is still a man that has lost everything but his hate and his lust for power, which he will presumably never have so long as he is under Palpatine’s influence. Thus, he takes that hate out on the terrified life forms around him. That’s the message we’re meant to take away from this issue. And it’s an important one about our main character. We got there using plenty of flash and flare from the original trilogy, but in this instance the end justified the means.

Star Wars #1, on the other hand, used that same nostalgia, flash, and flare as the destination. Cassaday’s art was fantastic, as always. But despite the cool escape story, which is very Star Wars, the issue lacked soul, and felt largely empty. That’s the difference between the Aaron/Cassaday issue, and the Gillen/Larroca issue.

img_20150212_181212I’m very interested to see how much the prequel material is acknowledged, not just in this book, but in all of Marvel’s Star Wars comics. The ending of this issue is a pretty heavy callback to Attack of the Clones. The Force Awakens gets closer every day, and the Disney/Lucasfilm strategy seems to be getting us to refocus on classic Star Wars stuff. This makes sense, as we’re getting ready for Luke, Leia, and Han to return. It also seems like they’re trying to gloss over the prequels, which also makes sense, given how poorly they were received by many. It’s something to keep an eye on as we move closer to December.

Star Wars: Darth Vader was one of the best single issues of a Star Wars series that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s definitely an issue worthy of its iconic title character.

Image 1 from popmatters.com. Image 2 from marvel.com. Image 3 from comicbook.com. Image 4 from page45.com.

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