– Spoiler Review –
There’s no mincing words here: Darth Vader #24 is a stunning penultimate issue, delivering an unprecedented psychological deep-dive into one of fiction’s greatest villains and setting the stage for what can only be a suitably epic finale. After everything Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado have done together, it shouldn’t have been a surprise issue #24 would’ve been this good, but they seem to have a habit of outdoing themselves.
After the big reveal that Cylo had a kill switch for Vader’s suit, since he designed it, both last issue’s ending and this issue’s cover promised a psychological journey into the mind of Vader himself. And before I talk about what happened, I want to talk about how it all looked. From the opening page, with Cylo standing over a kneeling Vader, hand on the Sith Lord’s dome like he owns him or is just patting his pet, to the final moment of Aphra staring down the Imperial Guards’ spikes, I was in awe of nearly every page. Salvador Larroca really knocked it out of the sarlacc on this one, depicting twisted variations on scenes from Revenge of the Sith‘s fateful final moments, like Obi-Wan dumping Anakin into the lava, and driving home some symbolic imagery, Vader chained to the operating table while in his suit, to perfectly echo what the script was going for. Heck, even the mini-shadows of Vader battling Anakin, with their red and blue clashing blades highlighted, helped accentuate the battle between good and evil inside Vader/Anakin’s mind. And the colors by Delgado, especially the lava pouring off Vader as he emerges from the stream? Wow. I honestly believe this issue is home to some of the most memorable scenes of all the new Star Wars comics. Bravo to the art team for pulling them off so well.
As I theorized in last issue’s review: “Cylo believes he has his answer about Vader being machine or man, Obi-Wan felt he knew too, but it looks like we’ll get a chance to see something only Luke did: the man still inside the machine.” Little did I know, how right I’d might be…from a certain point of view. For the first time ever, we get to see the personification of the good Luke still feels in Vader, via RotS Anakin Skywalker, though by the end of the issue you’d be hard pressed to imagine Vader let any ounce of that good ever live. It all starts with Anakin, chopped up and barely alive on the edge of the lava stream on Mustafar, watching Obi-Wan walk away and deliver the line (which always kills me a little inside when I hear it), “I loved you, Anakin.” What’s most interesting about this version of the RotS scene is how Anakin doesn’t tell Obi-Wan he hates him (just wait to learn who he actual says it to), but instead calls Obi-Wan a liar and coward for not finishing the job and killing him (which this dream-state actually depicts, showing Obi-Wan throwing Anakin’s body in the lava). If you want to know how much Anakin loved Obi-Wan back, this next part says it all: Vader (who emerges from the lava after Obi-Wan throws Anakin in) seems to blame Obi-Wan’s mercy for his hatred and desire to kill his old Master, as he feels Obi-Wan actually killing Anakin would’ve preventing Vader from ever doing so, which sounds a lot like guilt to me. His mind still struggles with Obi-Wan’s death, and who’s really to blame, but that’s not the only person he’s killed that surfaces here.
After Vader kills Obi-Wan in this dream/Force vision/psychological battle, Anakin appears and confronts Vader, echoing a line Luke will soon say to Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, “No! You killed him!” In ESB, Luke says, “He told me enough! He told me you killed him,” with the ‘him’ in reference to Luke’s father. Here, the line seems to mean not only does Anakin blame the hatred personified as Vader inside him for killing Obi-Wan, but he also blames Vader for the death of the good inside of him too. But this good inside of Vader, aka the vision of Anakin here, isn’t strong enough (not yet at least) and he fails in his headstrong attempt to kill the evil inside. The whole Mustafar-set dream comes full circle here, as Vader leaves Anakin to roast on the lava’s shore, despite calling Obi-Wan a coward for doing so, and Anakin finally now bellows the line, “I HATE YOU!” Notice this isn’t yelled at Obi-Wan anymore, this is yelled at Vader instead, at the hate and poor decisions that he’s made over the years. And it seems Vader’s final poor decision was letting even the smallest, most broken piece of Anakin (aka the good inside of him) survive, since even that little bit was enough for Luke to latch onto and even give strength to so that it could finally win the battle inside. Now I’m desperately dying to have the creative team of Gillen, Larroca, and Delgado team up for one more issue that shows the psychological struggle inside Vader during Return of the Jedi, where Luke calls out to his father while writhing in pain from the Emperor’s lightning, as I can only imagine how they could bring that to life on the page.
It’s no surprise after all the above that Vader believes the name Anakin, “…no longer has any meaning…” for him, but the final temptation awaits. I kind of expected Padmé’s part to be a bit longer, but in the end I think she was included just enough. She starts by asking Anakin to stay with her, to give up the anger, the hatred, and just let Cylo win. But her using the name Anakin, whom he believes he just killed the last remnants of, sparks the rage inside of him. He wants to be free of all that reminds him of his past, of all the things that were good which now cause him pain, because giving up when he’s come so far and fallen even father would leave him as a prisoner in his own mind (given life in the issue’s panels with the image of him chained to the raised operating table). That rage builds, making him unfortunately choke Padme again whilst motivating him to break free of the final chains of what good he thought he had left inside. As this happens mentally, in the real world it helps him override Cylo V’s kill switch and drive his lightsaber right into the man’s heart. The imagery in the scene, going back and forth with Vader’s inner thoughts of him breaking free of his mental chains and Cylo’s shock as Vader begins to break free of his physical chains was some pretty stellar symbolism in action.
Cylo VI awakes (which, to be honest, I had kind of forgotten he was transferring his consciousness between bodies) and the look of fear and panic when he realizes there’s now no way left for him to stop Vader is priceless. Vader flies off the Executor in his TIE fighter, ready to hunt down and destroy Cylo…for good. Which leaves me with the final scene, a scene which has me trembling in fear for the life of Doctor Aphra. Our plucky, filled with never-go-wrong ideas good Doctor intrudes on Emperor Palpatine’s quarters, promising to reveal to Palpatine things he needs to know. What exactly will she tell the Emperor, who likely already knows whatever she’s going to tell him anyways? Is she going to throw Vader under the sail barge to save her own skin? Is she going to try to lie to the Emperor, to save both her and Vader’s skin? Has anyone walked away from Palpatine alive when they weren’t explicitly allowed to see him but tried to gain an audience with him anyways? I have questions and it seems issue #25 will have the answers. In the meantime, I’ve got my optimism to keep me going and let me bet Aphra comes out alive in the end. Bonus guess: she’s been working for Palpatine, as a way to keep an eye on Vader, this whole time. How crazy would that be? I don’t actually believe it would be true, but I figured I’d just throw it out there since we’re going to find out soon enough (though it could’ve been much sooner…see the first bullet point below).
Here are a few other things:
- For reasons we’ll likely never learn, or would ever understand if we heard them, I bring the most unfortunate of news: Darth Vader #25 has been delayed until October 5. This is not a minor delay, by any means, considering it was originally supposed to drop August 31! 5 weeks folks, 5 more weeks. At least we know it’ll be worth the wait, as the series’ creative team rarely doesn’t deliver. Thanks goes out to the seemingly always on top of things Jedi-Bibliothek for spotting the hidden delay news. UPDATE: It’s now been delayed one week, to October 12. Looks like it’ll be a late birthday present when Aphra survives *crosses fingers now*
- What’s been great about all the Vader appearances in canon as of late is how they’ve dealt with him slowly wittingly away at the good inside himself. He had some doubts and thoughts about the past in Lords of the Sith, while Star Wars Rebels season two saw him face his old Padawan Ahsoka Tano and though he blinked for a second, he still found the hate and rage inside enough to carry on and banish the good within.
- Quite the fan-fiction moment come true with seeing who would win between Vader and Anakin at the height of his (good) power.
- How about that line from Vader, after calling Anakin a child, “I am well accustomed to killing children.” Holy chills.
- The idea of the young Anakin personifying the good inside Vader ties very nicely into the idea of young Anakin appearing as his Force Ghost and not old Anakin.
- I’d not be surprised that artists do this from time to time, maybe as a way to save time by referencing earlier work (especially if they work digitally) but in the picture I’ve attached here the image of Vader in his TIE cockpit from a panel in issue #24 (top) sure looks a lot like the variant cover for issue #2 (bottom), no?
I feel completely comfortable in calling Darth Vader #24 the single best issue of all the Star Wars comics as of its release. I say that last bit simply because issue #25 is still on it’s way, but until then this issue’s plunge into Vader’s mind certainly deserves such praise. Now the long wait for the end, and Aphra’s fate, begins…
+ Battle of blame in Vader’s mind…
+ …and breaking of his mental/physical chains
+ PLEASE BE SAFE APHRA
STAR WARS CANON COMIC REVIEWS:
Vader (#1-6) | Shadows and Secrets (#7-12) | The Shu-Torun War (#16-19) | End of Games: #20 | #21 | #22 | #23 | #25
Vader Down (crossover of Star Wars and Darth Vader on-goings)
Skywalker Strikes (#1-6) | Old Ben’s Journals | Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon (#8-12) | Rebel Jail (#16-19) | The Last Flight of the Harbinger (#21-25)
The Last Padawan (#1-6) | First Blood (#7-12)
Black Squadron (#1-3) | Lockdown (#4-6)
Han Solo (mini-series)
Obi-Wan & Anakin (mini-series)
Shattered Empire (mini-series)
Princess Leia (mini-series)
Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir (mini-series)