Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"Darth Vader Annual" #1

I've been a pretty bad boy this year. There's been a major slew of "Star Wars" comics that Marvel has released this year, and so far, I've only ever read one, "Shattered Empire," the only comic prequel to the upcoming Episode VII. So, yeah. Not very good. 

I mean, I tried reading Princess Leia. But that wasn't all that great. And I've for some reason avoided the flagship book Star Wars. 

But with the release of a Darth Vader book, I naturally had to check it out. The new crossover, "Vader Down" began a couple weeks ago, but I also had several books coming out around that time and, I'm sorry, but "Assassin's Creed" takes precedence over "Star Wars," kiddos. Today's book, an annual, allows for free reading. Or, at least, should. 

If you don't know, some companies release annual a one-shot issue, most times. It's a chance for someone who doesn't really read comics or isn't reading that particular book to see what the book is about, it's tone, and to gauge if they'll want to read it. Sometimes this goes well, as the case with the "Batman" annuals. Other times, a book will forgo a normal issue and use the annual as an excuse to have an extended story, as is the case with recent titles Inhumans and Justice League: United. This could easily have been the case today, as we are still in the middle of the "Vader Down" crossover, but luckily, they seem to not acknowledge that story and just stick to a one-off. 

Thus, we have our little review here today. The final comic review of 2015. And the first "Star Wars" review. Fitting. 


Well, the cover is nothing spectacular. It's the book's label and Darth Vader walking with his cape flowing and lightsaber out. Against a white background. I feel like, given the vibrant environment we'll be introduced to momentarily, they could have done something about it. There's a slight problem there, as it would give the reader a false hope, but it would still be more interesting than just the white background. Or why not have him walking over rubble, like the badass Sith Lord he is? Ah, well. The name of the book alone should sell. 

We open in a kingdom, where the king is addressing his three children in a way that just about shouts, "Vader fodder." I mean, come on. I don't think we even see these guys until much later, save for Trios, who is actually our female protagonist alongside Vader. The point of this scene is to basically just set up Trios being none too special compared to her siblings. I'm just curious if this is a regular occurrence for when they get Imperial ambassadors? Like do they normally meet up and do this? Is Trios constantly reminded that she basically sucks? 

Well, I mean, maybe she looks over the lands. I'm sure a kingdom like this lives in a nice place like...

Hey, cool, they live in Hell. The makeup of this planet actually does intrigue me. Those hexagons, are they like energy pads to protect people from the lava? All I can think of when I see them is the Wretched Egg's powers from Deadman Wonderland

But yeah, this planet is a volcano planet not unlike Mustafar, which is where Vader was famously defeated by Obi-Wan and got all crispy. Like bacon. 

The problem that might arise when putting this up on the cover would be that people would think, "Oh, sweet, Vader's back on Mustafar! It's about to get real!" And as promising as that sounds, I can't say they would be happy to find out it's some random Middle Rim planet called Shu-torun. I'm none too pleased that it's a random place either, but it at least feeds into the rest of the story. 

Best part about this two-page spread? The art. Leinel Yu really shows off the scope of the planet, giving everything a good texture and leaving few details unchecked. I mean, look at that little building off to the left. It's shown in great detail! And we're given a sense of depth here, too. Jason Keith's colors are also a marvel, and standout throughout the book. It would be a rather bland look to have the dominant colors simply be red and black--though for obvious reasons--so the grey and blues that he uses on the Imperial fighter, as well as in some other instances, do help bring a level of brightness to the book. There's a natural shine to the colors, too

And what can you say about the main man himself? Unlike the cover, there is a real sense of imposition here. Vader has arrived. This is what makes him such a great villain. He just is. He's threatening instantly. Again, though, you have to credit the art for making Vader seem so large against his much bigger star-fighter.

The dialogue is also very Vader-esque as well. How can you not read, "You have disappointed me, Princess Trios" in James Earl Jones's voice? It's impossible!

Trios tries to tell Vader to take a chill pill, that they're throwing a party for him in the sublevels of the palace in his honor, that it'll impress him. To which Vader responds...

Okay, but can Obi-Wan say that he's more machine now than man with that level of sass? With Tarkin gone he's probably trying to carry the sassiness for both of them. I mean Tarkin had enough to wipe out Alderaan. 

Too soon? 

Too soon. 

RIP Senator Organa. 

Moving on, let's meet our comedic relief! *sweats profusely, tugs at shirt collar*

Yes, one thing that Keiron Gillen and his crew have introduced to the Vader mythos is also one of the reasons that I often choose not to read tie-in comics of this variety. We meet Vader's two companion droids, 000 and BT (or Triple Zero and BeeTee as they're labelled in the book). They're pretty clearly meant to resemble 3PO and R2, but in a very dark humor sense of things. It's the exact opposite, leading to tons of fun banter and remarks that they have. 

My only issue, and this isn't meant to take away from the book, as their presence in fact makes it that much better, but it's that we never see them in the films. In Empire Strikes Back our comedic relief from the Empire does sort of come from Vader and from a dark humor way. Even here there are examples of that. But, still, it's just weird to have them here and yet never mentioned in the films. Like, where do they go? 

It's one thing that's always bugged me about the Clone Wars TV series. It fills in gaps, yes, like how Commander Cody got such a reputation and how Anakin was slowly built into the Dark Side, but Ahsoka is never seen in the films. There are no hints of her, either. She and Anakin were very close, too. And I get that all of this is retrospective and that the films came out way before any of this was produced, but it just adds some plot-holes and confusion along the way. 

The best example of this is actually with Darth Maul. The television series explains how he comes back and how he actually interferes with the Emperor's plans, and then the tie-in comic explains further why certain events would come to play out as they do. Maul forces the Emperor's hand in speeding up the creation of Darth Vader, as he sees Dooku as more a liability than anything else. It shows what happens with Maul and his Mandolorian army and why they aren't seen from far. 

Look I'm not saying that Maul might be Kylo Ren's Master, but I'm just saying two things: 1) The Sith Rule of Two is still effect, it is canon and 2) Someone had to teach Kylo Ren the ways of the Dark Side (even if Luke taught him about the Force, he does not know the ways of the Dark Side like Maul, a Sith Lord, would). 

Ah, great, now you got me off topic. Uh, what's happening with the droids again? 

These guys would have made "Attack of the Clones" much better...
Wh--whoa. Uh, a bit gruesome, I guess?

It's just funny how much they play it off. BT is like the source of all evil. He makes sure that everything is done in such a way that they get it don and that others are hurt in their way. He even asks 000 if he brought poisons and if he'd even torture other droids. His response of "No I just kill them and make it painless" is priceless. If you ever wondered if there were any Sith Droids, then the answer is yes. And they are in this comic. 

In terms of their overall aesthetic, I was at first none too minding of their all-black look, but it really shoves it in your face that they're evil. Maybe like a dark grey for the both of them would have been better. It makes it easier to relate them to Vader, sure, but it can be a bit much at some points. 

While these shenanigans are going down, Trios brings Vader into the palace, where the Shu-torum dancing has begun in celebration of Vader. Trios asks why Vader is here for so much ore so quickly, since that is the planet's primary export, and Vader remarks that the Empire is building, clearly foreshadowing the preparations for the new Death Star. See, it's things like this that make me happy. No overt looking at the reader and saying, "Oh, we're building something BIG" Vader simply says, "The Empire is always building" and let's it sit. Are they talking about actually expanding the Empire and this being their way in, or do they really mean building the second Death Star? It's fun like that.

Dance, puppet, DANCE! 
When asked by another Duke if he'd dance, Vader agrees, and a part of me really did wanna see Vader bust a move or two on the dance floor. I thought for a second that was where the comic was going to go, but then went the more natural route of Vader Force-choking the duke. I really have been out of touch with my inner Jedi/ Sith.

Like can anyone even keep up with my moves? 

Vader drops the dude like a sack of space potatoes and goes looking for another partner. The night is young, he must be thinking. When nobody steps up, he get a partner truly worthy to share the dance-floor with him.

Well, you didn't have to be so forward...
You know, I'm just left wondering, the way Vader is posing on the page, if he really was going to start dancing on his own in this page. It's been teased for much of the scene, this would be the only natural payoff at this point. 

Sadly, though, it's not the case. Nor is it a bunch of Vader fan-girls. Instead, the planet's rebels leap out and make their attack on Vader, crying out to crush the Empire, and even the King. Vader, though, isn't having any of it. 

Ugh, my God, everywhere I go, these guys show up...

But, really. What is going through Vader's mind right here? It could be taken as quite ominous that Vader has no witty remarks or anything cunning to really say here, and instead just, expressionless, wipes them all out with his lightsaber. And with one hand no less. But, really, he just looks bored. Like these aren't the droids he's looking for. He makes pretty quick work of them, so, is Vader just wondering what he'll say next? Or is he just thinking, "Ah, jeez, did I leave the ship's lights on again? Empeor's gonna be pissed if he finds out the battery died again..."

We never find out, though, as Vader orders to be taken to the King immediately and Trios agrees to it. Back with the King and his family that has only had one panel each of time, he decides to kill Vader at the cost of Trios. Simultaneously, 000 and BT arrive, suggesting they have some drinks to calm down, make the death of his daughter a little easier on him. Because, you know, watching a loved one die is easier when you're downing a cold one. 

Shu-torum has a weird culture, I guess. 

Vader and Trios make their way down some really random pipeline--Particle Accelerator?--where Trios subtly suggests that her father thinks little of her. Vader doesn't really care, though, as the room begins to fill with lava. Trios freaks out while Vader makes them a little raft to escape in.

Of course it's lava. It had to be lava. 

I mean, the elephant in the room here is pretty obvious. Vader escaping from lava on a raft, blah blah blah. Look we've all seen "Revenge of the Sith" and get the parallels. It's here again, though, that I'm left to wonder what's going on in Vader's head? He does all of this wordlessly, as if it's just another day's pay for him. Is this really what his day job is like? 

"I mean it's like jeez, guy just wants a little ore and people try to melt him. Gonna need a raise when I get back to the Executor..." 

Plus, it doesn't help that this feels like a Darth Vader platformer video-game. 

The King is totally surprised that Vader managed to escape so easily with an unconscious Trios, and 000 suggests it's time for drinks again. The King flips out and 000 takes it calmly, with BT basically just telling him to take them out. 000 agrees. Again it's a pretty hilarious scene. These two are in no way over-the-top, and in that way they're incredible counterparts for Vader. He hasn't freaked out once during this and anyone else would have expressed some level of shock. Vader has probably just been thinking this whole time, "Well, alright then." He's the same in the intro level of Force: Unleashed on Kashyyyk. Literally nothing fazes him. And why should anything? As far as he's concerned, and as far as he knows, he is the strongest being in the entire universe. 

Trios, when she wakes up by Vader's command, tries to shoot Vader in the back, but he easily lops off her hand. Man, what is it with "Star Wars" and its fixation with cutting off hands? Sheesh. 

When Trios freaks out that Vader is going to take out the entire Royal Guard and family, Vader opens the door and reveals he would have no hand in that.

Oh, no...they all died...look out...I guess....
As 000 and BT bicker about how BT didn't really give them all massive heart attacks, and that they should have made their deaths slower (yup, definitely Imperial droids...) Trios mourns her family's loss. But Vader doesn't have any time for that, and finally reveals what's been in his little box the whole time, and how it shows the Empire's strength and how it can instill fear:

It's the only rock that remains of the planet Alderaan. 



Vader forces the crown onto her head, and as Trios tries to suggest that there will be more rebels than ever on the planet that will go against her will as well as the will of the Empire, Vader reminds her of one simple thing. That she may rule this planet as their queen, but...

*drops mic*
They, and all others, answer to he and the Empire, thus ending the comic, leaving naught but death, destruction, and dominance in his wake. 

This is a wonderful Darth Vader tale. It highlights everything that's great about the character as well adding some other smaller elements to it. He is every bit as menacing in each panel as he is in the films. And while I do jest about his thoughts, it's only because of how serious the book wishes to take itself and its story, and if you want to go that route, it's perfectly serviceable. I just like to poke fun because I'm here to entertain you good folk. 

The art was also incredible in this book, using great character and background designs to mix well with a dominance of reds, blacks, and surprisingly good blues to make all characters and their movements stand out. Despite being on a volcano planet, the book really was attractive on the eye. Vader himself was always menacing and the designs for 000 and BT are spot-on to how they appear in the movies. There were hardly any moments where the art felt stilted. Being that this is an annual issue, too, they were allowed more pages than normal and picked some pretty good pages to be splash pages, which thereby allowed the art to shine. 

In the end, this was a really fun Darth Vader story to read right before a major "Star Wars" release. Considering how Vader more than likely won't be in the film, this is a good fill before we get our hands on some new villains. And it really did make me considering reading the Vader book out now. I highly recommend that you check out this book, and most likely, that series as well. 

Next time, we'll take a look at my Top 10 Comic Issues from this year. Who knows? This one just might make the list! 

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Twitter: @seanovan13
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