Darth Vader should be an immensely intimidating figure. Emphasis on the should, because over the years, his appearances in increasingly silly scenarios as part of Star Wars’ place in pop culture have blunted his reputation. But Vader Down’s first issue is a fantastic reminder that we should never underestimate the power of the Dark Side.
Spoilers ahead for Vader Down #1, by Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen, Mike Deodato, and Frank Martin Jr.
Vader Down #1 is a standalone entry in a crossover event that will bring together Marvel’s main Star Wars and Darth Vader ongoing series, both of which have done a pretty fantastic job of reclaiming the menace of Darth Vader. His early appearances in Star Wars were as an unstoppable force of black and red, while his own series has given Vader a level of cunning rarely emphasised. But Vader Down focus on Vader’s raw strength, both as a warrior, and a singular entity of fright. It’s a non-stop issue that constantly reminds you that even alone and surrounded, Darth Vader is one of the most petrifying figures in the galaxy.
As you might insinuate from the title, the series is all about Vader being brought down; on the hunt for Luke, Vader gets cut off from the Empire and shot down over a planet called Vrogas Vas, and the Rebel Alliance leap at the chance to capture one of the Empire’s most prominent figureheads. But even before Vader gets taken down—by Luke slamming his X-Wing into Vader’s TIE in a suicide run that nearly kills them both—we’re treated to the immense spectacle of the Dark Lord of the Sith eviscerating squadron after squadron of Rebel ships.
Vader weaves through X-Wing after X-Wing, tearing them apart with laser bolts or simply using the Force to redirect their proton torpedoes back at them. There’s a fantastically lavish two-page spread of Vader being surrounded by at least 30 ships, laser streaks and explosions everywhere. Around 15 pages later when the sequence ends, there’s just nine—and a lot of dead bodies.
Even when Vader is on the planet below, the sense of scale of what the Rebels throw at him is a constant reminder that he is not a figure to be underestimated. The Rebels order a company of soldiers stationed at a base there to confront him, and then we cut to Leia and Han with the main fleet, acknowledging that not even that will be enough. They mobilise a whole battalion of ships and soldiers to hunt down a single man. Hell, before the company of soldiers finds him, the Rebels send a squadron of Y-Wings to bomb Vader’s position…
…and he tears them apart in a single wave of his hands. No matter what the Rebels fling at Vader, he cuts them down. It never stops, and it’s an extremely fearful display of his power, over and over again. The issue beats it into you, page after page, as Deodato pencils setpiece after setpiece: Darth Vader is not someone you mess with.
But Vader Down saves its most badass, most chilling moment for the very end of the issue. Vader is eventually surrounded by a sea of Rebel soldiers, all guns raised and ready to fire upon him. It’s another marvelous spread from Mike Deodato, which you can see it in the header above. If there’s one thing this issue doesn’t skimp on, it’s that epic scale, even against a single foe. The Rebels tell Vader he’s surrounded, and with the ignition of his lightsaber—the first time he’s done so in the entire issue, a subtle acknowledgement that the Dark Lord has been barely tested by everything flung at him so far—he gives the most amazing retort:
It’s wonderfully framed: it’s a tiny blowout panel tucked in the corner of that two-page spread of Rebels above, symbolic of the morass of foes Vader finds himself among. And yet, it’s the most powerful panel in the whole issue despite that framing. This is Darth Vader at his best, his most powerful, his most frightening, and it’s amazing to behold.
This comic gives us a Vader that isn’t cut from the same cloth as a bumbling GPS voice pack or a cute kid’s cosplay in a car commercial (as lovely and goofy as those things are). This is that menacing black figure that swept through the halls of the Tantive IV, bodies in his wake. The lumbering monster that relentlessly stalked Luke through the bowels of Cloud City. The dark figure that sent a chill down your spine with every ragged breath as a child.
This is a Vader that demands respect: and through it, fear.