Every once in a while, the slow march toward a world of oligarchic megacorporations opens up new paths for art. Case in point: Disney’s purchases of Marvel Entertainment and the Star Wars franchise. Now that the Jedi and the Avengers have the same corporate parents, readers are getting a little bit of brand cross-pollination. We don’t have any crossover events between Iron Man and Han Solo (though, as Parks and Recreation conclusively demonstrated, that would be pretty rad), but we do have some of Marvel’s best comics creators getting to play around in the Star Wars universe. That means a slew of new Marvel series starring Luke and the gang, and tomorrow, you’ll get to read the best of that crop so far: Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca’s Darth Vader No. 1.
Gillen is easily one of the most talented writers in the industry today, and although he’s no doubt heavily constrained by franchise edicts in his Vader title, he’s found some delightful ways to color within the lines here. The issue raises more questions than it answers, as one would expect from a series kickoff, and you do have to have read Jason Aaron and John Cassaday’s Star Wars Nos. 1 and 2 to fully get what’s going on. But even if you don’t totally grasp the overarching plot, you can find a lot to enjoy here, especially if you’re fond of political-intrigue-heavy sci-fi.
We pick up with everyone’s favorite Sith Lord not long after he managed to bungle the defense of the first Death Star, and he spends much of the issue getting berated by the Emperor, who reveals himself to be the worst kind of passive-aggressive, micromanaging boss. The rest of the tale (including the Return of the Jedi–referencing opening) is spent on Tatooine, where Vader is having some mysterious dealings with Jabba the Hutt and other familiar low-lives of the Outer Rim. Gillen manages to give us some predictable character reveals without coming across as too pandering.
But the real highlight here is the dialogue. Other than a few awkward beats (most notably when Vader uses the word haggling, which is hard to hear in James Earl Jones’s voice), Gillen has a knack for pithy, electric wording from the erstwhile Anakin Skywalker. A particular favorite: Jabba asks Darth, “You arrive a day early, kill two of my guards and expect me to deal with you?” and the Sith replies, “I have only killed two. Do not make me reconsider my generosity.” Aww, that’s the black-clad sarcasm machine we’ve all come to know and love.
Speaking of that line, it’s delivered on a striking two-page spread by veteran superhero penciler Salvador Larocca. He does a decent job with the issue, but he has a more thankless job than Gillen does when it comes to obeying brand consideration. Since these Star Wars books can’t exactly be experimental, he has to adhere to a kind of photorealism in drawing Vader, Jabba, the Emperor, and their various backdrops. The result is a well-crafted but unmemorable collection of artwork. It’s not distracting, but it’s not much to write home about, either.
If you’re a Star Wars nerd, the issue is worth a trip to a digital retailer or your local comics shop — and I should emphasize that you don’t have to be much of a Star Wars nerd to enjoy it. The philosophy of Marvel’s Star Wars line is a back-to-basics one, where virtually every character and plotline hews closely to the original trilogy. This isn’t the now-defunct and headache-inducingly intricate Expanded Universe (as wonderfully eulogized by Louis Evans in the Toast last year) — this is something fresh but familiar. We’re a short time ago in a galaxy close, close behind here, and Darth Vader promises an entertaining ride within it.