Today, Taylor and Patrick are describing Darth Vader 19, originally released April 13th, 2016.
Taylor: Clarity is something that is important to all narratives. One of the things that made the Star Wars prequels a shadow of the films that spawned them is that they lacked clarity. In Episode I, the script is muddled with confusing and distracting talk of trade negotiations and droid armies. In Episodes II and III it’s unclear whether we should be rooting for or against Anakin. The point is, it’s important to be clear when telling a story. Darth Vader 19, is ostensibly clear, but there is enough confusion in some key scenes to make me just wonder, hey, wha happened?
In issue 19, Vader continues his dominance over the Shu-Torun by defeating those who betray him and once again by generally kicking ass. Queen Trios, likewise, begins her own rampage of her home planet and in doing so fulfills Vader’s wishes for her. With the Ore Barons all but defeated, Vader leaves the planet and moves on to his next adventure.
At this point in my reading of the Darth Vader series I’ve come to expect great things from it. Since it’s been written with such high quality, however, I immediately notice when things aren’t up to the high standards the series has set for itself. In this issue, a lot of the action in the story is frankly confusing and only upon several rereads did I comprehend what was going on. This made for an issue that could have been great instead fall to mediocre.
An example of this muddled action first comes when Vader defeats his betrayers, Aiolin and Morit. After Morit doubly betrays Aiolin by pushing her into lava, it is up to Vader to rescue her from a gruesome death.
The first panel on this page, as penned by Salvador Larroca, appears to be Vader force-lifting Aiolin out of the lava. The only problem is that the thing he is lifting so little resembles Aiolin it’s hard to tell that’s what he’s doing. The next two panels do little in the way of telling us this mass is Aiolin and it’s only using the context clues of her speech that I actually know what’s happening in this scene. In the last panel pictures here, I assume Vader has mercy-killed Aiolin given his drawn lightsaber, but really there is too little evidence to support whether this is the case or not. If I had to guess, I would assume Larroca doesn’t want to show us burned up Aiolin because it would be too graphic. While that restraint is fine, the artwork as presented here, makes this scene more confusing rather than enhancing it.
There is potential in this scene though. Writer Kieron Gillen cleverly works in some magic by having lava a central element in Aiolin’s eventual demise. In Episode III after being defeated by Obi-Wan, Anakin is consumed in flames on the banks of a lava river. So, when Anakin later tells Aiolin that the pain of the burns will soon pass, he is speaking from experience. You get the sense here that Vader rescued Aiolin from the lava not only because he wanted information from her, but also because he wanted to prevent what happened to him from happening to her. This series has always done such a great job of giving Vader nuanced emotion and it’s a shame that a scene could have been quite powerful came up a bit short in this instance.
Other areas of the story are also confusing, like when the Imperial drill finally reaches Queen Trios and deploys it’s troops. What’s more confusing than that though, are the actions of Triple-Zero. Tasked with fending off the Imperial siege drill (which is as awesome as it sounds) Triple-Zero claims he outfitted robots with blood drawing syringes so they could use the force and become more powerful. Or wait, maybe he didn’t.
Or wait again, maybe he did. Triple-Zero claims that his syringe escapade was all a ruse to lower the enemy moral, but BT-1’s outburst makes me think otherwise. Also, Triple-Zero’s claim that “we would never do that” rings hallow and sarcastic. Point is, I have no idea whether Triple-Zero actually modified his fellow robots with syringes or not. Sure, maybe Gillen is using this as a moment to demonstrate Triple-Zero’s duplicitous nature, but the cost of that is a scene is confusing and makes me wonder what actually happened in the battle taking place in this issue.
Patrick, all of the things I mentioned here are nit-picky – I realize that. Like I said though, I expect greatness from this title and it’s a little disappointing to see it fall back to earth (or drill to it’s center as you would have it). Do you feel the same way? Also, I think there’s a lot of interesting things happening between Trios and Vader in this issue but word count dictates I hand things over to you. Do you see how she’s become Vader’s protege the way I do?
Patrick: Obey the Word Count, Taylor! The Word Count is a cruel and exacting master and defying its will could lead to being gunned down in front of your peers!
Y’know, it’s interesting: I don’t think I would classify Trios and Vader’s relationship as one of mentor and protege. Trios is certainly taking inspiration from Vader’s more classically cruel personality quirks (and his ruthlessness in leadership and war), but I don’t think Vader is getting quite the same thing out of that relationship. Trios is a Queen, after all – young, defiant, female royalty. That is, for lack of a better word, Vader’s “type.” It’s fascinating to watch them interact because you can almost see echos of Anakin in Amidala, which is one of the few pairings that finds Vader willingly on the losing end of a power imbalance. After she orders Baron Rubix executed on-the-spot, Vader asks “Why?” Trios’ answer is even more telling – she says that a younger leader would be easier to control. In effect, she’s revealing herself to be a puppet master, while Vader is, and will spend most of his life being, a puppet. He was that young corruptible leader, given great power and influence at a time in his life when he was not ready to wield it on his own. Even now, Vader’s not on Shu-Torun because he wants to, he’s there on orders from the Emperor.
That makes Trios’ kind of the uncomfortable intersection of lover and boss – even though she literally plays neither role to Darth Vader in this issue. She’s just exhibiting traits of Amidala and Palpatine in a way that gives Vader no other choice than to neg her at the end of the issue. God bless Triple-Zero for not letting his backhanded compliment go unexplored.
Taylor, I know you’ve got some misgivings about the way Triple-Zero is written throughout the issue. I’ll agree that I couldn’t say with any certainty whether he did outfit the robots with blood-syringes, but I think the text suggests that all it took was the suggestion that he might have over the PA system to shatter enemy morale. In those first couple pages, we’re definitely not meant to know whether he really did it or not, but when he comes clean to Vader, I also would have preferred a little more clarity. As it stands, Gillen almost writes Triple-Zero as a touch too brazen for me — can you imagine ANY OTHER CHARACTER in this universe cheerfully implying they defied his orders?
Unless this is Gillen and Larroca setting up Triple-Zero as an eventual threat so big that Vader will have to take him out on his own. Larroca does give us multiple drawings of the dubplicitous droid head-on, with his bright red eyes burning directly out of the page – even this moment Taylor posted above gets one (and at a sinister low angle at that).
I suppose that’s me speculating — and I’d like to get to even more speculation in a second — but let’s wrap up with Queen Trios, as I suspect we’ll never see her again. In our final moments with her, she is given an Imperial Captain to aid her in a military advisory capacity. She wastes no time in asserting Shu Torun culture upon him, and while we don’t get to see the results of her “we are an intensely courtly culture” speech this time, we have to assume it was more successful than when she tried it on Vader. Again, she finds herself in the company of a younger leader — a goddamn Captain, still in his Storm Trooper uniform — and sets to work manipulating him. That Captain is almost a gift to Trios: he’s a version of Darth Vader she can control.
[I’m going to SPOIL the last page right now, so proceed at your own peril. Oh, and I guess an episode of Daredevil season 2 as well.]
We could spend a lot more time morning the loss of that character if only there wasn’t amazingly tantalizing shit on the horizon. I’m sort of over twisty revelations acting as buttons to issues or episodes. I don’t need a reason to come back and read the next issue of a story I like, so why position game-changing information in the final moments? Also, I’m frequently underwhelmed by these kinds of revelations. I’m thinking specifically of this season of Daredevil, which has an episode end with Frank Castle’s twisty journey through the prison to meet with a mysterious stranger that turns out to be… Wilson Fisk. Obviously. The world isn’t so densely populated with characters that I have to do any active imagining to be ahead of that mystery.
But Darth Vader 19 does have a meaningful, and surprising, bombshell to drop: Dr. Aphra isn’t in the custody of some bounty hunter, she is with Inspector Thanoth. Yeeps! What makes this revelation all the more effective is that it plays on some of the same insecurities we’ve seen at play in the rest of the issue – Vader is too old and experienced to be played by Trios, but he’s not so clever that Thanoth can’t back him into a corner. For every battle that Vader can win through overwhelming force, for ever lightsaber duel that he has the eternal upper hand in, there are always going to be Imperial forces more tactically and strategically cunning than he is.
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?