Vader Down #1 is the first chapter of Marvel’s crossover by the same time, which is their first Star Wars related crossover since they picked up the license from Dark Horse Comics. It will only be contained to the Star Wars and Darth Vader comics with no additional one-shots or ancillary tie-ins, and best of all, it is coordinated by two of Marvel’s finest writers: Jason Aaron (Southern Bastards) and Kieron Gillen (WicDiv). The opening issue introduces the setting, cast of characters, and the story’s hook, which is that Darth Vader is secretly looking for Luke Skywalker behind the Emperor’s back and has traced him to Vrogas Vas, a dusty planet with a Jedi temple and a full complement of Rebel infantry and pilots.
Thankfully, the issue isn’t just exposition and setup as artist Mike Deodato and colorist Frank Martin depict Vader going into action against two full X-Fighter squadrons and astonishing them all. Unfortunately, Deodato’s art is more static and doesn’t capture the fluidity a dogfight in motion, but he does excel at pulling back and creating iconic imagery in a splash page or even a panel. And when his pencils and inks lack energy, colorist Frank Martin is there to clean up with impactful, red explosions and the black and blue expanses of space as the Rebel pilots float lifeless with their astromech droids. In one image, Deodato and Martin capture the human loss of life in a much more powerful way than a line of dialogue like “Many Bothans died for this information” ever could. And there are plenty of iconic moments in Vader Down from Vader getting surprised by an X-Wing squadron in the page’s opening moments to his many moments of triumph. However, the space battles lack movement and energy with Deodato mainly relying on talking head pilots and loosely drawn explosions with the occasional, powerful full page shot.
Jason Aaron should be praised for giving equal panel time to both the supporting cast of his Star Wars book and Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader, which features the intrepid pilot Aphra and the sociopathic astromech droid BT-1 and protocol droid 0-0-0 (Triple Zero). Aaron creates some tension between Vader and Aphra in the early going because he thought Aphra betrayed him by having him fly into a whole Rebel force solo even though she vehemently dies and heads to Vrogan Vas to rescue him with a couple of bloodthirsty, yet darkly hilarious droids in tow. Aaron interjects the technical (With a side of scared witless of a Sith lord.) dialogue of military maneuvers with some grim humor in C-3P0 and Triple Zero’s completely opposite reactions to going to Vrogan Vas on rescue missions.
And the best part of Vader Down #1, and what makes this is seeing Darth Vader in full-on attack mode and not holding back as he is majorly outnumbered by the Rebels. However, Aaron keeps things sort of on the realistic side as he allows Vader to only take down one X-Wing squadron thanks to the intervention of Luke, who is still raw in his Force abilities, but has a sense for how Vader fights from his attack run at Yavin. It is loads of fun to see the “power of the Dark Side” with action as Vader uses his Force abilities to neutralize the gigantic numbers advantage that the Rebels have on him. And Aaron relishes each time the Sith lord gets to speak, including the arrogant one-liner to end all one-liners on the final page.
Even if Mike Deodato’s art doesn’t fit the space battle portion of the comic, Vader Down #1 is an explosive start to Marvel’s first Star Wars crossover and will give Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen the once in a lifetime opportunity to show what Darth Vader would do once the chips are down. It’s best read while playing “Imperial March” on an endless loop.