When Marvel regained the Star Wars license a few years ago, one of the first things it did was issue a line of comics focused on Darth Vader. This first series, Star Wars: Darth Vader (2015-16), only for 25 issues and takes place in between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a decently fun tale. Yet, looking back, it’s probably less memorable for what it tells us about Vader, and more about those who are brave enough to work with Vader.
The main plot of this comic arc shows Vader recuperating from the destruction of the Death Star. The Emperor tells Vader that he will have to compete with a group of other potential apprentices to earn his place by the Emperor’s side. Fans of the old Legends/Expanded Universe stories will probably find the trope of Palpatine testing Vader overly familiar. There’s little dramatic tension given that we know what happens in the movies; none of the other potential apprentices poses a threat. Moreover, the other apprentices are completely forgettable, one-dimensional characters. If this series were defined solely by Vader’s foes, it would be a failure.
Fortunately, the series also spends a good deal of time with Vader’s friends… or at least his subordinates. This line of comics introduced Doctor Aphra, an archaeologist who helps Vader recover weapons and loot for his missions. What makes Aphra so interesting is that, unlike most people, she views Vader with a mixture of awe, respect, and excitement. Aphra is an adrenaline junkie who realizes Vader could kill her at any minute, but seems to relish the opportunity to serve him. Aphra has become the first – and arguably only – breakout character in Marvel’s run so far, so it’s no wonder she got her own comic line.
I also enjoyed Vader’s interactions with Inspector Thanoth, an Imperial officer who uses Holmesian sleuthing methods to track down criminals. Like Aphra, Thanoth is a character who is much more complex and interesting than most of Vader’s other minions.
Ironically, I’d recommend this comic despite Darth Vader. Vader’s storyline works best as a window into his effect on the people around him.