Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca deliver the most entertaining installment of “Darth Vader” yet in issue #3. They use the characters, the “Star Wars” universe and — most surprisingly — humor to create a dynamic story that’s finally getting a handle on what to do with Vader. Though the larger plot doesn’t move forward with due speed, it feels like the creative team is enjoying themselves with this one while inviting the reader to do the same.
In this issue, Vader recruits a certain Doctor Aphra to his personal army. As a droid hacker and self-described “rogue archaeologist,” she plays clown to Vader’s straight man, and the routine is surprisingly funny. From joking about his proper title to quipping during her break-ins, she’s not a particularly original character, but she balances out Vader well. In general, the humor of this issue is what elevates it above the previous two. Vader is utterly evil, but he’s become such a worldwide meme that it’s difficult to stay true to both his in-universe persona and his pop culture portrayal. Gillen rides that line really well in this issue, something he didn’t quite accomplish in the previous two.
Larroca also nails the comedy of Vader’s unreadable mask-face. For a visual medium, it’s no small problem that artists can’t really imbue that mask with emotion, so playing up its unreadability instead is a more feasible, more unexpected and — ultimately — more effective choice. In particular, the sequence that recaps how Vader found Aphra, bookended by his unreadable mask, made me laugh aloud. Larroca emphasizes the sheer casualness of Vader’s violence; victims are tossed and thrown like nothing. Of course, Larroca also uses the blank mask to more poignant effect when Vader lies, “I have no feelings regarding Geonosis.” It’s a very smart transformation of a problem into a storytelling solution.
That said, Larroca sometimes draws the action scenes from ineffective angles. There are a few panels that are both difficult to get a read on and less dynamic as a result. While it’s all eventually understandable, the perspective choices don’t always serve the story as well as they could.
Colorist Edgar Delgado is handed worlds largely made of metal and still imbues them all with different moods. The contrast between the closed, warmer gold of the quarantined planet and the cold silver interior of Doctor Aphra’s ship is quite effective. After looking at her lab, there’s no question that the droid activation is going to go poorly. From a shared-universe perspective, this book is also colored like the evil cousin of Marvel’s other “Star Wars” titles, similar but more sinister.
“Darth Vader” #3 is a huge step forward for the series. The fun of the “Star Wars” universe isn’t necessarily in its plot but its playability. Issue #3 takes advantage of that and — instead of merely dropping Easter eggs — it devotes a whole lot of plot space to describing and explaining droids. Working in a different universe, it might have been preferable to move faster but, with “Darth Vader” #3, it results in a great read.