Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine by Charles Soule & Jim Cheung
Although Charles Soule’s DARTH VADER: DARK LORD OF THE SITH was released after Kieron Gillen’s DARTH VADER, it’s chronologically set several years before, in what is almost the immediate aftermath of The Revenge of the Sith (whereas Gillen’s story was set after the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope).
So the character featured here is a “young” Vader, one still getting used to his new body, title and role in the fledging Empire. Heck, things kick off when he’s literally still in the laboratory where he learns of Padme’s fate.
As such, Dark Lord of the Sith Vol. 1: Imperial Machine is not a portrayal of Vader at the height of his power, which makes it all the more interesting. We still glimpse traces of Anakin in his resourcefulness and strategy, but you can also see the Vader side of him testing the new limits of his power. He doesn’t always succeed straightaway, but you can see the shaping of him into the comic’s title: an imperial machine.
In terms of plot, this series isn’t as concerned with delivering an intricate, elaborate storyline (as Gillen did) rather than depiction of events that would have gone down in the wake of Order 66 and the defeat of the Republic: the Empire consolidating their power, rebranding the Jedi as traitors and making a show of destroying their lightsabres (or “instruments of oppression”), ending production on the clones, and hunting down the last of the Jedi.
Most of the story involves Vader’s mission to find a kyber crystal to power his new lightsabre, as apparently a Sith crystal must be taken from another Jedi and filled with his pain and torment (thus turning it red).
Artist Jim Cheug provides some striking images throughout Imperial Machine, my favourite being Vader floating limbless in a bacta tank, using the Force to customize parts of his armour from within the healing chamber. I’d pay good money to see such a scene up on the big screen!
So it’s a rewarding read, and one that ties in closely to the recent Disney canon such as Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels (namely an early demonstration of a kyber crystal’s power and the introduction of the Inquisitors). It also ends on a comedic note with the inclusion of a (non-canonical) story which sees a cartoon version of Vader cut down anyone who mildly irritates him.