Reaching the midpoint of the first arc, writer Jason Aaron and artist John Cassaday take twenty pages to pause and take stock of Marvel’s new in-canon Star Wars Universe before moving forward. It’s not so much wheel-spinning as it is an opportunity to better align all that’s happened so far in the recently re-minted franchise. It’s really not all that far removed from having a moment to dig into the album sleeve before flipping over the vinyl.
Picking up on a main thread from Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s Darth Vader title, the current issue focuses predominantly on the Sith Lord’s uneasy alliance of necessity with renowned vile gangster, Jabba The Hutt. As the interaction centers on “official Imperial matters”, much stemming directly from the hijinks of the last few issues, it carries the lead here- although no thanks to Vader’s terse delivery.
The “unease” seems mostly one-sided as Jabba eagerly serves as convivial host, facilitating what could’ve been otherwise a very brief get-together. No doubt fearing repeat strangulation from their last encounter, the Hutt bends over backwards (if such a thing is possible) to make every accommodation during Vader’s business trip an enjoyable one. That, and it gives him a great excuse to throw a rowdy-ass sail barge party, complete with drunk goons shooting at defenseless animals!
Although no actual Banthas were harmed in the making of this comic, this scene also makes for some delightful contrast among the ne’er-do-wells of a galaxy far, far away. Right up there with that officer’s hissing derision about not needing “bounty hunter scum” in The Empire Strikes Back, literally placing a line of stoic stormtroopers against the whoopin’-it-up stylings of Jabba’s “gangstas” draws a line in the sand like few other (apply “Tattooine/sand” pun as you see fit).
Framing the whole thing as nebulously awkward “at ease” co-mingling is really just the gravy, though. The real meat of the piece is that Vader plays up his anonymity on a level akin to Spider-Man! Jabba’s tone would sure change upon realizing the most ominous presence in the Galaxy was once a slave and once property of his rival, Gardulla The Hutt, in nearby Mos Espa. Despite being reluctantly drawn into conversations on a personal front, Vader remains coolly detached as Jabba non-stop talks with his mouth open, getting slobber on all the cards he turns over.
For all the villain-centric “team-building” feel-goodery, there is a bit of drawback, particularly in the visuals. Artist John Cassaday starts to come off the rails some, markedly loosening his lines and losing a lot of the “cinema authentic” vibe of the first three issues. He compensates some with excesses of shadow but credit for being the through-line for mood should really go to color artist Laura Martin.
Sadly, Cassaday is consistently inconsistent throughout. His best foot forward is copping what amount to straight-from-stills reproductions of Luke and Leia. It’s not quite photo-tracing but it’s a damn close second. He may have rendered the Rodians the same way, modeling them from Episode IV’s Greedo, but the fantastical elements of the character work better either way and may be the artist’s best current offering. Other instances in the issue see figure compositions that would make Picasso double-take! Disproportionately collaging arms and torsos together into off-centered yet familiar forms is a recurring jar. Even the iconicism itself is uniformly “off model”, harkening back in some strange way to the pre-codified renditions of Howard Chaykin from the original Bronze Age run. If this was an intentional homage, it should have been spelled out better.
As “Skywalker Strikes” arrives at a lull intersection, the current installment is by no means an immediate grabber. It’s great for connective tissue, though, serving as one part soft cross-promotion. It also has new blood seeding into a subplot capable of playing out in either of the monthly on-goings (or beyond), so there’s that as well. Add points if you like watching Jabba The Hutt unwind and truly enjoy himself. Scrub previous image to your liking as well…