Vader’s Uncertainty Threatens All — Including Himself — in Star Wars: Darth Vader 12

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS! If you haven’t read the issue, proceed at your own risk.

Why is Darth Vader scary? It’s not necessarily because he’s so powerful, or because he’s so evil, although he’s obviously both. It’s because he’s unknowable, robotic, relentless, opaque. His mask betrays no expression, his words and actions only rarely betray emotion, and his motives often seem inscrutable. That kind of ambiguity begets strong reactions from almost everyone who sees Vader, be it outright fear or the kind of resentment festering in the Imperial Officers who place a hit on him in Star Wars: Darth Vader 12, not realizing what he’s done to gain his authority. In many ways, Vader’s unknowability is his greatest strength (only those who truly know Vader — such as Luke or even Jocasta Nu — ever manage to defeat or one-up him), but it also might be his greatest weakness, because as Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli suggest, even Vader doesn’t seem to fully understand himself, and his frustration over that is tearing him apart inside.

Camuncoli’s interpretation of this internal rage is easily the highlight of Darth Vader 12.

While on the outside Vader appears to be calmly meditating, on the inside he’s nothing but turmoil. He’s back on Mustafar, where he lost his fight with Obi-Wan, his body made up of the same lava that destroyed so much of it, his phantom limbs shining like stars, as if they’re aching in agony — his distress even distorting the panel and borders around him. This is not the mindscape of a peaceful man, but nor of a man like Palpatine, who is evil but assured in his treachery. Vader doesn’t know what he wants, or perhaps even why he’s so angry.

What does Vader want, anyway? His desires throughout this issue are basic — to not be shot at by assassins, to be shown the respect he thinks he deserves by the Imperials. Notably, when Vader seemingly gains both goals, his inner turmoil is not assuaged; his anger only grows stronger, cracking the window of his room while he meditates. I think what has Vader so upset is the fact that he doesn’t know what his true goal is anymore, that he seemingly isn’t satisfied by everything that he sacrificed so much for, that he turned to the Dark Side for.

In a few decades’ time this dissatisfaction will eventually lead to Vader’s redemption and death, but for the moment, even as it tears his psyche apart, it makes him an unstoppable combatant. The assassins and those who hired them have no idea the depths of power and resourcefulness at Vader’s disposal, and even Palpatine, who has always played his apprentice like a fiddle and can sense his emotions, seems to misunderstand Vader.

Is that what Vader really wants: endless enemies to fight? Is Vader someone who relishes violence and craves battle? I’ve honestly never gotten that impression from him, and the fact that even Palpatine himself doesn’t understand how to satisfy Vader will eventually be his undoing as well. Misunderstand, misinterpret, or underestimate Darth Vader at your own peril.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

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9 comments on “Vader’s Uncertainty Threatens All — Including Himself — in Star Wars: Darth Vader 12

  1. I really like this read on Vader. It’s been one of my favorite things from the Marvel Star Wars comics – the realization that Anakin became massively disappointing. Not just in a “you were supposed to bring balance to the force!” kind of way, but in a “you were supposed to have clear goals” kind of way. I wish there was some way to explore Anakin post-redemption, but y’know, he kinda dies in the process. I’d like to think he has a lot more clarity after rejecting the Dark Side.

    • I don’t know if this is the case in the new canon, but in the old canon, the Emperor very quickly got fed up and disappointed in Darth Vader.

      This was an a thousand year plan, built around using the Force to create the ultimate Jedi to get their revenge. And instead of this ultimate Sith Lord, he got crippled on his first day on the job and never truly came into his own. Darth Plagius created Anakin specifically as the capstone of the plan, and the first thing Palpatine did after was try and find a replacement for the failure that was Vader. The idea that Vader was such a disappointment was actually a really great idea.

  2. Also, I commented about this on twitter, but there’s a super dope page turn that is AMAZING when you’re doing guided view on digital platforms. It fades from lavaed-to-shit Vader-face to masked Vader-face. I tried to reach out to Jordan White and Charles Soule to see if they were consciously keeping digital readers in mind when making these things, but Jordan seemed surprised by my comment. He did mention that Marvel tried Infinite Comics, but that they didn’t really catch on. And like, I get that, but isn’t there a middle ground between Infinite Comics and regular comics that play nice in digital?

    • I read that exchange and was also somewhat disappointed in the response. All I saw from Jordan was “I had no idea that would work out so nicely”.

      I wonder what percent of Marvel comics (and comics in general, but Marvel are the only ones I read online due to Marvel Unlimited) are now read in guided view and how that is changing from year to year. It eventually has to become a priority, right?

      • I would bet it’ll be a long, long time before made-for-print comics start acknowledging guided view, as I can’t imagine any comics artists hold guided view in particularly high esteem. So much of what artists do is compose a layout that guides our eye around a page, and guided view both obscures that and makes it kind of irrelevant (and in my experience, guided view also occasionally gets it wrong). I’ve made this analogy before, but a comic artist drawing for guided view is a bit like a cinematographer shooting for the pan-and-scan edit of a movie — not only are they not thinking about it, they likely resent the fact that their art will be cropped in this way at all.

        Suffice it to say, I don’t love guided view, though I admit I do use it from time to time when dialogue is just a little too small to read. Simply zooming in on the artwork is a better option, and I wish comixology’s UI made that easier. Then again, I also wish I had a bigger monitor so this isn’t an issue.

        • I don’t actually read comics on my computer, only on my phone, so guided view is the only way that I read comics online. I’m still mostly a physical comic reader, but that is changing for Marvel comics as Marvel Unlimited is too good to pass up. I still ‘collect’ the stuff that I will want for posterity, but I have cut my Marvel pull list in half because I can just happily wait 6 months.

        • The problem with Guided View is that it will always be treated as secondary by the comic artist. The idea is cool, and works great with Infinite Comics (which suffered from the problem that Marvel could never risk putting anything big as an Infinite Comic, so it never went anywhere). But I never, ever use Guided View (as I use a tablet, on the occasions I need to zoom in, it is very easy. I’ve even managed to read comics on a phone without Guided View. Not at bad as you think).

          Guided View is certainly full of potential, but I don’t think a middle ground is possible. I think ultimately, webcomics will be what truly explores those possibilities – some have already taken great advantage of the Infinite Canvas, as it is called, to create fascinating layouts impossible in traditional comics. Though the Infinite Canvas may kill Guided View before Guided VIew has a chance – Guided View will probably hurt some of what the INfinite Canvas does so well. Guided View may just be a concept tha tnever gets its chance, because technology goes too fast.

          Or maybe the problem with GUided View is that it essentially removes layouts form comics. It generally takes things away and robs comics of a valuable tool. Which is why, when technology freed comics from rectangles, they went even crazier with layouts. WHy limit wha tyou cna do with layouts, when you’ve just got the ability to do so, so much more (I’ve seen Infinite Canvases that twist around like a snake, though I can’t remember where)

        • I’m reading Peter David’s X-Factor run right now (the 2005-2013 series) and there are several places that work beautifully for guided view. The panels where Storm finds out about X-Force and confronts Cyclops was the first I noticed (and that was maybe in a crossover about Hope), but it feels like each issue from 200 on has someplace that really looks cool in guided view.

        • X-Factor’s a lot of fun. I keep meaning to do a reread of that series. Really was a unique and cool part of the X-Men universe for a moment, and I hope the upcoming Madrox series can be a return to that sort of weird, wonderful vibe X-Factor had

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