Today, Michael and Taylor are describing Darth Vader 16, originally released February 10th, 2016.
Michael: I think that Darth Vader is the favorite among the other Star Wars titles (at least at Retcon Punch) because it is chock-full of dramatic moments and nuanced characters. The power struggles and political battles of Darth Vader are somewhat reminiscent to a show like House of Cards. Darth Vader 16 is kind of a lull in the ongoing narrative that focuses on the particulars of the power struggles that Vader encounters.
Following the first major Star Wars comic book crossover “Vader Down,” Darth Vader returns to Emperor Palpatine with the corpse of his vanquished foe General Karbin. The bulk of the issue is spent on the planet of Sho-torun, where Vader is aiding Queen Trios in putting an end to the rebellion on her planet. Voidgazer — one of Cylo’s cyborgs — helps Vader bring down some righteous devastation upon the rebelling ore miners, causing heavy damage. Vader gives Queen Trios a lecture on who actually holds the power on her planet before allowing her the courtesy to maintain the illusion of control. The end of the book has Vader hiring a group of bounty hunters — many of whom helped him pull off an Imperial heist way back when — to retrieve Doctor Aphra from Rebel custody dead or alive.
Compared to issues past, Darth Vader 16 was a bit of a disappointment for me — which isn’t to say that it is a bad comic. One of my tried and true personal favorites about Darth Vader are the tense, often wordless tête-à-tête scenes provided by Salvador Larroca. Having the book open with Vader tossing Karbin’s mangled cyber corpse at Palpatine’s feet was simply awesome. Larroca expertly stages the scene: the final panel of page 5 has Vader unabashedly admitting to killing Karbin himself, while Larroca frames Vader’s dominance over Palpatine by having Vader invade Palps’ panel space. Palpatine himself looks pretty nervous — you can see the lack of confidence in his beady yellow eyes.
Darth Vader 16 is an examination on the various types of power struggles present in the series. The book opens with Vader talking smack to Palpatine about underestimating him, but since Vader is Palps’ lapdog, he sends him on an errand and tells him not to question authority. Consequently, when Vader arrives on Sho-torun, he and his forces make a lot of noise to put the rebel ore miners in their place. He tells Queen Trios that it is “a show of force,” which could really be the subtitle of this entire series. I love that Darth Vader is a series about power plays — Kieron Gillen’s pitch for the book probably was “all of the tension between Darth Vader and the Imperial officers from A New Hope…but for a whole series.
The book spends the majority of its page count focusing on Vader and Queen Trios on Sho-torun. I can’t tell if I’m reaching here or Gillen’s intention was to evoke feelings and memories of Queen Amidala/Padme in the character of Queen Trios. Since the Anakin/Padme relationship was entirely rigid and unbelievable it’s easier to compare their relationship to the Han/Leia dynamic. Vader shows Queen Trios that the only way to ensure obedience from children (the ore miners) is by taking away their toys (their citadel) altogether. Queen Trios pleads to Vader to treat her with a modicum of respect in order to maintain that same respect from the people she rules over, to which he agrees. This could simply be an example of maintaining the balance/illusion of power, but it feels like a micro act of kindness. It’s not too much that it makes Vader a complete sap, which is what makes it work.
There’s a lot of great hierarchal/political metaphor at work in Darth Vader 16 but I really got excited by the bounty hunters at the end of the book. I’ve written about this loveable band of misfit bounty hunters before, and I’m curious to see if they’ll show any loyalty to Aphra when they try to retrieve her from the Rebels.
What say you Taylor? Do you wish there was less Sho-torun time and more Emperor/Vader time in Darth Vader 16? How long do you think Aphra will keep working for Vader — the guy that changes his mind about keeping her alive every other day? Did you find BT-1 and Triple Zero amusing in their brief appearance here or just distracting?
Taylor: It’s always important to open your narrative with some sort of hook that’s going to grab the audience’s attention. The hook in this issue is simply brilliant and I think you’re right, Micheal, when you say that the best moments of this series are those where Palps and Vader are going toe-to-toe and measuring lightsabers, so to speak. The problem with this issue is that this opening scene is almost too good. The power stuggle between Trios and Vader mirrors that of Palps and Vader but it lacks the punch of the latter. The reason for this is probably because we know nothing about Trios at this point and insofar as we can tell, she’s no match for Vader. Will that change in the future? I sure hope so. Seeing Vader challenged brings out the best in the Dark Lord and I’m looking forward to seeing what tricks Trios surely has up her sleeve.
While the beginning of this issue certainly is its strong point, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the rest of it by any means. Vader is once again at his most menacing and mean in this series. Take, for example, his scorched earth policy toward the Sho-turun rebels. The gigantic machines the Ore-Barons are using to rebel are the same they use to produce their precious metals. Vader gives absolutely no-fucks about this and destroys entire machine with hot lava. He does this despite knowing that these machines are centuries old and impossible to replace.
Vader’s response to Trios’ despair is vicious yet beautiful in it’s simplicity and frostiness. Again, this is the Vader I love seeing in action. The Vader that the rebels fear and talk about in the original trilogy. The Vader that made kids afraid of firefighters when they were kids. In this way, Gillen is helping rebuild the legend of Vader that was taken down a peg with the release of the prequels. All signs of Anakin Skywalker are erased here. There is only Vader and he is evil and he is ruthless and he is to terrified.
In that respect I don’t see his treatment of Queen Trios as being kind in any way. While he does grant her the respect of being treated like a queen, it is in name only. Even as he concedes this to the woman herself, he doesn’t let her forget who’s in control.
Here again Vader’s lines are short and brutally to the point. He’s radiating dark authority and it leaves little room for interpretation when it comes to seeing who is in control of the situation. Despite this, I can’t believe Vader’s authority will go untested in this arc. As Palpatine himself said earlier in the issue, this mission will be a test for Vader. This coming from a man who is generally considered to have predictive abilities almost forecasts rough seas ahead for Vader. It would be really fun to see Trios take her stab at undermining Vader and it seems like a good bet to happen. Gillen has already established that she’s unhappy with Vader’s scorched earth policies so the only question that remains is how she will attempt to trip him up..
Oh, and I simply can’t get enough of Triple-Zero. I know he’s a one trick pony, but damn, it’s a good trick. I always read his voice as that of Anthony Daniels and hearing him prattle on about murder and violence affords me no small amount of joy. Keep those dark droids a’killin’ I say.
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Triple Zero saying that he was an expert in all things “cloak and dagger… Or at least dagger anyway” was a highlight of this issue for me – a perfect homicidal-C3PO joke.
Also, I’m not sure they’ll ever find a compelling way to do this, but I wish we had a better sense of BT’s personality. The only thing I can really say about him is that he’s quick to draw down – and that’s not much to hang a character on.
Also, Michael, this is a great point about Vader and Trios’ relationship having some echoes of Anakin and Amidala. It’s also interesting that their confrontation — that Vader ultimately gives a little bit — takes place as he’s about to get into his rehab egg (or whateverthefuck that thing is). The whole experience seems tied back to his origin in a way that nothing else in this series has touched on, which the possible exception of his Sand People slaughter in issue 1. I still think the main goal of this series is to convince me that Vader’s origin story is a compelling one, and I think it’s succeeding.