“I only have one lesson for you...suffer no rivals!”
Welcome to the second review in my Star Wars Rediscovered column! In this review I am looking at a brand new hardcover, Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison, which collects the complete issues #1-5. It is released by Dark Horse in a collected hardcover on March 27th.
Find out after the jump what I think of this series steeped in the Dark Side!
Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison (Hardcover Edition)
Writer: Haden Blackman
Artist: Agustin Alessio
Cover Artist: Dave Wilkins
Letterer: Michael Heisler
I am basing this review purely on the collected hardcover which does not reprint all of the cover art from the single issues, it does reprint a few of them however. The main dust jacket cover is the cover from issue #1. Although there is nothing particularly wrong with the cover, we have a slightly ethereal looking Darth Vader with his hand in a “i’m going to kill you right now” sort of position and a starry space scene behind him, I feel it is overall very average. I personally instead would have loved the cover to issue #3 as the main cover on this book. I think that this almost x-rayed Darth Vader is epic! It shows a close up view of his helmet, the left hand side is a view of his mask and helmet that we know and love and the right hand side looks like we are peering beyond the helmet and seeing part of a ghostly skull. I love it! it works really well and highlights that there is man underneath the mask. The image on the back of the book is a cut down version of the cover from issue #5, which shows Vader lightsaber in hand about to attack, again it is perfectly fine but doesn’t amaze me.
The narrator within this series is the main character Laurita Tohm, Blackman does a really good job of making us identify with Tohm, he has a very distinct voice throughout the series and I felt very much on his side throughout it all, this shows just how much of a well rounded character that Blackman made Tohm, especially considering that he was part of the Empire and Darth Vader was his mentor. A character of two dimensions he was not. Tohm as the narrator is at some unknown point in the future writing down everything in a report for the Emperor, so everything we are seeing is part of his past. One thing we can never be quite sure of however is how reliable a narrator Tohm is, afterall his audience for this report is the Emperor and I don’t think that it is far fetched to assume that he may have omitted any details or events that at the very least made him look bad. This possibility is backed up by Tohm at the start of issue #3 where he states that Vader had asked him to withhold a portion of his report but due to the fact that the Emperor was the one who was going to read it he decided that he should know every event that happened in the Ghost Prison incident and so did not omit it.
Alessio does a fantastic job on the art within this series, the first panel that impressed me was his first splash page, the view of Coruscant from up high looked really good. Although the first page that blew me away was the view of Tohm catapulting through the air in his seat which was ejected from the prototype fighter. The decision to have us looking down at Tohm makes the scene much more dizzying than if we were looking up from below, plus the buildings low below him make the fall he is about to have much more immense.
Alessio draws seriously good splash pages! In yet another amazing one Darth Vader is in the midst of battling a faction of rebels and he quite rightly looks incredibly powerful, he looks like he is inside a protective bubble which blaster bolts are bouncing off of with two figures in the foreground that have succumbed to his attack, one having been decapitated. The use of colours in this scene work well, they are quite muted which helps draw the eye to the blackness of Vader and the stark red of his lethal lightsaber.
This review could easily simply turn into a list of panels that I love and why, so I shall mention one last one and then move on. Alessio draws a really good Emperor, in a scene where Palpatine has been attacked by a nasty lung melting gas Alessio draws him looking horrific with blood seeping from his nose and mouth and yet also a bit vulnerable, he looks every bit the ruler who has let the Dark Side corrupt his flesh and yet this panel shows that even he can be taken by surprise.
Tohm is immediately an intriguing character due to his appearance, the entire left hand side of his body is badly burned and he is missing his left arm. He states that his history before his graduation did not matter and yet we are left wondering how half of his face came to be burned so badly. Was it an accident, was it done to him or was him born like it? We find out later in the series that Tohm became disfigured by the Confederacy blowing up his parents Tibanna Gas plant. One effect of this is that Tohm can hide his emotions well and is a survivor. These qualities help him throughout this series and is the reason why Vader sees some value in him.
One thing I enjoy about the plot in this series is that I found myself rooting for Tohm even though from any other perspective he would be seen as a bad guy. We see him executing people again and again, not showing any mercy and being cold and ruthless and yet I still found myself rooting for him. This is an incredible feat of Blackman’s to pull me into the Dark Side!
The main plot thread within this series is Tohm’s longing for acceptance, to serve and to find a place within the world. I find it very interesting that he chooses Darth Vader to try and achieve these aims. He follows Vader completely throughout the series in trying to take revenge on those who tried to kill the Emperor. He is willing to execute former friends and even blow up a transport ship of former prisoners who had only just helped them in killing General Gentis, the man who wanted to replace the Emperor. This utter trust in Vader is ultimately Tohm’s downfall as the Emperor is so impressed with Tohm that he sees in him a potential replacement for Vader should he ever fail him, and he tells Vader this. This causes Vader to make a choice, either continue teaching Tohm and risk him surpassing him or kill him. It doesn’t take a genius to guess which route he took.
The final few panels of this series are brutal! Tohm is shown to be in a fairly good place in his life, the Emperor has promoted him to Admiral, he has a romantic interest in the form of one of the former prisoners and he even has an apartment with her. However in the midst of this is Vader, he summons Tohm to him to tell him that he has one final lesson to teach him and Tohm as usual is completely in Vader’s thrall, he does not sense anything amiss. Vader’s final lesson? That he suffers no rivals! He picks him up by his jacket and chucks him over the balcony! We see Tohm reaching out to us as he falls, we do not see his body and the series ends there, brutal! The implication from this is that Tohm is dead, but is he really? Anything of course is possible.
Conclusion & Rating
To conclude this series is a must read! If you want to read something immersed within the Dark Side where there are no Jedi and yet do not regret their absence. Where Darth Vader is at his best and most ruthless then give this one a go. The conflict in this series does not feel quite as complex and epic as Dark Empire (see my review of it here http://www.theweeklycrisis.com/2013/03/star-wars-rediscovered-dark-empire.html) we do not have any struggles between what is good or bad, just many many shades of grey, oh and the flash of a red lightsaber.
Rating: 8/10 - The Corruption of the Dark Side