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Review – Marvel’s ‘DARTH VADER’ #18 – 25 (The Final Story Arc)…

Darth Vader #18 (2017)

If I haven’t been clear about it here, here and here, I have been loving this series. And I’m kind of traumatised that it has to end.

But all things must end – and these final few chapters of this epic Darth Vader series have a hell of a lot of new story, mythology and character-building in them.

Following the brilliant Jocasta Nu arc, and the monumental Mon Cala arc, this series would have to work hard indeed to match the quality levels of those stories.

Darth Vader #18, unlike most of this run of stories, is more of a self-contained story centering on Tarkin and Vader.

And it’s really compelling. The cover alone – showing a skulking Tarkin, armed with weapon, trying to sneak up on Vader – is pretty epic and draws you in. The plot – Tarkin leading a hunting party to track and take down Vader – is simple, but pretty bad-ass. It just works.

The idea of Tarkin as a hunter, the imagery of Vader in the wilderness, trying to escape capture, etc, and the whole thing underpinned by Tarkin’s engaging inner monologue. The fear and shock in the various hunters as the book goes on, every time they’re outwitted by the prey, is palpable: so is the sense of grim enjoyment Vader seems to take in this challenge.

The twist, we learn later, is that it was Vader who had asked Tarkin to stage this hunt: which, actually, is the only thing that would’ve made sense anyway – but it’s cool that we don’t get this explanation until late, because it means that – for most of the book – we don’t know for sure that Tarkin isn’t actually hunting down Vader for some other reason.

All in all, Darth Vader #18 is a fantastic little interlude: it tells a potent story in itself, but it also breathes additional life into the relationship between Vader and Tarkin.

Darth Vader #19 also tells a self-containted(ish) story: and again, it’s a pretty engaging one. This time we have Vader and the Inquisitors going after a surviving Jedi in a new location. The Jedi in question is Eeth Koth – former member of the Jedi Council.

Weird side-note: I have an Eeth Koth action figure from 1999, still in its packaging – for some reason, it dropped from on top of a cupboard just as I’d finished reading this comic book. Spooky.

Anyway, unfortunately for Eeth Koth, Vader’s arrival coincides exactly with his wife giving birth to his child. Talk about bad fortune, huh? And it is clear that Vader wants the child even more than he cares about the former Jedi Master. The Inquisitors’ acquisition of the baby from its mother is actually a pretty sad moment.

What I really liked here is how Eeth Koth is written: unlike some of the other Jedi survivors hunted down by Vader, Koth seems to have given up on the idea of being a Jedi at all.

It’s hard to tell if he’s being completely sincere when he pleads with Vader, telling him he no longer cares about Jedi and he’s just a preacher and a healer now. He could lying to protect himself and his family but it kind of sounds like the truth, because he affirms it again later on. Which, for a member of the Jedi Council, is kind of fascinating. Eeth Koth’s attitude here is a far cry from what we saw in Master Barr from the Mon Cala arc or Jocasta Nu.


Darth Vader #20 is another knock-out. How does this book keep delivering?


We start, off the bat, with Vader turning on some of the Inquisitors and trying to kill two in particular: leading to a violent speeder chase through Coruscant, as he tries to catch them. There was something I really enjoyed about this chase through the city: I think because it really evoked the Obi-Wan/Anakin pursuit of Zam Wessell in Attack of the Clones.

If there’s one gripe, it’s that I didn’t really like Vader being in a standing position on his speeder as it navigated the busy Coruscant air-lanes at high speed. But, overall, this is a really cool action sequence, ending ultimately in Vader getting his way. The way he uses the Force to make the two of them murder each other is one of the most dark, twisted things we’ve seen Vader do in this entire series.

The second half of the book has Vader reporting back to Palpatine and having to justify his actions. This material is all superb. Palpatine’s reaction (he’s unhappy at the destruction Vader left in his wake across the Imperial capital) is spot-on.

But more important is Vader’s request of ‘a world’ of his own. Palpatine suggests Naboo or Tatooine: but Vader wants Mustafar. This then is essentially the origin-story of why Vader ended up with his castle on Mustafar – which is setting up the next big arc here.


But the detail that’s really evocative and fascinating is the Emperor’s ‘gift’ to Vader: which we see is nothing less than Queen Amidala’s royal starship (from The Phantom Menace).


It’s a really potent moment, evoking so much (both for us as readers and for Vader as a personality). How Palpatine acquired Padme’s ship isn’t clear: but as soon as I saw it, I had a little strain of ‘Anakin’s Theme’ from Episode I emerge in my mind.

Another little detail I also really liked here is Palpatine’s almost mocking reaction to Eeth Koth’s death and Vader’s explanation that the former Jedi Master was living as a ‘preacher’. You really get the palpable feeling of the Emperor’s absolute hatred of the Jedi and all things Jedi.

 
 

Darth Vader #21 takes – and Vader – back to Mustafar. And again, this is all just so compelling, so interesting. Aboard Amidala’s royal starship, Vader returns to the fiery, lava nightmare world that birthed him. Palpatine has sent with him ‘Colonel Brenne’ – the imperial officer who helped the Emperor redesign the Jedi Temple. Her purpose here is to build Vader the lair that he wants on Mustafar.

There are so many great elements and details here. The indigenous Mustafar aliens watching the arriving imperial shuttle, for example – those elusive aliens we glimpsed in Revenge of the Sith but never really knew anything about. Or Vader deliberately disabling shields in order to force the royal starship into a fiery, life-endangering landing on the lava planet (his purpose being to scorch and ravage the ship, turning it from a pristine, elegant vessel to a ravaged, scarred one).

The key element also introduced here is the ‘Mask of Lord Momin’: a mysterious ancient artefact that once belonged to an ancient Sith.

It is given to Vader by Palpatine, who tells him the mask has special powers and that it once spoke to him. Palpatine’s sly manner suggests there’s much more to it than that – and that he’s having fun with Vader, setting him up for an intersting, transformative event that will be not-without-trauma.

What I love most about this ‘Mask of Momin’ business is that we saw the mask months ago in Jocasta Nu’s hidden chamber in the Jedi Temple: it wasn’t brought to the fore then or talked about, just a subtle item visible in the chamber when Jocasta was in there. It shows how much planning and foresight is happening with this storytelling.

Colonel Brenne is an interesting character: a designer and architect who takes pride in her work, but has been given more than she can handle with Vader and his enigmatic purposes. Brenne is unceremoniously killed later – by the ‘Momin’ mask, seemingly.

The other sudden element teased here (via a casual remark from Palpatine) is the idea that Vader somehow wants to use the ‘force locus’ on Mustafar to somehow make contact with Padme or give life back to her. That’s an utterly fascinating, beguiling idea, and here it’s just an almost throwaway remark – a tease for things to come, perhaps.

But what a concept.

In Darth Vader #22, Vader makes true contact with the spirit or essence of ‘Momin’ via the mask/artefact. The spirit of Momin tells Vader the story of his life in the distant past. This was all really fascinating – the story of this ancient Sith, his training, his ambitions and life’s work.

It’s all beautifully illustrated and evocative – and, as Momin tells his story, you’re just glued to it from panel to panel. I love the idea of this old Sith not taking an apprentice, but thinking of himself as ‘an artist’ who’s goal was to use the mysteries of the Dark Side to create. Vader, however, seems barely moved: he doesn’t care about the past or about ideaology or artisty – only about the present and what Momin can offer him.


Again, there are really interesting details here: Momin shows Vader a shape or structure that he claims is ‘the key’ to unlocking closed doors of the true power of the Dark Side or the Force.


He also promises that this journey will bring Vader back his ‘beloved’, the fascinating implication being that this key could allow Vader to manipulate time, space and reality somehow. The implications here are staggering and fascinating – even in Star Wars terms.

Vader’s angry reaction is also spot-on: he attacks ‘Momin’ and warns that he has been misled before about using the Dark Side to cheat death – which is a brilliant line and something I’m glad Charles Soulle remembered to factor in to Vader’s response.

I also really like the fact that Vader can simply force the ‘Momin’ mask onto unwilling hosts (in this case a hapless Stormtrooper) and then the consciousness of Momin basically takes over that person’s body. It’s creepy.

This is great stuff, full of mystery and evocative contemplations of the Force and the mythology.

Across Darth Vader #23 and #24, we get Vader and ‘Momin’ attempting to construct Vader’s lair and find the way to amplify or create the powerful Dark Side ‘locus’ through Vader can reach new levels: at the same time, we get Mustafar’s indigenous aliens launching an all-out attack on the Imperial presence and Vader’s location.

The latter is something I was really glad to see: because you almsot get so wrapped up in Vader’s agenda and in Vader’s connection to Mustafar and the lava fields that you forget this is someone else’s world and culture – there’s a whole society here that has every right to defend its world from these off-world invaders and whatever they’re up to. It also gives life to those aliens we glimpsed in Revenge of the Sith, who were always just a vague background presence as Obi-Wan and Anakin were duelling to the death.

The aliens’ attack is fun to watch: and the way they call on the ‘blood of Mustafar’ to come to their aid (literally the lava) is a really great piece of world-building or culture-building detail that really makes this feel legitimate.

In the end, ‘Momin’ turns on Vader, trying to deny him access to the ‘doorway’ or locus and claiming he isn’t going to be able to walk through and learn its secrets. In a duel, Vader defeats and kills off Momin (presumably – given that he was kind of dead anyway).


This arc – and indeed this entire series – comes to its conclusion in Darth Vader #25. And, my God, what a finale.


I mean, this thing is just pure poetry: pure, dark, twisted poetry. Visually, conceptually and thematically sublime, this is the most fitting end to what has been a stunning run of comic books.

It’s difficult to even talk about it here: unlike a book that is plot-based, this one’s hard to ‘review’ because the whole thing is a concept and a vision.

So I’m actually not going to say much about it at all, other than a few notes – you really just have to read it, because this is a beguiling, absorbing experience for anyone who’s a long-term Anakin/Vader enthusiast. This is a book that cuts right into the core of this character’s mythology and his tortured psyche.

Essentially, with Momin gone, Vader has gone through the powerful Dark Side portal or doorway and is now experiencing a vision-like event in which his consciousness seems to have become untethered.

All of this plays out in tortured confusion: we get familiar words or lines from all across the timeline of the Vader/Anakin mythology, but

the words, memories and sentiments morph from one character or memory to the next (for example, Padme’s ‘I truly, deeply, love you’ from AOTC shifts uncomfortably to Palpatine’s ‘Your hate has made you powerful, now fulfil your destiny’). This motif of painfully remembered words and statements from people in his life underscores the entire book, acting like a metronome.

We get everyone, from his mother Shmi to Ashoka Tano. And we cut through everything, from the events of the prequel films to Clone Wars and Rebels.

Key lines or sentiments echo from panel to panel: the only one that confused me a little is that we get the ‘Let the past die – kill it if you have to’ line. Which is Kylo Ren’s line from The Last Jedi: which is odd for Vader to be hearing.

Is this meant to show that Vader’s tortured psychology is the same as (or foreshadowing) the psychology of Kylo Ren? Or is it saying that, in the mind-space that Vader is currently in, he is somehow tapping into the distant future and hearing or gleaning somehting from his future grandson?

It could be either – Momin does tell Vader in one of the previous installments that this space Vader is in outside of time. So he could be sensing Kylo somehow at this moment.

Either way, it’s a fascinating line to include here – and perhaps the ambiguity is more potent than having it spelt out.

There are so many killer moments here – which is amazing for just one, short comic book. The bit of Little Boy Anakin walking through the familiar alleys of Mos Espa hit me in the nostalgia feels immediately: but the stunning bit is where little Anakin notices his ‘Vader’ Shadow on the wall and is confused by it. The shadow then comes to life (as Vader) and attacks him: forcing Anakin to wake up, screaming, from the nightmare.

  

First, this is clearly a clever play on the iconic Episode I promo poster of Little Boy Anakin with the full-length Vader shadow behind him. I still have the full-sized poster of that on my wall – it’s always been a fantastic image. And here, we’re seeing it play out as an actual, real moment in Anakin’s life.

Second, when little Ani wakes up, his mother is there to comfort him, telling him “it’s only a dream”. Which is exactly what Obi-Wan tells Anakin in Episode II when Anakin says he is having nightmares about his mother; and exactly what Padme tells Anakin in Episode III when Anakin tells her he is having nightmares about her pregnancy (“like the ones I used to have about my mother”).

I mean, this is genius writing. Just in one little scene or panel is something that resonates through so much of the existing source-material and hits such a powerful note.

The later bit where he sees both Palpatine and Obi-Wan standing there, with the words ‘I am your father’ hanging between them is also pretty stunning.

But it’s the final piece of the equation – and the very thing that drew him to this situation in the first place – that is the most striking.

When he comes upon Padme standing on a balcony, with her back to him. By now he has reverted completely to the appearance of Anakin Skywalker, as he reaches out and pleads with her to come with him so he can save her. Padme’s line when she does turn around (“Are you an angel?”) is just perfect.

And then he is forced to lose her and watch her die all over again.

It’s really powerful stuff: the whole book feels like a love letter to Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker and that whole mythology around that character. It touches all the key notes and finds such a resonant tone throughout.


Some might quibble that it’s a little bit of a dead-end for a 25-book run: but we all knew he wasn’t actually going to bring Padme back to life – if he did, it would wreck the pre-existing story of the Original Trilogy.

So I’m more than happy to settle for sheer visual and thematic poetry – which really feels like the opening up of Darth Vader’s psyche and soul. As an end to what has been an astonishingly good run of first-rate comic books, this is more than fitting.


S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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