One of the great dangers facing all villains, specifically those featured in serialized stories, is popularity. Such often leads to demands from a rabid fan base for more material in which the character is featured and mined for psychological depth, which in turn leads to sympathy for a character’s motivations and an accompanying progression from unapologetic villain to relatable antihero. Many classic comic book baddies have undergone this exact transformation, from Magneto at Marvel to Sinestro and Harley Quinn at DC. By the time such characters are starring in their own series, the need for readers to relate to them tends to neuter their previous penchant for destruction.
This was always the worry lurking behind the Darth Vader solo series, which would prove especially egregious given the era in which it takes place firmly establishes the character as entirely devoted to the Dark Side. Kieran Gillen has thus far navigated such treacherous waters wonderfully. The book is filled with more scum and villainy than any cantina in Mos Eisley, yet whether they exist as Vader’s rivals or allies their function in the story is never to make the Dark Lord appear more noble or heroic in contrast. Gillen never makes any apologies for the protagonist’s deceptive, fascist, and murderous ways.
Indeed, such is true of the entire central cast, from the pragmatic and mercenary Aphra to the homicidal and sadistic Beetee and Triple-Zero. HK-47, whom both most resemble in personality, at least had Revan to hold his leash; not so here. Thanoth (sadly absent from this Vader Down crossover) is the only main cast member without outright malicious motivations.
But Gillen goes further still, indeed, a bit too far. Though not mistakenly softening the character of Vader, making the hero of the book too heroic, he instead in this issue hardens the character of Leia, instilling in the rebel princess an uncharacteristically bellicose demeanor. Gillen has embraced the Dark Side, and it dominates the tone of the book, both for better and for worse.
Larroca’s art is every bit the level of quality it’s maintained throughout the previous entries of the series, though this issue suffers in contrast to two comparisons. Firstly, last week’s Vader Down #1, of which the story here is a continuation. The memory of Mike Deodato’s renditions of the exact same characters and settings is fresh, with Deodato’s being unquestionably the better of the two.
Secondly, this is Larroca’s first foray into depicting the big three of Luke, Han, and Leia extensively, and the accuracy of his art to the real life Hamill, Ford, and Fisher is lacking, especially against his fellow Marvel pencillers on Star Wars. Such was less pronounced in characters with less human faces such as Vader, Palpatine, and Fett, or in original characters such as Aphra and Thanoth, but it becomes problematic here.
Darth Vader #13 both benefits and suffers from the Vader Down crossover. It lacks the intrigue which had become a signature of the series, but in turn offers up many memorable violent confrontations, especially Aphra’s assault on Luke. Per usual, the elements which work best are those original to Gillen and Larocca; it’s not Luke that make this scene work but the Aphra. Yet even a middling issue of Darth Vader will surely prove to be among the best books put out by Marvel in any given month, and is still well worth the reader’s credits.