REVIEW: “Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin” #1

(Dark Horse Comics, 2013)

Review by Cory Thrall

WRITTEN BY:  Tim Siedell
PENCILS BY:  Stephen Thompson
INKS BY:  Mark Irwin
COLORS BY:  Michael Atiyeh
LETTERS BY:  Michael Heisler

“Star Wars: Darth Vader & the Ninth Assassin” is one of those Star Wars titles that stand out to me.  One, it has Darth Vader (always helpful), and two – it deals with the post-Episode 3 through pre-Episode 4 part of the Star Wars timeline – an era that has captured my attention, especially in more recent times.  I really find the younger Vader a complex and interesting character, even when played down in this first issue – which, sadly, is one of my main gripes about this first issue.  One thing I did like was that he is already a feared enforcer for the Emperor, showing a further glimpse of how powerful Anakin has become so quickly.

The story begins with a man (name unknown) and his son (same) working over contract re-negotiations, overseen by Vader himself, as the Empire is making a major push for total control.  The man and his son are forced into a deal where they would lose financial ground, and the man’s son, feeling disrespected and acting in “honor”, pulls out a blaster.  Before he can pull the trigger, he is cut down in an impressive move by Vader.  This is why I love young Darth so much – with the exception of some fancy footwork and a few tricks in ‘Return of the Jedi’, we never really got to see him move like this.  The newer films and the ‘Clone Wars’ series has gotten us Star Wars fans used to the idea of Jedis jumping and flipping about, but to see Vader pull this off gets me every time.

The man, who as far as I can tell never gets a name, becomes obsessed with having Vader assassinated for the ‘murder’ of his son (also without a name).  After hiring a total of eight assassins to take the job, all of them have gone one way or another – some dead right off, some possibly having run off with their payment, knowing of the danger involved.  He finally decides he needs to speak with someone with a bit more ‘firepower’, and takes a team of assorted mercenaries trekking through a swampy, dank, planet.  There, deep within the mess, they come to a large fortress-type building.  Undaunted, the father finds a switch hidden within a straggling bush.  Upon flipping said switch, a security console rises from out of a nearby puddle, the key a hand print.  Using a severed hand of unknown origin, the group gains access to the building, and let themselves in.  As they enter they are approached by armed guards, and the father begs them to let him see their ‘Master’, as he seeks business with him.  The guards refuse, and the mercenaries open up in a blaze of fire, fighting their way into the main chamber.  There, seated in a throne, is a devil-like creature.  He’s tall, has horns protruding from the top of his head, and his menacing look just gives him that Satanic look.  He’s obviously not one you’d want to anger and, as a sign of this, the father drops to his knees in respect.  He tells the Master of his plight, and of the previously hired assassins, whom the Master assures him are all dead.

The father catches something in the corner of his eye, and turns to find his entire merc force dead, and very much so, at that.  Stepping out from the shadows and into the carnage is a figure in a black cloak, a sharply designed metallic mask covering his face.  It looks great and, in some interesting ways, is almost a silver version of Vader’s.  Not quite, but it seems to suggest a similar build.  The figure tells the father that he will be the one to finally kill Vader, as he has intel none of the others had access to, or if they had they didn’t utilize.  As he leaves, he not only tells the father that he won’t be seeing him again until he has Vader’s head in hand, but also that the ‘Master’ will handle the payment.  On the final page we see that this father has paid a very heavy price for this assassin but, even in his great pain he seems excited, hopeful of the death of his hated enemy, Darth Vader.

This first issue is a fun read, and quickly sets up the main premise of the title.  It’s a quick story and, though it may give a sense of the writing style and what we can expect, it is a bit too rushed.  Also, nothing really happens in these few pages except set up for what we already knew of this book.  There were a total of three scenes or so, and left you with nothing but the story idea we’re already aware of, and a bit of some story elements set into place.  Honestly, I’m making it sound like more went on than it felt.  Again, it was still a good read, just a bit too quick and not very informative.

The artwork by Thompson, with inks by Irwin, has a very strong Star Wars vibe to it, more so than I’ve seen in most of the various SW titles.  The way this book looks is how the SW universe feels to me.  His artwork really shines in his alien work, where species from the films are easily recognizable and new species look great and fit the overall look and style.  The artwork consists of some great storytelling, from page to page and panel to panel, and it really stands out the most in the aforementioned scene with Vader cutting down the man’s son.  The flow of the action is really well planned, and executed beautifully.  Not to mention Vader looks amazing in this book.  The scenery is really one of the best parts of this book with their intricate and perfectly laid out designs and, when coupled with the awesome color work by Michael Atiyeh (whose work shows a palette that can cover any environment – from offices to the swampiest of swamps) it really makes for a great package.

I’m excited for this series, and will be checking out #2 once it hits the stands.  I am a little worried about the odd pacing of this issue, but for now I’m going to chalk that up to what seems more and more like the way first issues are handled these days.  Hopefully, the second issue will lead us into the deeper aspects of this story, and – hey! – maybe we’ll get a scene where Vader actually talks!  Fun book, and possibly one to watch.  Again, we’ll see next issue, as I’m not 100% sold on this quite yet.

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Follow Cory Thrall on Twitter:  @FeralFang27

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