The premise of Vader Down #1 is both very simple and shockingly good. Darth Vader has fallen into a trap and been stranded on a hostile planet surrounded by Rebels (including the most famous heroes of Star Wars) with no backup. There’s not much detail to that concept, and that’s the beauty of it. It is a story that manages to naturally bring together all of the stars of the saga through chases, action (both in space and on the ground), and some very tense plotting and backstabbing. Vader Down #1 takes off like a roller coaster already at the peak of its first hill throwing its leading man and readers into a hurricane of spaceships, laser fire, and lightsabers.
That efficient plotting comes from both of the leading Star Wars scribes in comics Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen. Aaron is scripting this issue, but both writers have designed the story. Plotting means a lot more than writing in Vader Down #1 too since very little of the issue involves speech bubbles. Some dialogue between Han and Leia shows how well Aaron has centered on their dynamic and voices, but it’s a rare talking scene in a comic dominated by action. For the most part characters like Vader and Luke speak mostly to themselves in lines that don’t slow the pacing, but also don’t add much to the page. The only other entertaining verbalizations come from Vader’s supporting crew of Aphra and his pair of murderous droids. Gillen’s oddball sense of humor is well replicated when it comes to these three though.
Aaron is smart to devote so much space to chases and battles though. Vader Down#1 is a amphetamine dosed “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”, taking many of the same elements and running them as quickly as possible. Vader facing down overwhelming odds, again and again, is incredibly entertaining. He is not the same character in the Star Wars films, but instead fills the legendary boots created in the dreams of young moviegoers decades ago. His presence and ability both as a fighter pilot and grounded combatant are so formidable that any rebel whose last name doesn’t end in Skywalker looks like a cub scout. This may be off putting for devotees of the film, but taken on its own merits Vader’s superhuman actions make for some very satisfying sequences.
The fun to be had in Vader Down #1 is almost eliminated by Mike Deodato’s art though. Much of the character interaction and individual panels of spaceships are done well enough, but when excitement should be peaking the art hits the rocks. At best his action sequences are functional, but they often fail to rise to even that level. The big space battle towards the start of Vader Down is a complete mess with panel transitions that feature the same characters and objects, but fail to actually connect. A collision between two rocketing ships results in them floating at random angles side-by-side with less damage than the previous panel showed. Lasers often connect with ships outside of where explosions are shown as well.
Deodato features many spreads in Vader Down, attempting to highlight a cinematic sensibility. The contents of these spreads ought to be climactic with a wide array of spaceships setting up, displaying, and reflecting on the space battle. Yet the manner in which these contents are shown is head scratching. Dead Rebels are shown clustered together along with astromechs that all seem to have ejected intact from the ships at the moment of impact within a 20 foot radius. The design and layout of ships and debris in these spreads seems thoughtless, so that any more thought than the slightest pause will cause readers to scratch their heads.
The presentation of Vader Down #1 is unfortunate because it undermines a concept and plot packed with potential. As the start of a larger crossover, this issue shows how much fun can be had in the Star Wars universe between films. The drama and, more importantly, action are all there. Hopefully, future issues will better depict the promise of this premise.