You’ve got a handful of pages to prove your concept, to introduce your character, to get your hooks into your reader and keep ‘em coming back for more. How do you handle it? In The Art of the Start we look at first issues, be they new originals, fresh story angles, or total reboots. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
It’s hard not to hum a few bars from The Imperial March once you’ve opened the cover of Darth Vader #1 by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larocca, Edgar Delgado, and Joe Caramagna. You can almost smell Vader’s foul stench as he menaces all over every page. It’s kind of fantastic.
These new Marvel Star Wars comics are a weird breed of books due to being the first wave in a new line of licensed Star Wars stuff coming out of the Disney buyout. They get to set the tone for the next generation of Star Wars stuff. Must be a lot of pressure.
I’m happy to report that Gillen doesn’t buckle under it. His work tends to sing when he’s writing the worst of the worst while massaging in some sympathetic moments and pushing some pathos. This is right in his wheelhouse and you can feel the glee in the script at being handed one of genre fiction’s most memorable villains.
The opening few pages are strong. They take advantage of the circuitous nature of the Star Wars franchise, deliberately echoing the opening of Luke’s encounter at Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The silence in the panels is deafening and the lack of any captions or speech bubbles gives the wide shot of the desert planet and the ominous opening door that much more impressive.
Larocca’s composition is strong throughout the issue, giving weight to the proceedings and using tight shots to make the action feel frantic and chaotic. I’m fascinated by the visual language that this new line of comics has already put into place with things like the effect for a swinging lightsaber, and am curious to see what the creative teams cook up as the series progresses.
Sadly, there are times where Larocca’s use of photo reference goes a little overboard. I understand the impetus to try and hew as close to actors’ likenesses as they can when doing a tie-in book like this, but it too often leads to overly static images that stick out in an otherwise gorgeously drawn book.
A small touch that really resonated with me comes from Caramagna’s letters. His choice to represent one of the alien languages with more of a corrupted swirl of runes and characters as opposed to random symbols that sit on the same lines that English would makes the language seem even more alien and difficult to understand. To me, it says that this is a language that obeys completely different rules of grammar and pronunciation. It’s not just using different words.
Vader works as a successful first issue. It gets the ball rolling on a handful of subplots while setting the stage and imbuing the requisite amount of nastiness and darkness to its title character. It’s a quiet book. An intense book. And then there’s a bunch of Old Man Sass.
We’ve got a great start, but one major thing stood out to me as being off. I mentioned that it’s a quiet book. I thought it would just be the opening scene, as Vader struts his way into Jabba’s Palace. It makes a statement. It’s great. Weirdly, the silence extends to the entire issue. There are no sound effects throughout the entirety of this first issue, which seems like an odd choice for a property that created an almost instinctual need in multiple generations to make a humming sound when holding anything even slightly resembling a sword.
The opening sequence takes a violent turn with the ignition of Vader’s lightsaber that could have been all the more concussive with a well-lettered sound effect. That hiss could be menacing as all hell. Here, it lands kind of flat.
Even without the sound effects, Vader succeeds in beingly an interesting entry in a massive franchise. It plays small and sad in a way that makes me have trouble waiting for the next issue. I’m curious to see where Vader’s machinations take him and to see how far this creative team can push the boundaries of the Vader/Emperor conflict.
Follow us on Twitter for more comics goodness!