I have expressed my dissatisfaction with the Darth Vader series before, not actually pertaining to anything wrong with the book, just that it included some “new” characters that were of such “significant” value to comic book prospectors and scalpers, that I was unable to pick up a copy from my local shop. Which was fine, because there were and are still more than enough Star Wars books being put out to satisfy my needs. But with the Force Awakens opening, I decided that I would give this series another shot- with a new standalone annual as a bit of a jumping-on point for the book, I thought- “why not?” so, I gave into the Dark Side and dove into the story.
I have really enjoyed Kieron Gillen’s writing, and his work on Iron Man, Phonogram and Wicken & Divine speak volumes to his writing, especially when working with characters a bit less “squeaky clean”. Vader is most certainly less than squeaky clean, and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in this issue. We see him paying a visit to the planet Shu-Torun, a mining planet that supplies the Empire with “ore” but of otherwise unspecified type. But they are a regal planet, read- “Downton Abbey in space”, and Lord Vader’s visit has come at the beginning of a grant ball held by the planet’s Dukes.
Vader has no time for such frivolous and grandiose posturing, and does his level best to show his dissatisfaction to the man who insists Vader dance with his daughter… after this rather unpleasant scene, we are given some time with two of those characters that caused “millions of (comic prospectors) voices suddenly cry out in terror (or joy- maybe), and were (by now, hopefully) suddenly silenced”: beetee and triple-zero, Vader’s personal droids. I don’t really know why these two evil twins of R2 and 3PO are such major things to happen to Vader (I mean he already worked with the ACTUAL versions of these two droids, so is it all that surprising/exciting that he would go out and get blacked-out versions of them?). but we see them make their way into the palace, and infiltrate the king’s chambers (where we find out exactly what is going on in this story) and see triple-zero try to offer the king some poison, only to be rebuffed.
Then, in a rather grand moment we see Vader and his escort Princess Trios in a giant underground tunnel, and the section they occupy is sealed shut and liquid hot magma starts pouring in. This is where I thought Vader may have had some sort of Vietnam-esque flashbacks and started to lose it a little bit, but this guy had given all of himself over to the Dark Side, and he doesn’t hesitate for one moment. Through some ingenuity and force powers, he is able to free himself (obviously, this book is set between A New Hope and Empire, so he cant die… yet) and move on to the next phase of things. Then we see Trios pull a blaster pistol on Vader and the moment of the story (second to the lava escape) that drew me in and made me most fully appreciate this story) happens- Vader, using his calling card move, slices Princess Trios’ hand off at the wrist, still clutching the unfired blaster.
The story ends with Vader and Trios entering the king’s chamber, only to find that beetee and triple-zero had killed everyone inside, and that Vader seemingly knew exactly what would happen all along. He then presents Trios with the gift meant for the king, a puzzle box that falls open upon his command, to reveal a seemingly innocuous hunk of rock, that Trios holds in her hands and says “I don’t understand”. To which Vader does his level best to instill fear not only in Princess Trios, but the reader as well when he says this is a “small reminder of what happens to worlds who resist the Emperor… This is what remains of Alderaan.” Which was a dark and really messed up thing to do. But it absolutely drives the point home, and I think the newly appointed Queen Trios will do more to subdue the frivolous and stately living of the people of Shu-Torun, and to make sure they meet their ore quotas from now on. Heck, I’ll be doing my best to contribute ore to the Empire after this story, because that stuff freaking scared ME!
But this story was very well written, and was gorgeously drawn. The accessibility hurdle for the story is relatively low- you don’t need to know much going in, except that the droids in Vader’s service are in fact NOT R2-D2 and C-3PO; because that would be a really messed up mistake to make. Beyond that, this was a really engaging read, and the gorgeous artwork really draws you in and gives life to this story. I was thoroughly impacted by it, and I did enjoy that it was a bit of a break from the Vader Down story, so that people could get a taste of the Vader book, and maybe go back and read Vader Down, or just be ready to pick up the new Vader issues that come out after it ends. Either way- this issue is definitely worth checking out (and so is Force Awakens; I saw it twice already…).