Today, Taylor and Michael are describing Darth Vader 17, originally released March 2nd, 2016.
Taylor: Part of Darth Vader’s mystique is that he’s a loner. He’s solitary, unknowable, and ultimately dangerous to those who both know and don’t know him. This penchant for solitude is part of what makes Vader fearsome. There are few people in the universe who can take on entire platoons of soldiers alone and emerge victorious, but Vader is one of them. Pair this with his basic distrust of just about everyone and everything and it’s no wonder the galaxy fears him. He is ultimately unknowable and what people can’t know they necessarily fear. In his black robes, Vader is essentially the embodiment of black hole: he can’t be known, he destroys all that come close to him, and ultimately he is misunderstood. Issue 17 of Darth Vader explores its titular character’s isolation and shows us how that is both the source of his downfall and ultimate redemption.
Vader is on Shu-Torun, on an errand from the Emperor to stop the ore-barons from rebelling against their royalty and ultimately the Empire. In doing so, Vader takes down a Lava Submarine singlehandedly and dispatches a bounty hunter who would dare try to trick him into thinking he had captured Dr. Aphra. Along the way, as has become common, Vader makes enemies and alienates himself from his would be allies.
At the top of this list of enemies and Vader-Haters is Cylo. The emperor’s henchman and mad scientist is angry with Vader because he doesn’t show him any respect, failing to address him with formalities such as “doctor.” It would be one thing if Cylo had no one to commiserate with, however, he has found a sympathetic ear in the form of Grand General Tagge (of A New Hope fame).
Anyone familiar with the Original Trilogy knows that Tagge and Vader don’t see eye to eye. Tagge is a pragmatist and fails to give Vader what he thinks is his due respect as the last Jedi alive. In A New Hope, it’s clear that Tagge is jealous of Vader’s power and I love seeing the seeds of that hatred planted in this issue. More than just being a throwback to the Episode IV, however, Tagge’s appearance and scheming with Cylo raise an interesting point about Imperial politics. It makes sense that those in power, and who want more of it, would question Vader’s tactics. After all, he has Palpatine’s ear and is notorious throughout the galaxy. Generals in the Imperial navy and Cylo naturally envy Vader and his presumed place of prominence next to the Emperor’s side. Since Vader works alone at all times, even when destroying a magma submersible, Vader has no allies. Where he should have friends he only has those who envy his power. It’s lonely at the top, as they say, and that’s nowhere near as apparent in Vader’s case as it is in this issue.
Lest you feel a tinge of pity for Vader in his isolation, remember that he isn’t entirely without fault in that regard. After his daring destruction of another hundred year old relic, Vader decides to take in some lightsaber sparring. It is here that Aiolin presents the Dark Lord with a proposition.
Essentially, Aiolin is asking Vader to take her on as his padawan. Vader, of course, turns her down in typical Vader fashion. While I always love watching Vader shoot someone down, I can’t help but view this as a missed opportunity on his part. Here, Vader had a chance to make an ally — someone who would not only be indebted to him for his training but perhaps someone who would be willing to his bidding in exchange for guidance. Given that earlier in the issue we learn there are forces aligning against Vader, I cringe at Vader’s lack of foresight here. If Vader was more willing to let others into his life, just a bit more willing to give someone a shot, perhaps he wouldn’t need to be such a hardass all the time. In this, I see how Vader’s insistence on always doing things himself will lead to failure, both in the short term and beyond.
The cover for this issue reinforces Vader’s isolation in surprising ways. For the cover of this issue artist Mark Brooks goes to great lengths to make the cover look similar in every way to the movie posters that accompany the seven major releases.
Like those posters, the main character here is pictured dead center. In addition, there are the token sci-fi vehicles busy in battle as can be seen with the AT-ATs and the TIE fighters in the upper left hand corner. And just like the movie posters, around the central main character are other supporting characters. Tellingly, all of these characters are either stormtroopers of TIE fighter pilots. Where there should conceivably at least one ally of Vader’s there are only henchman to do his bidding. However, since these are imperial soldiers, they would just as soon obey the emperor or their general if ordered to do so. This placement of soldiers where there should be friends reinforces the idea that Vader is truly alone, with no one to depend on and no one he can trust.
Ultimately we all know that Vader is redeemed at the end of his life thanks to his connection to his son. It is only when Vader allows others to get close to him that he’s able to complete his journey from light to dark and back again. In the meantime, it’s fascinating watching the ways that he continually alienates all of those who would be his compatriots knowing that it will lead to his ruin.
Michael, what did you think of this issue? Is Vader somewhat tragic in this issue the way he appears to me or is he simply a badass?
Michael: If we’re gonna measure Vader on a scale of tragic figure to badass in this issue then I’ll go ahead and support the claims of badassery. Interestingly enough, Darth Vader as he’s presented is a tragic figure in every movie besides A New Hope. In the original Star Wars we have no idea of Vader’s Skywalker origins; it’s only through the lens of the later films that we see him as a tragic figure. I think that Kieron Gillen realizes this and instills the badassery of A New Hope Vader with the tragic figure Vader of the following films. There are definitely tragic figure bits present in Darth Vader 17 (which I’ll get into later) but the moment that Taylor questions as missed opportunity between Aiolin and Vader is not an example of tragic figure Vader in my opinion.
Darth Vader as a series has been about Vader’s fight to stay relevant in the eyes of the Emperor and his fight with Cylo. Cylo’s cyborg squadron is the future and Vader is the past. No matter how he has to work with them on behalf of the Emperor, Vader will never see them as anything but threats. I don’t think that Vader is being stubborn or missing out on a potential ally in Aiolin; he’s being pragmatic. Darth Vader has had to play a very careful political game within the framework of the Imperial hierarchy, which extends to his quick dismissal of Aiolin. Perhaps on some level Vader sees that she could be a potential asset, but overall, she is a symbol of everything he needs to plan against. It’s a calculated decision he makes when he tells Aiolin that his wisdom would be wasted on her — he wants her to doubt herself. I can’t blame Vader for this — he’s a one man army as Taylor pointed out.
In a way another goal of Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader is to legitimize the impact of the prequels on Vader. Last issue I theorized how Queen Trios is a stand-in for Padme Amidala; a theory that Darth Vader 17 continues to strengthen for me. Though Vader previously made it very clear that the “respect “ that he presented for Queen Trios was merely an illusion, I can’t help but see that respect and endearment in play here. In terms of Queen Trios, Vader has also gone from badass to tragic figure. The bulk of their first interaction was Vader cutting a swath through Shu-Torun with no regard for Trios’ feelings or sense of tradition. In Darth Vader 17, however, you get a sense of near respect/obedience for Trios. Vader is still acting rashly and violently, but in a way that is tailored to Queen Trios’ liking.
Trios is shocked that the Ore Barons would fire on a sacred site, so Vader justifies his punishment of the attacking ship as a response to heresy. When Chamberlain Jooli questions Queen Trios’ authority, Vader defends her like a guard dog. Trios, in turn, reigns in guard dog Vader much in the way that Tarkin did in A New Hope. Whether or not Vader has conscious feelings for Trios, there’s definitely some projecting going on there.
And poor Beebox! Gillen had to go and kill my favorite Boba Fett knock-off, didn’t he? Bounty hunter Beebox claims the bounty of Doctor Aphra — whose current whereabouts I was fuzzy on — but she’s allegedly dead.
I say this all of the time so it’s probably getting old, but Salvador Larroca really sells me on Vader’s emotions. When Triple Zero tells Vader that Beebox has returned Aphra’s deceased remains you can see Vader’s disappointment. Larroca goes heavy on the shading, covering the various indentations of Vader’s helmet in uncertainty — he doesn’t want that to be true. Honestly, Larroca has turned the Darth Vader mask into subjective piece of art that can be read countless different ways. And I love that.
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Taylor, the more I think about your reading, the more I like it. We all recognize Vader as a solitary figure, and pointing at Revenge of the Sith as the cause of that certainly makes me like the prequels a bit more. Here, Gillen gets to examine exactly how the emotional trauma of killing/alienating all of his friends and colleagues would make him wary of forming new bonds with anyone.