The first Darth Vader series from Marvel Comics' Star Wars line is a tough act to follow. Kieron Gillen had such an amazing handle on how to write not only Vader himself, but also the Emperor, and his wonderful creations Doctor Aphra, Triple-Zero and Beetee, Cylo, and many more. It felt like a natural ending when the series came to an end, and for once, a story left us before wearing out its welcome.
So when Marvel announced that it was coming back with a new creative team, set in a different era, I was skeptical. I wasn't surprised, but I was worried that it was a sales-driven decision and nothing more.
My chief complaint with the Marvel line of Star Wars books so far has been that the majority of the books are set in the time around A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, so anything else feels fresh by default. The prequel era is rich with stories to tell (sorry, haters). Revenge of the Sith also happens to be a personal favorite in the saga, so picking up where that film leaves off is going to get my attention. And this one literally picks up as that film ends.
We open on the operating table with Vader awakening to realize his beloved Padme has passed away. Yes, the infamous "NOOOOOO!" is here, but tastefully retconned into a powerful "NO," by letterer Joe Caramagna, and it is much appreciated.
From there: this is the Emperor's show. He does not take kindly to Vader "touching" him with the Force, and begins to use his Force Lightning on him, begging him to use his lightsaber to defend himself. Of course, Anakin's lightsaber is in the possession of one Obi-Wan Kenobi at this point, and as Palpatine realizes this, he shows Vader mercy and says to him: "That blade belonged to another. A Jedi. You are a Sith." And that is where the theme of this issue comes to light (hehe): It's all about the kyber, my friends.
We come to learn through a conversation between Palpatine and Vader how a Sith's lightsaber becomes red. Turns out, Sith sabers are no different from a Jedi saber. Any kyber crystal can be wielded by a Sith, and since kyber crystals are alive in a way, they can feel pain. A Sith will use the Dark Side to torture the crystal with pain and rage until the color becomes "a beautiful crimson." This conversation takes place as they show all of the dead Jedi's lightsabers being destroyed in a fire in front of giant Empire insignia banners. Vader remarks that he understands why Palpatine did not give him any of those sabers to corrupt; a Sith saber needs to be taken, not given.
The rest of the issue sets up where this first arc will be taking us: a Mid Rim planet where Vader must track down a Jedi from whom he will claim his saber. This leads to Vader looking for the people who stole the ship Palpatine has left for his return after completing his task, and he takes out his frustrations on them. This scene is not unlike the one that closes out the first issue of Gillen's run and the execution of the Tuskens. Seeing Vader do his thing is always a welcome sight, and his utter destruction of these hapless thieves is a joy.
Charles Soule has written pretty extensively in the Marvel Star Wars universe at this point, and he has a great handle on what it takes to get these characters off the page and into your head. Every interaction between Vader and Palpatine feels important and has you hanging on every word between the two. I found myself thinking of their conversation before Anakin's fall at the opera while they were discussing the kyber crystals. He does an excellent job making us understand that this is a period of grief and dourness. The light is gone, and we will now suffer.
Giuseppe Camuncoli brings a very kinetic yet clean style to the proceedings, like the way he draws Vader. He feels younger, more childlike here. The armor is new, and the Emperor even asks him if it suits him. Vader's response is that it is…acceptable, but the way the mask and helmet are drawn, it looks and feels very sorrowful. Like every time Vader catches a glimpse of himself, his ultimate failure bubbles to the surface and the old Anakin takes over. That is a testament to Camuncoli, inker Cam Smith, and colorist David Curiel.
My only complaint here really is that the story feels a tad rushed — at $4.99, I was hoping for more of the main story. I won't complain, though; we get a wonderful background story by Chris Eliopoulos and Jordie Bellaire about helpless Imperial Officers and Mouse Droids keeping Vader from resting.
This story seems to be steeped in Force lore, what it means to be a true Sith, and how Darth Vader became even more terrifying than the Emperor himself. All worries that this was a cash-grab are gone — bring one issue #2.