Given recent announcements of additional series and an “Event-style” crossover, it’s no secret that Marvel has big plans for the Star Wars titles. However, the unfortunate downside of this anticipated growth spurt is that sometimes what’s directly on the plate can feel less special. Sadly, this holds true of the Sith Lord’s latest solo outing.
Writer Kieron Gillen does a fascinating job of spinning the plates for twenty pages but it is largely a show of smoke and mirrors and sleight-of-hand. To his credit, he’s pretty up front about the razzle-dazzle- tipping his hat as early as page four that things may not be quite what they seem. Where it falls short is that in all of this “future seeding”, there’s not much current tangibility. For the eight pages he’s in the book, Vader comes off either as the most subdued presence or as an ineffectual, cockblocked middleman. This is far from his go-to portrait as the galaxy’s most ominously opera-caped killer cyborg.
Although it is hard to tell through the mask if Vader is just playing it cool the whole time. It would make the most sense as Gillen loves the long game. Anyone familiar with his protracted character work on Loki throughout Journey Into Mystery and beyond can see that same magic gestating all over again. This issue already begins referencing panels in between other panels, so signs show favorable for frequent circling back. There’s also a sly plug for the already-in-progress Lando story, hedging that mini into the new official continuity.
That segue also introduces Vader’s latest Imperial “internal affairs” liasion, an older gentleman who rocks a monocle(!) and fancies himself something of an intergalactic Sherlock Holmes. In two short pages Inspector Thanoth cuts Vader to the quick like no other- the voice of cold, unswerving logic threatening to crack DV’s under-the-table endeavors. Curiously, Gillen’s pacing also seems thrown off kilter by this sudden, blunt exchange as the comic just kind of ends on this awkward, semi-digestive non- beat. No ‘End’ or ‘To Be Continued’ caption or punctuating logo. Nothing. Proceed straight to the letters page. Weird.
Without question, the greatest asset is the art and color team of Salvador Larroca and Edgar Delgado. Even on a “slower” issue such as this, their consistent visual excellence propels the page-turning. The cinema-quality flavor would only truly be complete if there were action figures based on the burgeoning all-original cast. This issue even features the opportunity to cast variant sculpts that sport space suits!
Despite boasting a clever, multi-tiered heist, this is unquestionably a “better in the trade” issue. Sure, there’s loads of allusions and speculation to potential developments down the road but the juiciest aspect essentially boils down to “Vader’s new bureaucratic interface gives him the suspicious stink-eye. Uncomfortableness ensues.” This by no means should read as “skip this issue”- just that there’s not a whole lot to hang your hat on in the immediate.