Print Edition: May 8, 2013
Darth Vader is an iconic character of science fiction. His brooding hatred is a trademark but has always been interpreted differently amongst many authors. Some portray him as a dark emotionless tool of death to be used at the Emperor’s bidding. Others have shown him as a conniving child hidden underneath a shroud of pain and anger. Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison portrays the Dark Lord in both lights in this contemplation of five issues from Dark Horse Comics.
Writer Haden Blackman has much experience with Vader as he wrote the popular video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Giving Vader a secret apprentice in the game was quite an initial mark on the Star Wars universe and he has continued to weave tales for the character in graphic novels. His first novel, Darth Vader and the Lost Command was a well-written but all too short story about the character. Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison proves to be more well-paced but doesn’t focus on the title character as much as one would think. Instead the narrative follows young Imperial Cadet Laurita Tohm. Having suffered disfiguration early in his life, Tohm’s character is, in a sense, a younger incarnation of Darth Vader. His youthful innocence hides his deep seeded rage and undying loyalty to the Empire.
Blackman’s second novel changes from an inner focus of Lord Vader to an external observation from Cadet Tohm. Vader’s lack of hesitation and emotion mystifies Cadet Tohm as the two work together to save the Emperor after he suffers a rebel attack from within the Empire itself. They travel to an ancient prison that once operated by the Jedi as their own version of Guantanamo Bay in search of assistance against the rebel attacks. The Ghost Prison represents the guilt the Jedi hid from the galaxy as it holds every prisoner of war that was captured during the Clone Wars. Had this been introduced in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith; the accusations against the Jedi would have been more grounded and the innocent demeanor they bestowed would have been cracked. Blackman teases the reader by having Tohm discover holograms of the young Anakin Skywalker. To see Vader viewing his previous self is an interesting treat as the once stern Darth Lord displays almost childlike emotional hate towards his former self.
Agustin Alessio takes on the role of artist this time round and provides some stunning artwork. Clean lines and deep rich colors add to the story and help define the characters and their environments. When Rick Leonardi wrote and illustrated The Lost Command, he gave the characters a more cartoonist feel with odd round edges and a simple color scheme. Alessio provides a more realistic art style that helps build the dark atmosphere throughout the novel. Taking on the job of penciller and colourist is no easy task in comics, yet Alessio stands to the challenge. He delivers some shocking images throughout the story and adds a sense of evil to the pages. Barely holding anything back, Agustin shows the brutality of war in the Star Wars universe and the severity of loyalty and death. His art really brings out the “Dark Side” of the story.
Rarely can you write a story about a villain and make the reader truly side with them. Blackman makes one invest in Vader and Cadet Tohm and makes them cheer for the bad guys. In reality, Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison is about misguided inspirational figures. It once again is a short story (being only five issues) but it is much more well-paced compared to The Lost Command. I was able to get a reduced price by pre-ordering on Amazon which made it worth the price. However now with a face price of $27.50, it has become a bit pricey for a graphic novel one can finish in a dedicated few hours. I would recommend this for any fans of Star Wars and comics but make sure you purchase it online to save a few dollars.