Star Wars: Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith Vol 1: Imperial Machine
by Charles Soule, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, David Curiel, and Joe Caramagna
When the (great) Darth Vader series by Kieron Gillen ended, and Marvel decided to give the reins to Charles Soule, it was hard not to be worried that it was going to be more of the same. Not that that would be a bad thing, necessarily, but it felt like Gillen had covered that era of Vader more than sufficiently for any fan of the franchise. Thankfully, Soule decided to turn the clock back to shortly after Revenge of the Sith and explore the early days of the Dark Lord.
Soule kicks things into gear with a mission for Vader from his master, the Emperor: obtain his lightsaber. Apparently the only way to properly do this is to find a Jedi and corrupt his lightsaber with the hate and pain and anger of the Dark Side until the Kyber crystal that powers them turns red. Soule does an excellent job with this revelation and shows the struggle of a lightsaber-less Vader as he attempts to track down a Jedi worthy of defeating in battle. Soule introduces the hipster, badass Master Kirak Infil’a. While this story is about Vader and his quest to obtain and corrupt a lightsaber, Master Kirak Infil’a inadvertently steals the show. This is an interesting character with a great design that almost immediately demands his own limited series–or at least a one-shot. Between these two characters, and the rest of the cast, Soule shows a fantastic understanding of the universe. He’s creative and inventive, writing some breathtaking displays of power, while still getting to the meat of what Vader ticks.
For whatever reason, Guiseppe Camuncoli can’t quite capture the look of the Emperor. There are a few panels, some early on and some later, where his face just… looks off. It’s jarring to the point of pulling the reader out of the story. It’s disappointing too, because Camuncoli is more than up for drawing the rest of the book; his Vader is fantastic, Master Kirak Infil’a is excellently designed and executed, and of course all the Star Wars ships and backgrounds are good. Camuncoli’s Emperor is, really, the only flaw that stands out with the art and therefore pulls the book down a few notches from being a perfect volume. Cam Smith’s inks are good across the board, crisp and sharp, but even they can’t save Camuncoli from himself when it comes to the Emperor.
Coming to a character after such a fantastic previous series is a challenge, but Soule shows he’s more than up to the task. Marvel made an excellent choice for the predecessor of Gillen to carry on a Darth Vader series. Camuncoli shines in a lot of spots, with the exception of the aforementioned Emperor split-ups, but still manages to pull off a fantastic first volume for the Dark Lord. For anybody that may have been tentative about this series after Gillen’s run, go out and pick this first volume up. The bar is high, but this creative team certainly rises to the challenge.