This new run on Darth Vader is definitely my favorite of the relaunched titles. It’s working its way into my Star Wars-loving heart and making itself an important piece of the canon while it’s at it.
This series does pretty much everything right: it’s a great Star Wars story, a great Darth Vader story, and a great comic. It does all three at once in a really cool way, in the way it does flashbacks and the internal captions that sometimes accompany them.
The flashbacks are similar in use to the way that previous Vader comics have done, where he remembers a specific scene, or set of scenes, from the prequel trilogy that are tied to where he is or what is happening in the plot. What this series does so well, though, is it contextualizes the memory, and gives it new meaning with the coloring choice. All of the flashbacks are given a red color, which is obviously striking, but I think the intent is to show whose memory this is. This isn’t the reader, or an omniscient narrator bringing the images to mind, and it isn’t disconnected emotionally from what is happening. I think the red symbolizes, not just Vader’s hatred, both in general and toward himself, but it symbolizes his literal eyes. Vader can no longer remember a time he didn’t literally see red, and the nature of memory is imperfect. As such, he literally cannot envision his past without his current state casting a shadow over it. In this simple way, the comic communicates so much about the character in a way that only comics can truly do. Neeroj Menon did a notably great job here!
I also want to mention the captions, as they are a specific tool that only comics have, and they are also used in a strategic and memorable way. The way the dialogue is broken up, and the choice of black lettering on red boxes is a fun way to play with the “voices” in the series. It again shows Vader’s own perspective and how he has manipulated his own history, to cause unnecessary anger and pain. The captions appear in their own panels, which themselves are black, emphasizing the text and making them more prominent on the page. It creates an effect that feels like Vader hyper-fixating, while also letting us into his mind more than we frequently get to be — and more than I typically like a story to do. It is a testament to the whole creative team that this not only works, but works well, but these successes are particularly in the hands of Greg Pak and Joe Caramagna.
Of course, Raffaele Ienco deserves credit, and something I picked up on was the wonderful way he drew wrinkles. The aged appearance of a few characters is something I noticed for the relative rarity and for how smart of a decision it was as a storytelling device. Of course characters grow older, but Ienco managed to draw characters that looked aged without looking too weathered, and it struck me as impressive. Of course, he also draws some really good limbs flying through the air. Perhaps one can have it all!
A few weeks ago, I said that the first volume of the new Star Wars series is close to the platonic ideal of a Star Wars story. If that’s the case, then Darth Vader is better than that. This is some top-shelf Star Wars and Darth Vader content, and it’s a great comic too.
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