With a skilled artist at the reins, a silent sequence can be a comic’s deadliest weapon. Artist Salvador Larroca uses several such sequences to show his “hero’s” rage, willpower, and sheer brutality in Darth Vader #1. The story follows Darth Vader on a “diplomatic” mission to Jabba the Hutt where he is helping the Emperor broker a deal to keep the Outer Rim territories under control. But it ends up being much more personal. Kieron Gillen was born to write Darth Vader. He doesn’t go over the top with villainous speeches, and when Vader does speak, it is meaningful and/or quotable. Some of the momentum of the comic does halt when the chilling opening scene in Jabba’s Palace immediately cuts to a flashback and semi-retelling of Star Wars #1. (This scene does reveal a lot of Vader’s motivation though.) Plotting and blaster angle issues aside, Darth Vader #1 is a no punches pulled look into one of fiction’s most compelling villains and features detailed, visceral art from Salvador Larroca.
Vader’s twin conflicts with himself and the Emperor drive the plot of Darth Vader #1 as well as his own personal arc. Larroca spends a couple pages in his head and shows him piecing together the events of Star Wars #1-2 in a way that doesn’t need a single word balloon. A line of dialogue that Vader directs toward Jabba could act as a thesis statement for the series, “Mind tricks are not of the Dark Side. We prefer force.” This ethos is present in the extended action scenes beginning with Vader basically walking into Jabba’s Palace and dismembering his bodyguards upon entry. Gillen and Larroca give these first pages a slow build, and colorist Edgar Delgado places a wisp of black in each panel to offset the earthy tones of Vader’s native Tatooine. Then, Larroca breaks out a two page, poster worthy splash page showing Vader’s dominance over the denizens of the Palace.
Throughout the comic, Larroca’s art has little details that add subtle depth to the plot in characters. For example, when Vader “negotiates” with Jabba, he cuts what would usually be a single panel into four panel to capture the painful effect of a Force Choke on this corpulent crime boss. Vader’s verbal arguments with the Emperor about the new Death Star and his plan for defeating the Rebels are also painful to read as Palpatine pins the originally Death Star’s destruction completely on Vader. However, he gets to project some of that pain on his enemies courtesy of the pages upon pages of lightsaber battling and Force choking. Colorist Delgado veils Larroca’s art in shadow, especially when Vader is conferring with the Emperor, but occasionally departs from this scheme to create a shining light motif for the city of Coruscant, which is a callback to the Latin word coruscere (“to flash, or glitter”). It also has a more interesting symbolic role as the Republic that Coruscant used to be the capital of has all but crumbled and is replaced by a vengeful tyrant and his lackeys.
Gillen, Larroca, and Delgado always have the bigger saga of Star Wars in view and make connections with Aaron and Cassaday’s nascent Star Wars run as well as both the original trilogy and prequel films. However, Darth Vader #1 stands on its own and is a rare look into the mind and motivations of this iconic villain. Salvador Larroca’s page compositions are cinematic and clearly show Vader’s power and merciless nature. Gillen also explores the bureaucracy of the Empire and its weaknesses as well as the different shades of evil between the Emperor, Jabba, and of course, Vader. All in all, Darth Vader #1 is a harrowing look at the power of the Dark Side through a character, who has a foot on both sides of the Force.