Darth Vader 8

darth vader 8

Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Darth Vader, originally released August 5th, 2015.

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Michael: At my old age of 27, I must admit that I have gotten a little curmudgeonly – especially where pop culture is concerned. I’ve seen so many different iterations of ideas and tropes that sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is cliché or if I’ve just put myself in a position to see the same story 10 billion times. Darth Vader 8 took all of my predictions and suppositions and knocked them flat on their ass. And this pleases me.

Last issue Vader, lifted a hefty amount of credits from the Son-tuul Pride; Darth Vader 8 gives us the story of how Doctor Aphra steals it all back. Along with Triple Zero and BT-1, Aphra hires bounty hunters Bossk, Beebox, IG-90 and Black Krrsantan (“Santy”). The team tracks the Star Destroyer carrying the loot and fakes an asteroid field disaster in order to get aboard the ship, steal the credits and leave without being detected. Due to complications, some of the credits were “lost” and Aphra’s team leaves with less of a payday than expected. Shortly after they leave…PSYCH! Aphra and Santy hoarded the majority of the score for themselves/Vader. Vader has now amassed his own droid army and small fortune, but he still has to deal with the chain of command problems on his hands. Grand General Tagge has assigned a new detail to Vader – Inspector Thanoth, who suspects foul play in the Empire’s loss of the Son-tuul fortune.

As I mentioned, Darth Vader 8 took me by surprise. At the end of the previous issue I was entirely ready to watch what I anticipated was the beginning of Aphra’s downfall. I had completely bought into the idea that Aphra had gotten greedy and decided to use her inside information from Vader, leading to her stealing the credits and ultimately leading to Vader force-choking the hell out of her. But no, that’s not what happened at all! Like the bounty hunters, Aphra duped me! Darth Vader 8 is basically Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca giving us an awesome Star Wars/Ocean’s Eleven mash-up.  Marvel’s new Star Wars titles give us the opportunity to read genre fiction set in our familiar galaxy far, far away.

I think a heist set in the Star Wars universe is just a fun idea to begin with, and one that begs to be pulled off by bounty hunter scum (I only wish that Dengar was in attendance.) Bossk is the only bounty hunter from The Empire Strikes Back present, but Larroca wisely gives the remaining three bounty hunters familiar resemblances to tug on our nostalgia strings. The bounty hunters steal the humorous spotlight from Darth Vader regulars BT-1 and Triple Zero. The constant visual gag of the book is Beebox, who for all intents and purposes is a pint-sized Boba Fett. My favorite line of dialogue in this issue comes from IG-90 who warns Aphra that she better not have betrayed them, saying “Statement: you can’t hide from the bounty hunters.” Just the inclusion of the article “the” made this sentence so implausibly silly to me. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but if you take “the” out of that phrase it’s just a threat. Calling their collective group “The Bounty Hunters” kind of reiterates the point that these guys are not the best of the best… and kind of pathetic.

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Eight chapters in and Gillen gives us an issue of Darth Vader whose title character is missing for nearly half of the page count. I think there’s a 50% success rate in that kind of gamble for a book like this (especially because I personally wasn’t completely sold on the whole “Team Vader” concept) but I’d go ahead and argue that this bet paid off. Gillen knows that it’s absolutely essential that you leave a character like Darth Vader out of the madcap space heist; it’d be as out of character as Batman shooting Joker square in the face. Once Vader does step onto the scene however, the book takes a huge tonal shift. It’s almost like we go from action/adventure movie to legal procedure. The whole notion of a “disgraced Vader” is so simultaneously brilliant and obvious, and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. Having suits like Tagge tell Vader what to do is a lot of fun to watch because you know that deep inside that Vader brain of his he’s slaughtering everyone in that room like they’re a tribe of Tuskens.

I think it has more to do with our own personal projection and reading of a scene, but it’s fascinating how you can still read the emotions on Vader’s non-moving face. In the realm of comics I think that this has been achieved in a couple of different ways. Larroca conveys Vader lying or even being a little afraid when he casts the majority of his helmet in shadow – including his “teeth.” This happens a couple of times in this issue: when he tells Aphra he might help Santy get revenge, when confronted with Tagge’s allusion to the Son-tuul fortune being stolen and when he realizes that Tanoth is on his trail. I think that it takes a hell of an artist to give us insight into the mind of a guy whose “face” never moves.

Vader lie

Patrick! Did you enjoy the balanced whimsy and tension of this issue as much as I did? What do you make of these “Plasma Devils?” At first I thought that was Tagge’s new name for the Emperor’s cyborg pets. Any particular comments on the heist or Vader’s loosening grasp on his place in the Imperial hierarchy? Ready? Go!

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Patrick: Poor Vader: dude never really has any control over the Imperial hierarchy. If he did, he wouldn’t have to choke dudes to death in meetings, or embezzle/steal billions of credits to do what would very well be his job if only he were more reliable. In a weird way, this series is almost Darth Vader’s Breaking Bad: the main character finds himself unable to prosper within the established power structure and turns to a life of crime to get what he wants / needs. You wouldn’t think that a villainous character would need to sneak around to be evil, but it’s a genius move by Gillen to but him at-odds with his own Empire on an administrative level. It’s so delightfully petty, but it’s also so horrifically relateable. That scene where Tagge assigns Vader the Case of the Missing Son-Tuul Fortune is beautifully intense, and neither Gillen nor Larroca let on whether or not Tagge knows to suspect Darth Vader. But that’s also so hauntingly familiar from my own experiences trying to get away with something. If you could just swap Vader out for a teenage me and Tagge out for any of my junior high school teachers, the scene would likely play out the same way, which really speaks to Vader’s impotence in this organization.

But it also says a lot about his desperation, too. I know seeing too much Vader feels like spoiling a magic trick to some readers, but I’m finding the insights into his character fascinating. What’s more is that the more we learn about him — even as we see him being scolded by his boss — makes him seem more threatening. Michael mentioned that it makes sense not to put Vader in the goofy heist because that doesn’t fit his character, but it is interesting to consider his role in the heist after the fact. He may not have been there personally blowing up the asteroid or cutting into the side of the ship or whatever, but he’s intimately involved regardless. Gillen allows us to get a read on Vader’s ambitions and the risks he’s willing to take without even having the guy in the scene or talking about him. That’s some masterful shit, right there.

The heist itself is awesomely cinematic, and throughout the issue, Larroca employs pages of long, narrow horizontal panels, imitating the wide movie screen. The series is always really good about letting action sequences speak for themselves, often passing by with very little copy to assist in clarifying the action. I’m sure this has always been the case, but I was struck by how little this series uses sound effects. I mean, we watch an asteroid explode into thousands of inconvenient pieces, and there’s literally nothing. That may be because they’re in space, and logically, there wouldn’t be any sound in space, but the rule holds true when our bounty hunters are within the artificial atmosphere of the Star Destroyer.

Bossk and IG-99 battle droids

 

I can’t really begin to guess who’s decision that is, but it may go back to editor Jordan B. White. With very few exceptions, the other series have been void of sound effects as well. Perhaps this is to bring the reader’s experience more inline with the experience of watching Star Wars — wherein you’re see the word “KABOOOOOM” appear on the screen. I’m always fascinated by those visual storytelling tricks that try to emulate the feelings of other mediums — that may be part of why I’m enjoying Star Wars so much — and it’s cool to see Larroca adopting the language of heist cinema in order to tell the first half of this story. I love the motion of the camera implied by these two panels.

Bossk and IG-90, Beebox and Dr. Aphra board the ship

The upside-down panel is fun enough in it’s own right, but the fact that our eyes need to travel down to both zoom in on the action and orient the characters properly makes this feel like we’re using the fluid camera physics of Gravity or Interstellar. But it’s also got an almost aggressive amount of continuity between shots at radically different angles, channeling Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino.

And yes, sometimes my criticism of Darth Vader does sometimes turn in to listing/alluding to some of the best film directors in the world – Larroca’s just that good.

 

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For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

11 comments on “Darth Vader 8

  1. I’m also impressed with the way Gillen incorporates his new cast with the classic Star Wars characters. Triple Zero, Aphra and Black Krssstian all feel very much like a part of this story (and this universe) now, and I can’t wait to feel the same way about the twins and that machine chick. We might not have Vader, the character, on every page, but the characters OF Darth Vader, the series, certainly do fill the space.

    In that way, this series is almost more Star Wars than Star Wars. I love the core series too, but it’s not exactly inventing characters with the same zeal that Gillen is.

  2. A couple things. Part of the success of this series has been our intimate knowledge of Darth Vader. We know how he begins, lives and ENDS. Explicitly. I think a huge strength of this story has been how it’s played with our knowledge of Vader’send which was written 30 years ago.

    Second, this is the type of story at which (for me) Gillen excels. Cinematic heists and adventure. I know a lot of people love his teen stories (Young Avengers and WicDiv), but those don’t hold up to me like this and Uber and even his Uncanny X-Men stuff. You know, I wonder if I like him better when he’s playing in a mythology that is already created and known by me (here, Star Wars. Uber, WW II. X-Men, umm… X-Men). When he doesn’t have the given parameters, or I’m unfamiliar with them (his JiM, YA, WicDiv), I get a little lost and feel that the story suffers. I literally am thinking this out as I write this, so I might be full of crap.

    I also would have no explanation for his Iron Man run…

    I have no explanation for Salvador Larroca, either. He’s masterful here. Just looked at his wiki page – with Marvel almost exclusively for 20 years. I have no idea if that’s the norm or an aberration.

    • This is so fucking trivial, but I love how consistent Larroca’s geometry is on Vader’s helmet. Like, it feels very very real to me. That mask — I know there’s no other way to draw it other than static — but it always looks like it exists in real space and still oddly expressive (Michael pointed out the shadow effects, but I think camera placement plays a part in that too).

      I don’t know that I’ve read Larroca anywhere else. Indeed, clicking on his tag above only yields more Darth Vader, which means I haven’t written about him in any other context. Might be past-time to dig into his back-catalog.

    • I’ve been trying to understand my own feelings toward Gillen. I had a very hard time dealing with his YA early on, and eventually got over it because I like McKelvie’s art, and their collective take on innovative layouts and non-traditional storytelling. I’m not sure I ever thought that series was well-written.

      And that sort of extends to Wic+Div and Phonogram. It’s possible that those are just very good expressions of a personality or sensibility that I just don’t like all that much. I go through periods of liking both of those series (and am — against my own judgement — excited for Vol. 3 of Phonogram), but again, maybe that has more to do with McKelvie.

      And yeah: what the fuck was Iron Man’s deal?

  3. I remember Larocca starting out wa aay back when…i THINK on the tail end of the Mackie/Dan Ketch GHOST RIDER (soon on to much higher profile books, obviously).

    Now, I’ve always dug the hell out of his work but his DARTH VADER is beyond anything he’s done in the past. Beautiful work.

  4. Is IG-90 just number 90 is the limited line of IG droids? Or are he and IG-88 from different series? IF THEY ARE FROM DIFFERENT SERIES that means there are numerous series of bounty hunter droids.

    • Back when I was young and apparently had time to read Star Wars paperbacks, I remember reading a book called Tales of the Bounty Hunters. I think IG-88 was one many models that went nuts and massacres their creators. Naturally.

      • So… are there other IG-88s that normally perform some other functions and that particular IG-88 went nuts? OR are they a bunch of IG-series droids that perform some other function and nos. 88 and 90 turned to lives of crime?

        • Correction – IG-88 was one of four different IG-88 models (A-D) whose sentient programming made them go rogue and try to overthrow the humanoids. I guess they just kept going with the numbers till they at least hit 90. Then again all of this is probably no longer canon, but certainly no less fun.

        • Ah, that actually does clear up one of my questions: IG-88s are Assassin Droids. IG-90 could be a droid functioning perfectly – maybe even owned by Beebox or Bossk. OVER MAYBE TAGGE. Mike, we’re blowing this thing wide open.

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