For our third comic book column, The Escapist is proud to introduce Guilded Age’s Phil Kahn to our writing team! And don’t forget to check out Speeding Bullets and Space, Spells, and Spandex if you haven’t already!
Hey, everyone. I’m Phil Kahn. Welcome to The Panelist. I’m here to hype you up about comics that I like a lot so you’ll read them, too. Let’s start by getting to the point: You really, really gotta read Darth Vader.
You might be dubious about new Star Wars comics but they are worth your time. All of them, frankly. Princess Leia and Lando are deeply satisfying reads, even as self-contained miniseries. But we’re here to talk about the best of the bunch. The Actual Reason Anyone Cares About Star Wars: Darth Vader.
He’s one of the most beloved heels in sci-fi history, if not one of the greatest bad guys of all time, and for good reason: The greatest villains tend to be the ones we can understand, the ones we can sympathize with. Empathize with, even. And somehow through the travesty of half a franchise that was his life story we came to love him as Anakin Skywalker, a man who made a lot of bad decisions because he just didn’t think he could do better. A tragic hero, always under the rule of one master or another, never truly in control of his own life and destiny, never knowing which path to take. Someone we constantly look at and think “Oh, no, sweetie, come on, you could just do the other thing.” Someone we root for, whom we wish good things for even though he sucks. The most powerful man that ever lived while also being completely incapable of catching a break.
This book isn’t about that guy. Not really. It’s about Darth Vader. But if you’re like me, you’re gonna think it’s about that other guy the whole time you’re reading it.
Darth Vader, like the main Star Wars book, takes place in the time following the destruction of the first Death Star. The Rebels are riding high on their major victory, and the Emperor is all too disappointed by a brand new incident after his favorite gun/moon went to shit. That incident is now being blamed entirely on Vader’s personal failings, because somehow it’s his fucking fault Luke Skywalker exists and did the thing (which… I guess is technically true, but still). Vader is in a tight spot now and he has to prove to Palpatine that he’s not history’s greatest screw up (which is possibly also true).
But even though his boss is breathing down his neck, and he now has to answer to a guy who was definitely his subordinate like a week ago, something’s nagging at him. The Force was strong with that one. Which is weird, right? Like a week ago there was only two guys and now it’s three? Why does he have his old lightsaber? And why does it rustle his jimmies so utterly?
Vader needs answers. It’s time to hire bounty hunters to bring you all the guys you want alive. It’s time to go stabbing all the people you want dead. It’s time to run conspiracies against conspiracies. It’s time to tear up space in his sweet-ass space car. It’s time to do dirty business like only a Sith Lord can.
Kieron Gillen takes a direct, yet surprisingly open-ended approach to depicting Darth Vader’s secret rampage across the galaxy. Some of Vader’s signature personality quirks are his pregnant pauses, and his stoic, be-helmeted visage. You can never truly read him, you can only hear the words he says and the people he murders. Gillen and artist Salvador Larocca put you up close and personal during these thousand-light year stares, these quiet moments which lull you into forming your own impressions on what’s going on in his mind, just as the movies did.
As he goes through his journey of whatever we’re calling “Shadows of the Empire, but for Episodes IV & V,” he makes many petty enemies and even some wacky new allies in his quest to find The Boy That Did The Thing, he plays any and all games of politick or life-and-death against anyone who dares to stand in his way… And the entire time I kept wondering what he might do on each crazy stop during his quest. See, Anakin might consider what the “right thing to do” in a given situation is. The man we all know he eventually comes back to, the good man who just wanted to live his Goddamned life and do the right thing. That sand-hating son of a one we know (because canon) was inside him all along. I frequently thought to myself, “Golly, gee. I know that’s Space Hitler, but I also know that Space Hitler isn’t such a bad guy in the final analysis and maybe since we’re privy to his private life we can see him finally let down this ruthless front and do something right for a change!”
No, Phil. That’s what “Ani” would do. This is Darth Vader. Darth Vader is a Sith to the core. Why negotiate when you can threaten? Why threaten when you can murder? Why murder when you can subjugate? In fact, who cares? These are all perfectly workable options for Darth Vader’s day-to-day nefarious machinations.
Gillen and Larocca’s masterful depiction of this immortal character – already 17 issues deep with a legitimately satisfying crossover to the main Star Wars book – consistently got me to troll myself into forgetting that while the truth is only the truth from a certain point of view, what Obi-Wan said of Vader was always correct:
Darth Vader is not Anakin. He’s not Anakin at all.
And while my desires to see him do a good are continuously strangled to death like so many Imperial Officers, I don’t care. This is my favorite Marvel book from 2015 and I’m thrilled it’s still going. Because Darth “Literally Slaughters Tusken Raiders On The Casual For Stress Relief” Vader is still Darth Vader, the most ruthless quadruple-amputee in the galaxy, delivering you nonstop thrills as he swings his big, red lightsaber at everything and playing all sides like the chumps they are!
Fuck the Rebel Alliance, fuck Emperor Palpatine, fuck General Tagge, and fuck you. This is Darth Vader, and he’s going to do whatever the Hell he wants in his own damned book.
And far be it from me to stand in his way.
Phil Kahn takes a heavily critical eye to sequential art, which is a term that people who think they’re very clever use to say “Comics.” You can follow follow him on Twitter where he also talks about anime a bunch.
Check back tomorrow as we introduce our final comics column: Gutter Mouth by Grey Carter!