Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets by Kieron Gillen & Salvador Larroca
Carrying on from the first Vader volume (which was simply called Vader) this compilation of issues further explores Vader’s attempts to pull together secret resources of his own, without the knowledge of his Imperial superiors. Having discovered that he has a son, Vader now wants more information on Luke Skywalker and to quietly undermine the Emperor himself.
Helping him in this endeavour is an amoral young archaeologist and thief named Doctor Aphra, and two droids who are clearly meant to be dark foils to C3-P0 and R2-D2: Triple Zero, a protocol droid with a sadistic streak (he lists his specialities as: “etiquette, customs, translation and torture”), and Beetee, an astromech who likes blowing things up. Oh, and a gang of bounty hunters of course.
Vader is so often described as a blunt instrument throughout STAR WARS related material, and so it’s satisfying to watch him in Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets as a strategist who dispatches his allies, accumulates information, comes up with the resources he needs (criminal contacts, droid armies, a personal fortune of credits), all while pulling the wool over the eyes of other Imperials.
There are wheels within wheels throughout this series, such as Vader arranging for a shipment of credits to be stolen by Aphra and her bounty hunters, only for his superior officer General Tagge to assign him a work colleague to investigate this robbery. Though his mask makes him inscrutable, we can see the gears turning in Vader’s head as he tries to keep one step ahead of Inspector Thanoth’s investigation.
As is the way with Imperials, there’s plenty of infighting and one-upmanship, and the Emperor has a host of young apprentices just waiting to step into Vader’s shoes. Under the supervision of cybernetic scientist Cylo, this range of young upstarts are eager to prove themselves to their Emperor, creating yet another obstacle Vader has to overcome.
There’s so much meaty story here, from the tense partnership between Vader and Aphra (I’ve always wondered if she reminded him a little of Ahsoka) to the conflicting agendas of various Imperials, to the dark web of manipulation the unseen Emperor throws over everyone.
It’s also strange to find yourself rooting for Vader, even as he commits atrocities on nearly every page. Knowing who he was, and knowing the end he comes to, it’s easy to get caught up in his quest for answers and autonomy, and in lieu of any proper heroes, it’s with anti-hero Aphra and protagonist Vader that we throw our lot in with. If ever Disney decided to do a Darth Vader movie, they could certainly do a lot worse than adapting Kieron Gillen’s work.
The next volume is a crossover event with the hero-centric series penned by Jason Aaron. I made the mistake of thinking I could skip it and go straight to Gillen’s The Shu-Toran War, (the third instalment in the Vader comics) but there are important developments in Star Wars: Vader Down that make this impossible, so be sure to continue the story with that.