"Darth Vader Annual" is a tight, entertaining issue that encapsulates all the fun of this current "Darth Vader" run. It's by no means an essential addition to the series, but -- for readers who are curious about the "Darth Vader" ongoing series -- this is a great look at the approach. Kieron Gillen's humor and Leinil Yu's detailed, balanced world building make for a good read, and this issue demonstrates once again that it's possible to tell interesting stories even when the protagonist is basically all-powerful.
The question is never whether Vader will get out of a difficult situation -- it's how. This far into the run, Gillen really knows how to create problems that require Vader's unique brand of decisiveness. Vader isn't particularly interesting in a puzzle-box plot or a high-stakes dash; instead, he's at his best when he can surprise the reader with his ruthless competence. The plot in the "Annual" is no different, as Vader visits the just-shy-of-rebellious planet of Shu-torun and thwarts an attempt on his life. The situation demands both political acumen and survival skills from everyone's favorite Sith Lord, and Gillen's characterization of the secondary character, Princess Trios, is pointed and surprisingly poignant. As a result, the story features a hearty dose of both politicking and action -- the perfect "Star Wars" combination.
"Darth Vader Annual" is also quite funny. Vader's formal but vicious torture bots, Beetee and Triple-Zero, provide most of the levity. However, Gillen is also getting better at letting the art, rather than the dialogue, carry the humor, and many of the dramatic pauses made possible by Vader's stone-cold, expressionless mask made me laugh.
Credit for that goes to artist Leinil Yu and inker Gerry Alanguilan. From the drama of the establishing shot to the absurdly elaborate headdresses on the planet's droids, Yu clearly understands the "Star Wars" brand of world building. He has an eye for both the imposing industrial landscapes of the Empire and its varied, trinket-heavy cultures.
Yu also captures the characters' emotions well. This is particularly helpful as the Shu-torun royal family is introduced; the reader immediately reads Princess Trios's distress and resignation. Most importantly for this particular series, though, Yu can deploy Vader's mask for comic and suspenseful effect. There are a few missteps, however. Some of the action sequences feel quite static, and there's an escape sequence near the end that is framed strangely.
Colorist Jason Keith gives the ore-harvesting planet of Shu-torun an appropriate dark opulence - the space equivalent of an oil oligarchy. However, occasionally the coloring was too deep and aggressive in digital format (the problem was less noticeable in print). This is more of a formatting error than anything, but if you're waffling between formats, I'd pick print for this one.
All told, "Darth Vader Annual" is an excellent one-shot that gives the reader a clear, condensed idea of what awaits in the ongoing series.