To quote the Man In Black himself — “I sense something, a presence I’ve not felt since —” oh yeah, since the last horeshit Star Wars comic I read, Jason Aaron and John Cassaday’s Star Wars #1. Marvel cranked out the second issue (which I didn’t buy) of that series a mere two weeks after the first, and now here we are a week on from that with the debut installment of their first “spin-off” book, Star Wars : Darth Vader, which comes our way courtesy of respected creators Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca.
Given the thorough dressing-down I gave of Aaron and Cassaday’s comic (a view not shared by many, as most write-ups online have been positively effusive in their praise for it) , some readers might be surprised that I forked over five bucks for this one, but I was determined to give it a shot simply due to the fact that Gillen is one of my absolute favorite writers at the moment (are you reading The Wicked + The Divine? Because you really should be), and the “virgin art” preview pages for this tacked on at the end of Star Wars #1 made it look kind of interesting. What the hell, I figured — even if it’s lousy, I can cut my losses quick and high-tail it after the first issue.
Needless to say, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. Yeah, I admit I went into this prepared for the possibility that it might suck, but there’s no way I could have guessed that it would suck this badly. Larocca’s art is nice, sure, even if it’s highly and obviously photo-referenced, but his stubborn insistence on horizontal panel grids for every single page (apart from the double-page splashes) begins to grate rather quickly, and even colorist Edgar Delgado’s nicely-rendered hues can’t save this comic from working your last nerve in the visuals department for too long. Salvador, buddy, you can draw pretty well — now please vary things up a bit so we actually want to keep looking at your drawings from the first page to the last!
Still, that’s a chump-change complaint in comparison to the larger one I have about this book — one that, in retrospect, should have been obvious from looking at the cover alone. I’ll freely admit that Adi Granov gives us a nicely-rendered, iconic Vader pose to kick off the proceedings (one of a dozen different options for the easily-snookered consumer to choose from, including the ever-popular Skottie Young and “Action Figure”-style variants, as shown), but within a few pages it becomes apparent that he didn’t opt for a “timeless”-style image simply because this is a first issue, but because nothing fucking happens in this comic that he can base a cover on. Yes, the fact that this is most likely a standard-length story that was expanded out to 30 pages so Marvel could gouge an extra buck out of readers is a problem (and one not unique to this book — Marvel recently had Joe Quesada spread Grant Morrison’s “lost” Miracleman story out from what should have been three or four pages to 10 for All-New Miracleman Annual #1, with predictably disastrous results) that well-nigh destroys any sense of pace and timing Gillen’s script could theoretically have possessed, but the simple turth of the matter is that there’s not even enough happening here to fill a standard 20-page comic.
Consider : Vader is sent by the Empror to cut some sort of deal with Jabba The Hutt. Upon arrival, he kills a couple of Hutt’s lackeys with his light saber. He attempts to cut a side-deal of his own while there, and a flashback sequence showing him being chastised by Palpatine for letting the Death Star be destroyed (like Aaron and Cassaday’s Star Wars this series apparently takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back) that dovetails with events happening over in the “main” SW book shows why he’s opting to play this little gambit of his out. Then he meets up with the guys who are going to help him with his “off-the books” mission, Boba Fett and some Wookie sidekick of his. The end. Positively scintillating stuff, is it not?
Yeah — I didn’t really think so, either.
About the only thing I can say in this book’s favor story-wise is that the opening “credits scroll” is kinda fun in that it’s clearly written from a pro-Empire, pro-Vader point of view, but beyond that I have to admit that Gillen really seems to be mailing it in here. Some might just chalk this up to the absence of his frequent creative partner Jamie McKelvie, but that theory quickly falls flat on its face when you consider that Uber is a pretty good book and McKelvie is nowhere to be found on that one. More than likely I think the obviously talented writers Marvel is employing on their Star Wars comics don’t seem to give much of a shit about the work they’re turning in here because the publisher itself doesn’t give much of a shit. As long as they have all the superficial trappings in terms of look and feel of the films themselves, the so-called “House Of Ideas” knows that most of the suckers out there will be back every month. The old saying might go “once is an aberration, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a pattern,” but two strikes is definitely enough for me as far as these SW series go. Star Wars #1 was a failure, Star Wars : Darth Vader #1 is an absolutely dismal failure, and the forthcoming Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo “spin-off” books won’t be getting any of my hard-earned cash.
Not that it matters much, of course — some poor schmuck will no doubt buy two copies of every cover for each comic, and Dis/Mar will get by just fine without my custom. Folks like that are the real “target audience” for these books, anyway, as evidenced by the fact that so far there’s been no attempt to even interest anyone else outside of the hardest of hard-core Star Wars fan circles. Mind you, those people probably should be pissed off about the fact that Marvel is so openly contemptuous of them that they aren’t even bothering to give ’em much of anything for their money, but maybe that’s just human nature — if readers are going to fork over the same $4.99 a pop regardless of how much effort you put into it, would you bust your ass, or would you just put the whole thing on cruise control, sit back, and collect their money?