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Darth Vader is a 25-issue Star Wars comic series from Marvel, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Salvador Larroca. This graphic novel follows the first collection, Darth Vader: Vader, and incorporates issues seven through twelve.
In this second collection, Darth Vader is a busy man/machine hybrid. He is running his own private investigation into the location and identity of the rebel pilot who blew up the Death Star. Vader has suspicions that he has not shared with the Emperor, and has begun to suspect that he has been misled about a great many things. His plan involves not only his new assistant Doctor Aphra and her murderous droids, but also a team of bounty hunters, both familiar and new. At the same time as this covert activity, he has official missions from Grand General Tagge. Tagge has confounded Vader by giving him a rare, precious, and entirely unwelcome gift: a competent adjutant. And when Tagge tasks Vader with investigating the very events that his private mission has caused, things become...intriguing.
As is often the case in a villain-driven story, the villain's organization (the Galactic Empire, in this case) is rife with politics and competition. (Not unlike a certain new administration, but let us not digress.) The heroes of the main Star Wars universe, the rebels, make only a brief appearance, which goes rather poorly for them. Instead, we follow along as Lord Vader visits various criminal elements of the mid-rim, at times working to erase evidence of his own mission a half-step ahead of his worryingly effective adjutant. Meanwhile Aphra works in secret to identify the pilot before anyone else can.
Gillen can't put Vader in mortal danger, of course, since we know he'll survive. In fact this is used to advantage, with Vader striding confidently through various forms of chaos as if there was no physical threat at all. He deflects and redirects attacks casually and is offhandedly deadly, just as he should be. Tension comes instead from the race to cover Vader's tracks before the adjutant can expose him, a delightfully effective approach as we're never quite sure who is going to succeed.
My only disappointment is that once again space seems unusually small and crowded. A key development requires a spaceship to fly right past a big rock. With a whole bloody planet to approach, there's no need to come anywhere near the big rock. It's not like trying to park at the shopping mall, people. Space is big*, and empty.
The story moves along smartly and one again showcases the Dark Lord at his best. Giving him an effective intellectual adversary makes for a compelling story and gives us a much more interesting and rounded Vader than one who simply slashes his way to victory. And once again Larroca's art is outstanding, giving us many brilliant Vader action scenes, but also managing to convey emotion with stance, lighting, and focus. One particular small panel that's just a tight static shot of Vader's hand near his lightsaber hilt tells us everything we need to know about what he's thinking. Great words, a great story, and great art: it's a keeper.
Followed by: Star Wars: Vader Down. Also collected in Darth Vader: Volume 1 (a hardcover featuring both this and the previous books).
The words for the simulated opening crawl are taken from the reviewed work.
* Really big. Heh. <big>big</big> looks funny.